White privilege

white privilegeWhite privilege manifests itself in varying degrees sometimes in the smallest of ways at other times with a far reaching impact on those affected. Growing up in post-colonial Zimbabwe I did not have much exposure to the racial dynamics because our white population is very low, in fact less than a percentage of our population is Caucasian. My maternal grandmother of course was a stay in housemaid for a widower named  John Harrison since way before I was born and she retired the year I turned 7. Although my brothers and I visited her often I was  too young and too afraid to venture into the main house when Harrison was present, in fact whenever he arrived home if I were keeping her company while she was going about her chores in the main house I would quickly run back to the servants quarters. What I remember most about him was that whenever he needed something from my grandmother he would call in a loud booming voice “Margaret” to which she would promptly respond “Master” and hurry to his service.

When I was in primary school my only regular encounter with a white person was with our Canadian Scripture Union teacher Aunt Gwendy. Now Aunt Gwendy was the embodiment of piety and there was a certain radiance that she exuded that would make you want to move as close to her as possible. As I grew older and started going to the CBD of my small hometown, I would see white farmers who came in to town from the nearby farms for supplies etc. they would smile and go about their business.

My first encounter with white privilege was in supermarket queues. I always noticed that the till operators always greeted white customers with a courteous smile but when black customers approached the till there was no acknowledgement whatsoever, It puzzled me but the most striking example was when a middle aged white woman took her basket of purchases ignored the queue and proceeded right to the front to get service. The till operator would have proceeded to assist her had it not been that other customers complained bitterly, I remember one man shouted angrily in Shona “Aikaka Ambuya ivhu nderedu iri” loosely translated it means “Ma’am you have no right to skip the queue because we are the native Zimbabweans.” “Ambuya” literally means “mother in law” but it is”” a sarcastically “respectful” term that Shona men use to address women in their age group or older especially in a confrontational/conflict situation.  His comment was admittedly equally or even more racially disrespectful than her action to skip the queue but at that point it sounded just a wee bit justifiable because her assumption that she should be served first despite that there were other people in the queue was a legacy of the colonial era which introduced and perpetuated white privilege. Anyway she immediately swallowed humble pie and proceeded to the back of the queue.

The other two instances when I came into contact with white privilege in Zimbabwe was in the passport and SA visa queues respectively. In both instances the different women walked confidently to the front of the queue ignoring the people who had sat and/or stood in the queue for hours to access services. Of course the people would have none of it so in both instances they complained loudly until they were left with no choice but to join the queue but what is most striking about this is the confidence with which this was done. The disregard for the proper etiquette when it comes to service delivery which is first come first served. I then realized this was because they were brought up to believe they were superior beings and the world so to speak, was their oyster.

It used to infuriate me that many contemporary whites do not admit or acknowledge that white privilege exists but I have realized that this is because what we perceive as privilege to them is just the normal scheme of things.  The worse part is that humans regardless of race are generally self-centred beings so it is difficult to see how privileged you are if you do not take the time to look at the circumstance of others nor possess that very strong sense of fairness which very few are blessed with. According to Francis E. Kendall P.h.D in his article “Understanding White Privilege”

“Privilege, particularly white or male privilege is hard to see for those of us who were born with access to power and resources. It is very visible for those to whom privilege was not granted”

When I came to South Africa I started to see a whole new dimension of racial relations. About 10 percent of the South African population is white and that means compared to Zimbabwe (where as I said earlier we have less than 1 percent) both in number and in proportion to blacks, there are many more white people and indeed there are places where you encounter more whites than blacks. In fact I have recently been to watch a theatre production at which I was the only black person in the audience and there were three Asians the rest were all Caucasians. In South Africa because I came to search for employment the first thing I noticed was job ads. Whenever I bought the newspaper to job hunt, the majority of the ads I came across would specifically state that they were looking for someone who spoke Afrikaans or English as their first language. No price for guessing what that means. Although we learn it at a very young age, English is only a second language to the majority of black Africans. The very brave job advertisers would even go so far as to say “preferably a white female/male” In a country which claims to be one of the most democratic in the world and a major proponent of equality! It was and still is appalling but the department of labour sadly does nothing to addresss this problem.

