19/05/2017 12:44 SAST | Updated 19/05/2017 12:44 SAST

Men Need To Lead The Charge Against Sexual Violence

When women do express anger or outrage at being subjected to sexual harassment like this (because that's what it is), we're told we're "over reacting".

Fezekile Msimang

"Personality only gets you so far, after that you've got to swallow."

That was just one of the signs held up in front of a group of young women by a male University of Pretoria (UP) student. Not shocking enough for you? How about "Moeg? Sit op my gesig." (Tired? Sit on my face)" or "I hope you can like it in the gat ne?"

No, this wasn't some sort of protest against the sexualisation of women. It was an annual cultural event at UP and these placards are supposedly held up to distract female students who are performing in front of the crowd. A little on campus 'tradition'.

I saw these images on Facebook yesterday morning and my first thought was, "wow, someone's daughter is dating these guys." With thoughts and attitudes like these so unashamedly on display, no wonder UP and our country as a whole as such a problem with sexual violence.

Fezekile Msimang

My second thought? Why are there beautiful, smart young women sitting next to these men thinking this kind of behaviour is completely normal – perhaps even funny? How the hell is this acceptable to them? Why didn't one of them stand up in that crowd and express their disgust? Why did it take a Facebook post by photojournalist Fezekile Msimang to go viral on Facebook before anyone – including the university – to took action? How has this become so normal?

Because when women do express their discomfort, anger or outrage at being subjected to sexual harassment like this (because that's what it is), we're told we're "over reacting". We're told to "stop being so sensitive", "it's a guy thing", "it's only a bit of locker room banter". We're afraid that if we express how we really feel, we're going to be considered uncool or lacking a sense of humour. In a professional context, we're afraid that we won't get that promotion because we're too "overly-emotional" to effectively operate in what is still essentially a man's world.

We've become so used to being treated as sexual objects that we doubt and dishonour our feelings to the point that we have become complicit in our own degradation. We have become enablers to the attitudes and practices that result in sexual violence.

So how can we turn the tsunami of rape and sexual assault that has swept our country over the past few weeks? The first step is to ask our friends, boyfriends, husbands and male colleagues to call out misogynistic and sexually dangerous attitudes. Loudly.

Just like white South Africans have begun to call out racism perpetrated by fellow white South Africans, so must men begin calling out degrading and dangerous attitudes about women among their own gender.

Fezekile Msimang

Men have to step up to the plate and show their sons that women should be treated with respect and dignity. Men have to show their sons that women are more than just a piece of ass put on earth for their sexual gratification. Men have to teach their sons that unless she says "yes", the answer is "no". Lead by example. Be vocal. Because these are the young men that your daughters will date. These are the young men that think it's okay to have sex with your daughter because she is too drunk to say "no". These are the young men that rape.

The recent death of Karabo Mokoena and little Courtney Pieters is evidence that rapists and murderers are not always men with guns and balaclavas. They are your best friend, your colleague, your neighbour, your son. They are often white, "well brought up" and educated.

Women in this country need you to stand with us. Have a serious chat to your colleague the next time he puts his hand on the waitress's bum as she takes his order. Call out your teammate when he starts telling you about the girl who "put out" last night. Most importantly, stop pretending that because you're not a rapist/wife-beater/sexual predator, that you are guilt-free. Because every time you stand by and silently allow a woman to be treated as a sexual object – without her explicit consent – you are part of the problem.

To the fathers of the young men pictured in this article, please do not allow what your sons have done here to go unchecked. Don't allow these attitudes and beliefs to fester. Because in the end your daughters, wives and granddaughters will be the victims.

The images have been published with the kind permission of the photographer - blogs editor.