Eric Miyeni vs Lebo Mashile

As a rule, I try not to blog about issues that relate to my friends being maligned in the press. This is the only reason I have not blogged about the entire mess with Nomboniso Gasa and the CGE, which continues to enrage me in the injustice of it all, or Xoliswa Sithole and the backlash to her brilliant _Shouting Silent_ saga, or similar things that I may change my mind (re blogging about). But this week, while I was dealing with personal drama, a writer that I think matters – my difference with what he writes notwithstanding – went public with an issue that I think off-page disagreement can no longer serve. This week, Eric Miyeni, author of three books, popular personality, touted eye candy and recognised misogynist in many circles, went public with his hateful nonsense this week by writing an article in Sowetan that really needs more responses than the one Lebo Mashile felt pained to write, even though I am sure she has better things to do with her time. It is totally ridiculous that Mashile had to respond to this rubbish at all, and if Miyeni had the courage of his convictions, there is no shortage of stuff to take on in SA. I have a column on which I may take this up more coherently and calmly but since it is not with the newspaper in question – and papers can be sticky about responses – blogs offer a great opportunity for unedited copy for us writers.

Miyeni’s piece feigned some concern with Mashile’s health in various ways as a thin veil to attack her for deigning to be anything but a self-hating woman. He does not have any reason to think that Mashile has any health issues – or that the presumed existence of these merits waving her privacy. He declares that “under all those layers of fat that she now carries, Lebo Mashile is one of the most beautiful women I have ever met.” Miyeni’s is very thin veiled misogyny.

How dare Lebo Mashile be anything less than rake thin and deign to think we can take her seriously for being gob-smackingly beautiful physically, profound, talented and radical without starving and begging for favours in order to live on her work? How dare she not be a cokehead and rake-thin as a result so that we can feel better about “ourselves”? How dare she not secretly have bulimia or anorexia or be on endless diets so that she can look like the image propped up by skinny women who hate their bodies in order to stay on magazine covers? How dare she be radical, beautiful, “big”, popular, unapologetically feminist and an icon today when we all think we have the answers about South Africa being so conservative?

Yes, I also think that SA is more conservative than we’d all like to admit. And yet, Lebo Mashile’s ground breaking television show, L’atitude, and “formula” is copied over and over again in popular culture – tv and beyond – and pulled many more audiences across the board than many others. She won the coveted and prestigious NOMA prize for her brilliant poetry before she even realised how significant an award it is.

I am not saying Lebo Mashile is perfect. She is a human being – and therefore automatically imperfect. And because of her courage, she is a wonderful example and affirmation for smart girls and women in this country in a million ways. This is nothing to apologise for, no matter how much hatred – in the manner of Miyeni and similar – she receives.

Eric Miyeni’s vitriol against women who are not stick thin deserves attention and rebuttal. It deserves recognition for the hateful nonsense that it is. (Maybe those of us who think he is hateful should not spend anymore money on his books.)

First of all, Eric Miyeni seems to think that you need to be thin to be healthy. However, he is clearly disingenious in this claim. He may be an infuriatingly smart but lazy writer – talented but unwilling to polish his words before subjecting his writers to them, unlike Mashile who respects her audiences too much to torment them with sloppy copy – but he has worked in advertising/media/marketing long enough to know how unhealthy many skinny women and men are, and he is intelligent enough (even though he sometimes pretends not to be) to know that most ‘fat’ people in this country are much healthier than the skinniest people on our media pages.

The column that he anchored on Lebo Mashile is probably one of his shoddiest pieces of writing and a very cheap, hateful shot. Lebo Mashile is there simply to titilate. In other words, no matter how important and profound her work, on Miyeni’s column she is the exact opposite of what she is in her work (profound, provocatice, intelligent, attractive). When Miyeni had nothing interesting to write about, he chose to pen a column about a writer whose brilliance he has not met even though his writing career has been much longer, and a writer whose genius he may never live up to, hateful cheap shots notwithstanding.

That is what misogynist do all the time in this county, and maybe it is time we stopped taking them on off-page.


Posted on 18 July 2010, in feminist worlds, Johannesburg 2010, Southern African politics, The feminist imagination, things that suck, Women's wit and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. yeah…saw this on fred’s page….unbelievable.

  2. Pumla, I’m so glad you took on Eric Miyeni on this. I read that article with sheer horror, anger and disgust, that a writer and figure like Miyeni could not only be so simplistic and downright misogynist, but that he still had the cheek to claim Lebo Mashile as a friend. I started drafting an angry response to the piece, then decided I wouldn’t … See moreeven bother qualifying that piece of misogyny masquerading as concern for our society’s health, with a formal response. What irritates me most about this article is the depth of ignorance it reveals about the politics of women’s relationships with their bodies; and the fact that physical appearance has been one of the most powerful tools in the hands of patriarchy when it comes to policing women’s senses of self. Whether it is about men prescribing to women what not to wear, or size zero fashion models in the fashion industry or feigning concern about ‘friends’ ‘health’, it is still policing women’s bodies and by extension, their senses of themselves.

