I am pregnant. Which is, for the most part, wonderful and joyous news. Unfortunately, this has been an incredibly difficult pregnancy for me emotionally. Not just because this is an unplanned and largely unwanted pregnancy (although that is true). Not because I have been an emotional and hormonal basket case (also true). Not even because I am scared shitless that postnatal depression will rear its ugly head once more.
No, my greatest emotional trauma related to this pregnancy is that I am fairly sure that the baby I am carrying is a girl. This would be wonderful news for many parents, but not for me. Because I know what it is to be a girl and a woman in South Africa.
South Africa’s rape statistics are absolutely appalling. Interpol has named South Africa as the rape capital of the world. It has been reported that there are up to 3 600 rapes in South Africa every day. In a recent Medical Research Council study, more than 25% of the male respondents admitted to raping someone. In another, older study; the Medical Research Council stated that one third of girls in South Africa experienced sexual violence before the age of 18. Think about that – at least one third of us will experience a sexual assault before we are even adults.
Until recently I belonged to (an admittedly small) club of 5 women from all walks of life – different ages, races, religions, socio-economic backgrounds and sexual orientations. We grew up in different parts of the country, in disparate communities. And yet 100% of the women in that club had experienced some form of sexual violence. This was not a group that had come together because of our shared experience of sexual violence, and yet every one of us knew what it was to be sexually assaulted at some point in our lives. This is a common theme in my interactions with South African women.
We South African women may not speak about it much, except in the safe confines of closed groups and behind closed doors, but so so many of us are survivors. Not just of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse, but of the daily struggle with fear. The trauma of being scared of what is waiting for us just around the corner. We travel through our lives with an awareness of what may happen to us. What probably will happen to us. What, in all likelihood, has already happened to us. And we overcome. We are brave.
I have overcome. I have been brave.
Until the doctor said, “It’s too early to tell for sure, but it looks like a girl” and my heart shriveled up in fear. Fear for what this girl-child will have to face. Because even if she is lucky enough to be one of those untouched by this widespread evil, I know that I will have to prepare her anyway.
As a mother, I know that I will have to teach her to walk with caution. Teach my precious innocent little girl to look over her shoulder. Teach her to deal with the inappropriate comments from men old enough to be her father and the man-handling that often accompanies it. Prepare her for the possibility that the boy/man she chooses to date may not be as nice a guy as he seems. That he may try to rape her on one of the dates that she innocently and eagerly prepares for.
I will have to give her the tools that became second nature to me: never take a drink unless it is sealed. Never leave your drink untended. Never let your date take you to a private location until you are certain of him. Even when you’re certain of him, remember your pepper spray. Do not trust too soon.
Essentially, I will need to teach her to walk in fear. To be paranoid. But it will also be my duty to make sure she doesn’t end up jaded and incapable of trust. Somehow, I will need to teach her to be cautious and know that there is danger, but convince her to be open to love. My job will be to maintain her innocence while destroying it. And I am terrified. Because I don’t know how to approach this parenting. I don’t know how to walk that razor thin line. I don’t know how to give her the knowledge of the awful thing that hides in so many of our closets, while I hope and pray to all that is holy that it won’t happen to her. While I battle my desire to not expose her to its ugliness.
I realise that my own experience of sexual assault may be the cause of my fear, but when I look at the statistics (and idiots like this), it is hard to believe that I am overreacting.
How do I do it? How do I parent a girl-child in a healthy and constructive way, that doesn’t teach her to fear her sexuality, while keeping her safe? How do I protect my little girl?