Letters To My Younger Sisters (Part 2)

Dear Little Sister

I think I spied a picture of you while going through the pictures in my 15-year-old nephew’s mobile.  It matters little what he was searching for, but buried in the midst of his mobile album were a few pictures taken of you sent to him taken in what may be your bathroom.  Perhaps I should stop to tell you that yours were not the only images of young women in his album; there were several young women who also had sent him images of themselves in similar poses, in similar circumstances who too wished to hold his attention.  I suppose the most memorable for me were the ones in which you had used some kind of marker over your chest to write his name [cattle branding anyone?].

Beyond that, I was fascinated by what having these images did for him [his self-esteem].  They were for him a series of badges that he could whip up at will as proof of his masculine prowess to his friends.  If you can imagine; they served a kind of military proof of his worth; they meant that he had earned his stripes.  Other young men of his ilk could not doubt his aptitude; he was well and truly “the man”.

What happened next is what truly came to shock me.  I came to learn that when one of the girls in a mobile harem did something to humiliate a young brother [something trivial like “seeing someone else”] he may use a mobile photo app to add demeaning commentary to her image and upload it to his social networks.  I don’t have to tell you details, I am certain you have seen the viral images.  You can witness within minutes how such a young brother’s chest would puff out when he received mentions from people he didn’t even know.  This again is a badge of worth.  His status in his world remains intact, and he will remain every inch “the man”.

Having witnessed such an occasion, I am certain you have anxiously wondered what you would have to do to ensure your safety against such a transgression.  I can tell you with confidence that you [your emotional and mental make-up] matter very little to his interaction with his world.  Of great importance is how you provide him with significance in his world.  So you see you are but a commodity with which to trade ∙ your image for a sense of value.

I wonder then little sister, how do we assess your value in the world? Does it appreciate based on the number of mobile harems you are a part of? Can we consider how you have portrayed yourself in these images which you freely supply? How much would the bra-bearing image of you fetch? And the one of you caressing the wall, looking back at your behind? Would we consider the topless image of you with your finger in your mouth as the most pricy?

There was a time when all you had to do to find out who you were and your place in the world was to look at the women in your family.  Your gaze would give you more than an impression, but provide you with a clear understanding of who you were meant to be.  Their posture, their gait, the way they used words pointed to how you should conduct yourself in the world and gave you a clear sense of belonging in the world ∙ a clear sense of being in the world.

Now you regard the women in your life with sympathy: they are not cool, they do not drape branded cloth about their bodies, and they do not carry marks of wealth as they are ferried around town.

A few decades ago; we regarded the representation of young women on television as reflective of a misogynist culture.  Look up “hip-hop” and “portrayal of women” and “misogyny” is not far behind.  There was an understanding that young women were being objectified.  It was easy to point the finger at the young men that pointed cameras in the direction of young men.  They were to blame; little girls the victims of their circumstance. Today young women point the cameras at themselves; what they capture of themselves is no different from what we abhorred a decade ago.  I am lost as to the lesson to learn here.  I know only that I pity the generation whose young women’s sense of worth is tied to the egos of young men.

Writer: Tebogo Serobatse          Photographer: Jeff Rikhotso