Feminism VS African Culture

Feminism VS African Culture

Over the past few weeks I have witnessed or been party to the conflict between the tenets of feminism and African culture. African culture particularly Shona culture is by its very nature very patriarchal. To say Shona culture can be a little misleading because Shona is an umbrella term which encompasses at least 7 different tribes. However, because of the similarities in many aspects of their customs I will use the umbrella term Shona to include all these tribes.

Arguably the advent of Western civilization played a role in further marginalizing African women. To examine this a bit closer, I would say this was specifically limited to the fact that Western civilization/’industrialization, if we can call it that, introduced the monetary economy, not only that but the settlers acquired farms and built factories which required specifically male labour. What did this mean for women? Before the advent of colonialism men and women played different but equally important roles to fend for the family but now it meant that men became the only breadwinner and women were reduced to housewives who stayed back in the reserves to take care of the children and any farming they did was subsistence farming. This as I said further marginalized African women although in all fairness the culture was already largely patriarchal.

First and foremost, a man could marry more than one wife, in fact as many wives as he wanted and could afford to, but it was and still is unheard of for a woman to marry more than one husband (on a side note Malawian culture is said to be matriarchal, I don’t know how far true it is but my mother’s paternal grandmother reportedly had two husbands). Secondly, after marriage a woman would leave her home and go live with the husband’s extended family rarely the other way round. Furthermore, the family, clan or village’s main decisions were taken by men on a platform they called “padare” no women or children were allowed padare. Sometimes even men considered as “weak” were not allowed to participate in the decision-making proceedings. There are countless examples but the one that strikes me the most is the double-standards which were and still are employed when judging men and women for the same behaviour or circumstances. One such example recently had me in a heated debate with a few male Facebook friends. This is the fact that when women indulge in sex or have children outside wedlock or marry and then get divorced there is a certain stigma attached to it.

These women are all indiscriminately referred to as “mvana”. I do not know the origins of this term, but it is a derogatory term which implies that when a woman has had sexual relations or has had a child and/or gets divorced she loses her value as a woman. This insinuation has no biological basis because after a woman loses her virginity nothing physically diminishes her physical appearance. You are only able to tell that she is no longer a virgin when you conduct virginity tests or have sexual relations with her. Furthermore, when women give birth if they eat well and exercise regularly they get back into appropriate shape not only that but men who do not exercise or pay attention to their diet lose shape and become unattractive as well. As for divorce, it is basically one spouse giving the other a token called “gupuro’ in the form of a coin in the case of a customary marriage or one or both parties filing papers for divorce in the case of a legal marriage. In what way does this process physically diminish the value of a woman? If it diminishes the value of a woman what criteria is used to exempt men from this downgrading? After examining this entire system, I realised that there is no valid reason to subject women to this kind of scrutiny and harsh judgment except that it keeps men in control.

The fact that men are required to pay lobola for women and not the other way round is traditionally viewed as means to establish and strengthen relations between two families but due to commercialization and abuse it wounds up smelling like a system designed to keep men in control while ensuring women remain under the thumb of patriarchy. Why do I say this? There are certain conditions and stipulations that are set aside for a married woman “mukadzi akaroorwa” to follow or to meet failure of which brings disgrace upon herself and often ultimately leads to divorce. Examples are child bearing, fidelity and dressing and behaving with modesty and decorum. The same rules do not necessarily apply to men. Long ago if a man failed to bear children a close male relative would secretly sneak into his quarters and impregnate his wife without his knowledge. He was then made to believe that the offspring was his and cushioned from ever knowing that he was sterile, but the woman was not spared of this disgrace. She was labelled “ngomwa” meaning barren woman and could be sent back to her family for being unable to fulfil her “duty”. It is as if people marry not for companionship but for procreation. To this day though the dictates are no longer a harsh as before given that women are more independent and financially self-reliant, there is still stigma attached to a woman’s failure to conceive in a marital situation. When it comes to infidelity a man can stray as many times as he wishes and never be viewed as a deviant but if a woman strays once she is shamed and labelled and sadly this shaming has extended to social media at alarming levels

