Each Women’s Day, the usual suspects go on about how terrible it is that women are victims of what they term ‘gender-based’ violence. Then they promise to ‘uplift’ women. As if women are victims who can’t achieve anything without men.

It’s become a ritual. To celebrate the brave women of all races who marched on the Union Buildings in 1956 to demand an end to pass laws – a demand which fell on deaf ears – the president makes a carefully calibrated speech in which he decries violence against women, and promises to give them preferential treatment.

The Women’s Charter, adopted by the Federation of South African Women two years prior to the march, was a great document. It made many just and necessary demands. In particular, it demanded equality in political, legal, marriage and property rights. It sought the removal of all laws and customs that denied women these rights and treated them as minor dependants of their fathers or husbands.

Most of these demands were ultimately met with the liberation of South Africa from Apartheid oppression, and the adoption of the equality clause in the new Constitution.

Inasmuch as unequal treatment of women persists, particularly in traditional law, cultural practices or religious communities, this struggle for equality must continue.

The tenor of modern Women’s Day celebrations, however, caricatures women as victims of violence at the hands of men, and patronises them as unable to achieve success on their own merits, without the help of preferential treatment or handouts from benign men in government and business.

Much of the rhetoric around women’s rights today seems designed more to reinforce the divisive ideology of identity politics. This ideology attributes value to people based not on the content of their character, but on the basis of their physical features. It attributes moral standing to people based on their membership of an oppressed class, rather than on their individual achievements.

I know many women who strongly resent this simplistic, binary, adversarial approach to women’s issues. In this, too, the struggle for equality must continue.

Domestic violence is reciprocal

Some years ago, I delved into the statistics to find out if women were really disproportionate victims of domestic violence. In South Africa, we count the number of women killed by their intimate partners (and describe it as a ‘war on women’), but we do not count the number of men who expire at the hands of their female partners.

The data we’d need for a conclusive answer in the South African context does not exist. However, extrapolating from the data we do have, and comparing it to gender violence data from other countries, we can conclude that men are victims of domestic violence at least as often as women are.

This is consistent with the findings of a review of 343 scholarly investigations, sampling an aggregate of 440 850 people worldwide, ‘demonstrating that women are as physically aggressive as men (or more) in their relationships with their spouses or opposite-sex partners’.

Male victims of domestic violence are stigmatised as weak and shamed into silence. They are met with incredulity and derision by the authorities that ought to protect them. In responding to domestic violence incidents, police routinely assume that the man is the perpetrator, even when the man called the police in the first place.

Domestic violence against women is a very serious issue. None of this diminishes the gravity of the dangers women face from crimes against them. Action to make women feel safer, such as improved policing and better prosecution of rape, is essential in a well-functioning, civilised society.

But domestic violence is a scourge that knows no gender bounds. The struggle should be against domestic violence in general, not only when it is directed at women.

Casting women merely as helpless victims of male violence, as the media so often does, does them a disservice.

Women as fragile creatures

Although I’m not an Afrikaner, I did grow up in Afrikaans society. Its culture was macho and patriarchal. It was everything a modern feminist (and liberal) would find abhorrent.

Yet we were taught never to hit a woman. Doing so was seen as profoundly unmanly. Boys or men who did beat their female partners did so secretly, because if they were exposed, even if only by the word of the victim, they’d be very harshly judged by their male peers. Wife-beaters were not much better off than kiddie fiddlers in terms of the social opprobrium directed towards them.

I can’t speak for all societies or cultures, but few men did more to guard against violence against women than traditional, conservative, patriarchal Afrikaners did in the 1970s and 1980s. Their attitude was almost identical to the modern call that men should cease violence against women and should not tolerate it in other men.

Yet those same men viewed women as fragile creatures who depended on the protection of men. They viewed women as subject to their fathers or husbands. It was a terribly patronising view, which cast women as only a male protector away from victimhood.

Women who refuse to accept the implied inferiority of perpetual victimhood are worthy of respect.

Preferential treatment

The president’s offer of preferential treatment for women in government employment, government procurement and government aid, should likewise rankle independent-minded women.

This plays into what George W. Bush once called the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’. This bias assumes that because women, in some respect or another, do not achieve the same outcomes as men in the same numbers, they are unable to do so purely on merit.

Since women do enjoy equal rights and equal opportunities, the remedy must be that those in power – government, banks, educational institutions, corporate bosses – should give women preferential treatment to ensure equal outcomes.

This robs women of their agency. It robs them of their right to be different from men. It says that they must make the same life choices as men, and if they don’t, they should be ‘assisted’ by men to do so.