Another example is in job selections themselves. I realized this when I worked for a recruitment agency. I specifically remember one of our clients needed two plant operators and of the six qualified and experienced candidates we sent though the two who were chosen were one black and one white.  The white candidate had experience yes but no more so than the others who had applied.  His highest educational qualification or should we say level was however grade 10 this means that he never wrote the minimum high school leaving examinations which is referred to as matric exams.  The black candidate had experience plus a bachelor’s degree just like all the other black candidates who had applied but were not chosen. He was probably just chosen for the purposes of fulfilling the government’s statute for equal opportunity in industry Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). Such is the norm, for a black person to achieve what an average white person casually receives they have to be excellent in that particular field beyond a shred of doubt.

It is interesting to note that it is not only whites who perpetuate white privilege, blacks are guilty of that too. The other day I went to a popular chain supermarket and I wanted to buy some onions. When I went to get them weighed and priced there was no one on that station so I went to look for the fruit and vegetable assistant. He was busy packing some vegetables when I called him to come and assist, to his credit he promptly left what he was doing and accompanied me to the weighing station. When we got there we found a white man standing there. He wasn’t so much a Caucasian but more like a light skinned Arab/Middle Eastern but to some black people that’s considered white as well. He immediately rushed to that man’s assistance forgetting that I am the one who had called him to the weighing station to come and weigh for me. The man who had been bequeathed of this unwarranted privilege however was not willing to take it both him and me simultaneously indicated that I should be served first. That is not the only occasion I have had a few other instances where the assistant whether black or white would ignore me and the other blacks in the queue to assist whites at the back of the queue. Most of the times the beneficiaries of this privilege would embarrassingly point out that there were other people in front of them who needed assistance.

Another thing I have noticed is that whenever you visit a supermarket or pharmacy in a predominately black neighbourhood, when you leave the supermarket the security guard asks for proof of purchase and thoroughly checks that every item in your packages appears on the till slip, not only that but your  handbag  also goes through a thorough search. However, go to any store located in or close to an affluent suburb where the customers are predominantly white there are no such searches. Even if it is the very same store which conducts searches in the black neighbourhoods. From time to time however even in these affluent suburbs they can randomly search black customers while letting the whites go through with no less than a cheery thank you and a smile. This shows a people who are still thoroughly colonized and oppressed not politically and economically but in this case mentally.

Just last week the South African President Jacob Zuma was recalled by his party the African National Congress (ANC) and he had to resign from office, This naturally became the trending story on social media and on online news sites. I remember on one such site, one person wrote that as a nation South Africa should move away from voting for people because of the colour of their skin and the people perhaps needed to remove ANC from power. There were many responses but one guy wrote that as long as the majority of the people still lived below the poverty datum line or in some cases abject poverty organizations like the ANC were needed in power so that they can redress the imbalances which were brought about by apartheid. There was a lot of backlash from the white readers on that site. Many denied there were economic imbalances based on race and others went so far as to blame the black majority for these imbalances. One wrote if blacks did not have so many children there wouldn’t be impoverished, which is just not true. Modern black South Africans hardly ever have many children regardless of their financial situation. The one who took the price for either being totally ignorant or just plain racist wrote ”During apartheid blacks were settled into designated areas and given the right to self-determine and self-govern, why did they not utilise this opportunity to economically empower themselves?

This is a ridiculous and outrageous assertion because this writer did not take into consideration that as a result of The Land Act of 1913 blacks or what they termed natives were placed onto different Bantu stands and given the right to self-govern but this self-government did not come with absolutely no interference from the apartheid government. They still pretty much controlled everything, for example would the tragic Soweto Uprising have happened if the government had not imposed the teaching of Afrikaans in schools? How is it self-governance when the government imposed the language of instruction? Secondly and most importantly, the white minority controlled practically all the means of production for example they owned and controlled 87 percent of the land including arable land and all the mines and industries.   So how was the native majority supposed to achieve total economic independence in their respective Bantu stands if they had nothing at their disposal to utilize for that purpose? In the cities the black townships were and still are located very far from the city centres and despite that the ANC government has so far built 5 million RDP houses to date to help ease the housing problem, the majority still live in squalid conditions in uninformal settlements with no access to sanitation or running water.

