Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day SA Style

Unlike Halloween which has only made small in-roads into South African culture, Valentine's Day is a full-blown affair in South Africa. Displays of chocolate abound in Woolworths, Pic 'n Pay, and other shops. Hallmark cards line the shelves of CNA, Dis-Chem, and the stationery shops. Newspaper ads tout flowers, hotel specials, lingerie, expensive romantic dinners, and all the rest of the Hallmark frenzy. 

From the Lilly Library Online Collection
I am the first to admit that I am a curmudgeon when it comes to Hallmark holidays. I hate the pressure - everything from actually remembering the day to finding the right gift! Despite this, I have a soft spot for Valentine's Day. Not the roses and over-the-top motions kind of Valentine's Day, but for the old fashioned, long, forgotten kind of Valentine's Day. I love the valentine cards of old; small gifts wrapped in lace and ribbon; and bouquets of wildflowers or herbs. The Lilly Library has a small digital collection of 19th century valentines; you can even send an e-valentine from the collection if the weather in your part of the world prevented you from making it to the stationery store. 

Given my soft spot, I have been paying attention to the Valentine's Day culture here. Among the usual celebratory magazine and newspaper articles, I ran across a number of disturbing articles. For example, The Sowetan ran an article on how to keep the multiple women in your life happy on Valentine's Day. The article detailed the status, ranking, and expectations of women who "share a man." In the article women are referred to as a 'side-dish" and the "chick on the side." 

Despite the headline, the article did not indict nor find appalling the man's behavior. Rather the lead-in of the article provided advice to President Zuma on how to plan his day to appease each of his four wives. It is particularly distressing to read this kind of article in a mainstream newspaper. The Sowetan is not a tabloid like The Star (SA's equivalent of The National Enquirer). South Africa's record with respect to gender based violence is horrific. It is difficult to imagine changing minds when mainstream newspapers publish this rubbish.

Thankfully outside the mainstream press, feminism is persevering in South Africa. One example is FeministsSA, a blog that has a number of young feminist writers. One of my favorite writers is Claire Martens, who is also a colleague at the Legal Resources Centre

Knowing what these women writers face simply by declaring themselves to be "feminists" makes me feel very privileged. Yes, I kicked a few barriers along the way and re-educated a few folks but never at great risk to my physical being. 

In the end, my greatest contribution to helping to right things is the raising of our feminist daughter. I still remember proudly when she came downstairs after spending a little bit of time reading Twilight. She marched into the kitchen and said, "Momma, this girl is changing herself for a boy. That's not right!" She then explained she would continue reading the book simply to be culturally aware of what her classmates were talking about and went back upstairs. Some mothers fist pump the air and yell "yes" when their children bring home good grades or score in an athletic event. Me, on the other hand, did so when our daughter, at age 12, declared her feminist orientation to the world.

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