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Sarah Starrenburg

Why We Need Men

Posted on Jan 31, 2011 in Politics, Society | 5 comments

The first time I heard the two words put together, just a few days ago, my brain struggled to comprehend what it could possibly mean.

‘Corrective Rape’.

The mind recoils from even the suggestion. That these two words even exist together as a phrase is an appalling indictment on the depth of human depravity.

Yet this phrase does exist. And, what’s sadder, it exists as a descriptor for a particularly ugly kind of violence against women.

Millicent Gaika (right, pictured) knows about this phenomenon first hand. The South African woman was bound, strangled, tortured and raped for five hours by a man who boasted that he was ‘curing’ her of her lesbianism. This is the face of so-called ‘Corrective Rape’ – a heinous crime whereby men, specifically in South Africa, rape lesbian women in order to ‘turn them straight’.

Though post-apartheid South Africa was the first country in the world to constitutionally protect its citizens from discrimination based on sexuality, it is a culture of the worst kind of patriarchy. President Jacob Zuma himself (below, pictured) stood trial for rape as recently as 2006, and a South African girl born today is more likely to be raped than she is to learn to read. Perhaps this is not surprising, since a 2009 survey by the country’s Medical Research Council found that one in four men admits to raping someone. Moreover, 62 per cent of boys over 11 believe that forcing someone to have sex is not an act of violence, with a third of these believing that girls enjoy rape.

All this in a country with the world’s largest population of HIV-positive individuals.

It’s so very, very wrong.

It’s wrong the way that kidnapping little boys, arming them with assault rifles and forcing them to attack their own villages is wrong. It’s wrong the way that sterilising Jewish women and performing medical experiments on them in concentration camps is wrong.

Some things are beyond discussion, or politics, or opinion. There’s no room for devil’s advocate here, no back and forth, no particular contexts or cultural relativity. They’re Just Wrong.

And anyone who entertains for even a second that that might not be the case, needs to seriously re-examine their humanity.

It’s disgusting. It’s sickening. It’s obsene.

But it’s more than any of these things.

‘Corrective Rape’. Seriously – how do you even begin to describe how wrong that is? I can barely bring myself to use the phrase and dignify this abominable euphemism as if it’s in any way representative of reality.

In fact, there seems to me only one thoroughly fitting descriptor for the ugliness and depravity of the whole situation.

It is, quite simply, fucked up.

So what can you do about corrective rape in South Africa? Well, you can sign the petition that over 140,000 people have signed, and add weight to the call for President Zuma to take action.

Perhaps you can personally make a real difference in South Africa. Perhaps not.

But what you can do, what you must do, is be sickened, be appalled, be outraged. And then stay that way whenever you see or hear something similar.


Because, as Dumisani Rebombo (right, pictured) ,  a South African man who raped a school friend as a teenager and 20 years later – after the rare step of seeking out the woman to apologise – is now a gender activist, explains, “We live in a society that has known so much violence for so much time that it becomes normalised,” he says. “People don’t shudder and jump when they hear these things….There are men who don’t rape but when they see these atrocities around them they remain silent. When they speak out, we will win the battle.”

We must shudder. We must jump. When we see even the beginning of behaviour such as this, we must speak out. We must guard the culture we are part of.

This is especially true for men.

We need you men. This behaviour…this is not you. This is not your gender. This is not who you are. I know this. Many women know this.

But too many don’t.

Too many women don’t know the kind of men I know. Good men; strong men; protective men. Men who would never for a second think there is really such a thing as corrective rape; never suggest its legitimacy.

And we need you – I need you – to uphold that standard. To guard against the smallest devaluing of female worth. To reject even the beginning of male sexual entitlement.

We need your voice. We need your strength. Now more than ever.

Because rape, ‘corrective’ or otherwise, isn’t a women’s issue. Rape is a men’s issue.

And we need men to fight it.



Nkalen, Michael, ‘Protest against “corrective rape”‘, Sowetan Live, Jan 6, 2011.

Shields, Rachel, ‘South Africa’s Shame: The Rise of Child Rape’, The Independant, May 16, 2010.

Smith, David, ‘We have a major problem in South Africa’, The Guardian, Nov 18, 2010.

