‘FEMINISM IS’ BOOK REVIEW, PT. II

Gugu / 30 May, 2018

[CONT’D FROM PREVIOUS POST. CLICK HERE FOR PART I]

EXCLUSIONARY OR INTERSECTIONAL?

I find this perhaps the most relevant discussion of feminism to contemporary South Africa. The socio-political public discourse in our country has reached a stage where it has become clear that the chasm (economic and mental) between white and black South Africans is only widening. This has often been showcased through persisting racist attitudes and perturbing incidents. Beyond superfluous window-dressing, it doesn’t seem that bridges have been built in the time since the heralding of the democratic dispensation. Instead, resentment and indignation has deepened on both sides. Ours is a divided nation, and a proportion of the population carries with it the burden of deep, deep wounds whose inflictors still have not sincerely acknowledged, repented for or convincingly shown a change of heart, to indicate that they now see the error of their (ancestors’) ways. Nobody ever seems to want to have THIS particular conversation about healing and repairing race relations in South Africa. The dominant discourse centres rather on what the government has failed to do in terms of redress and economic empowerment, and everybody joins in on that criticising and admonishing party. Oh, we all love THAT party! It’s easier to focus on having a black government take responsibility for economic redress, such redress having been necessitated by a racist system imposed by successive white governments (oh, the irony), than having a people take personal and collective accountability for the iniquities of their ancestors, through which they continue to benefit from even today. So, the black government must fix all the things (including our souls apparently, thus the “Get over it!” and “You got your Mandela and black government” mantras that are constantly hurled at black people) that a racist system imposed by white people on behalf of white people broke. This, is the conversation nobody ever wants to have. So, it’s fair then to say that not much healing has occurred if we’re being brutally honest. And it is within this setting that South African women find themselves navigating their feminism.

And thus, to the surprise of white women or women in close proximity to whiteness and its privilege, they are finding that actually, the idea of a homogeneous feminist alliance is but a myth. There is a bubbling rage within black feminists; a fatigue or weariness, and it’s spilling onto the social media streets with greater vigour than ever before. Black women want their white counterparts to be woke and sensitive to the other forms of oppression that their lived existences are coloured by. 20+ years into our democratic dispensation, the feeling is that it is not kosher that black people still have to explain certain things (e.g. forms of structural violence perpetrated and perpetuated by institutions and very often white people) to white people. Even when we as black women take issue with being tone policed, it still frustrates (and the irony is mind-blowing) to have white women ask why younger (read, black) feminists are so angry. I think that that question does not bear asking by a feminist living in South Africa. One would think that they would be acutely aware of the injustices one inherits purely by virtue of being in a black skin in this country. Heck, even Stevie Wonder could spot and diagnose why we are so mad. And the reason that it is vexing to be asked such questions is that it actually speaks to or shows a deep level of race-related ignorance of the different lived experiences of a majority of the people of this country. That smacks of indifference and unconcern. I simply don’t care enough to reflect critically on or open my eyes to the kind of country we live in. It boggles the mind how people cannot be sensitive to the extent of the vagaries of apartheid. Really, it does. Again, that whole accountability thing.

And so, speaking from a place of recognising and owning my own bias and the fact that I diagnose the current malaise through my blackness, I think that those black women who so choose, should be allowed to form a feminism that fights or works specifically for them and the various other ills and injustices they’re confronted with. To want to force someone’s feminism to be ‘all-inclusive’ when they are facing a fight you know (or quite frankly, care) nothing about is arrogant and indicative of a privileged and entitled mindset. You can be an ally; you can support them should they be OK with you doing so; you can bring awareness to the injustices that persist, but you can’t label their feminism simply as exclusionary. It’s not that cut and dry. We find ourselves operating in a complex and easily flammable environment. Find a way to join the struggle and stop wanting to make it about you. The intersectionality of the feminism of these black women is not open to choice; it is a means of survival in the struggle against persisting ills. I do not have a choice but to be vocal about classism, racism, white privilege, white cultural arrogance, and what seems to be a default mentality that black people are incompetent and of a lower intelligence. And if you want to know more about that lived experience, there certainly is a way of asking that does not smack of patronisation.

