“Slags” face to face: an invitation to sit and talk

We are witnesses, throughout life, to several soap opera episodes where, among the several crossroads of its characters, there are always two women having a simultaneous love affair with the same man, without both being aware of it. Usually, they are both deceived by him, receive promises of love and are certified they are both, each one on a different side of the fence, unique in his life.  Sooner or later, there is always a moment when both discover the existence of one another; there is always a questioning moment “wait a moment, there is another woman after all?” And another woman for everything in life.

http://www.buala.org/sites/default/files/imagecache/full/2018/08/muholi2..." alt="Julile I, Parktown, Joanesburgo, 2016
from Somnyama Ngonyama" width="590" height="388" />

We leave the soap opera world and face real life, face thousands of similar situations, closer or more distant cases which take place – or took place – right under ours eyes. And, once again, we stop on our tracks. We stop and go back to the moment when both “discover themselves” sharing the same man.

What happens in those moments, with some exceptions, is a war against the other woman. This meaning, she, the other one, is the problem; she is the “trump” who dated “my man”. She is the “trump” which “hit on my man”. And where is man’s responsibility?

We live in a society which blames women for everything and, besides that, encourages them to blame each other for everything, even when they are the victims of a situation. On the one hand, we often ear that “if your husband hit you, it’s because you teased him”, “if your boyfriend mistreated you it’s because you weren’t well behaved”, “if he cheated on you, it’s because you didn’t treat him well”, etc. On the other hand, it is “the other woman who wanted to steal your man”, “the other woman is to blame for the poor condition of your home”, “it’s the other woman who hit on him”, etc. And, like one says in Angola, “the other woman is the crook”. They teach you to feed an intense emotional war on other women; they teach you to name and tag other women as “crooks” at all times. And there are no hierarchies here: both in the outskirts and the city, “war” happens. And in this game, there is always a third element: the man. Meanwhile, he is never to blame or asked to take responsibility for what is happening. Why is that so?

Clarice Falcão, a Brazilian singer/songwriter suggests a completely different and unusual approach to a situation involving two women and a man. This approach is presented in one of her songs, released in 2016, with the title “slag”.

According to some dictionaries, the word “slag” defines someone who leads an erratic life, displaying an immoral behaviour. A slag is the person whose behaviour and character are doubtful. Recalling the situation described above between two women and clinging to these concepts, we realize how easy it is to cry out that the other person is someone lacking character who “got in the middle” of a relationship which supposedly was going well with only two elements.

In this song, Clarice introduces a woman who, having gone through a love triangle, and after finding out about it, asks the other woman to analyse the situation involving both of them inviting her to have a beer (chopp). In the first four lines of the one stanza song, she starts by saying:

The two of us are only extras

At the corner of the same scene in an action film

Dying discretely on the same explosion

So why don’t you come meet me?

Putting aside everything society teaches us about how we should react to those situations, we are asked to reflect upon how women have been victims, at an emotional level, at the hands of a third element. Our attention is drawn to the fact that women have been “nothing but extras” in several emotional games where the main character is the man. And the best thing about that drawing of attention is that it happens face to face, between women; it is a “come on, let´s talk about it” gesture.

In situations where we are taught to keep being competitive in the presence of a third element – something which is never worth the trouble – receiving an invitation to talk and try to understand a situation where one has been treated as a bartering object is something revolutionary. It is revolutionary because those behaviour patterns are broken and another woman’s emotional health, already considerably damaged, can be reconstructed. There is a new space for empathy: it is a process of placing oneself in the other woman’s shoes and realizing she was as much of a victim as you were and that you are better off inviting her for a drink with you that calling her a “slag”.

The music goes on and the last four lines of the one stanza song state:

We are both a collateral effect

Of an intentional train accident

Which didn’t kill anyone, but was almost fatal

So give me your hand

Many cases of emotional “accidents” where women have been victims are similar to this song’s “intentional train accident”. Those accidents are often preceded by a story of manipulation, lies and a sea of minor psychological poisons which weaken and undermine women’s emotional defence mechanisms. We all want and would like to have healthy relationships, we all want partners to share life with, that’s perfectly normal, what isn’t ok is the way that willingness and openness is taken advantage of, manipulated to take personal benefits. And, worst of all, what isn’t ok is the fact society assumes it’s ok to play emotional games, to close your eyes regarding the responsibility of men, to blame women and encourage them to blame each other.

It is also necessary to reflect upon how we look at our lives relying on the “man” element. In our society, in our communities, women’s lives always come to a point when one judges everything one does according to whether you have managed to find a man or not. You are educated to never ignore the fact that you need to be a fairly good woman in order to, in due time – let’s say, before or when you turn 25 – “be chosen” by a male. We feel that pressure, in our daily lives, coming from those who are closer or even from those who are farthest to us. In Angola, it is “natural” for somebody you don’t know, or even someone you known to show up and give you advices, in a formal or less formal situation, on the importance of you, as a woman, dating men and marrying in due time and not letting too much time pass by. And, above all, be “the more subservient possible” – that being translated into being that woman who puts up with psychological and physical abuse, who puts up with anything.

Our daily lives are so intensively pervaded by ideas regarding “finding a man”; “behaving well in the presence of the man”, “being submissive to the man”, “suffering abuse from the man”, “shutting up and consenting to”, that if you find yourself in a situation where you are manipulated so you can “die discretely”, this is considered something normal. Meanwhile, being able to find another woman willing to reach out a helping hand and reconstructing the pieces together is one of the best healing devices.

The song goes on and here comes the chorus:

Come and have a beer with me, slag,

For I know what a slag I am too

Can’t you see, what a deep understanding

For having shared the same kind of love

The one who weakens the other does not usually care about reconstructing, at least, this is what happens in our society: if I use you and the other woman, there is no trouble, since men may do it and everybody thinks it’s ok, right? We therefore realize how important it is for you to go out and have a beer with “the other woman”, to reflect upon the fact of having been called “slags” and about how much you have in common. The two of you are invited to have a sit and question the socially constructed behavioural patterns which weaken you and hurt your mental health.

We have a lot in common, much more than “having shared the same kind of love”. In what concerns the rights of women, we have an oppression and social injustice past and present in common. We are both oppressed in the sense that we don’t have the power of decision over our own bodies; we cannot decide whether to get out of an exploitative relationship or not because society, family, church, culture, traditions will tell you that you need to put up with it and stop “rebelling”. We are both part of a setting which asphyxiates our freedoms to see and to feel; suffering violence just because of the way you dress and having to hear the words “whore, horny, slag” spoken by friends, relatives and by the police, spoken by those who should protect you.

The chorus of the song goes on and finishes this way:

Give me your number, great enemy

Cause only you will understand

That stomach ache

Call me, cause I’m feeling the same way as you

It can be quite meaningful for two people who had all the motives to become “enemies” to exchange phone numbers, to become capable of self-understanding and therefore of understanding the other side of the fence. That capacity becomes important since it makes us reflect upon what is beyond us, beyond the situation itself, it makes us reflect upon the social, cultural and religious dynamics which encompass us and which work together to keep us in circumstances under which our humanity, our being and our feelings are pushed to the backstage.

Receiving a call from someone who understands our “stomach ache”, who is feeling the same way as us, who is as much of a “slag” as us for something she didn’t do is an important moment.  Besides being important, it can be a triggering moment, giving way to new and better ways of looking at one another, of forging alliances and of intensifying the struggle towards the construction of societies where genre inequalities stop being daily news and the standardisation of all kinds of abuse against women finally comes to an end. 

Translation:  Sara Santos

by Leopoldina Fekayamãle
Corpo | 4 December 2018 | feminism, slags