Such uninformed and unfair statements fly around every day on South African social media groups or threads whenever racial imbalances or white privilege is brought up but I think as a people it would be more progressive if those who are/ have been privileged would acknowledge their privilege and try to do what they can to unite with the less privileged and work towards a common goal of racial equality and national development. As long as the existence of an injustice is denied the injustice can never be addressed let alone avoided in the future.

 

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Gender & Sexuality

Blog 3: Gender & Sexuality

According to a paper produced by the Institute of Development Studies; researchers who have explored the relationship between gender and sexuality argue that gender and sexuality cannot be thought of as distinct and separate categories in actual fact they are intimately related. The societies we live in construct the right and wrong way for men and women to behave. These ways are “mapped onto “right” and “wrong sexual practices, beliefs and behaviour.” In my opinion society employs double standards when it comes to the sexual expression and/or conduct of men and women,and I am going to illustrate this with a few examples.

Prostitution is arguably the oldest profession in the world but except for French society where prostitutes were integrated as members of society who had a role to play, prostitutes were and still are shunned by society at large. According to an article by Mounica Kota and Dr. Sandler even in French society “gender ,despite class differences played the more important role, as whether of high class standings or not, female prostitutes were still fundamentally demeaned in society, more than the male prostitute.” In the rest of the known world, courtesans were and to a large extent still face stigma as they are seen as lacking in dignity and morality. This is because according to social norms women are supposed to be modest about their sexuality. Once a woman openly expresses her sexuality she is labelled and ostracized by society including if not more so by fellow women. the question then becomes are these women not providing a service? And if it is a service who is their clients? why don’t the clients face as much condemnation as the service providers?

In most if not all cultures virginity used to be a priced possession. In English society it was often referred to as “virtue” The striking thing about the importance of this virtue however was that it operated and on some ways still operates on double standards. Only girls and young woman were expected or should I say were obliged to maintain their virginity until marriage. Boys and young men were not only expected to lose it sooner or later but were even encouraged to go out there and  “sow some wild oats” so to speak.

When an unmarried young man lost his virginity it was a cause for celebration he could now boast to his peers that he had fully achieved manhood but when a young woman dared to do the same, it was a source of shame upon herself and her family name. Not only that but it would decrease her chances of getting eligible young men from good families who were willing to marry her and she would be relegated to not so eligible young men or much older widowers if at all she got married.

In Zimbabwean and English culture there was a bedding ritual which the newly wedded couple was expected to perform in order to prove the bride’s virginity during the consummation of the marriage. The English version of the custom was a bit extreme because the newlyweds were expected to perform the act of intercourse in front of a whole audience of wedding guests then show the evidence to their audience in order to  prove not only consummation but the fact that the bride was a virgin. I do not know if this applied to only gentry and nobility or every English bride was subjected to this embarrassing scrutiny.

The Zimbabwean version of the custom afforded the newlyweds some privacy during the act but on the morning after, they were expected to show evidence of consummation as well as loss of the bride’s virginity. If this evidence was provided the groom’s family were then expected to give the bride’s family a cow to add to the bride price as a tribute to their new daughter in law for maintaining her virtue. It was called “mombe yechimanda.” Although much milder than the English version, it was nonetheless embarrassing for the new bride if at all she was found to have been deflowered prior to the wedding night.

