by Pumeza Mdangayi*
Assata is quoted to have once said: “….black people will never be free unless black women participate in every aspect of our struggle, on every level of our struggle”
If I was younger, ordinarily, at face value I would have agreed with this quote. In fact I nearly retweeted it on Twitter when I first came across it as a form of acknowledgement that it was my truth. However with maturity, with education and with a bit more emotional integrity I have come to believe otherwise. Thus it is not my truth and it is not what I have come to believe and know is true of other women whom I interact with.
From my life, the lives of the women around me, my aunts, my grandmothers, my sisters, my friends, from every woman I pass in the streets; the vendors, the waitresses, the nurses running to catch the last bus, the cashiers at the local store or the women working at the nearest bank tellers; they express and share different experiences; they share my story. I agree that women are paramount to Africa’s development; in fact the development of the world; economically, socially, politically, psychologically and otherwise. Without women our very existence would be muted – literally.
Where I tend to disagree with the esteemed author is where he/she assumes that Africa (black people) will forever be incarcerated because of the lack of participation of women in our communities and structures; I believe otherwise. Women have participated and continue to do so every day, in every way, “in every aspect of our struggle” They have done so for centuries and as the saying goes “the struggle continues”.
The fundamental difference about women and the struggle is that we are rarely recognized or acknowledged for our part in it. That is a very different and fundamental take then, from that they have been absent from the struggle. The acknowledgement of women outside the home, (certain aspects of the home that does not necessarily include the kitchen or the bedroom) has been an on-going struggle on its own taken up by feminists. The tension between the public and the private clearly outlines the dichotomy between masculine and feminine.
One is celebrated and is normalized in public life; the other is shunned, violated and victimized should it be exposed in public. For example feminine men who do not fit hetero-normative idea of what and who constitutes a “man” or “manliness’, in our different communities are often bullied, socially ostracized, victimized and beaten for being other. In the rare event that we do celebrate women in public life, it is mostly for political and economic reasons rather than the celebration of the notion of woman in totality in its purest form. We are very selective on how, who, why and which women (event) we celebrate and commemorate. As crucial and important as the march which took place on 09 august over 50 years ago; it is not the pinnacle of women’s contribution to the struggle.
I guess then the question we should be asking is “what is woman?” rather than “who is woman?” We have become so institutionalized in the way that we celebrate women, not understanding that it is also rooted in patriarchy; which is what oppresses women. The fact that in South Africa, we celebrate them a certain month of the year, commemorating a certain day proves that the culture of celebrating women holds some political and social currency and is the “the sexy/fashionable” issue on the table at the moment. But if we were really bold and truly committed to the transformation of our society, women’s day would be every day. It would be about celebrating the feminine in our daily lives, in public and in private. It would be about valuing girl children equally to boy children. It would be about sharing domestic chores equally in the house and not allocating certain duties to males and others to females. It would be about critically looking at how our political and public personas treat women in and outside the public eye. It would be about critically looking at and engaging the media (social and otherwise), from adverts on the radio, TV, the internet, newspapers, hip hop videos, social commentary on how they portray women.
Not being afraid to call something sexist when it is, homophobic, racist, bigotry when it is. It is all our jobs, men and women have a stake in this momentous task. It is the maturity of understanding that this is about our sisters, our mothers, aunts, grandmothers and most importantly the future generation of girls. After all black people will never be free until black women are free.
*Pumeza is a politics student at Rhodes University, reading towards an MA in social policy in the Institute of Social Economic Research. She has an interest in development, gender studies and socio-political economy of Africa. She considers herself to be an African feminist, academic rogue, socialist and grassroots activist.