Medical Research Council of South Africa, ‘Preventing Rape and Violence in South Africa: Call for Leadership in a New Agenda for Action’, MRC Policy Research Brief, Nov 2009.

Kelly, Annie, ‘Raped and Killed for Being a Lesbian: South African ignores “corrective” attacks’, The Guardian, Mar 12, 2009.

Mkize, Nonhlanhla, ‘Cloud over the Rainbow Nation’, Human Sciences Research Council, Vol. 5, No. 1, Mar 2007.

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Realising connectedness

Posted on Jan 19, 2011 in Society | 0 comments


“Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realise where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”

– Thoreau

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Love, Marriage and Kanye

Posted on Jan 18, 2011 in Art, Society | 0 comments

“Two dead women in lingerie swing back and forth from the ceiling from a chain around their necks.

Two young women are slumped on a silk-sheeted bed, like corseted lifeless mannequins. A man advances on them. His intentions are clear.

Another woman in fetishized clothing lies spread-eagled on a table in front of a man eating a huge plate of raw meat.”

ABC’s The Drum published the above, describing Kanye West’s music video for his new single, ‘Monster’, in an article entitled ‘Who Says Female Corpses Aren’t Sexy?’

The author, Melinda Tankard Reist, goes on to describe the overwhelming and in no way veiled messages of eroticized violence against women which saturate the song and video –

“Then there’s these lines: “I put the p-ssy in the sarcophagus” (which, in case you’re wondering, is a flesh eating coffin) and “rape and pillage a village, women and children”.

The clip is not only interested in fetishizing female bodies – it revels in fetishizing female pain, female passivity, female suffering and female silence. The ultimate female is the quiet, passive female – a mannequin – who accepts violence, abuse and suffering while remaining hot and sexy.”

We’re talking serious NSFW stuff here. Not Safe For Work Women.

It brought to mind a poem I recently read on the blog of author Tim Challies. It was submitted to him by a reader, a woman whose husband’s heart had been damaged by exactly the kind of messages of hatred being promoted by Kanye. I defy anyone to read it and not take the danger of this kind of ‘entertainment’ seriously.

I Looked for Love in Your Eyes

I saved my best for you.
Other girls may have given themselves away,
But I believed in the dream.
A husband, a wife, united as one forever.

Nervous, first time, needing assurance of your love,
I looked for it in your eyes
Mere inches from mine.
But what I saw made my soul run and hide.

Gone was the tenderness I’d come to know
I saw a stranger, cold and hard
Distant, evil, revolting.
I looked for love in your eyes
And my soul wept.

Who am I that you cannot make love to me?
Why do I feel as if I’m not even here?
I don’t matter.
I’m a prop in a filthy play.
Not an object of tender devotion.

Where are you?

Years pass
But the hardness in your eyes does not.
You think I’m cold
But how can I warm to eyes that are making hate to someone else
Instead of making love to me?

I know where you are.
I’ve seen the pictures.
I know now what it takes to turn you on.
Women…people like me
Tortured, humiliated, hated, used
Images burned into your brain.
How could you think they would not show in your eyes?

Did you ever imagine,
The first time you picked up a dirty picture
That you were dooming all intimacy between us
Shipwrecking your marriage
Breaking the heart of a wife you wouldn’t meet for many years?

If it stopped here, I could bear it.
But you brought the evil into our home
And our little boys found it.
Six and eight years old.
I heard them laughing, I found them ogling.

Hands bound, mouth gagged.
Fisheye photo, contorting reality
Distorting the woman into exaggerated breasts.
The haunted eyes, windows of a tormented soul
Warped by the lens into the background,
Because souls don’t matter, only bodies do
To men who consume them.

Little boys
My little boys
Laughing and ogling the sexual torture
Of a woman, a woman like me.
Someone like me.

An image burned into their brains.

Will their wives’ souls have to run and hide like mine does?
When does it end?

I can tell you this. It has not ended in your soul.
It has eaten you up. It is cancer.
Do you think you can feed on a diet of hatred
And come out of your locked room to love?

You say the words, but love has no meaning in your mouth
When hatred rules in your heart.
Your cruelty has eaten up every vestige of the man
I thought I was marrying.
Did you ever dream it would so consume you
That your wife and children would live in fear of your rage?

That is what you have become
Feeding your soul on poison.