Interestingly, although in both Western and African as well as most societies virginity is no longer a major requirement in an aspiring bride except to those deeply religious Christians and Muslims, in Africa in general and in Zimbabwe in particular the stigma and the double standards live on. When a controversial Facebook celebrity cum businessman Wicknell  who is well- known for flamboyance and buffoonery got married not too long ago, one of his male critics wrote on his wall that although his money could buy him anything it could not buy back his new bride’s long lost virginity OUCH!! This comment received a multitude of likes and went viral. Many men and indeed some women saw this as a cause for celebration and felt that Wicknell who is the Zimbabwean version of Donald Trump except no one can trace where his money came from, had been put in his rightful place. I did not see this as a jibe on Wicknell I saw it as a jibe on women and yet another double standard where the issue of virginity was concerned. Was Wicknell himself a virgin?? If not why then would he expect or be expected to marry a virgin?? I expressed my sentiments on that post but I did not get as many likes as the guy who had written the jibe got even from women.

Another incident is when on a female/sorority Facebook group one of the participants posted her wedding photographs bragging about how her husband was a very lucky man in that he had married her as a virgin which she said was a mean feat nowadays because girls and young women had lost their moral compass and were giving the “cookie”away to any men who came their way. There was a lot of backlash from fellow “sisters” in the group but most did not attack her misguided ideas, they attacked her person and instead of addressing why she would feel that only women were obligated to preserve their virginity, the women felt attacked by her and thus retaliated. I remember I said to her since she had already consummated the marriage she was no longer a virgin and was just like any other woman who had lost her virginity at 12 or 18 or 22 etc. Granted, it was a valid point technically, but that is not the agenda any of the other group members should have been pushing.

The agenda we should all push as women is “what is good for the goose is good for the gander.” If boys and young men are having and enjoying sex before marriage then it stands to reason that girls and young women should too and if one is not a virgin they should not expect to marry one either. Don’t get me wrong, for the sake of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, I for one would encourage youngsters that if possible they should maintain their “virtue” for as long as possible because abstinence is the best method of prevention, but my point is whatever standard we impose or encourage must be implemented by both sexes.

Another issue where I feel society is still hypocritical is sexual expression. I am by no means a scientist nor a human reproductive health expert but it seems generally men have a higher sex drive than women. Fair enough, but this does not mean women do not have sexual desire as well. Why then are women who flaunt their sexuality/sexual desire judged more harshly than men who do the same? This privilege applies to gay men too, some of the sexual expressiveness that gay or transgender get away with, no woman would even dare dream about let alone explore publicly.

A good example is when a well known transgender individual who was born biologically male but identifies as female posted a video on her Facebook page. In this video she danced provocatively to rhumba music while dressed in only a brassiere and a g-string, very very little was left to the imagination. By the way not only does she identify as a woman, she identifies as a married African woman. When I saw the video my first reaction was to applaud her for her confidence and bravery then one woman asked a question which got me thinking. She asked her; “You say you identify as a married African woman, do you think a cisgender married African woman would post such a video of herself and get away with it? This was indeed a pertinent question which I went on to ask myself and a few other people and we all agreed that a cisgender African woman whether married or unmarried would not dare flaunt her sexuality in such a manner without suffering enough scorn and backlash to haunt her for a lifetime.

While infidelity is publicly frowned upon in most societies, in African society, particularly Zimbabwean society it is only a source of shame if the unfaithful partner turns out to be female. If a woman commits adultery, she is ostracized by her partner and his relatives as well as by her own family and friends. I cannot claim to have conducted a formal quantitative research on the subject and I stand to be corrected but from my observations women who commit adultery are hardly ever forgiven by their partners. Usually after being forced to go through numerous shameful sessions of family meetings she is often sent packing oftentimes this is after just one affair. On the other hand married men who take the liberty of exploring their sexuality outside marital bonds not once but several times with several different women hardly face such far reaching consequences. In fact I have witnessed bizarre situations in which the wife somehow ends up apologizing to her adulterous husband for daring to take him to task over an affair.

In a nutshell the relationship between gender and sexuality is irrefutable and it’s as if as a person grows they are expected to conform to the rules of sexual conduct imposed upon their gender if they want to be integrated as a respectable  member of society.  The duplicity of society when it comes to enforcing these rules and judging and /or punishing the non conformists is nevertheless, undeniable.

