Wednesday, 14 May 2014

"I am a Feminist"

After reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, a novel that touched the very core of my being, I’ve become obsessed with all things “Chimmy”, as I now refer to her when chatting to my friends. 

I am presently immersed in “Half of a Yellow Sun” and waiting in anticipation for the film adaptation.

Chimmy is important for women to learn from especially as Africans. She is bold, intelligent, ambitious and fierce. She confidently expresses her opinion on topics, I believe, all women should consider supporting. I am especially supportive of her take on feminism. It has always been my belief that feminism is not only for females and I disregard the bra burning, underarm hair growing, and lady loving stereotypes that feminism is associated with.  

We are only as bold as the boxes that we build around us. Build a mansion. 

Here she is breaking down many gender stereotypes. I hope she broadens your perceptions too.

“We teach girls to shrink themselves,
to make themselves smaller.
We say to girls,
‘You can have ambition,
but not too much.
You should aim to be successful,
but not too successful.
Otherwise you will threaten the man.’
Because I am female,
I am expected to aspire to marriage.
I am expected to make my life choices
always keeping in mind that
marriage is the most important.
Now marriage can be a source of
joy and love and mutual support.
But why do we teach to aspire to marriage
and we don’t teach boys the same?
We raise girls to see each other as competitors –
not for jobs or for accomplishments,
which I think can be a good thing,
but for the attention of men.
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
in the way that boys are.
Feminist: the person who believes in the social,
political and economic equality of the sexes.”

Friday, 2 May 2014

As in Water face reflects face, so a man's heart reveals the man

I want to be free to move about as I please without worrying about my safety. I want to get to know the opposite sex without safeguarding myself. I want to live and love in a society where I feel safe.

In 2011, I roamed the streets of Barcelona at 2am.  Alone. The street pavements were full of Spanish men playing cards outside coffee shops and restaurants. Not one whistled, cat-called or bothered me. I felt completely safe and in control of the situation.

In 2012, whilst seeing a European, I noticed my almost automatic distrust of him. I constantly questioned his moral integrity, as if I needed reassurance that he respected me. I remember, in response, a look of concern and bewilderment on his face. As a developing country citizen, I made love hard for the first world European.

In Maputo last year, a Mozambican friend stated that he could never really love a South African woman. “You can tell the difference between a South African and Mozambican woman, in their walk. Mozambican women own themselves, walk freely and proudly in the streets of Mozambique”," he said. How many South African women can relate to walking freely without looking over their shoulders? We’d rather not draw that much attention.

In February, I went on a solo trip to Finland. I received a lot of attention from the opposite sex. Instead of enjoying the admiration (and stroking my ego), I rejected the attention and became uneasy because I’ve been conditioned to live in fear. I’ve become immune to believing that a man can admire my beauty without making me feel uneasy or risking my safety.   

I recently considered dating online. I searched my heart and mind, and weighed all the pros and cons. My dating pool has shrunk over the past few years because I refuse to date someone who is not a family friend - specifically a friend whose father is respected in my family circle. I am extremely open-minded but prefer knowing the history of the man that I become romantically involved with. I prefer to have personal links with his family in some way. This ensures that the man is responsible for his behavior and actions towards me (or so I believe). Educating myself on the dating style did not convince me and I wondered whether my rejection of it, was a sign of paranoia or if I was licking the scars of an old wound. But the facts never change. More and more, the same story rolls off the tongue of a female friend or acquaintance. We have all experienced some form of abuse/ romantic trauma at the hands of a South African man. Every type of woman, every type of exploitation – abuse does not discriminate.

In the 1973 classic Badlands, a subtle interpretation of a real life story that took place in the 1950s, Martin Sheen portrays a trigger-happy American youth. His romantic partner, Holly, deciphers his behavior as, “He never seemed like a violent person before, except for once, when he said he'd like to rub out a couple of guys whose names he didn't care to mention. It all goes to show how you can know a person and not really know him at the same time”.  The words ring all too familiar.