On the other hand, there are some aspects of Shona jesting that taken out of context may be misconstrued as aimed at disrespecting or marginalizing women but in fact they are harmless. A few weeks ago, there was an uproar after Presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa jestingly said he would offer his 18-year-old sister to Emmerson Mnangagwa if he (Mnangagwa) won the upcoming presidential election. A few women’s rights activists felt it was disrespectful to all women in general because it commodified women. On this aspect I beg to disagree, in my view it was just a figure of speech to indicate that in Chamisa’s opinion the chances of Mnangagwa winning the election were next to nothing. One needs to really understand the context of Shona jesting in order to appreciate the harmlessness of such utterances. Let me give an example. My grandmother was a housekeeper in Highlands suburb in Harare employed by a white family. AMurombo (Mr. Murombo) was a gardener or what Zimbabweans prefer to call a garden boy next door. I was really very young 5 or 6 years old but I remember AMurombo because of the smell of the tobacco he smoked “chimonera”. The point I’m making is he and my granny had a running joke about pledging me to him in marriage. This doesn’t mean my Granny intended to sell me, one of her only two granddaughters to an elderly gardener. This is one of the ways Shona people jest with each other in harmless discourse it has nothing to do with violating women’s rights or marginalizing the girl child.

Another controversial issue is the practice of “chiramu”. This is when a man refers to his wife’s sisters or nieces (brother’s daughters) as his wives in jest. I do not know much about the ancient practice but nowadays it is practised in a very moderate respectful form. There are no sexual implications or sexual innuendos whatsoever. Therefore, it would be misrepresentation to say the practice of chiramu encourages rape and child sexual abuse. There is a danger in that sometimes as we try to stand up for girl child and women’s rights we may inadvertently demonize harmless cultural practices by applying Western standards. Many aspects of Shona and by extension African culture are impracticable in Western society but that does not mean they are wrong. If anything, some of the tenets of Western feminism are different from those of African feminism, but that is a topic for another blog. Western culture should not be a yardstick with which Africans judge themselves.

In conclusion, although society and by extension culture has evolved and women have become more independent and assertive, in many aspects of life we are still marginalized and downtrodden. Both women and men need to work together to eradicate stigma and prejudice against women and duplicitous standards of judgement. Having said that, African culture has many beautiful aspects that we should all continue to embrace and celebrate without undue foreign interference.

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Friend Zone

Friend Zone

Friend zone according to the urban dictionary is loosely translated as a situation whereby one friend wishes to enter into a romantic /sexual relationship while the other prefers to keep it platonic. This is generally considered an undesirable situation for the friend zoned person. For the purpose of clarity I am going to refer to the two parties as the friend zoner and the friend zoned.

I first came across the term on Facebook and the implication was that the friend zoner who in most cases is the female was the villain in this type of arrangement. Before I fully understood the term I also looked at the zoner as villainous, a female who would drag a guy along , call upon him whenever she needed assistance taking advantage of his generous spirit and/or strong feelings for her without giving anything in return. After thinking about it a bit from a feminist perspective I came to the conclusion that the friend zoner is no villain at all. This is a woman who has been very honest and upfront with her feelings towards a man.  She has basically said I like you but I do not have romantic sexual feelings for you so let us rather enjoy a platonic relationship.

Unless the general consensus says men and women can not have and enjoy platonic relationships what then is wrong with a woman suggesting a friendship? This then begs the question are these “nice guys” who find themselves friend zoned so to speak really nice guys after all or they are manipulative schemers? They perform all these good deeds and nice gestures in order to get women to fall in love or fall into a sexual relationship with them. When she does not reciprocate their interest they cry foul . This is because the nice gestures did not come from a place of genuine kindness and generosity to start with. Feminist critics of the term have described such men as misogynists because they apparently feel “Their nice gestures should be rewarded by sex”

I have discovered it is not only women who are “”guilty”of friend zoning men. Men often friend zone women who exhibit romantic interest in them too. The difference is that men do this to women for whom they have sexual but not romantic interest in. Their strategy is that I am sexually interested in you and we can actually enjoy coitus or what is known as the “friends with benefits” kind of arrangement, I just do not see you as girlfriend material” whatever that means.

In their defence, when men friend zone women, they are usually very straightforward about their intentions. The friend zoned woman knows exactly what she is getting into. However, the situation almost always becomes a problem in that women often allow themselves to get into these types of situations with men they are hopelessly in love with or have romantic interest in hoping to eventually entice or convince the object of their interest into eventually loving them back. In essence these types of women attempt to “use sex to get love.” More often than not this strategy does not work out because as much as it is an emotional process for women, for men sex is generally a mere clinical process.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that some friend zoners both male and female are in fact “Takers” A taker also known as a “chiseler” or “mooch” is defined as someone who always takes from other people and never gives back. According to the Urban Dictionary;  “In most cases takers aren’t stealing , they are just taking advantage of the hospitality of others without reciprocating or saying thanks”

In the context of friend zoning these are people who place you in the zone with the subtle or sometimes not so subtle “promise” That you will eventually be promoted to becoming their S.O (Significant Other). Some go to the extent of launching a sexual relationship so to speak without clearly defining the boundaries/terms of the relationship only to firmly place their “victim” for lack of a better word into the friend zone after the fact or should I say act. This often leaves the other party feeling shortchanged.and used.

