For some reason we (Afrikaners) enjoy comparing women to baked goods. Calling someone a tert (tart) or a koek (prude) both deliver sexual commentary on women’s choices to engage sexually or not.
Girls are labelled a tert or a slet when they don't behave ordentlik (proper).
Labelling a Christian Afrikaans girl as ordentlik subtly implies she is (or should be) sexually abstinent. An ordentlike Christian Afrikaans girl is not supposed to move in with her boyfriend or have sex before marriage.
I can hear the tannies gossip, "Sjoe, nee ‘n ordentlike meisie kan mos nie dit doen nie." (A good and proper girl won’t do that - 'that' meaning something 'tarty')
And it’s not considered ordentlik to talk about masturbation (nonetheless practice it!) or make dirty jokes.
I seriously spoke about masturbation (or the fact that I do it) for the first time when I was 21. It was to an English friend of mine, who started this conversation by telling me about her dildo.
Being raised to be a 'chaste woman' (in any culture) can not only warp one’s perception of sexuality and sex, but it can even lead one to question one’s own sexual agency.
But here I’m simply writing from my own perspective.
When I was about 10 years old my mom called me one sunny afternoon to come and sit with her on my parents’ bed. I think it was a Saturday and the smell of fresh rusks baking in the oven hung in the air.
More baked goods, I know.
While I plopped down on the bed beside her she took out a sex education/ ‘facts of life’ type book and started reading. I think it went kind of like this: “When two people really love each other…”
A few lines in, the oven’s alarm went off. The rusks were done. And so was the extent of my parental imparted sexual education. Never again did we revisit the book.
Out of curiosity, of course, I took the book to school and showed some friends. We made our own assumptions from what we read and saw, but somehow what we were doing felt naughty.
To me and many of my friends ‘sex’ felt like a bit of a bad word.
For most parents, good Christian Afrikaans parents in my case, it’s always been difficult to talk about sex. They were also brought up in homes where sex was but something to be whispered about.
Even when I was a teenager my father still covered my eyes every time a kissing scene popped up on the TV screen. Not to mention the awkwardness that ensued whenever characters on Dharma and Greg or Will & Grace spoke about the intricacies of sex. Sho! The tension was palpable.
When ordentlikheid leads to risky behaviour
But how can proper behaviour (proper according to the laws of chasteness that is) be risky or dangerous?
For one, I was never taught about sex. As in the logistics thereof. When I put a condom on a guy for the first time I had to tap into my limited knowledge of water balloon making. I was lost.
As much as most parents aim to protect their children, not having knowledge about something like sex does not protect them. It leaves them vulnerable.
When you know nothing about sex you are more likely to be influenced – and especially by sources that aren’t necessarily trustworthy or accurate (school friends, gossip, TV, and the like).
Girls who grow up in very conservative families with values that speak to abstinence are often denied knowledge about sex and their own sexuality for fear of ‘corrupting innocent minds’.
The thinking usually goes like this: If this 16-year-old girl knew how to masturbate and could pinpoint her exact sexual pleasure centres, then…she might lose all self-control and become the biggest tart!
This is so crazy, and yet so ingrained in many people’s thinking.
Worst of all is to have so little trust in women. To me, that’s what it comes down to: an issue of trust. A lack of trust in fact. Trust that if you had said knowledge you are going to go against the church, against the family and screw anything that walks.
This distrust diminishes a woman’s ability to see her own sexual needs - mainly because she was never taught to own them.
To me, having any kind of interest in sex was never celebrated. Instead, it was questioned and shamed. This is how many of my peers feel. And never given access to proudly own or be granted access to primal sexual desires, needs and agency can be very dangerous for women.
When women are not given the knowledge to own their needs and their rights when it comes to sex (whether or not they want to engage in premarital or marital, gay, straight or whichever damn sex they choose) it can play out in various clandestine and unforseen ways.
They are likely to experience sexual relationships or encounters where they are left unsatisfied, afraid to ask for what they want in bed, or even worse - it can leave them open to being abused and coerced into doing acts they might not want to do but feel they have no power to say no to.
Trust women and girls instead of shaming them and dismissing them as baked goods under the guise of ordentlikheid.
From now on, we're Banting.
*Tillie van Niekerk is a pseudonym to protect the author's family and friends.