It also demeans women who do succeed on their own merit. Who can be proud of their achievements when they received preferential treatment along the way? Who can be self-confident if there’s always the niggling fear that they don’t really deserve their success?

Any free and self-respecting woman would reject such a patronising gesture on the part of the president. Women don’t need his help to succeed.

Pioneers, inventors and original thinkers

Today, women enjoy equal rights and protections under the law. That wasn’t always so. Yet even in far more patriarchal times, against far greater odds, many women were respected not because they were women, but because of their achievements.

I’ll name just a few as examples. I studied computer science, mathematics and applied mathematics at university. Several women were recognised in these fields not for being the first woman to do something that men had already done, but for work that was groundbreaking in its own right.

Ada King (1815-1852), the Countess of Lovelace and the only legitimate daughter of Lord and Lady Byron, was a 19th-century mathematician who did extensive work alongside Charles Babbage on his Analytical Engine, a general purpose mechanical computer he proposed but never completed.

She was the first to recognise that it could be used for more than just calculation, and is widely regarded as the author of the first algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine. Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer program.

Grace Hopper (1906-1992) was a computer scientist working for the US Navy. Around 1950, she recommended that computers ought to be programmed in a language consisting entirely of English words. She was told that this wasn’t possible, because computers don’t understand English. She persisted, publishing papers on how to translate comprehensible high-level programming languages to machine code, but even after creating a working compiler that performed that function, she was told that computers were only good for arithmetic.

She ended up being instrumental in the development of COBOL, a business programming language which consists entirely of English words. It became the dominant programming language for commercial use on the mainframe computers of the 1960s and 1970s, and still survives today. Against all odds, she changed the future of programming.

Katherine Johnson (1918-2020) was one of the three black female mathematicians celebrated in the film Hidden Figures. She calculated trajectories for all the early American manned space flights, including for the Mercury and Apollo projects, and on the early Space Shuttle missions. Initially, she did all the super-complex orbital mechanics work by hand. In fact, her job title was ‘computer’. She later pioneered the use of electronic computers for this purpose.

Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) was not only a famous, rich and beautiful Hollywood star, but also an inventor. During World War II, she learnt that radio-controlled torpedo guidance systems could easily be jammed by the enemy. She came up with the idea of rapidly changing the radio frequency, or ‘frequency hopping’. Together with a partner who helped her design the device that did so, she obtained U.S. Patent No. 2,292,387 on the technique. Lamarr’s technology is still used routinely today in applications such as cellular telephony to prevent interception, avoid interference and optimise bandwidth use.

Mary Somerville (1780-1872) was a Scottish mathematician and polymath who translated and expanded the magnum opus of Pierre-Simon Laplace, Celestial Mechanics. Her book, The Mechanism of the Heavens,would for 50 years be the standard university textbook on the subject.

Somerville, whose name now graces an Oxford College dedicated to the virtues of liberalism and academic excellence, was widely respected and praised in her time, although she faced all the prejudice of a society that did not believe education to be a proper domain for women.

Joanna Baillie, a Scottish poet and dramatist, upon receiving a copy of Mechanism, wrote to Somerville: ‘I feel myself greatly honoured by receiving such a mark of regard from one who has done more to remove the light estimation in which the capacity of women is too often held than all that has been accomplished by the whole Sisterhood of Poetical Damsels & novel-writing Authors.’

The first signatory on John Stuart Mill’s failed 1866 petition to extend the right to vote to women was Mary Somerville. She was (jointly with Caroline Herschel) the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society. Her obituary read, in part: ‘Whatever difficulty we might experience in the middle of the nineteenth century in choosing a king of science, there could be no question whatever as to the queen of science.’

There are hundreds of other women who are recognised in their fields as pioneers, inventors or original thinkers. I started to make a list of notable names in the sciences and business, but it became too long to include here.

A feminist icon

In politics, Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) comes to mind. She is recognised not merely because she was the first female prime minister of Great Britain, but because she was a great prime minister, and became the longest-serving prime-minister of the 20th century. Her enemies, the Soviets, dubbed her the ‘Iron Lady’, a moniker which she wore proudly.

After years of stagnation, unemployment, and recession under the socialist policies of the Labour Party in the 1970s, Thatcher was determined to pull Britain by the scruff of its neck from the brink of bankruptcy, into the modern era of free enterprise. She succeeded admirably.

She should be a feminist icon, but because she does not share feminism’s left-wing ideology, she is often scorned and maligned. Yet despite the controversy of some of her policies, in public surveys she is routinely among the highest-ranked British prime ministers of all time. Members of Parliament ranked her as the most successful of all.

