At a dinner party this week, some friends and I were discussing some of the television shows that captivated us as children. The men talked about Voltron and Six Million Dollar Man, while the women talked about Bionic Woman. Later I thought about the singing, dancing and drama series Fame, set at the School of the Arts in the USA and how I would have done just about anything to be a part of that world. As a teenager the characters in that show seemed so talented, so interesting and yet somehow accessible, that they became the substance of my dreams and ambitions. Oh the heartache of adolescence!
Today when my children and I talk about their career prospects I tell them that whatever they will be has not yet been invented. They find this puzzling and cannot process that a career choice which doesn’t exist today may yet materialize as the world changes.
Concerned that girl children are not aiming high enough and doing my bit to expose them to positive female role models, I decided one day to introduce a little girl to a lady financial director. I explained that the woman was in charge of all the money in the company and therefore very powerful and I suggested that perhaps one day if the little lady worked hard at her maths and science she too might have such a big and powerful job. How wrong was I! She firmly declared (in front of said FD) that she had no such ambition and was instead going to pursue a career as a dancer! That left me despondent.
Not that I have anything against dancers per se. After all, I too aspired to this career choice at some point (shhh don’t tell my mother!) My anxiety is around the fact that girls should be more aware of a wider range of career choices available to them. As a clever women once said, ”You can’t be what you can’t see,” and until women in positions of leadership and authority start stepping forward for girls to see them, we will continue to shortchange the next generation by presenting a limited number of options to them.
A little girl today can dream of becoming an astronaut, a software developer, a neurologist, a biochemist, a professor of behavioural science, a water and sanitation engineer, as well as a dancer or a financial director. As children, many of us did not conceive that those options were available to us. When the little girl who disdained a career in finance grows a little older and begins to better understand the full implication of such a career choice, when she has been exposed to enough women financial directors and seen how they live, when she understands that the girls who are four or five years older than her are now dreaming of being financial directors, then maybe something in her will begin to open up to the possibility that she too might one day be counted among them.
SOUTHERN SISTER - SUNDAY 25 AUGUST 2013
It’s likely that we all know of a woman we admire greatly, a woman who embodies everything we imagine one would want in a daughter in law, or a sister in law, a woman who has the interests of her husband at the front and centre of her life, but in spite of all this, is thought to be completely inadequate by her mother-in-laws. Do you know a woman like this?
Wicked mother-in-law stories abound; and are probably only overtaken in frequency and intensity by wicked daughter-in-law stories. To be fair on the elder party though, I don’t hear them complain about the women their sons married as often as I hear complaints about mothers in law drama.
Amazingly this is one struggle that transcends race, culture, age and class and causes misery and bickering for families the world over.
So that gets me wondering what it is about a grown man that makes his mother and his wife both claiming him as their territory, fail to come to a workable power sharing agreement.
Most of us are sharing from before born. We lie in a womb that a sibling has occupied before us, we suckle at the same breast, we share meals and toys and wear one another’s hand me down garments. We share our parents’ attention and our teachers’ instruction, and the affection of our pets is spread right across the whole family. But none of this really bothers us. By the time we set forth into adulthood, we are well accustomed to the notion of shared rights and shared responsibility and we enter into marriage with an understanding that the resources we share may well be spread beyond the wall of our tiny nuclear family to include other members of the clan on both sides of the bridal table.
All of this works fairly smoothly until the first clash of the mother in law with a new bride. Sometimes where the power base is slightly skewed an older sister in law takes over the combatant role of the mom in law. I always wonder what it must feel like to be a man and watch the two most important women in your life bicker over you. It must be a powerfully affirming thing; because surely if you ever doubted that you are loved and wanted and precious, you would know it when someone is prepared to curse another for the pleasure of being the one closest to you.
The crazy thing about this ridiculous power struggle is that we all want the same things – for the same person! Surely every mother’s desires for her son is that he should be happy, successful, live a worry-free, peaceful life with his family. And surely every wife desires, good mental and physical health, peace and prosperity for her husband? Where then do things go wrong and why?
Some believe the conflicts arise out of the desire to control all of the good things I have mentioned above, but I know that everything we believe about true love refutes this argument. Control and love do not seem to be natural bedmates to me. If a man I love (husband or son) is fully functional in his mental faculties, then there really is no reason for me to control him. Right?
