I will say it as I see it

I have neglected my blog for a while. Not because I had nothing to write but because I simply didn’t have the words to express how I feel; what I’ve been thinking and so in the end it seemed prudent to say nothing.

I write this blog entry from New York City in the United States of America. I won’t lie and say coming to America is a dream come true because the truth is I never dreamed of coming here nor did I harbor any particular desire to see the Big Apple.

What is a dream come true for me is the opportunity to attend the United Nation’s 55th Session on the Commission on the Status of Women that kicks off today; what is humbling beyond measure is that

I will get to speak at this auspicious gathering – to address at an international platform the issues that have forced me to the frontlines of gender activism.

I am not a man hater and most of the credit for the woman I have become goes to the men in my life who have loved, raised and supported me – my paternal uncles.

I am a gender activist because I believe in justice; because I believe the patriarchal status quo is unjust and because I believe that protecting it will do more harm than good to humanity as a whole.

I know where I've come from; what I've gone through to be where I am. I know the only force strong enough to stop me is ME!

In many instances, I have come off as an anti-marriage crusader but I am not. I just do not believe in preserving marriage if that institution is used to oppress and marginalize women – if marriage is an excuse to abuse women, to disempower them, to “own” them and to silence them – then that kind of marital arrangement is totally unacceptable to me.

In some cases, I come off as an anti-culture/tradition campaigner but I am not. I just do not believe that people should die just so a culture can live – if the fact that Southern Africa carries the heaviest AIDS burden can be attributed to reckless sexual behavioral patterns that are condoned socially and have a cultural basis – then I say we need to reject these dangerous values – the values that promote philandering in men and require women to accept, endure and excuse such behavior.

Often I have been labeled a rabid feminist; feminist I am but ‘rabid’ is a matter of opinion – I am devoted to the cause of women education, empowerment and emancipation by whatever means at my disposal.

Having identified patriarchy as the system that underpins, legitimizes and authenticates the status quo in which women are marginalized, oppressed and considered subordinates of men – feminism is the ideology I use to confront and reject this system of male supremacy. I refuse to believe that a person’s womanhood should obscure their humanity.

...African women have been taught that strength consists of accepting pain and harm as the inevitable consequence of being female. Get out of the damn way!

And every now and then I am accused of being too emotional and I wonder what that has got to do with anything? Does being aloof make one’s opinions any more potent than being emotional?

Must I be indifferent and detached to get a point across and how can I not be emotional – I care deeply about the condition of women’s lives; I live constantly frustrated at the number of young women who throw their lives away trying to conform to silly stereotypes and to the many women who are so caught up with making sacrifices rather than chasing their dreams and more importantly I rage against a society that allows this to be so.

Then every now and then – someone comes up with the revelation that my ‘problem’ is that I am overeducated (sic) and therefore incapable of relating to my ‘Africanness’. Well there is nothing African about condoning wife bashing all because women supposedly ‘hear’ better when thrashed with a knobkerrie (Ndebele saying); among other crazy dictates passed on from one generation to the next and accepted without being subjected to any scrutiny. Education is responsible for making me interrogate the world I live in and the place I occupy in it.

...break free... you're the key to your own freedom

My African sensibilities inform me that culture is not infallible; that it is dynamic and that it must serve people and not enslave them.

So what will I say given the chance to tell the world about the African woman and the condition of her life.

I will say the African woman has none but herself – that her identity has been so distorted by years of internalizing values that emphasized her inferiority in relation to her male counterpart.

I will say that the African woman has none but herself – that her support system often revolves around family who expect her to conform; who will reward her conformity with their approval and often punish her deviance with ostracism. She must decide at some point to be a citizen of the world or the appendage of a man. Whether she’ll advance her career or settle to keep the home fires burning.

I will say that African expectations of women are ponderous – that they rarely encourage the pursuit of individual expression or self-definition but rather they teach that the interests of the collective supersede the desires of the individual. African norms teach that the needs of the community are more important than those of the individual; that the greater good matters more than a person’s will.

