Meet Neo Baepi

The photographer of TWoU's Women's Month series

Photography: Neo Baepi

As South Africa marks Women's Month in August, Superbalist set out to learn what's on the minds of the people that the month is meant to celebrate. First up is photographer Neo Baepi, whose main concern about Women’s Day is that it doesn't focus on different types of femmes. 

“It’s very cis-white-women-focused – that suffragette rhetoric. Queer women exist. Women like me exist, who don’t really tick all the boxes of 'what it means to be a woman.' It’s heteronormative. It’s like a little girls’ club. It’s really upsetting that we have to dedicate one day to people who are under persecution every day. We’re not paid enough. We are not respected. We are in constant danger of murder and rape. We need more than a day – real dialogue between different kinds of women: fat, short, ugly, queer.”

You can hear some of Neo’s other thoughts after the jump.

Neo Baepi

Do you think that Women’s Day can be used meaningfully?

Absolutely. I mean, it’s cool that we have a day off from work, but I see a lot of focus has been put onto charity on the 18th of July, but not much charity and work by corporates is put behind the 9th of August. It’s literally a day off for us to talk about our issues on social media. And those who are affected most by the issues don’t get to be part of the discussion. So I think a good start could be the treatment of Mandela Day being applied to Women’s Day. There are sex workers who need help. There are queer women in Khayelitsha who need help. There are trans women who need help and resources.

What would be the first thing that you’d change about the way society treats women?

One way to change for the better is, instead of teaching women to protect themselves, treating those in power as direct factors of danger to us. Instead of teaching women to protect themselves from rape, let’s teach boys to not rape. Let’s teach boys to respect women. Let’s subvert this concept of power, because it’s causing us more harm than good. It’s ridiculous that women need to be on high alert – walking down the street is a completely different experience for a man. We need to have a very meaningful conversation about how a woman is not limited to a person’s vagina. We have to have more meaningful conversations about gender – it cannot be conflated with sex, because that’s how we aren’t safe, and that’s how we’re misgendered, and how when we correct those who misgender us, we put ourselves in direct danger of hate crimes and homophobia and transphobia. We need to develop language that says, “We need to not cause harm” instead of protecting ourselves from harm.

What do women need less of in society?

We need less rules. We’re going to inevitably break the rules that are made for us, because not all of us are going to fall into this colonial concept of what it means to be a woman. We need less people telling us what to do and how to live. For example if an abuse victim speaks out three years after the fact, we need to not ask her why she’s only speaking out three years after the fact. Gaslighting is not just a buzzword: it’s real, and it’s harmful, and it causes people to get further into the corners of abuse. Women need less people speaking for us – we have a lot of men making decisions on our behalf. We need less men in our way, because we’ve shown you that we can do this without you. In fact, having you here is an impediment.

How do you define a woman?

There needs to be meaningful dialogue: I feel like we’re in an echo chamber of wokeness, speaking to each other, on top of each other, and we’re not having real dialogue. We’re afraid of critique, and the idea of power creates this “faves” thing where people can’t fall from grace, and can’t make mistakes – and that’s wrong, because that’s how we learn. I’m a photographer, and if I stop learning I’m going to start sucking at my job. It’s a constant process of learning and unlearning and changing habits. Everything is a spectrum. Open up dialogue, open up a conversation, and make it accessible.

All I want for Women’s Day is…

Resources to make our own representation. I need a new camera so I can represent black, queer women more.

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