Friday night in Katavi, Uganda must have been an eerie place that year. I wonder whether there was a sense, as the sun went down of the drama that would unfold. The unspeakable act of village justice which then took place when 31 year old community leader Madirisha had his head and genitals chopped off and then cooked after claims of adultery boggles the mind.
I don’t want to labour the adultery issue. I don’t even want to speculate about the gender aspect, and what might have happened if this man had been a women. I don’t want to investigate the surprise that we all must feel considering this is Africa, the victim was a man, and the issue was adultery. Go ahead and admit that it crossed your mind that this must be an over-reaction considering these three things. After all men committing adultery in Africa hardly makes news. But like I said, I don’t want to go there.
The place I want to linger is over the issue of leadership. The fact that this man was a community leader ( other sources say a politician). I want to believe that this position made him more vulnerable to criticism, judgement and ultimately to the harrowing ordeal that cost him his life.
Let’s hope it happened fast. I wonder if he even had a sense of what was going on or why when the five people (I am presuming them to be men) barged into his room, wielding machetes....Were they shouting? Did they call him names? Were they sure it was even him lying there? Was his wife in the room? What was her role in the drama? What about the one (or ones?) he committed adultery with? Was she gorgeous? Was she young? So many questions....
But there is no question more piercing to me than the one I ask in the headline. In the face unsympathetic criticism, ruthless judgement and thorough condemnation, who would want to be a leader?
Do we only want to lead when the voices of the people we lead are kind and complimentary, when their words are coated in honey and their opinions of us are high? Leaders often want affirmation, and sometimes end up surrounded only by those who agree with them.
But real leadership requires more from us. It requires that we walk our talk, that we live out the kind of values and ways of living that we claim to espouse. It requires sacrifice of personal comfort and pleasure sometimes just for the purpose of being a decent role model. Sometimes it even requires that we give up something gorgeous and exciting, something that makes our hearts sing and blood hot...something....Yeah. Its tough.
Who’d want to be a leader?
This month our sisters south of the Limpopo are celebrating women's month. They honor the outstanding women in their country and their communities who enrich the lives of others, and whose efforts inspire and advance the nation, whether in business, politics, arts, society or science. As a community of women in the Southern African region we celebrate with them, recognizing that in our communities too, women are often the glue that holds society together.
Think about the women in your life today; And about the women who have played a role in your life in the past. What would your life have been without them all? Where might your path have led?
In my own life i could start with my mother, a woman of incredible energy and accomplishments; my sister, the family's poster girl for academic excellence, my grandmother who was so creative and thrifty that I think given the chance she really would have turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse! There were many other women who inspired me: my glamorous aunt whose stylish presentation was a joy to behold, another aunt who lived with us for many years and cared for us like her own. And who could forget the grade seven teacher who had the courage to declare to a class of giggling teenagers "sex is a pleasure!" and the sixth form English teacher who gave me my first and last A plus and helped me fall in love with language. My first boss in the advertising business got promoted and said to me, “On Monday I am moving upstairs and I want you to move into my office and do my job. Don’t ask anybody for permission and don’t wait for authorization. Just do it.” I did. Thanks to her encouragement that’s how I landed my first managerial job. Since then I’ve had some powerful women to look up to in my church, at work and socially. I am particularly impressed by the courage of women who dismiss convention, who blaze a trail in unchartered spaces, and remain authentic. I aspire to that level of self assurance.
So what about the amazing women in your life? I know there are some because most women are amazing! Do you have a mother whose resilience and determination take your breath away? Or a sister so wise that you don’t make a move without her endorsement and advise? Do you have a daughter whose beauty makes an orchid seem inconsequential? Or one of those incredible wives who is a lifelong testament to the saying ‘Love conquers all’? Perhaps somewhere in your past there is a lady teacher who made physics make sense, or a nurse whose kindness opened a rusty door in your heart. Perhaps a conversation with a woman in a supermarket aisle has inspired the profession you are in today? Or maybe watching a neighbourhood matron reach out to others changed your ideas about contribution and legacy?
Southern sister Sunday 8/18/2013
For one shining moment in November the Zimbabwean army was our hero. People poured out into the streets to march against a leader who, though once loved, had with time become a tyrant. For the first time in decades, they depended on the army to protect them - to march alongside them. For one brief blink of an eye moment, we set aside our memories of fear and guns and never-knowing-what-is-coming-next and made the army a friend of the people. But the army’s moment as the people’s hero was short-lived.
