OP-EDs

OP-ED: OFFERING A GLIMPSE INTO BIG PANTIES POLITICS

The appropriation of bloomers (malumara) as a name for one of the factions of the ruling party has done little to curb sexism and misogyny.

By Mathe Ntšekhe

Trigger warning: I am going to sound a bit blasphemous in my efforts to make sense
of the current moment and the tensions it brings to the feminist agenda. A broad
agenda that hopes to eliminate all forms of oppression—ho netefatsa hore ha ho
motho ea eisehang, bohle re phela ka hlooho tse phahameng.

Now that I have brought in the “F” word, let me quickly assure you of one fact: I do know that Basotho men, historically, have held women in reverence. In fact, one
could argue that with idioms such as ‘mosali ke morena’ (a woman is sovereign), they pretty much understand that a woman reigns supreme to a man (mosali ke molimo oa monna)—or, at least, as it applies to the home front.

However profound or blasphemous this may sound, it does beg the question of why it is almost always necessary to qualify and confine the power of women to the home.
Why are we certain that in homes or in the private sphere that women have tangible power?
Why as soon as women enter the public sphere there is doubt?
I don’t have any answers. But, as I have discussed with one of my good friends, there is a need to explore why the private/public divide exists, despite all the continued work around equality.

We need to explore why, even when we have women in politics, their presence is felt closer to their homes. To put it differently, we need to explore why, for example, it seems easier to vote for women in local government elections than in national government elections.
Additionally, we need to explore why, once we do have women in the public sphere, it would seem they are forced to lose their essential femininity.

Variously, they are forced to cultivate an aesthetic that says they are more than their looks. They can be strategic. And, if needs be, they can make hard decisions without, heaven forbid, emotions getting in the way.
Interesting enough, this very same aesthetic, which I am referring to, must also assure all and sundry (particularly men) that the women know their places and are unavailable for enticement.

In fact, this is partly the reason the older (full panty wearing) woman is seen as more suited for power. Why? Because her power is easier to accept: since it can be curtailed through insulting allusions that she wears a bloomer, and therefore no longer desirable. More here can be said, but I have no interest to digress to G-strings and the likes.

I am wearing my big girls’ panties and geared up for tackling serious questions such as: what happens when wearing a bloomer or a big panty ceases to be an insult? In recent times, this particular question has been dominating my mind. I guess because a part of me believed the end of bloomers as an insult would be accompanied by the end of toxic masculinity and/or the end of patriarchy as we know it.

But, sadly, it would seem I was wrong. The appropriation of bloomers (malumara) as a name for one of the factions of the ruling party has done little to curb sexism and misogyny.
Literally, we are back in the genesis of conveniently forgetting that a man has agency.

As it was in the beginning, we are focused on the woman that God gave him, without asking what it is about this woman that disrupts logic in the man? The inability by all concerned parties to truthfully ask this question, speaks volumes to me. It suggests we are still ultimately invested in the big man type of politics, where alliances are made for the benefit of sustaining patronage networks.

Believe it or not, this may particularly be true for those against malumara. As a system, patriarchy has created a trap for this faction that causes masses to be mobilised on the logic of “anybody but X will do”— where X, without explicating it, is a man.
To be sure, under this logic, the trap lies in how easy it gets to (un)see and (un)hear
things. The result of this is that ethical conduct gets devalued. So much so that we (un)hear people trained on the law when they argue that the written law matters much more than ethics. We do so because to hear them is to also wonder how much they are invested in the idea of ethical leadership.

Unfortunately, as we (un)hear and (un)see to cope with the mess that is our country, our collective suffering continues. It becomes more and more difficult to see what needs to be done to collapse systems of oppression in order to bring dignity to all Basotho.
Unless the government collapses, reforms seem to hold some hope. But, not necessarily for us, women. At the end of this particular messy moment Lesotho is in, we, women are going to be the greatest losers. The sin of one woman shall be for all of us to bear.

With this in mind, dear panty wearers, it might be worth thinking long and hard about what we stand for. This we must do in order to demand a change that will be beneficial to all Basotho, and not just a few who are connected to power. NW

Mathe Ntšekhe is an African inter-sectional feminist working at the National University of Lesotho (NUL).

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