Unpretty

When I was a pre scholar my family moved from Harare to Gweru. I was enrolled at a Lutheran Church Pre School. I don’t know whether it was my very first day or was it sometime during the first week my Mother, or was it our housemaid dressed me in pants to go to school. My peers taunted me and made me the joke of the day for wearing pants because according to them pants were meant for boys. Being a small town by most standards, the people in Gweru at that time were not so up to date with the latest fashion trends, they could not fathom why a girl could be dressed in “boys’ clothing”. I cried all the way home that day. I felt out-of-place and ashamed and after that incident I refused to wear pants for quite a while. As I grew older I began to care less and less about what people thought of me or my choices but that is not the experience for everyone nor does that stop people from trying to exert influence on a person’s choices. What I felt that day is what many people are made to feel because of their beauty and fashion choices.

Many people, especially women struggle a lot with their image. I believe many would be inclined to embrace their natural looks if it were not for external influences which put them under so much pressure to conform to what society deems as the standard of beauty. Society tells women to buy expensive products in order to “enhance” their beauty.  Some even undergo “corrective surgery” to fix what is “wrong” with them. In my opinion black women have it worse than everyone else. Through magazine articles and pictures, the media perpetuates the idea that all women should aspire to have long flowing hair and long artificial nails and that the lighter the colour of your skin the more closer you become to achieving the epitome of beauty and elegance.

Recently, Lupita Nyongó appeared on the cover of the Grazia UK magazine. The photographer edited her picture and changed her hair in order to give it according to Lupita “a more Eurocentric notion of what beautiful hair looks like”. She went on to say she wished she had been consulted before this decision was taken, upon which she would have explained;

“I cannot support or condone the omission of what is my native heritage, with the intention that they appreciate that there is still a very long way to go to combat the unconscious prejudice against black women’s complexion and hair style and texture”

This reminds me of an experience I once had a few years ago when I met and befriended a guy who lived in my home country Zimbabwe but often travelled to Polokwane, South Arica where I lived and worked at that time on business. His name was Donald. One day during one such trip he came to visit me at my workplace whereupon he found out that during the time he was in Zimbabwe I had removed my hair extensions and cut my hair. In fact my hair was in it’s curly and coily natural state. I often had it and still have it that way from time to time, but it was the first time Donald had seen me sporting that hairstyle. He went on to exclaim that I looked ugly now that my hair was neither straightened nor bonded in a weave. My response to him was if I looked ugly with no enhancements to my face and hair then that meant according to his standards of beauty I was in fact ugly because that right there, was a true reflection of the real me. Needless to say I had toyed with the idea of whether or not to consider his suggestion that we date but that remark made the decision for me. I could never a date a guy who saw my natural hair and looks as ugly. Ironically he missed two upper front teeth but that didn’t stop him from dissecting my beauty or lack thereof.

My second experience was when a boyfriend said he wished I would be more inclined to wear my hair long preferably with extensions as well as have my nails manicured regularly because that was the standard he had expected and received from his exes. It didn’t faze me, I merely laughed it off but those are some of the pressures black women face. These kinds of words have the power to shatter a person’s confidence and self-esteem. You are directly or indirectly told that you are not good enough in your natural form and you should constantly find ways to artificially enhance your looks.

In Africa in general and particularly in Francophone Africa many women and even men spend their hard-earned money buying skin lightening creams in order to look “more attractive.” Some of these products are very harmful and may lead to long-term health problems. According to British Dermatologist Justine Kluker:

“Most creams sold in the market are a dangerous cocktail of compounds like steroids, hydroquinone, and tretinoin; the long-term use of which can lead to lethal health concerns like permanent pigmentation, skin cancer, liver damage, mercury poisoning and others.”

Most people who use these creams know about these health risks but perhaps they still feel that the short-term benefits outweigh the long-term risks. This goes to show the degree to which Africans have been socialized to believing that they are literllay not good enough in their own skin. Even on the dating scene and the marriage market in both Africa and India lighter skinned people are seen to be more desirable than darker skinned ones.