Too many times, too many women have recalled being raped by a family member, a friend or her boyfriend. Too many women state that they can relate to being locked in a toilet, seeking protection from a male abuser. I too can relate to this story. How I phoned 10111. How the police hesitated. I phoned in a panic three times (the tone of my voice was not enough to scare the call taker) and still received a 30-minute delay in response. The police station was in the next road. I can’t even type what happened after their arrival. Is this freedom?

Vainola Makan, a Women Rights Activist of 15 years and a member of the New Women’s Movement, says all abusive action that women receive from men has one common thread: “Namely, the ‘soul destroying’ impact of these criminal acts.  Acts of sexual and emotional abuse violates women’s dignity to the very core of their beings. It can take between five minutes or hours, whereas women who are victim to those abuses spend many years, or for some, a lifetime in attempt to come to terms with it. We live in a society that encourages men to view women as sexual objects and as their ‘property’. Women on the other hand have been taught to be protecting, nurturing and caring towards men"

Makan concluded that freedom should be fought for on personal, social and political fronts to achieve a true sense of liberation amongst women. “The struggle for freedom will not be over until women can be fully self expressive in all circumstances”

I cannot blame a government but I can question society. How are we raising our sons? Are mothers teaching their sons to respect women? And are we questioning what respect is?  What safety is? Are we teaching our sons how to keep women safe?

Perhaps in four years time, we can all look back and celebrate our freedom.

In Support: On the 8th of May 2014, in Cape Town, the WHEAT Trust will host their annual 1000 Women United Against Domestic Violence event. Pledge your support by booking a table or donating.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

We Won’t Forget

The truth is that I have been mulling over what he said for weeks. You know, your instincts have a way of telling you the truth. But the package looked good and so I tried to convince myself that this guy is the one. This is the guy that is going to stand behind me firmly and let me be the woman I really am. Strong, career driven, opinionated and smart. And I've known him forever. He has been that trustworthy friend. He knows greatness when he sees it. But yet, on the non-date with him, he says something that sticks in my mind. And I never stop thinking about it. Just as I can never stop thinking about violence against women and children, HIV/Aids or the direction my country is taking. It seems we have time to play games while women get raped.

He is a part time photographer. He shows me a picture of his current client. He says, “Physically she just about makes it but I’m going to polish her up a bit. I’m going to help her." He smirks as if he has just said something smart. And I sit there with a mouth full of teeth because I really like this guy and I really want to make it work (against my better judgment).

Every day since then, I think about what he said.

Two months later, a young girl by the name of Anene is mourned in South Africa after being brutally gang raped. The conversation we never had; it is not okay to judge a woman by her beauty.

That it is not okay for a man to constantly make a woman feel apologetic for her opinions.

As it is not okay for him to start subtly making her feel inadequate about who she is as a woman - as he said, “you want to run get some balls” right?

Violence against women and children starts with the smallest things. It starts with the conversations we have. When a man mocks another woman tell him it’s not okay. When you as a woman think its okay to drag another woman through mud you enable a man to abuse her. I believe abuse starts with words - that in order to change this great violence, we need to win small victories first. And we're all responsible for those victories, irrespective of gender.

This being the role we as women play when allowing men to hurt/ ostracize other women in front of us because it feeds our egos and makes us feel good about ourselves. Stand up. Have a good response. If I could go back, I’d change the dialogue he had with me that day. We never worked out. After seven years of friendship, I decided it was best to let him go.

He was planning to drag my name through the mud – and he did.

I wrote this because I couldn’t keep quiet about it any longer. South African men of my and younger generations - are disappointing me on a daily basis.

