How does virginity testing, the annual Royal Reed Dance benefit our girls…why do we raise our boys differently?
By Soka Mthembu
Other than the King Shaka memorial and the Isandlwana battle re-enactment, there are two cultural events that I always look forward to each year; one being the Royal Zulu Reed Dance, a centuries-old event taking place at King Goodwill Zwelithini Enyokeni Royal Palace in September, early spring. It’s a spectacle of an event in which thousands of virgin girls come out together wearing only colourful beads, and in some cases short skirts, known as izidiya. They sing and dance to celebrate, each girl carrying a cut reed which is presented to His Majesty, King Goodwill.
My favourite event, however, is the brain child of Dr Nomcebo Mthembu. This is known as the Indoni Carnival, and takes place in Durban around October of every year. The main aim of the Indoni Carnival is to bring young people of various indigenous cultures from around South Africa to teach them about social ills, and the importance of upholding traditional African values. The parade takes place along the streets of Durban. Over 8000 spectators line the streets during the parade during which many different South African tribes showcase their costumes and dances: Zulu, Ndebele, Xhosa, Pedi, Swati, Venda, Batswana, Khoisan, Mpondo, Tsonga, and Abathembu. Indoni has become my favourite event for the simple reason that it’s not just about one tribe. Moreover, Indoni includes boys who go through some intense training in winter camps on what it means to be real men. (I’m using the word tribes cautiously, for some prefer to be described as nations). However, that’s a debate for another day, because as far as I know (or have been brainwashed), the description of nation would refer to the inhabitants of the entire country.
Now this brings me to something that really riles me as a father of three girls, although I also have boys. As much as there are efforts to rope in boys into these events, there remains the fact that many such events are aimed at girls: how they should conduct themselves, how to remain pure and virgins for as long as possible…till they finish school, and how they should only engage in sex after marriage. And the biggest drivers for these initiatives are women. These become important days for men to lust over young women; and for tourists who take delight in taking photographs and recording videos of something they have never experienced before. These videos and images are copyrighted and sold for profit, while the girls receive nothing. This does not benefit the youngsters at all.
Something else irks me: besides telling these girls not to engage in sex to avoid HIV, STIs, teen pregnancy, what else are we offering to these girls, when they will end up with boys who have no clue how to treat, respect, and value them?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once said something very profound in her TED TALK titled ‘We should all be feminists’:
“We police #girls, we praise girls for #virginity, but we don’t praise #boys for virginity, and it’s always made me wonder how exactly this is supposed to work out because …I mean, the loss of virginity is usually a process that involves…”
This can only mean one thing: As fathers, we are failing our boys, and even more so, our girls. The question of whether we will show anger when our boys sleep around and impregnate girls demands an answer. It is even more hypocritical that, when hashtags such as #MenAreTrash emerge, we become confused; or when our boys rape elders, or children, or brutally murder girls, we seem to forget that most such behaviour arises in the absence of a good father figure as a role model.
We should stop making boys feel stupid for having not slept with a girl early enough. We, as parents, should be furious with our boys if they impregnate girls whom they are not able or willing to marry; just as we are angered when our girls fall pregnant. If a pregnant girl is taken out of school, which shouldn’t happen, we should also take the boy out of school, because he’s just as guilty, if not more so.
Women have been doing all they can, and they make every effort to raise their girls really well – some even lock them up so they don’t go out! I’ve yet to hear of fathers doing the same to their boys.
We become excited when our boys as young as three years old show an interest in girls; however, God forbid that girls of a young age should show a similar liking for the opposite sex!
Everything has changed – the way we speak, the way we dress, the cars we drive – even the food we eat. One thing, however, never changes, and that is patriarchy, which is faithfully perpetuated, especially amongst Africans.