Last night, Mzansi Magic decided to air, for the second week in a row, a predatory relationship between an older man and a younger woman on the hit reality show Our Perfect Wedding. It’s probably worth noting that the first time I watched the show, they were airing an episode with an older man who had met and begun dating his fiancee when she was 13 and he was 21. In the duration of their relationship, he had had three children with three different women, but the bride had felt lucky that a light skinned man like him wanted to be with a dark skinned woman like her, and felt that the fact that they hadn’t had any children together was a personal failure on her part. So suffice to say, OPW has been guilty of airing these kinds of episodes for quite some time.
However, this week’s episode pushed the boundaries beyond the limit. It featured a couple in which the woman had been 14 and the man 28 when they began dating. The groom was a taxi driver at the time and confessed to deliberately targeting young school girls for sex. He would have sex with three or four of them in one day. Yes, during the #16DaysofActivism against gender based violence and child abuse, Mzansi Magic decided to air an episode in which a man confessed to multiple counts of statutory rape on an entertainment show which attracts more than 1 million viewers.
The episode has sparked legitimate outrage ranging from discussions around how the episode contributes to rape culture by presenting such relationships as legitimate, to petitions calling for the removal of Our Perfect Wedding. But most importantly, the episode has led to a serious discussion on how normalised statutory rape and predatory relationships are in South Africa.
For the producers of Our Perfect Wedding, statutory rape is seen as just another way to generate views and as far as they’re concerned, if a predatory relationship ends in marriage, then it’s perfectly acceptable. Or perhaps, this is not just the viewpoint of the producers of OPW but is rather symptomatic of the attitudes towards predatory relationships as a whole in our country.
A big part of the problem here is in the fact that for many of us, we were sexualised from an unacceptably young age by much older men. I received my first sexual advance, from an adult man who appeared to be into his thirties, when I was nine years old and began receiving advances from older men regularly from when I was about 12 or 13. This early sexualisation is indicative of the fact that for many men, teenage girls are not seen as the children they are and are denied their innocence from the moment they hit puberty.
It’s also seen as normal. As girls we began to alter the way we dressed in order to avoid unwanted attention. From about 14, whenever I arrived at a mall early to meet my friends I would hide in Exclusive Books to avoid creepy older men who hit on me. Time and time again, girls who dressed in a certain way or acted a certain way were condemned and any attention that they got from older men was blamed solely on them.
To make matters worse, I’ve often found that conversations around sugar daddies don’t focus on how predatory it is for older men, often well into their thirties and beyond, to target young school girls who usually come from poor backgrounds by paying for their expenses in exchange for sex. Instead, they focus on teaching the young, vulnerable girls to stay away from these men. The onus to prevent these relationships is placed on the girls, rather than the men who exploit and abuse them.
The discussions that are now being generated from this particular OPW episode are important ones, because they are ones that are strongly condemning the motives of men like the groom, and are seriously questioning the kind of society we live in that airs a confessed rapist as entertainment without ever holding him accountable. People are openly coming out, saying that what happened on OPW last night was not okay, and making sure the producers face consequences for it. And I firmly believe that one of the first and most important steps to take in fighting gender based violence and child abuse is to seriously challenge anything that presents such practices as normal