But that is not all the African ethos teaches – it teaches that women’s human rights are incorporated in the rights of men; that their voices are carried in the baritone tones of their male counterparts; that their needs are catered for when the needs of men are met; that their wishes are expressed in those of men and that what they desire is included in whatever the men find desirable. The “greater good” often requires women to cede everything to men because anything else is regarded as “uncultural”.

I will say that in view of these highly damaging, stilted values internalized since childhood – women in Africa have none but themselves. That their emancipation can only begin in their minds; that a paradigm shift is needed to reverse these deeply imbedded beliefs of their inferiority or the so-called “naturalness” of their subordinate status.

Some people say it is impossible for the status quo to change but I think it is impossible for it to remain as is because women all over the world are changing – women in Africa are no different – slowly we’re breaking the barriers and limitations imposed on us by our female genitalia.

Why do we beg to differ?

I have often heard people use the phrase ‘I beg to differ’ to express a contrary view and until recently, I never batted an eyelid when I heard such.

...have you ever tried to just open your mouth & say what you really think?

It has often occurred to me that there are phrases we parrot without really stopping to think why we say them and I for one have a knack for placing such things under intense scrutiny.

There is nothing that ruffles my feathers as much as doing something because it’s always been done without bothering to examine why that behavior is expected of me – and our speech patterns (which we borrowed from the Queen’s language) are full of such unexamined phrases.

I suspect that the statement was used as a form of politeness so as not to be seen as being a troublemaker contradicting popular opinion hence the person feels that they owe others an apology for not agreeing with their views.

I do wonder ‘why do we beg to differ?’

Don’t we have a right to hold individual, and at times, contradicting opinions?

In a society that places a heavy emphasis on conformity, there is always a pressure applied on one to be, to think and to do as the collective prescribes – offering a contrary opinion would therefore be something frowned upon.

So before you can speak your mind you need to ‘beg’ others to let you think for yourself and possibly arrive at a conclusion that is not like theirs.

Where did we ever get the idea that we get harmony when everybody just sings the same note?

I have always thought it better to be who you are and say what you feel, because in the greater scheme of things – those who mind don’t matter; and those who matter don’t mind.

One of the truths I gathered as a Linguistics student is that there is no way one can learn a language without imbibing its culture, so of necessity our use of the English language becomes synonymous with us assimilating certain aspects of the culture of the English.

And a careful study of its nuances will reveal that the English are a people very preoccupied with ‘politeness’ and to my way of thinking the line between what people term politeness and hypocrisy is a very thin and blurry one.

What the English would have us believe is social ‘etiquette’, good graces, well-mannered conduct, proper breeding and politeness really boils down to mere hypocrisy – in other words – just don’t say what you mean!

It’s considered crass, distasteful and the height of bad manners to say what you really think, one ought to be ‘tactful’ i.e – just lie through your teeth.

...people often suffix their thoughts with a question mark so as to seem agreeable & polite. Instead of making statements they pose questions....

As far back as 1911, Ambrose Bierce wrote in The Devil’s Dictionary that “politeness is the most acceptable (form of) hypocrisy.”

So to be polite we use phrases like ‘I beg to differ’ when in fact we may not be begging at all.

Even those who are quick to take blame for a thing are doing so out of hypocrisy more than politeness.

There is luxury in self-reproach.

When we are quick to blame ourselves we feel that no one else has the right to blame us thereafter.

And when we ‘beg’ to differ – we really don’t expect that we will be refused the right to express our views, after all – we did ‘beg’ so very nicely.

As a parting shot, I borrow the sentiments of Michael Crichton – “Human beings never think for themselves, they find it too uncomfortable. For the most part, members of our species, simply repeat what they are told – and become upset if they are exposed to any different view” – quoted from ‘The Lost World’