Early in May, I blogged about the murders of political lesbian activists Sizakele Sigasa, and Salome Masooa in South Africa to raise awareness of the growing violence. Each day women are subjected to verbal, as well as physical assaults by men. In a homophobic, as well patriarchal society lesbianism is seen as a rejection of males as well as a threat to male sexual power. A womans body has historically been meant to be available for the sexual pleasure of men, and to refuse to fulfill that role is to risk your life in South Africa. Rape is the violent expression of power. There is no conflation between rape and a desire for sexual fulfillment; particularly in these instances rape functions as a disciplinary action. The bodies of Sigasa, and Masooa stand as a warning to all others who would dare to flaunt male superiority.
According to the Mail and Guardian, Isaack, a human rights lawyer, said that there was “a grave increase in hate crimes in the country, especially murders of lesbians”.
She ascribed violence to the desire of some men “to show lesbians that, at the end of the day, they are women and less powerful than men”.
They are less powerful because they are women and their gender makes them vulnerable to attack. Rape is a direct attack on womanhood as it says to the woman, I can possess you at any time without consent. It says that only the male body is worthy of respect, and autonomy. Rape forces women to confront our shared second class status in society. It is the great equalizer, in that no matter what class, religion, race or creed a woman falls under she is always under a threat of attack. The lesbian community of South Africa know this threat in a very real, rather than conceptual way.
According to the Mail and Guardian, One of the protesters outside the court, Matshidiso Mofokeng (20), said she was afraid of walking alone in her home township of Vosloorus because she “knows what might happen”.
Just as women in the west fear walking in parking lots after dark, the women of South Africa know that darkness can be the veil of soul searing violence.
“I don’t feel safe. All the lesbians here are extra careful in their communities because the people we live around don’t accept us,” Mofokeng said.
“When I walk past a corner where a group of guys sit, I am bound to have passing comments such as: ‘You just need to get laid and then you won’t be lesbian’. Most of us have been attacked verbally; one can only hope the verbal attacks do not become violent.”
In this quote we can see the idea that lesbianism is considered inherently wrong. It is something that needs to be cured rather than accepted. It is no accident that the “cure” for lesbianism involves a deep dick. Sex with man of course makes a woman a woman, after all lesbians don’t have real sex do they?
Night life is a particular challenge for township lesbians. “I can never go to a party alone; we always go in groups,” explained Tumi Mkhuma from Katlehong.
“If I get drunk I become more of a target. I can’t even walk around with my girlfriend because the guys threaten to take her from me. I know they can do this because I have no power to fight for myself.”
Isaack remarked on the different situation of black lesbians living in and outside the townships.
“I have lived both experiences and the difference is shocking. Black people think that ignoring sexual diversity in their communities will make it go away, and that if it doesn’t they have the right to violently remove it,” she said.
Though lesbians are the group being targeted it should be understood that this is an assault on all women. Every time a woman is raped it reinforces male hegemony. If we stand in silence because the group of women being targeted identify as lesbians, what we are doing is colluding with our own victimization. No matter who it happens to, rape is wrong. You cannot force someone to change their sexual identity by subjecting them to violence, nor will turning a blind eye to these attack absolve the community of shared guilt and shame.