Heroism in a confusing term in Zimbabwe; perhaps it is because our Heroes Day sits right next to Defence Forces Day on the calendar, or perhaps it is because the original holiday was set aside in the aftermath of war. Whatever the reason, it is clear to all that Heroes Day in Zimbabwe only recognises those heroes who have ben active in the armed struggle and/or politics. Our version of Heroes Day should probably have a different name in order to help us and those who come after us to manage our expectations.
Today is Zimbabwe’s first Heroes Day celebration without Robert Mugabe in charge. It is our first Heroes Day celebration without a man many Africans consider the ultimate hero. And this in a way, is the ultimate irony.
It is our first Heroes Day celebration with free speech, and so I am amazed when I hear people say that nothing has changed in Zimbabwe since November. The very fact that they are able to express this sentiment, (alongside many other stronger views) is itself an indication that things have changed in Zimbabwe.
Not all things have changed, of course. And many important things still need to change, this I do not deny. But we should not underestimate the impact of the things that have changed.
In the last couple of weeks I have driven a distance of over 1700km (from Harare to Victoria Falls and back), and not once was I stopped at a police roadblock. This too is a significant change.
It is our first Heroes Day without mind-numbing repetitions of the same songs and stories on ZBC, the first Heroes day when we can probably get a bit more perspective on what it means to be a hero.
A hero by definition is “one who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities.” I take that to mean that until the recognition is given, the hero status is not a certainty. And that would then explain where we find ourselves in Zimbabwe. Until our heroes are labelled as such, their achievements remain unremarked upon, their courage unrecognised and their qualities un-admired.
The liberation war in Zimbabwe was a monumental milestone, and overcoming the heinous evil of colonisation is something which needs to be remembered and indeed celebrated for hundreds of years to come. I am all in favour of that. No one who did not fight in a war with guns and bullets and death all around them can understand the horror and the sacrifice. We can only imagine.
But many of those who did not participate in the liberation war have participated in different struggles since then. Struggles which have left them with losses and wounds and trauma that the generations which follow will be forced to deal with, even as this generation is dealing with the trauma of the liberation struggle.
Let me take the liberty then, of recognising and admiring some of the heroes of the latter day struggle. These heroes are in themselves armies of individuals who daily take up arms in the fight for survival in Zimbabwe.
First, there are the nurses. I am not sure if we all recognise the incredible role nurses play in the health system. There are thousands of nurses in Zimbabwe who have eschewed the opportunity to work overseas for better pay and more recognition, choosing instead to stay in Zimbabwe; to serve in a system that doesn’t serve them well. They are often overlooked, many times sidelined in favour of the more prestigious doctors and specialists, and yet in fact these are the people that keep an ailing system moving. And so to our army of nurses - I salute you.
Then there are the entrepreneurs. I am not referring here of the exceptions or the high flyers - your Strive Masiyiwas and your Divine Ndlukulas. I am celebrating the millions of ordinary Zimbabweans who, when they have seen an opportunity in a broken system, have stepped forwarded, risked it all and said, “Let me try…” Many have found themselves, their families and their dreams broken at the feet of a dodgy economy and a series of unsympathetic and in fact punitive policies. I went through a season where I called Zimbabwe a graveyard of dreams. I don’t call it that anymore, because in a graveyard, no one comes back to life. Yet Zimbabwean entrepreneurs keep coming back. They get knocked down again and again and again and they still try. Again.
And then there is the army of young people in Zimbabwe who are longing for a chance at leadership. They have come of age at a time when there was no clear direction and there were more voices saying “It can’t” than those saying “Yes we can” and yet they have still made it their business to rise. They have watched their peers - the likes of Fadzayi Mahere and Evan Mawarire, shape the conversations of the nation, take significant abuse in all forms and still keep going; and they have been inspired to step forward and say “Here I am. Send me.” Because that’s what leaders do.
And finally, I do just want to mention the army of people who make memes. Yes, you read it right. If you think of humour as a form of therapy for difficult times and a means of relieving stress in seasons of uncertainty, you cant help but be grateful to the army of individuals (there must be hundreds of thousands of them) who keeps us giggling into our WhatsApp feeds, even as we recognise that our country is burning. It is not that we are not aware or concerned, it is simply that even in the darkest darkness, you need some light relief. So, all you meme-makers out there, we salute even you.
I write to lend you my courage, to help you find the words for the things you feel, but are not yet ready to say. I write to tell the stories of our time, and to edify those whose stories I tell and their audiences.