From Chapter 4.
The female fear factory, which I also call the manufacture of female fear, relies on the quick, effective transfer of meaning.
The threat of rape is an effective way to remind women that they are not safe and that their bodies are strictly not theirs. It is an exercise in power that communicates that the man creating fear has power over the woman who is the target of his attention; it also teaches women who witness it about their vulnerability either through reminding them of their own previous fear or showing them that it could happen to them next. It is an effective way to keep women in check and often results in women curtailing their movement in a physical and psychological manner.
The manufacture of female fear works to silence women by reminding us of our rapability, and therefore blackmails us to keep ourselves in check. It also sometimes works to remind some men and trans-people that they are like women, and therefore also rapable. It is a public fear that is repeatedly manufactured through various means in many private and public settings. South Africa’s public culture is infused with this phenomenon.
The manufacture of female fear requires several aspects to work: the safety of the aggressor, the vulnerability of the target, the successful communication by the aggressor that he has power to wound, rape and/or kill the target with no consequence to himself. Women are socialized to look away from the female fear factory-to pretend that it is not happening and to flee when ignoring it becomes impossible. Patriachy trains us all to be receptive to the conditions that produce and reproduce female fear, especially when it is not our own bodies on the assembly line.
Examples illustrate this best…
In the winter of 2013, feminist Lebo Pule shared a story about being in a shop in the Johannesburg CBD where a young man harassed a young woman. It is a familiar site where violence, gender and sexuality rub up against one another. As Pule looks on, the young man tries to get the young woman’s attention by calling out to her, addressing her in increasingly direct ways. When she continues to ignore him, his aggression grows, he starts to goad her.
In various ways she attempts to pretend he is not there, to wish him away and to create a distance between them. This clearly communicates that his attention is unwelcome. When she realizes that none of this will have the intended effect, the young woman turns around and pointedly informs him that she is not interested in talking to him and that he should leave her alone. She tells him to go away.
He says. “That is why we rape you.”
An enraged Pule intervenes, interrogates the man asking him first, “How is that why you rape women?”, and then “How many women have you raped?”
Increasingly the rest of the shop watches in slight shock at Pule’s confrontation of the young man. They find HER behavior strange and surprised that she will not let it go, making the young man uncomfortable.
They are so accustomed to this kind of behavior that it is not the young man’s threats that are strange, but Pule’s refusal to let him continue.
The shopkeepers keep quiet.