TLC which was acronym for T Boz, Left Eye and Chilli was one of my favourite music groups during my teenage years. Apart from their tomboyish style of dressing I think their appeal to me was that they did not just sing about love and sex like the rest of their contemporaries at that time. In their music they tackled real life issues like drug trafficking/abuse, HIV/AIDS and of course self-esteem issues. The song that made the most impact on me was “Unpretty”.  The lyrics are as follows:

I wish could tie you up in my shoes
Make you feel unpretty too
I was told I was beautiful
But what does that mean to you
Look into the mirror who’s inside there
The one with the long hair
Same old me again today (yeah)

My outsides look cool
My insides are blue
Every time I think I’m through
It’s because of you
I’ve tried different ways
But it’s all the same
At the end of the day
I have myself to blame
I’m just trippin’

You can buy your hair if it won’t grow
You can fix your nose if he says so
You can buy all the make-up that M.A.C. can make
But if you can’t look inside you
Find out who am I to
Be in the position to make me feel so
Damn unpretty
(Yeah) I’ll make you feel unpretty too

Never insecure until I met you
Now I’m bein’ stupid
I used to be so cute to me
Just a little bit skinny
Why do I look to all these things
To keep you happy
Maybe get rid of you and then I’ll get back to me (hey)

*Then repeat bridge and chorus*

The song is about the pressures a young woman faces in order to fit into societal standards of beauty. No matter how confident or secure you are with your sense of self there will always be outside influences to tell you what you need to change about yourself in order to achieve beauty. According to the song no matter how many cosmetic enhancements you use and no matter how much you spend or how many times you undergo corrective surgery in a bid to look and feel more attractive, if you don’t feel beautiful on the inside all that money and time is spent in vain.

When I was a kid, my Mother used to have a Mills& Boon novel entitled “Autumn in April”. This title confused me a lot and I took a long time pondering about it because at school we had learnt that it was a natural occurrence for autumn to fall in April in our savanna climate. In fact that is the norm so why would one give a book such an obviously boring title? Then I realised the novel must have been written by an English author and in England autumn starts in September. April is actually the middle of spring so it would be unnatural to have an April autumn. I also learnt of a song by Lucy Schwartz entitled “June” the punchline is “And it feels like winter in June” my first thought was duh! Winter falls in June so what’s your point then I realised she was an American musician and in America June is a summer month. The point I am trying to put cross is that when it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, it is normally summer in the Northern Hemisphere and vice versa therefore so should the standards of beauty be defined. There shouldn’t be one universal standard measure of beauty, beauty can manifest in many different forms and no one should be shunned or made to feel less desirable merely because they choose to embrace their natural looks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Feminist in me

The Feminist in Me- 21/01/2018
From as far back as I can remember I have always been fiercely independent. My Mum said even as a baby I used to snatch the spoon from whoever was feeding me and try to feed myself. As soon as I could walk she said I would go into the streets of Glen Norah to play with the older kids. She went on to say it seemed to her that I no longer needed her that is why she decided to have another baby when I was barely 15 months old. My sister was born in the same month I turned two. Perhaps this fierce independence shaped my conviction that no one should be in a position to wield power or enjoy privilege over another based on gender, race, religion or even age.
My Dad once jokingly said to my Mum, if and when a man comes here to marry Olga, I will take the money paid as bride price but I would not spend a cent of it because there is a likelihood he would come back to claim his money back and should that happen I should be prepared give it back. At that early age I did not understand what he meant but now I do, he had recognized in me qualities that are not favourable in a traditional African wife. He had recognized the feminist in me without knowing exactly what term to use for it. An African and by extension a Christian wife is expected to be submissive to her husband in everything.

What strikes me about the whole concept is even I did not know at that age that I was a feminist. All I knew is I had this very strong conviction that every person is born equal and should be treated equally. Not only should we be afforded equal opportunities but the same yardstick should be used to judge everyone regardless of gender, age, religion or race.