REVISIONISM

Nobody wakes up a feminist. Not in a world where the air is so heavily saturated with ‘the patriarchy’. We breathe it, day in and day out. And so, we find that as women, it’s only in our late 20s and early 30s where we start to formulate concrete ideas and convictions about what a more just, equal and compassionate world order possibly looks like, because then we begin to feel and see more acutely, what is wrong with the world. Along the way, we may hold beliefs that further down the line, we may outgrow or downright reject because they no longer align with who we have become. We are always growing and changing, and as I mentioned in a previous post, there is A LOT of learning and unlearning in the process of becoming people we like and are proud to be. But in this day and age of social media, and where people post their EVERY thought and half-baked feeling or conviction, it becomes difficult to revise yourself down the line. However, I always say that you are allowed to change and grow and leave behind your old self that no longer serves you. Adults who have not changed or stretched their thinking and convictions since they were 21 for instance, are not living. It is simply impossible to go through life and have real profound experiences and not come away challenged by those, to a degree, in your core. People need to start living and exercising their minds and stop being so afraid of thinking new or ‘different’ thoughts or ideas and possibilities. Even if it challenges your spiritual beliefs; possess those thoughts anyway and figure your way THROUGH them instead of just swallowing up ideas and convictions that faith institutions and religious people endorse or simply punt as “the right way” to think. This is why you find that a lot of people can’t rationally argue through their faith. This is why a lot of people’s faith is shallow because it is canonical and performative. Perhaps such parochial ways of interacting with faith also play a role in how fundamentalist attitudes develop. But back to the issue of changing one’s politics and stance on matters. Thembe Mahlaba asks, “If a person understands how their thoughts/actions from previous years were wrong and have better educated themselves of these issues, are they not allowed to associate themselves with a new way of thought because of their past transgressions? [D]oes this person not get to change their minds?”

LIVE AND LET LIVE

The theme of acceptance of and allowing others to freely practice their own kind of feminism is touched upon a number of times in the book. Today, with the prevalence of popular culture ‘wokeness’ and equally prevalent transmittal of ideas and parts of theories via social media, it seems that there can only be one form of feminism, usually the ‘radical’ kind. Bongeka Masango eloquently articulates the need to allow people to comfortably be, at any given point in time, so long as their feminism is not fundamentally problematic or at odds with itself. And this is an important theme; there is a lot of judgement going around on social media relating to how many other women (feminists or not) choose to conduct their lives. Apparently, their actions ‘set the cause back’ because they have or go along with (willingly even) traditional heteronormative or patrimonial set ups within their intimate or familial relationships. This kind of thinking is dangerous and runs the risk of creating paternalistic forms of interaction and relations among subsets of women in general. Choice, specifically the choice of others to choose differently from us, must be respected.

FINALLY…

It’s clear that this book touched a nerve with me (haha). In a good way. There are truly so many gems in there and just general food for thought. I’d go so far as to say that it must be mandatory reading for contemporary South African feminists because it provides an exposition of what feminism looks like in real life, as a lived ideology, and that is such an absolutely fascinating exposition, and perhaps one that’s a little more thought-provoking (because of its proximity to our own lived experiences) than reading just feminist theory as a means of acquainting oneself with the subject. Believe it or not, there are numerous other fascinating themes that the book touches on and which trigger one to think further on them such as male tears, the engagement of men with feminism, masculine and feminine energies versus the descriptors of men and women, and the meaning and applicability of feminism within African cultural contexts.

This book certainly did stretch my mind in terms of my understanding of the applicability of feminism. My central tenet where feminism is concerned is choice. EVERY-BODY-HAS the choice to be what they so choose and that which they have profound and innate conviction is their true self, even outside of the bounds of binary, heteronormative constructs. It is not my place or right to dictate to people what is right or wrong for them. This book however, showed me that feminism is also a whole host of other things too. It is a lens; a modality; a means of fighting oppression and repression, and a lived politics among others, all of which extend beyond the trope of the equality of women and men.

You can also find me at twitter.com/honeybmissg.

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