I live in a country where, as a woman, you have to be crazy to be a feminist and crazy not to be one. Feminism is frowned upon by many people, including females, so admitting to being a feminist draws a lot of hostility and ridicule, as I know from bitter experience. That’s why it is crazy to be feminist in South Africa.
This is why it’s crazy not to be one: South Africa has been called “the rape capital of the world” (its main competitor for this ‘honour’ being the Democratic Republic of Congo). It’s been said that a South African woman has a better chance of being raped than she has of completing secondary school; and this isn’t just some arbitrary information for me. I’ve witnessed the suffering of my neighbours and friends. One acquaintance was raped and strangled. Another was raped and stabbed in the throat – but she survived. Yes, South African society is characterized by crime and violence. But the women here identify vigorously with their aggressors – and, quite frankly, I do too most of the time. So feminism for me is not so much about theories as it is about surviving another day and holding onto a bit of self-respect.
If it weren’t for reading feminist works from an early age, I don’t think I’d have the courage to be a writer. Reading Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing and Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own impressed on me that it is politically important for women to write. When I remember these books I can’t give up, even though I often want to succumb to despair. It was wonderfully affirming to have my first poetry collection, Wedding Underwear for Mermaids, accepted by Honest Publishing last year – but I still need some feminist solidarity to keep me strong.