Thatcher, of course, wasn’t the only powerful woman in politics. From Hatshepsut in Egypt (1507-1458 BCE) and Wu Zetian in China (624-705) to Catherine the Great in Russia (1729-1796), and Indira Gandhi in India (1917-1984), there were hundreds. Again, listing them all would take too long.

Women in political leadership have been liberal and authoritarian, kind and cruel, effective and ineffective, honest and corrupt, peaceful and violent. They are no better than men. They are no worse than men. They stand or fall on their own merits.

My Lady with the Lamp

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was not only a kind and fearless nurse during the Crimean War in the mid-19th century, but she raised the alarm about hygiene practices in the war’s squalid field hospitals.

Her appeals convinced the British government to commission the renowned engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel to design a better hospital. His prefabricated design, with its focus on good ventilation, cut the death rate among war wounded by 90%.

Nightingale also played an important role in modernising and professionalising nursing as a vocation, and ensuring that they were provided with adequate training and resources to do their jobs.

Her legacy lives on today in all the nurses that risk their own lives and their families’ health in the campaign to test and treat victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m proud to say my wife is one of these nurses. Like Nightingale, she is disciplined about infection control. She is my very own Lady with the Lamp.

From the mathematicians to the nurses, these are all women whose respect and reputation depend not on their gender, but on the merit of their work. These are all women that rightly demanded (and still expect) equality in law, but neither needed nor wanted preferential treatment from a doting husband, a benevolent businessman, or a patronising president.

Women are not fragile creatures that need the protection of men. Women can be, and should be, free, independent and equal. If Women’s Day is to have meaning beyond mere left-wing identity politics, it should celebrate women’s freedom and achievements, without perpetually preaching that women are the helpless victims of evil men.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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16 COMMENTS

  1. Lovely to read about a few of the many successful women throughput the ages. In my opinion, the physical difference between the sexes is offset by all the other aspects that make up a fully functioning human.

    • Agreed – and I’d put even more emphasis on your “all the other aspects”. Women need not achieve in “a man’s world” so as to be admired. Being the caring, wonderful, beautiful (inside and outside) creatures they are, is good enough for any man and every boy and girl in the world. For every “achieving” women that Mr Vegter listed, I and others can list thousands and millions of “achieving” women that drew the admiration of all of those that came to know them.
      There are many reasons why God did not just create 2 Adam’s…

  2. Good one Mr. Vegter! To the best of my recollection, this is a first for South African media in at least a decade. Every other newspaper and news website (including Siya Khumalo’s article https://dailyfriend.co.za/2020/08/08/womens-month-economics-question-did-bheki-cele-associate-alcohol-and-gbv-to-enforce-patriarchal-dominance/) has been full of the narrative that women are saintly helpless victims of the predatory and monstrous male species for years, even though the truth is not only different, but also far more complicated.

  3. Dear Ivo,
    I always thought I was the only person (woman) who despised Women’s Day purely for what it’s become. I’m glad to find that I’m not.
    Firstly, let me state that without fail, the attitude of society is largely dictated by that of the government of the day and usually reinforced by the mainstream (read government supporting) media.
    This patronising attitude of the SA government, has long been a thorn in my side.
    In my opinion, like racism, sexism propagates that some members of society are “less than” other members.
    In the end, just as a well deserving black person might feel their achievements mean naught, because they don’t know whether they got it on their own merits or by being afforded preferential treatment through AA and BEE, the same goes for women.
    And, despite all the laws “enforcing” equality for all, I found that companies still discriminate against women anyway.
    I was working for a large, international IT corporation at the beginning of the century. They had the practice of giving increases based on performance, however each job level had an upper limit, which meant that once you reached that limit, you couldn’t get any more increases despite how well you did the job.
    The problem, however, with this “ceiling” concept was that the limit for men’s salaries was R10 000 per month higher than women’s.
    They also had the practice of “comparing” your work output of the current performance evaluation year with the previous year. If a woman was on maternity leave for 4 months of this year, they didn’t reduce the comparison to the same proportionate time from the previous year. So they basically expected you to deliver as good as or better during the 8 months of this year compared to the 12 months of the previous year.
    Very equal and fair, don’t you agree?

    • Amo, I am sorry if it is your experience like that.
      Few years ago we had similar complain, we took matter seriously and promised to rectify if there was anything wrongly done. So we look at her salary, worked hours, and compared to a man that had same salary, same increase and came to conclusion that she is, based on worked hours, paid 50% more than her colleague on the same position. Not fair at all.
      As for the comparison year on year. To have increase of 10% in salaries across the company, you need to have at least 4% increase in productivity. It is very hard, if not impossible, to achieve 4% increase in output if you are absent from production 1/3 of your time.
      When comes down to numbers, appears to be less paid, but when it is looked deeper, women are generally paid 7% more than men.

