Monthly Archives: August 2016

Your Womanist Auntie’s Top Twelve Tips for Surviving the Feminist Movement In memory of Elaine Salo



  1. Spaces for places, people. Don’t sweat the small stuff. If people want to be separatist, let them. Go off and start a separatist movement of your own. Like a movement of people who HAVE SORTED THEIR ISSUES.
  2. Don’t be a hypocrite. Acknowledge privilege. It may hurt the first few times but you will soon get used to it. And when you acknowledge, do so effectively. People do not have time to waste on your browbeating. Send the limo to the township to ferry children to school and take the #*^%&%!! taxi. Sign over your inherited property to a Queer shelter for kids who have been thrown out of the house for coming out, and then wear that T-shirt that says “F–k white people”.
  3. Don’t be a chauvinist. If you speak Zulu the entire meeting without arranging for translation then don’t get upset when I respond in Afrikaans. And nope. No, you do not get to name me. I will sweetly pull you up short the first three times you call me out of my name. The fourth time I will take you outside and show you feminism Mitchell’s Plain style.
  4. Make a point of keeping your sexlife apart from your politics. Yes, you won’t get dykes without drama, but there has got to be some boundaries. If she/they votes against your constructive and valid motion purely because you dumped her/them last night for that sweet young thing, don’t be surprised. Yes, she/they should be bigger than that. But she/they aren’t. So if you can’t keep your thing in your panties/boxer shorts, then go find a sex life somewhere else.
  5. Also, be sure separate the space where you sort your issues from your struggle meetings. You don’t want your discussions of how many pamphlets to print mixed up with an argument about the way you hurt her feelings.[1] (pace Joanna Russ) If you want to join the movement, the first thing you got to do is set yourself up with therapy/peer counselling/online support group, something. Look, if 1 in 3 women gets raped at least once in her lifetime at least 30 % of your movement at any given time is walking around with some form of post-traumatic stress, if not full blown Rape Trauma Syndrome. This is quite apart from our inherited loopiness from 400 years of genocide, slavery, land dispossession, segregation, apartheid and then the Zuma regime.  People are not well. Make a point of having an emotional health space which is not the space where you discuss strategy and tactics or where you implement. Otherwise you are never going to get anywhere.
  6. Aaah, toxic bosses! There are a lot of fu—ed up people out there. You know, people who actually want to be patriarchs but the freaking system won’t let them because they have the wrong genitals. Somebody is going to write a Ph D thesis on that species one of these days. Maybe you? Tell yourself you are doing data collection and in the meantime here is a breakdown of the main subspecies:

a/ The NGO Mama. The technical term is ‘elite capture’. Nothing can happen unless it goes through her. She has been powerless her entire life and now she is dedicating the little bit that she has to make sure that you all pay the price. If you are working for struggle wages, with compulsory overtime and weekend work as standard, where only the buttlickers get to go to conferences and such and you find yourself having to explain to the community how your carefully negotiated workshop schedule got changed for the fourth time in this morning’s meeting because your boss woke up with another bright and completely impractical idea, then this is your NGOM subspecies. Tell yourself you are building your CV and then move on.

b/ The manipulative Queen. Do yourself a favour! Look up the symptoms for Borderline Personality Disorder[2] online and then tell yourself that you did not cause it, you cannot cure it, and what you need to do is deal with your co-dependency issues. Collect your data and consider it a capacity-building experience.

c/ The “I did not struggle to be poor” Queen Bee (no offence to bees intended), who is purely in it for the honey. If you notice that she and the Chair of the Board seem to do an inordinate amount of travelling business class and staying in five class hotels while this person with a post-graduate education decides that no, the community does not need more than two capacity-building workshops because the budget does not allow for more – or no, the organization cannot afford workplace childcare – then again, collect your data and move along.

d/ actually another version of the Queen Bee was the Director of an NGO I knew whose girlfriend worked for a funder and who coincidentally employed girlfriend as a consultant out of said funder’s budget. Unless the Board got its sh-t together (usually not or they would have got the Director figured out long ago) there is not much you can do but sit and learn. You never know when experience tracking down corruption may come in handy.

