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[OPINION] 'Twas the season for slut-shaming

On the first day of Christmas, we had a quiet Jo’burg celebration. A harvest table, a game of Heads Up and a secret Santa session. On the second of Christmas, also known as Boxing Day for historically charitable reasons, I was called a whore in a T-shirt.

The 26th of December is a day reserved for nursing hangovers with leftover food from the night before, it’s also the perfect day to go to the cinema because all through the movie house, not a creature stirs, not even a mouse. So we treated ourselves to The Return of Mary Poppins.

The film has received fairly mixed reviews. When you’re up against a Julie Andrews classic as Emily Blunt was, you’re under more pressure than a broken boiler in a basement. But we swayed on the side of the positive reviews of people who adored it. It was perfectly charming. And let’s be honest, even if you’re someone who erred on the side of thinking the film paled in comparison to the original, it would be really difficult to deny its ability to induce joy. One would have to be an absolute troll to walk out of the movie feeling anything but happy. At least, that’s what I thought when I bounced out of there with a spoon full of sugar, until, we ran into a bitter pill.

I bounced on a cloud to the escalator at Rosebank Mall when I heard a loud round of applause behind me. It was my sister. My wife, who was following behind starting questioning her. “What’s happening, what’s happening?” she said. My sister responded: “This guy just called me a slut.” At this point, the couple had sped past us and found themselves sandwiched between us on the escalator. “What does it feel like to be married to a man who randomly calls other women sluts for no reason?” my wife asked him.

A valid question met with no answer, except for his girlfriend who turned and said: “Just drop it.” How awful that women would settle for someone who is clearly a sexist slut-shamer. What does he say to her behind closed doors? What if they had a daughter in the future?

Technically, slut-shaming is defined as defaming a woman for the presumed frequency of her sexual activity. This man, however, had no idea about my sister's degree of promiscuity (as defined, of course, by the patriarchy). So what was this decidedly non-feminist scene actually about? Her clothes? She was dressed like Rosie the Riveter – blue dungarees and bandana to finish. Maybe her feminist attire modelled after a 17-year-old metal factory worker in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is what upset him, but I doubt that a man who clearly suffered from a healthy bout of toxic masculinity knew anything about feminist icons.

Then, of course, there’s the psychology behind all of this. We live in a society where men are studs and women are whores – in T-shirts (apparently). A ubiquitous double standard still exists when it comes to women and men in society. Calling my sister a slut wasn’t just an insulting assumption on her sexual activity, but it was also a way for this random stranger to assert a certain kind of power over the situation. He used the word to demean her and undermine her power. She’s attractive, intelligent and successful. She projects a security and confidence he clearly could not stand. He, on the other hand, was short, objectively unattractive and so unhappy with himself and his life that he managed to walk out of Mary Poppins under an umbrella of aggression.

When he called my sister an ugly slut who didn’t know how to walk (the whole incident was inspired by his opinion that she was walking too slowly for his liking), she just stopped in her tracks, turned and started applauding him loudly. She’s a bigger person than I am. When they go low, I definitely do not go high. I do not believe in rising above someone. I believe that you come down to theirs so that they can understand you. There’s no reason to threaten someone’s severely low IQ with an intelligence that surpasses their wildest dreams.

His slut-shaming continued when he called me a whore in a T-shirt. He then proceeded to tell me that my mother is also a slut and my father is a bitch.

All of this was equivalent to a four-year-old calling someone a poo-head on a playground. The argument is already lost when poo starts getting thrown around because there is a bigger wisdom at play. There is no way this man could justify his behaviour with reason or logic, so instead, he offered responses of a beaten man who hoped to demean and diminish us.

But how do you respond to a man who has delusions of grandeur about his own appearance as many men do? Purely because men are not held to the same standards of beauty as women? Well, you stoop, and stoop I did. I am not proud of this, but I went after the one aesthetic thing he could not deny. His weight. Yes, I fat-shamed him. After he vomited the insult about my mom and dad, he sped off and from somewhere deep inside myself, I shouted: “Run fatty, run. Poo-throwing. But I have never seen a man turn around so fast in defence of his own opinion. He stomped towards me and bumped his chest up against my own several times breathing fire and five to slapping me - another symptom of his threatened masculinity, his abusive behaviour - that he would threaten to hit a woman in the middle of a mall. Another reason to question how he treats his own partner at home.

I am not proud of my fat-shaming. Perhaps I stooped too low this time. But I have to be honest here, and perhaps this is nothing to be proud of as well - few things have ever felt better than calling out a man’s body image to the extent that it would hurt him as much as women are hurt every single day.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.

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