      • I absolutely agree, Soly. I lived in New Zealand for some years and I am very, very happy that I am not a man in New Zealand. I hate what feminism has done to women. While many may not agree with me, I know from experience just how badly that country has suffered under some of its female prime ministers, especially the present one whom the world reveres. NZers would generally disagree with the world. But, in saying that I sincerely hope that the next PM is the leader of the opposition as she would be NZ’s Margaret Thatcher.

        I also have to disagree with Ivo, though, on the the previous government’s attitude towards women. It is true that an Afrikaner was always very protective of women, but not because they considered them lesser beings who required protection. They knew very well how strong women can be. After all, women crossed the Drakensberge on foot (many barefoot). They also sought their women’s advice, assistance and solace. Perhaps their protection of women should be seen more as gratitude than being patronising. They had incredible respect for women. The protection aspect goes back to the days of knights and ladies. Also, men knew that only women could bear children and were thus worthy of respect.

        You are also not 100% correct in your thoughts on equality during apartheid. As a female teacher, I received the same salary as a man when I was divorced and bringing up my children on my own. I got the same mortgage package and was taxed as a breadwinner. Women with small children were inevitably given time off to attend sick children and, as a married woman, those times off, less extra mural activities, etc. more than compensated for a lesser salary. You also kept your job while on maternity and were given at the very least six weeks of paid maternity leave and could take your accumulated days as paid maternity leave. I cannot speak for other professions.

        The Chinese say “women hold up half the sky” so I would like to say to all women “forget trying to be like a man – your half of the sky is just as important as his half, the one complements the other. You are not in competition with one another.”

        As for violence perpetrated by women on men, I have seen that happen in my own family with all four my brothers who were raised never to lift a hand or verbally abuse a women, but nevertheless got horribly abused by their wives, physically and verbally.

  4. Ivo, you make some very unexpected yet interesting points such as the level of violence perpetrated by women against men, which gives one food for thought as to what the “real” situation actually might be. Violence against anyone or anything should not be acceptable in a civilized society, no matter whether the perpetrator or victim houses a penis or vagina on their person. It once again makes me wonder why we have to be so obsessed with the classification of people and demand that one of these spurious groups should be deserving of some sort of preferential treatment. Preference extended to one group inevitably results in the disadvantage of another.

  5. One of your better pieces Ivo (as opposed to your Capexit one). I fully agree with you.
    A few pointers:
    “…women killed by their intimate partners (and describe it as a ‘war on women’), but we do not count the number of men who expire …” I didn’t know that women get “killed” on their BB date and men “expire” on their BB date.
    On Afrikaners: I fully agree with you. You can see it in the monuments that they have put up for the women that made a significant contribution to their survival, the Vrouemonument in Bloemfontein and more recently a monument to the women who, after the Anglo Boer War, tilled the bare land by physically pulling the plough themselves as all the oxen and other farm animals have been killed by the British during their scorched earth warfare against the Boer Republics. The monument is also in remembrance of Georgiana Solomon, a Scottish woman, a philantropist and activist for South Africa (from the same mould as Emily Hobhouse), who wrote about these dire times of the Afrikaner and especially the women and their contribution to start from scratch and reboot the Afrikaners.
    On cultural patriarchy: Black women still till the land today with a hoe used for ages. Where are the men?
    The apartheid regime also allowed cultural polygamy and other patriarchal structures like tribal chieftains for black ethnic tribes. How much more evidence do you need that the ANC is a sanctimonious hypercritical organisation, planning to imbed its inferior value and patriarchal systems into our society, when they allow these practices to carry on in the 21st century after 26 years of being a non-performing regime.
    You also wrote “This plays into what George W. Bush once called the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’. This bias assumes that because women, in some respect or another, do not achieve the same outcomes as men in the same numbers, they are unable to do so purely on merit.” This is the US version for women.
    You can rephrase it to read: “This plays into what George W. Bush once called the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’. This bias assumes that because blacks, in some respect or another, do not achieve the same outcomes as whites in the same numbers, they are unable to do so purely on merit.” This should be the BEE version for a Meritocracy, very much like Singapore. Think. Helen Zille’s famous tweet on Singapore?
    A meritocracy government, by its very nature, will effectively deal with corruption. So more reason to support Capexit.

