Expressions such as “ovaries before brovaries” and “sisters before misters” are the new rallying cry for women to form a sisterhood. A new wave of radical feminism is sweeping the world and young women, and some men, from across cultures and race lines are defining what being a woman is about as well as defining relationships between women.
Events such as For Black Girls Only and organisations like the Feminist Stokvel now exist so women can communicate with one another and so create a sisterhood that listens, engages with and uplifts one another.
Yet despite this valiant call to sisterhood, stories of women embroiled in malicious spats with each other over men continue to surface in tabloids. On Sunday, the Daily Sun carried a story of another fight between Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba’s former lover and his wife. The quarrel began last year when Buhle Mkhize alleged that she’d slept with Gigaba. Norma Gigaba, his wife, retaliated by calling Mkhize a “prostitute” and posting a picture on social media of Mkhize alongside one of Homo naledi.
Why women exhibit such hatred towards one another is a question often asked.
But Kay Sexwale, public commentator and communications strategist, doesn’t think this is necessarily the case. “I don’t think it’s a blanket issue of women hating each other. Some women do when it comes to men, but not all the time. I’d like to think that a lot of women are dignified when it comes to it.”
Often we expect women to be nice to one another because they’re also women. In an article for The Express Tribune on why women fight, writer Sabha Khalid says, “I think it’s because we expect better from them. It’s because we expect them to understand our pain and struggle. It’s because we expect more empathy from them.”
Carolyn Dever, in her book Skeptical Feminism: Activist Theory, Activist Practice, says women have to face one another and hold one another accountable. “Conflicts among feminists require women to pay attention to each other, to take each other’s reality seriously and to face each other.”
Writer and researcher Danielle Bowler says women are people rather than a “homogenous monolith” and therefore aren’t always going to agree with one another. However, they should try as much as possible to respect one another.
“The idea that we’re all going to naturally love each other is misguided,” she says. “Feminists aren’t exempt from being just like anyone else, and flawed. Sometimes we’re great; at other times we’re immensely problematic. The difference is between those who are willing to do the work and those who maintain problematic positions.”
This doesn’t mean that men should be handed a get-out-of-jail-free card for their wrongdoings. Sexwale says men who find themselves in these type of situations often escape with their reputation and dignity intact.
“Look at the [Zwelinzima] Vavi saga,” she says about the former Cosatu general-secretary’s tryst with a staff member. “He was slut-shaming her in the media when he was the one that had had an affair with her. He’s the one that moved her from the airport and offered her a job as a personal assistant.”
The onus, says Sexwale, should be on the parties involved to hold each other accountable for infidelity.
“As women we need to respect one another, but I don’t believe that a woman needs to stay away from a man because of another woman. Half the time it’s the guy making the advances anyway, so I don’t believe it’s the responsibility of the other woman to safeguard a relationship that isn’t there.”