One very vivid memory in my mind is that of my Mother reprimanding my sister and I for playing “boys’ games” with boys. This was after we had decided to form our own version of the A Team with the neighbourhood boys. We had a Hannibal Smith, a Murdoch a B.A. Baracus and a Templeton Peck. We even had toy guns and ammunition for our exploits. It was good while it lasted, needless to say all that came to an abrupt end after my Mother found out and unequivocally pointed out that those were not the kinds of games girls should be playing. This then brings up the question what are boys’ games and what are girls’ games and why the distinction?
Playing or interacting with my female friends I have always had different ideas of what a woman’s role should be in the scope of things. I realized at an early age and so did my family that I was a tad bit on the unconventional side but it was a long time before I could put a name to it. I first had an idea of what it was that disturbed me about gender constructs when I was 17 doing my A’Levels, specifically Lower 6 at Lower Gweru Adventist High School I met and befriended Nancy.
In many ways, Nancy was unlike other 17-year-old girls. She was not overly interested in boys the way we were. She preferred and deeply valued the time she spent in the library reading not for the sake of passing exams, but because she genuinely loved to read. She said at that tender and naive age, something that I did not quite fully understand but which stuck with me until today. Over and over I have thought about it and it was only later that I came to fully understand it .Nancy said in her words “I don’t need a man because a man or having a man would undermine my ability to stand alone”
That was a very profound declaration which is very open to misinterpretation by society as a manifestation of misandry, but it is most certainly not. Nancy was certainly not a misandrist and neither am I. In an ideal world no woman should ever have to “need” a man or vice versa. In my opinion, men and women should co-exist as equals and of course fall in love because they want to enhance each other’s quality of life as opposed to needing to fulfill each other’s needs. Once one needs or professes to need another there is already an imbalance in the proportion of how things should be.
I will explore the concept of how a woman may feel that a man or having a man could undermine one’s ability to stand alone. It is two dimensional:
1. How a man may be seen to undermine a woman’s ability to stand alone:
Due to socialization, men often assume the role of provider and protector. To an extent it’s a desirable and admirable quality but sometimes it goes into overkill. This is where they assume they know what choices you need to make and why with their help and guidance of course.
Not only that, but the Urban Dictionary has coined this term called “mansplaining”. Mansplaining is a combination of the word man and explaining and it is defined as “to explain something to someone, characteristically by a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing”. These are just two of many examples of how a man can be seen to undermine a woman’s ability to stand alone.
2. How having a man may be seen to undermine a woman’s ability to stand alone:
I will use “having a man loosely to mean either having a boyfriend or husband or merely being in the company of a man:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said back home in Nigeria she once went out with a male friend after which she took money out of her handbag to tip the car guard. The car guard took the money from her then went on to effusively thank the male friend who accompanied her. He assumed whatever money she may have, must have been given to her by him. I have also had scenarios in which I dined out in the company of male friends whereupon I would ask for the check/the bill but it would be quickly handed to or placed in front of my male companion. The assumption always is that the man would pay for the meal. Another example is how you hear people remarking on how so and so was so fortunate because her husband had bought her a brand new car when in actual fact she bought the car herself.
In such cases the husband/boyfriend/male friend or relative involved does absolutely nothing to perpetuate the undermining of the woman but society is just wired to undermine women.
These are some of the issues that today’s woman often has to tackle, notwithstanding the fact that not only in Africa but in most parts of the world feminism is still not only frowned upon, but hugely misunderstood and trivialized. Many do not see it as a movement which advocates equality of the sexes but as a form of misandry. For this reason, for a long time I have grappled with accepting who I truly am as opposed to fitting into the construct society has created for me. Oftentimes I have toned down parts of my personality in order to fit in but I am glad I have finally come to fully accept and explore those parts of myself without being apologetic about who I am.
I am afraid I have to end here today. Next time I will tackle the issue of forging one’s own identity against the backdrop of gender, race, religion and how you want society to perceive you.