I’ve never used porn.
But it has devastated my marriage, my family, my world.

– anonymous

~ ~ ~

Is this the world we want? Do we want to advance the age old metaphor of the battle of the sexes into a massacre, or, to use Kanye’s lyrics, a ‘pillaging’ of the value of the female soul and body? Do we want the norm moved even slightly by this kind of voice? Do we want our children to believe there is any room for these kinds of attitudes and behaviours towards women? Is this okay with anyone, really?

It’s not okay with me. There’s a petition gaining international support to prevent the clip from ‘Monster’ from being released. I usually lean towards the side of freedom of expression over censorship, but for this – I signed. When your value as a human being is being attacked, you can’t sit silent. You have to stand and say no.

You can say no here.

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I didn’t think about the current…

Posted on Jan 10, 2011 in Society | 0 comments

As I watched the news tonight, I realised there was another heartbreaking part of the floods I hadn’t even thought about.

The current.

As I sadly saw yet another community’s buildings and dreams attacked by the vicious and unrelenting floodwaters, the cameraman filming from a helicopter overhead zoomed in on one particular family home. As the family took refuge on the roof, dirty currents of water rushed through their rooms beneath it.


When I had thought previously about going back to one’s home after it had been flooded, I thought about going back to find how badly your possessions had fared. It didn’t occur to me that you might not find them at all.

I watched floodwaters stream through the windows on one side, and emerge on the other side carrying away a wave of papers and objects – perhaps photos, or birth certificates; a treasured children’s book, or a ring passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter. Not just damaged – gone.

I hadn’t thought about the current before.

It’s hard to fathom sometimes that there’s nothing any of us can do to stop the rain. But it’s important to remember that there’s something every one of us can do to help those whom the rain is hurting.

We can all give. And we can all pray. Ideally, we will all do both.

~ ~ ~

Two relief funds raising money to help those affected by the floods are:

Premier’s Flood Relief Appeal

ACC International Relief

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Sarah hearts Henry

Posted on Jan 7, 2011 in Art, Books, Society | 0 comments

He knows just what to say to send my heart soaring:)


My long-time love affair with Henry David Thoreau has recently been rekindled. He’s quite a guy, my Henry. Such a visionary, he even inspired Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., with his revolutionary paper, ‘Civil Disobedience’. Yup, it was all his idea!


It’s his journal that first won my heart, though. The one he kept during the two years he lived off the land, alone, in the woods outside Concord, Massachusetts during the mid 1800s.


Why did he undertake such a life experiment at the age of 28? Well, in his own words, “I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived…I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…”


Our first date together was quite intense…after being set up by my Uni reading list, we ended up spending the entire weekend together on the couch;) And that was it – my heart was won!


And how could it not be, when he whispers such sweet nothings as this…


“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavour. It is something to be able to paint  a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”


I return to spend time with Henry and his journal every so often, because it’s amazing how what he has to say about his life in the 19th century always gives me such interesting food for thought about my own in the 21st.


It seems even in Henry’s day, people were starting to wonder if all this technological connectedness really resulted in more meaningful communication, or just more being said –


“We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”


“For my part, I could easily do without the post-office. I think there are very few important communications made through it. To speak critically, I never received more than one or two letters in my life that were worth the postage.”


Not that our insatiable desire for the latest information wasn’t just as much of a driver back then too –


“Hardly a man takes a half hour’s nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, ‘What’s the news?'”


The fickle field of fashion seems not to have changed much in 200 years either –


“Yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable…clothes, than to have a sound conscience.”


“The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same.”


But what I love most about Henry is the way he passionately points out and debunks the many distractions, hollow busy-ness, and overwhelming materialistic pursuits of life. He speaks of how easy it is to become caught up in a lifetime of consumerism and the elusive goal of a financial sense of ‘enough’. He points out that it is far to common to come to the end of one’s life and find that it has been spent not on those things closest to one’s heart, but on worrying about that which we cannot control and acquiring that which we cannot take with us.


He suggests that we may reconsider the price point of certain pursuits if we remember that “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”


I always leave time spend with Henry inspired to both live more simply, and dream more daringly. It is too true that “Our life is frittered away by detail”, and that, conversely, “In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.”


For if I don’t? Well, that’s my favourite part…


“As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”

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