  1. Bitter truth: lot of people like to feel good about the struggle while at the same time being scared witless at the prospect of actually challenging white supremacist heteropatriarchal capitalism. They are comfortable being victims. So they invent a lot of activity that at heart is sound and fury signifying nothing. This allows them to stay very busy (and spend lots of donor funding) on absolutely pointless activities which tire everybody and lets them feel good without making squat difference in the real world. Trust your common sense. If it sounds like an idiotic idea it usually is. [3]
  2. That said, never be afraid to make a complete fool of yourself. You are not bigger than patriarchy, which is the all time most foolish system imaginable. So

a/ you know that point in the meeting at which that permanently waif-like emotional vampire who is looking for someone to project her stuff on has just managed to manipulate the entire collective into a stupid and pointless idea which has bullying at its heart? Don’t be afraid to make gat. If everybody cracks up laughing the tension will be broken and there is every hope that something constructive may yet emerge.

b/ ja, you know that other moment in the meeting where we all have bitched, complained and generally made ourselves very comfortable in our victim status, the time has come for constructive, creative suggestions and a painful silence starts to spread around the meeting while everybody starts furtively looking at their cellphones? Make your suggestion! The worst they can do is laugh at you. But you know, Goddess sees you and will give you brownie points in feminist heaven for at least trying to be a real revolutionary.

c/ and if the movement dumps your suggestions of building biogas digesters, starting food gardens, fermenting effective microorganisms, improving the water supply, volounteering at pre-schools, scrutinizing the Auditor-Generals accounts to figure out exactly how much money has been embezzled which could fund free quality education, or some other activity which might make A REAL DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF ACTUAL WOMEN and combine immediate needs with long term strategic qualitative change; in favour of yet another demonstration/workshop/petition/[4]activity which involves lots of rhetoric, many speeches and much grandstanding for who gets the biggest microphone (see point  6), then you need to start asking yourself if you are really in the right movement. 90 % of the time it is less emotionally draining and more productive to just go off and start another movement (see point 1).

  1. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When the good time girls, opportunists and bandwagon jumpers (not to mention ministers in Zuma’s government) start to say that they are feminist, smile sweetly and take it for the compliment it is. Here we have spent decades trying to mainstream the feminist movement and this is the inevitable result. We are now the fashion. Pat them on the back and then get the hell out of there.
  2. Still, remember that at the heart of feminism is choice. And that for every finger you point at other people there are four fingers pointing back at you. So if you are in a movement where the pressure for conformity is intense (people are ganging up to bully the lipstick lesbian or have decided there is only one politically correct way to trans) and others are walking around saying that yes, they read Abrahams and Abrahams has said that you are not a real feminist, realize that you are probably not in the feminist movement at all. Go back to point 1.
  3. So can you really know whether the movement you are in is feminist? Easy! Take a good hard look at how they handle conflict. Feminism is all about process. Do they

a/ ensure that even the smallest minority is heard even when it is not what Everybody Else is saying?

b/ take it for granted that everybody needs to be held accountable for their actions, and it is NO BIG DEAL to be asked to account?

c/ resolve conflict openly, i.e. tell you in public with witnesses or a recording device what their problem is, give you a fair hearing and acknowledge any factual evidence you may wish to bring to the table?

d/ take steps to limit the conflict to the actual protagonists, assuming that they are grown people who will take responsibility for their actions and remember that the struggle really is bigger than they are?

e/ accept that you are the agent of your own liberation, i.e. that telling who you are and what you should be doing in the name of feminism is probably not very feminist? You think?


Or do they

i/ Shut people up when it gets uncomfortable?

ii/ start crying and saying you are nasty when you ask them why they did that tomfool thing in the organization’s name when the previous meeting had precisely decided it was tomfool?

iii/ resolve conflict through gossip, innuendo and rumour, backbiting and going suddenly quiet when you rock up, e-mailing stuff about you which you are NOT being cc’ed, all the while smiling to your face and telling you they are your only real feminist friends?

iv/ drag non-combatants into the conflict, creating caucuses and movements within a movement, expecting everybody to take their side and when people – surprisingly – don’t, insist on making it an issue of personal loyalty? As if patriarchy cared…

v/ decide that they are the real experts at liberation and yes, their pain is really much more important than workingclass/unemployed and unemployable/rural/ trans/genderqueer pain and that it is actually all about them. So they think nothing of occupying the entire meeting/movement with THEIR ISSUE and will not let it go without creating maximum amount of drama and division.


Well, there you go my childen! Remember, just like you cannot let the faith-based institution stand between you and Godde, you should not let the movement stand between you and bringing down patriarchy.  90 % of women/trans/genderqueers are still unorganized. If you are in a movement like 11 i-v/ you will probably even find your Neighbourhood Watch or your Consumer’s Association more potentially radical, and at least considerably more useful. You can exhaust yourself trying to stay and fight or you can what?





[1] . I deliberately use the female pronoun here because hopefully genderqueers are more mature than that.

[2] . Nope, not being able-ist. In fact, I think we need a Mad Pride movement desperately. But see, I own my craziness.

[3] , No. We do not need workshops on how to use sex toys. We used to have to figure out stuff like that by ourselves. If the younger generation don’t know what to do, they shouldn’t be joining the feminist movement. Neither do we need  ‘sex-positive spaces’. Let them go do it in the bush like we used to. It’s called tough love.

[4] . Not saying that we don’t need these things. Just saying that if they at some point don’t lead to practical action then you are probably not in the feminist movement.