This Women’s Month lacked its chutzpah of the usual celebrations of women’s celebrations previous women’s months have had.
With elections accompanied by the “Zuma fatigue” and the changing dynamics of our democracy, this August it has been hard to concentrate on the usual 1956 women’s march celebrations.
Celebrating the era of Lillian Ngoyi and Charlotte Maxeke has lost its shine in a multi-class and complex society such as ours.
At best, such liberation heroines will be limited to history books rather than provide lessons needed for the competitive democracy we have become after the recent municipal elections.
It goes without saying that South Africa needs heroines living in today’s times to deal with the realities of South African life today. We are in dire need of activists and inspirational women who represent our modern and complex realities rather than the one-dimensional figures that the post-liberation era South Africa has clearly surpassed.
The likes of athlete Caster Semenya and the four young activists were a huge reminder of present and fluid realities, and for the need of a new breed of female leaders. The silent protest by the young four women at the IEC official election results announcement became a stark reminder that South Africa has very little to celebrate regarding the status of women.
With a president whose rape trial stink still haunts South African women, the status quo of South Africa as the purported rape capital of the world and the reaction of the ANCWL to the silent protesters is a sad reality of the patriarchal society that must be addressed as a state of emergency.
These four young women led with a bravery that our elderly mothers – some in the ANCWL – cannot fathom.
This is because previous generations didn’t have to suffer the daily struggle of rape young women of today do. They were more focused on defeating apartheid.
On the other hand, we have Semenya winning gold for the 800m race at the Rio 2016 Olympics and South Africans got a much-needed present reminder of the strength and resilience of black women living in this country.
Semenya, having grown up in circumstances with a lack of Western privilege in rural South Africa, was thrown into our collective psyche through the questioning of her sex and gender.
The young athlete who identifies herself as a woman was made to question her identity on a global scale.
She was called butch and unfeminine, and even denied the opportunity to compete to prove that she is indeed a woman.
All the labels never focused on her love for running, her skill and ability, but rather on her on the sex – a reality that women across the globe have to survive daily to achieve some respect in the working world.
After the furore surrounding her previous wins, Semenya went to the Rio Olympics with more focus and maturity. As expected, there were the naysayers who wanted to bring up the previous questioning around her sex, citing among other reasons that she had more testosterone than other females and therefore should not be allowed to run with other women.
Never mind that there have been white female athletes like Martina Navratilova with masculine features who never received the same ire or questioning as Semenya.
Never mind there have been women with more testosterone who have lost in the Olympic Games, making the argument null and void.
Tennis player Serena Williams has had people questioning her gender too, which makes black women, in particular, believe that society has issue with black bodies when they do not conform to the Western norm of beauty.
What the likes of Semenya and Williams do is break the box in which women are supposed to operate in.
They push the idea that women are more than what society views them.
They are more than their gender or sex and are capable, full human beings with feminine and masculine qualities.
With more transgender people likely taking part in the Olympics, gender is now becoming a constructed identity rather than a natural one – something feminists have been arguing for eons about, to the annoyance of conservatives who do not subscribe to the evolution and transcendence of race, sex and class.
Despite all of the noise, Semenya competed, broke records and brought a gold medal home as a woman, and gave a nation much needed pride and celebration. The four young activists and Semenya are the heroines of our time, winning in the face of undeniable complexity that our foremothers will never comprehend.