Cape Town - One of the particularly heavy burdens of being a journalist in South Africa is the near-constant encounter with the scourge of rape.
Often, when we deal with rape cases, we try to understand why rape is so widespread in this particular society.
In public debate on the issue, it is sometimes claimed that a vast percentage of SA men are unreconstructed Neanderthal throwbacks who refuse to relent their power over this patriarchal society.
Some even claim, from time to time, that polygamy reinforces this – that the tone and character of our culture starts at the top. In this case, with President Jacob Zuma, who has many wives.
OK, let’s talk about that.
So is the claim that polygamy is wrong right? That it’s wrong for a person to have more than one spouse?
Or is it the claim that it’s wrong for a man to be permitted to have many wives, but not vice versa?
One could debate both of those. And some people reach the conclusion that polygamous societies are “backward” and do indeed cement the culture of patriarchy, which, in turn, encourages a culture in which violence towards women is condoned.
Thus, some people conclude, “African culture” is backward, bad, borderline misogynistic.
So let’s interrogate that, shall we?
Let’s start by comparing this allegedly “backward African culture” to the obvious alternative, the claim of a comparatively “progressive Western culture”.
And what you’ll find, I’m afraid, is that any such claim is complete rubbish and rank hypocrisy.
You can prove that in about five minutes flat. Or, as I did, in five TV channels flat. There’s been superb sport on TV lately, hasn’t there?
Like the soccer World Cup, like Super Rugby, like the IPL cricket, like Formula 1 and the Tour de France. Extravaganzas of sporting wonder stretching across the Western world, from Europe to the Subcontinent, from South America to Australasia.
And what do you find accompanying almost all of these visual feasts? T&A.
This publication is “a family newspaper” and thus forbids explanation of that acronym, so let’s just say “extensive visuals of provocatively dressed and/or near-naked women, with particular focus on mammary glands and gluteal muscles”.
Coverage of Brazil’s World Cup has become synonymous with images of Rio’s famous Amazonian goddesses. At the IPL in India, boundaries are celebrated with a shake of butt by nubile and glittering dancers. At Newlands and King’s Park, the “girls” are legend.
At the British Grand Prix, as winner Lewis Hamilton took his long celebratory walk up to the stage, he was flanked by lines of women in coy frocks and apricot-coloured high heels. A tantalising harem that would make a prince drool. And that was in “nanny society/politically super-correct” England!
And in France, whose men are revered the world over for their devoted appreciation of the fairer sex, Le Tour winners are escorted on stage by pretty mademoiselles whose names are never known, unlike the heroes they’re wrapped around.
No, they’re only there for their hotness – presented across a delicious diversity of flavours.
To be clear: this is not written to damn this mainstream “cultural practice”. That’s a separate debate. (And, also, I’d be lynched.)
No, for the moment, this is simply to point: that “Western culture” of 2014 still objectifies women as thoroughly as any culture on earth ever has.
And extremely happily so, it seems. It’s halftime – bring on the bokkies!
* Murray Williams’s column “Shooting from the lip” appears in the Cape argus every Friday.