In a nutshell being friend zoned by someone you have romantic or sexual interest in can be a very frustrating experience but it need not be, because you have the power to decide whether you want to be their friend or move on to other pursuits. In fact you should actually applaud them for being honest. Much as I do not condone the manipulation employed by the natural takers I also believe if you give your time, attention, moral or material support from the heart then you would not feel cheated if the other party insists on maintaining a platonic relationship.

Movie Review Black Panther

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I have been meaning to share my thoughts on The Black Panther but just could not get round to it until now. I had no idea such a project was in the brewing until just a week before it’s South African premiere on the 16th of February. When I learnt about it I began salivating in anticipation. I even considered wearing my African print outfit to the cinema until I remembered we would be watching the movie in the dark so no one would see the outfit anyway. On a serious note as a fan of super hero movies produced by Marvel studios and more importantly as an African it marked a milestone in the telling of authentic African stories.

The movie tells the story of an African crown prince T’Çhalla (played by Chadwick Boseman) who also possesses the spirit of the Black Panther which gives him super natural powers. After the death of his father T’Çhalla returns home to assume the throne. He is faced with many challenges both at home and abroad and there is a very powerful would be enemy looming in the shadows. With the help of his ex flame Nakia and the formidable female army general Okoye, his sister Shuri as well as a CIA agent Everett K. Ross he manages to defeat the enemy and bring back stability to Wakanda

For me the best thing about the movie was the celebration of African culture. African culture is not homogeneous per se but it has many similar customs and traditions for example the monarchical system. Although African monarch was the powerful sovereign ruler they (with a few exceptions) were not tyrannical and/or stand offish but rather benevolent and approachable. In fact they generally used to sit in council with their chieftains and advisors who played a significant role in the decision making process.

The use of an African language and African accents for a production of that magnitude was for me the most profound way of celebrating Africa. I recently jokingly said to my French friend if you and I were to go to the USA and speak English in our natural accents your accent would be regarded as sexy or charming while mine would be seen as plain strange. This is true because the African accent has long been regarded as an embodiment of ineloquence at best and at worst stupidity. Black Panther helped to disabuse many of that notion.

Another interesting aspect was the effectiveness of African medicine in its natural form and the natural beauty of African women unadorned and unaffected by Western cosmetics. Not only that but the movie celebrated Africa’s riches in natural resources which if tapped into and utilized for the greater good could develop Africa to even surpass Western technology because we already have the human resources for it as illustrated by the Wakandan princess Shuri.

The women of Wakanda were strong , independent and although Wakanda is apparently a patriarchal society they were not in any way subservient to the men, in fact women are seen to work alongside men for the greater good. The same was characteristic of pre-colonial African society there was division of labour between the sexes but women were not subservient to men it was colonization and the monetization of the African economies which brought about the marginalization of African women.

The technology of Wakanda for me was very advanced and from my perspective as a comic book and superhero movie fan I was absolutely WOWed by it, it made me wish I had watched in 4Dx rather than in 3D but from my perspective as an African I felt that although it represented how Africa would have in its own time become technologically advanced sans the influence of European influences some of the graphics actually take awy from showcasing the natural beauty of Africa.

The theme of alienation was also explored in the movie T’Chaka’s brother N’Jobu goes overseas to the USA as an intelligence agent and when he f=gets there he begins to identify with and sympathise with the marginalized African Americans he meets there such that he decides to take up their struggle as his own. however by so doing he alienates himself from his brother and by extension his Wakandan roots because Wakanda prefers to remain hidden and untainted by outside influence. in his bid to assist the African Americans in their struggle which in itself was a noble cause he betrays his country.

The alienation or identity crisis becomes more acute when his son Killmonger arrives in Wakanda and despite his rise to power and the people’s best efforts to integrate him into the community he remains an outsider. In fact in his anger he seeks to destroy timeless traditions which the Wakandan people have held dear for generations. Although he is largely a villain one can not help but feel some sympathy for Killmonger having been orphaned at a tender age and left to fend for himself in a land far removed from his father’s people.

In conclusion, the story was well researched and well represented and no doubt it is already a tremendous success and will continue to be. I especially commend the director Ryan Coogler the cast and crew as well as Marvel studios for a job well done. Let us keep telling beautiful African stories.

White privilege

white privilege

White 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.

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.