This is my contribution Anene. We won’t forget.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

True Gold

Writing an epitaphic piece is one of those tasks in life that give you time to reflect. As a writer, you only daydream about penning wonderful topics that involve success stories and Booker Prize awards. In my line of work, writing memorial pieces is becoming all too familiar and quarterly I find myself reflecting on the lives of people I have and have not met. More recently I wrote an article about an emergency medical service technician who lost his life in the line of duty. During the editorial process, I kept wondering if through my art, I had brought justice to the life that was lost - whether someone would find the significance in my life to dedicate a full page of words. If I were to die, what would I want to be written about my life? In this world where what you don’t do is more recognised than what you do – where one mistake could over shadow your entire hard working career – in a world of fast and short lived gratification, all blackberry devotees have dropped their qwerty boards for the iPhone after the recent BIS crash.

I believe that integrity sets us apart - though after my recent stint with the French, I was accused of being too conservative and morally correct – then again one French woman does not make a country – honesty is a huge part of who I am. I have a very loud conscience and I believe so do the Tutu’s, Roy’s and Chopra’s of the world. That choosing to stick to what you believe in, with the chance of being misunderstood, is a road few choose to follow but one paved with true gold.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

My Happy Knees

As females, we all find fault with our bodies. Our legs are too short or too long. What one girl hates about her curly hair, another with straight hair would try all sorts of products and chemicals to create hair that can curl. I... I hate my knees. I think they're fat, chubby and belong to a two year old. I think my knees forgot to mature with the rest of my body as I was growing up. No seriously. So last week Friday I was invited to attend a costume party which I was all to eager to attend. I had my outfit all planned out: LLB, wet look tights, red horns and angel wings. Inevitable to myself, I started getting cold feet two days before the time. Maybe I should consider wearing a long dress. My knees look so fat in these really tight tights. My anxiety was worsened because it was my new boyfriend's sister’s party and obviously I wanted to impress them (No we do not dress up for the guys, sorry boys). The night of the party as my mother does without fail, while I dressed, she gave me a pep talk. Something she's been doing for years, as I start freaking out about whether I should wear that above the knees dress or not. Following much probing, I realise I have to wear the dress. After all I knew Chase's mother and sisters were expecting me to look as glamorous as ever. Yet the pressure started again, as I walked up the steps to the hall. I felt so exposed. And then I entered the hall and low and behold as his sisters walked away from me, I couldn't help but notice their exposed knees, which were replicas of my own. And they looked beautiful. I blame it on Freud's Oedipus syndrome. An AHA moment? I am definitely rocking those short skirts and short shorts this Summer...

Monday, 7 September 2009

A World Without Books

I cannot imagine a world without books. I have stacks and stacks of books I have collected over the years and have not made the time to read. Yet I carry on purchasing first and second-hand novels with interesting story lines that I will one day make the time to read and carry with me forever (by the rate I am buying these novels, I may never find the time). The tapestries of different cultures and worlds collide in one three hundred-page novel. It is an addiction of mine. I know that I am addicted because I constantly ask my friends, what are you reading at the moment? I live for that ancient smell of ink pressed on newly produced paper, no better, ink on aged, slightly brittle paper. Second-hand books make me dream. I start thinking about previous owners of the book, the hands that it passed and the lives that they live/d. Somehow I always picture a retired English Lecturer with a head of Grey hair in his fifties. Yet I do wonder if a man of that description would readThe God of Small things as much as I do?

I feel about books, the way I feel about poetry and a familiar quote always pops in my mind.

"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for" - Dead Poets Society.

Personal Autonomy – How Far Does it Extend?

I believe in live and let live. We all have different boundaries, different belief systems and for that I do not judge. If it is your prerogative to jump off cliffs or wear clothes that do not suit you, then that is your poison not mine.

I have a pet peeve. People that want to pass judgment because they do not understand the choices you have made or in my opinion, they are not open minded enough. Don't let me start on the group think gang, I may just gag. What you choose to do with your life is a personal preference. There can be no extent. Unless you're a fundamentalist.

I am just so tired of people that expect me to live in a perfect bubble and by their standards. It is tiring. I will not comply and do get out of all your boxes. I do not believe in personal autonomy having an end. Every person is different and therefore deserves to make their own personal decisions without worrying about who is planning to criticize you for those choices. At the end of the day it really boils down to: How independent are you really, to make your own choices without being influenced by others?