Feminist Realities: Desexualising Nudity
*TW: The following story addresses issues and themes that may be triggering to some readers. Rape is mentioned in some parts of this post. If you feel affected by any issues mentioned, please seek help; we have attached useful resources at the bottom of this post.
She never thought her voice would ever be heard, her words listened to and her existence matter. Her being was the cardinal sin. She could never be worthy of the gift of life. She was born to be a slave, to service, give and to never get anything in return. But in her hands lied her freedom, in her words lied her liberation and in her powerful voice lied her complete emancipation. She needed to speak. She is the embodiment of Charlotte Maxeke, the first woman South African scientist. She is the embodiment of Claudia Jones, a black woman writer. She is the embodiment of Winnie Nomzamo Zanyiwe Madikizela-Mandela, a tried and tested military commander at arms. She is the embodiment of Gloria Jean Watkins, better known as bell hooks, a feminist professor and published author. She is a beautiful creature of the Nile, with Mkabayi’s blood in her veins, she is gifted with the intelligence of Queen Makeda, she is Queen Nzinga’s wildest dreams. She hails from the deep rivers and valleys of beautiful Azania; she hails from Africa and she is deeply rooted in the mountains and green hills of Nubia. She is a black, sex positive gay woman, and that is her feminist reality.
Her reality of violence and abuse...
She came from a tiny village of Luthuthu, in the east of the Cape Colony in South Africa. She had always been a bright girl, one that knew way too much for her own good. She experienced violence at a very young age. In this village it was common practice and everyday life to see men beat their wives to a pulp, simply because she did not cook, she cannot bear kids, she cannot clean, she is not satisfying him in bed, he was cheating and see no need for her good for nothing wife and he was the only one working and providing for the family. She saw women bend over backwards and do things for men who clearly didn’t value them and their lives, she experienced women being selfless and giving their all for men who didn’t care about their safety, men who in fact were a threat to their safety.
She had seen how her friend was abducted at the river by old men who claimed that lobola had been paid for her and she was now someone’s wife in the nearby village. They were only just 11! They were children who still had bright futures ahead of them, but she saw her friend’s future disappear and flash right in front of her eyes. Tears welled up blurring that image as she tried to save her from them, but she could not. Her friend wailed, screamed and cried until she could no longer see her and hear her screams. All she was left with was that image of the girl whom she loved with all her heart being taken away from her. They knew each other since birth, they started primary school together, they sat next to each other in class, they would always rush out of their mud classrooms and run home because they couldn’t wait to play by the river and pick wild flowers, whilst they spoke about their dreams. Dreams that now were just a figment of her imagination and the moments they had were just daydreams, because her friend was gone. She would be subjected to sleeping with a forty-six-year-old man, who was going to leave her in the village and go work in the mines and bring her diseases.
So, her parents had no choice but to move her to the township of Khayelitsha, in Cape Town; the big city to finish her education. They had dreams for her, they wanted her to at least finish matric so that she could marry well. Maybe marrying a teacher or a lawyer, marrying a doctor would be a bonus. As she grew older, she glorified men and thought that there was nothing that she could do without them. It was until she had an epiphany, in a country where women were being killed like flies, every second of every day women were being raped and murdered, she realised that she had been taught a life that she could have never imagined for herself. She was taught a life that did not only violate and victimize her, she was taught a life where she did not even realise that she was a victim.
She was there that morning before her last test of matric, where that thirty-year-old man was burnt to death in an act of vigilantism by the community because he had raped a four-year-old girl. A four-year-old girl! He was screaming his lungs out saying it was a mistake, but it was not. This man was her neighbour, the same man who had repeatedly raped her when she first moved to Cape Town. Her relatives that she was staying with did not believe her, after all he was a good family friend. He couldn’t have done it. Today though, her aunt was to later beg for her forgiveness with tears in her eyes, she whimpered, “it happened to me too, but I was saving you the embarrassment of being the girl that was raped just like me.” And so that day, the course of her life changed. She would no longer keep quiet! Because this was her feminist reality, and it was one of many turning points in her life.
Her reality of fear and uncertainty…
So, she went to university the following year. She had done more than what her parents expected of her, she would become the doctor that they wanted her to marry. Then again, was it not the scourge of patriarchy that stood in her way? She was now faced with the reality that she stood a better chance of getting raped in university than graduating on record time. This was numbing and paralysing her with fear. It was even worse for her, as a queer black woman. She was welcomed into university by a study that said that women of colour were stupid and lacked intellectual capacity. In her country, even though it is legal to be queer, queer people were still slaughtered like cows. Their communities and streets had long become slaughterhouses and were filled with the blood of women and the queer community.
It especially was horrible to be a black woman in a “previously” white university. Your lecturer could grab your buttocks, ask you why the buttons of your shirt are not done all the way up and he would even go as far as “having sex” with you but he would still suffer no consequences. He was a big, known and influential man and you are just a black student. Whose parents have no money for lawyers, your bursary would drop you if you were to be involved in a scandal and you must put your family’s pride first. So, she could not report anything.
She was in an education system that refused to protect her but did everything to protect the people that violated and victimised her. She was in a system that rejected her, and she had to make the most of it. She remembered how that drunk guy kicked in her dorm room door and forced himself on her. He kept on asking her why would she wear such skimpy clothes whilst she was adamant that she has a girlfriend. So, he pinned her down whilst yanking her clothes.
She was enjoying it, right? Even though she is screaming her lungs, she was enjoying it, wasn’t she? Even though she repeatedly said and shouted no, she was enjoying it, right? Even though she tried fighting him off banging his heavy chest, and tears rapidly falling down her face, she was enjoying it! It was not his intentions to rape her, he was just satisfying his thirst. He thought her clothes were screaming “crawl up in this.” He thought that she was begging for it. It is not rape right when you do not intentionally do it? He did not intend to do, so they cannot convict right? He was only trying to show her what she was missing out on. So, this was her feminist reality, living in fear because she chose to live her truth, living in fear because she had a vagina and living in fear because she was black.
Her reality of desexualising nudity…
She learnt to entertain the idea of desexualisng nudity. Her body is for her expression and her body is her protest. She is more than a subject of pleasure, satisfaction and gratification. Desexualising her body sought to not being reduced to just a sexual object but rather a human being who has rights and is profoundly entangled to her identity. The sight of her body is not a site for violence. Her body is not a crime scene, and that is her feminist reality.
The Writer Behind the Writing
Chulumanco Mihlali Nkasela is a young queer activist, student activist and community leader.
The Eastern Cape native has been in the Cape Town activism space for years now and among the long list of her accolades has served as an Organizer for the Equal Education Western Cape, was elected into the #UniteBehind inaugural secretariat, serves as the current spokesperson of the Black People's National Crisis Committee and was recently recognised by the Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans 2020.
You can find Chulumanco's work @ The Nudist Galaxy.
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