    But as Lebo Mashile rightly points out in her response, “Why don’t people put their cocaine on the table or their bottles of alcohol, their extra-marital relationships, their financial debts, their HIV status, their illegitimate children and their repossessed goods ? Let’s all put the sources of our shame on the table the way every fat person does.”

  3. Absolutely unacceptable and vicious … the man should be have his poison pen confiscated.

  4. Hilda N. Poo

    Eric does not know his place. I would have thought that a man of his calibre would know and understand the sensitivity surrounding the weight issues and also, him regarding Lebo as “his friend”; he would have known better than to tackle such a sensitive issue about “his” friend’s health in a newspaper article.

    Dear Eic, please respect your friends, I wouldn’t want to be one of them, but please should you have any concerns of such about any of your friends, do it right, as you would like your friends to address their such matters with you.

    Lebo, good work by standing up for your own, for our own; you did it for the rest of as well who are constantly attacked by those who have no clue what we’re all about, who we are and where we’re from. I respect you my sister. You carry that weight well. Keep up the good work that you silently carry out and receive no praise for. We, who know what you do, shall continue to fly your flag and hail you.

  5. Brava, Lebo. Brava Pumla.

    How vital it is to call hateful talk like it is: misogyny.

    Lebo’s health and lifestyle choices are made from a place of consiousness, conscience and self-compassion.

    Her taking True Love to task for photoshopping her weight down was a triumph of integrity and a refusal to be sucked into the air-brushed denialism of a demeaning reality that worships the insanity around thinness.

    There is a wealth of wisdom, courage and good manners that will shine long after Eric Miyeni does or doesn’t sober up to see the foolishness of his rude and callous disregard of a highly personal, painful – and private – matter.

  6. Thanks so much Pumla, for taking this on page, and expressing how so many of us feel. I think most of us do feel that this kind of attack is not worth responding to, esp when so clearly driven by extreme jealousy. But to be silent is to let a poisonous message go unchecked. And on the “health” issue, Miyeni must be blind. Lebo’s beautiful curves are proportionate. She is fit and strong, as anyone who’s watched her perform can testify.

  7. i am glad that so many people have decided not to just sit back and let this matter fade into oblivion.

    I am especially please that so many men have stepped up to show their support for our sisters as well as take ownership of their own issues!

    Your examination of the original article and Lebo’s response to it, has shed light on so many different issues that are at the heart of this matter!

  8. Many moons ago I decided that eric miyeni needs to be called to order by feminists and then I decided he should be ignored. But this time he has really overstepped boundaries.

  9. Please don’t hurt him, P. He may need surgical treatment to remove your boots from his behind, LOL. I recall reading that Sowetan piece and immediately knowing it’d piss you off.

  10. Nkazimlo Ndaba

    I think we’re missing the point. Eric wrote the article based on Lebo’s statement on the interview. The article was inspired by Lebo but not about Lebo. Inspired by Lebo in the sense that she publicly asserted that being fat is good. Being fat or not fat depending on your view is a personal issue as there are a number of factors to consider as to why is one fat whether make or female. Defying Eric by saying Lebo is better off than thin artificial women is not the correct way to respond because thin women are fighting their own battles like fat women. The defiance simply targets thin women and leaves out the standard woman who is neither fat nor a size zero but targets the size zero woman which in itself shows the bloggers prejudice on thin women. This does not address the article in question as it said nothing about thin women and let’s not assume it implies that. Let’s not hurt other people whilst we are crying foul to Eric’s article. Let us comment & debate objectively without straying from the subject.

  11. Cyril N. Mbatha

    I dont like Eric Myeni, never have. Although I dont actualy know him, except for his insensitively expressed public opinions. But still I believe he has a point that being fat, for many people, is a big health challenge that should never be encouraged.

    And Lebo’s response to him avoided that point and was off the mark. She slyly attacked him for being a person of low integrity, which may or may not be true. He, on the other hand, attacked her directly.

    I smoke and when people criticise me for it I flinch and often acknowledge the concerns which I share deeply. And would never encourage anyone else to start up smoking, saying, in any manner that it is cool to be a smoker, especially on a public platform. That would be unethical. So Lebo should have kept her eye on that ball. Otherwise she needed to be just more outright about all that evil and hypocricy she thinks of Eric. Or stay mum.

  12. Hello.. How are U?? Do you Have Update???

  13. Ruzvidzo G Manyika

    @Nkazimlo Ndaba, you are spot on. The issue at hand seems to have been tackled from the middle, so to speak, instead of analysing from the onset what brought about such nasyty vitriol from Mr Miyeni. That being said, Lebo is one of the most beautiful women i have ever seen, intellectually and physically!

  14. Ok.I am fat but was not offended by Eric article,We have to be responsible with what we say. I think Lebo took this personal and failed to understand the point Eric was trying to bring about. Yes i love myself but i also know that i need to be realistic and start looking after my health by doing something about my weight not to impress anyone but for my health sake.I think Pumla you come across like a good write but this was unnecessary it is actually demeaning to you as you went out and looked for all bombastic words to prove a point,It somehow came across like you are battling with knowing who you are….

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