  6. An excellent article, and I agree. For years now, my husband and I wonder why there should be a women’s day and not a “men’s day”. The fact that women have to be honored for their achievements like school children, getting a gold star from their teacher, but not men, is proof enough that “THEY” use Women’s Day actually to emphasize (or trying to) that women are the weaker sex.

    We certainly do not celebrate this day in our house and carry on working like normal. All the sweet WhatsApp and Facebook messages women send around is getting more and more irritating every year.
    We as women should stop celebrating this day.

  7. I am glad to see that you investigated that 1 single case and found that woman to be lazy and then even earning 7% more than her male counter part for producing 33% less than he does. I mean, how dare she go on a 4 month hiatus and expect to be treated the same as her male colleague who worked for all 12 months.
    It is because of people like you, that women have to work twice as hard to just receive some acknowledgement for their work and maybe equal treatment.
    That’s why a woman with the same skill as a man, who starts working at the same time than he does and pro duces the same work that he does, will find herself at a disadvantage compared to him after 5 years, especially if they made the same life choices along the way.
    It has been proven that as soon as a man gets married, his boss will rather consider him for promotion than the woman of equivalent skill, because he now has a wife to take care of, whereas the newly wed women really doesn’t need the job now, since she’s got a husband to take care of her.
    Then when he has his 2.3 kids, he probably will get another promotion and / or maximum increase, because he has children who are dependent upon him whereas his female counter part will have been laying around at home, doing nothing, for at least 8 months over those same 5 years while she had her 2 kids.
    And lo and behold, because she didn’t “produce” as much or worked as many hours, that explains why she didn’t get either of the 2 promotions and probably a lot smaller increase overall.
    In the public sector under the apartheid government, a married woman would never have been appointed as a permanent employee, she would always be a temporary employee. And only if she could prove that she was no longer capable or able to bear children, would she be considered for permanent employment.
    Temporary employees in the public sector of those days, were also not considered for promotions.
    In the private sector they treated women the same, except they went about it more deviously. They seldom specified their discriminatory practices in their conditions of employment, but they made sure that they always left themselves a convenient excuse as to why their female employees were receiving less remuneration.
    No, my dear Soly Markan, if I had never been mistreated and abused by employers because I was a woman, you could’ve convinced me of the equality of employment.
    I watched men, younger than me, by far less experienced and skilled than me, get promoted ahead of me. At one stage I ended up reporting to a guy that I had trained. And when I asked how that was possible, the answer I got was, he has a wife & children. My husband and children didn’t count for a thing.

    • Unfortunately, you found wrong person to complain.
      Because of similar complains of inequality, I went from 15 employees to 0. Now, I pay per job done. Everyone is equal, job payment is determined by complexity, not years spent in a cubical, penis or vagina. E.g. for an unit, I pay R5000 and needs to be done by Friday, on principle first come, first serve. Those who do not deliver get considered for next cycle, for something simpler, at price of R2500, or those who deliver ahead of schedule and with quality will be considered for something more awarding. Someone who thinks that should be paid R20000 can accept job for R2500, but that is how much will be paid, not what can earn. I have no time for constant moaning about inequality. I am paid to deliver product, II cannot do that while spending all my day trying to figure out who is offended by what.

  8. Well said, Ivo. What I can add from personal experience, is that a female person can be just as abusive on a psychological or emotional level in a relationship, without physically lifting a finger against her husband or children, as a man may be deemed capable by the masses in terms of physical abuse. The scars of the latter heal; emotional and psycholocial scars take years, or never heal, irrespective of if you’re a man or a woman. Whether physical, emotional or psychological, one unto the other is not acceptable. With all the hype about empowering women, violence against and abuse of women, I find it ironic that the South African Law seems to still sway purposefully in the direction that the female gender is the victim regardless of whether she earns three times more than her husband, whether she chose to pursue extramarital relationships in a marriage founded on Biblical values, or not, without a care for her children or the consequences… “Some animals are equal, but…” some have a gift to pursuade people that they’re inferior when the circumstances are feasible to do so. Did I make mistakes? Numerous. Did I deserve what came my way? Maybe, someday, I’ll know… Never lifted a hand at her though, still never will. Loved twice, never again though…

  9. I agree that Women’s Day is a load of twoddle. It , shivers, has become Women’s MONTH! We are people, men and women together. There are good and bad in both. I was slightly amused when this illustrious ‘government’ instituted the portfolio of “women, children and people with disabilities”. Seriously? Has anyone else found this amusing, or for the ‘wokers’ out there, insulting? It puts in perspective just where the patronising governmdnt puts us ladies. And there’s a Minister being paid a fat salary for this joke? Plus three deputies? Laughable.

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