The Time Traveler: Discipline and ‘Hoeism’

12 April 2019
Author   Hugh Ellis
Its funny how, if you have some privilege in this society of ours, you tend to not even think how everyday things that you take for granted are denied to people who look different from you, or are from the wrong side of the Western Bypass.
One thing I've been considering since last Saturday's Slut Shame Walk in Windhoek is how I routinely walk from my gym, through multiple parking lots and around the mall nearby, wearing shorts and a sleeveless vest, and no one has ever made an inappropriate comment, or tried to touch me, or anything.
And I think I'm pretty hot, if may say so...
When I got up this morning I may have forgotten to put on a shirt before I closed my bedroom window, which looks out onto the street. I was really (not really) surprised that none of the passing gentry looked twice, or called the neighborhood watch to complain that I was ‘lowering the moral tone of the neighborhood’.
While I’m here, let’s remember that no one requires me to shave my legs, or says I am disgracing my masculinity if they see some few strands of hair around my calves at the Nedbank Cycle Classic. This might have something to do with me coming almost stone last, but that’s really not the point.
Increasingly, men are ‘manscaping’ their hair ‘down there’, switching on the electric trimmer before breaking out the Speedos, but no one is suggesting, thank God, that we go for Brazilian waxes, as seems the norm for women these days, whether you’re on the cover of Vogue or merely expecting a like for your Instagram beach shots.
Heck, even shaving one’s face is considered unnecessary for men these days, and rightly so.
The point is, no one says that I am ‘irresponsible’ for doing or not doing any of these things. No one is suggesting I deserve to be raped or otherwise sexually assaulted because of all those times I may have exposed my body.
As it is for men, so should it be for women.
The French political philosopher Michel Foucault (yes, I’m really quoting French philosophers in my column, it’s come to that!) wrote that discipline, and thus oppression, in society is always enacted upon the body.
The way this is done runs from the serious, such as the death penalty in some countries, to the mundane, such as corporal punishment. But it’s not hard to see how it is done to keep women in check, too.
How the requirement that everything is (usually) tucked away and covered up AND simultaneously has to be plucked, shaved, tanned and toned, is as much about keeping women ‘in their place’ as it is about aesthetics.
The fact that us guys get away with letting it all hang out, but the moment a woman shows a little bit of skin, she’s a disgusting hoe, shows us, though our bodies as Foucault said it would, exactly who is in charge in our society.
It gets weird, when some Namibian ancestors walked proudly bare-breasted, yet modern Namibian women’s chests must be behind both a bra and a loosely-fitted shirt, or else us men might say that ‘females today are an affront to tradition’.
At the same time, we men happily watch women on MTV like Beyoncé and Rihanna showing quite a bit of skin, even hold these ladies up as idols, but heaven forbid some of us Namibian men should meet, and not recognize, Beyoncé Knowles Carter in a music video outfit, behind a tavern late on Friday night...
But this is how things are. Our confused beliefs that we use as ruling elites to justify our power cannot just exist in the air. That’s not how power works. It has to be inscribed upon someone’s body, in this case, our poor women.
We could create different power structures, different ideas about society, about the respect due unconditionally to women. And, in time, this would lead to women’s poor battered and bruised and alternately covered and uncovered bodies being treated differently, too.
But as men, as Government, as the power-holding class, can we do that? Will we do that? When will we do that?
Hugh Ellis likes reading Jean-Paul Sartre and drinking non-alcoholic beer on his days off from his job as a lecturer at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST). The views he expresses here are personal views. Follow him on Twitter @ellis_hugh


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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