Of Chris Gayle, sports journalism and the sideline Barbie syndrome

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It is important to acknowledge the advances that have been made in the acceptance of women in sports journalism. It is reported that it has been about forty years since the first female reporter was allowed into a professional sports locker room Today, most media houses have multiple female reporters and anchors on their roster. It is fair to say that there have been cracks in the sports journalism glass ceiling: In 1981, Rhonda Glenn was the first woman to anchor ESPN’s famous SportsCenter franchise. Lesley Visser, although the only woman there, was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Progress?

Ish.

Notwithstanding these important gains, women are still overwhelmingly in the minority in this male dominated field (no pun intended). Although women are now generally allowed to conduct locker room interviews, frequent the clubhouse and write convincingly on sport, sexism still rears its ugly head often enough to warrant women remaining on their guard. Obviously, this is not a call to manufacture outrage, become militant or search for controversy. However, it does mean that women must be willing and able to speak out against inappropriate and sexist conduct when necessary.

Erin Andrews, an American sportscaster, has been vocal about the gender specific challenges and sexism women covering men’s sports universally face during their careers. Andrews became a sports journalist at approximately the time when the sports blogs started. In an interview conducted a couple of years ago, she remarked that she had been baptized into a world where the sports blogs dubbed her the “Sideline Barbie” or the “Sideline Princess.” Sexist double entendre?

Yes.

Writing for The Daily Beast about two years ago, Isobel Markham critiqued sport’s journalism’s ‘beauty curse’ and highlighted that for sports reporters, sexist comments about their looks – and ‘plum jobs for pretty girls’ – are as common as timeouts. It is no coincidence that women in sports journalism are predominantly dolled up ‘Barbie-style’, with focus often diverted from the content of their work to their physical appearance.

In addition to the demands of interviewing athletes in male-dominated sports, Andrews had to contend with male bloggers critiquing what she was wearing. “The sidelines aren’t as glamorous as everyone thinks” she said. “When halftime happens, you do the interview, and then you’ve got to grab a coach or a player. You don’t even have time to go to the bathroom. So I’m having a hot dog on the sideline, and people are taking photos and submitting them to the sports blogs. And it’s like, ‘How does she look eating a hot dog?’ It wasn’t about my reporting, it was, ‘What is she wearing, who is she dating?'”

Andrews is not alone. In 2010, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson had to apologize personally to TV Azteca reporter Inés Sainz after his players and staff directed lewd comments toward her in the locker room. Similarly, a Bills fan looked up a photograph of Jennifer Gish online after she had written a piece in the sports column for the Albany Times-Union back in September 2011. Instead of responding to the substance of her article as would have been expected, he scathingly wrote “You may want to consider plastic surgery or something, you are one god awful ugly looking female.”

Unacceptable? Yes. Uncommon? No.

When a professional woman goes about her daily work, she has every right to be taken seriously. The focus ought not to be her looks but her ability. Whether in the courtroom, the boardroom, the hospital or the pitch, she must be shown professional respect.

Imagine if in the middle of a political interview with a female journalist on an issue of national importance, Barack Obama ignored the question and asked the journalist out for a drink after remarking that she had beautiful eyes, on air. The world would be outraged. Obama would be accused of inappropriate, sexist conduct.

Imagine if during a board meeting, a male director ignored a question put to him by a fellow female director and instead asked the co-director out for a drink after remarking that she had beautiful eyes. He would be accused of inappropriate, sexist conduct.

Imagine if a female lawyer was delivering a court address and mid-sentence her male opponent ignored her submission and instead asked the female lawyer out for a drink after remarking that she had beautiful eyes. He would be accused of inappropriate, sexist conduct.

Rest assured, none of the men in any of the above scenarios would have been able to get away with calling the comments ‘a simple joke.’

I come now to Chris Gayle.

After his innings during a Twenty20 Melbourne Renegades match earlier this week, reputed West Indies cricketer  Chris Gayle was approached by Mel McLaughlin, a journalist for Australian broadcaster Network Ten for an interview. Gayle ignored McLaughlin’s questions about the match and chose instead to comment about her eyes, ask her out for a drink say, “Don’t blush, baby.”

McLaughlin, visibly uncomfortable, opted to continue with the interview. Upon its conclusion, she walked away as he attempted to touch her. McLaughlin later described Gayle’s conduct as “disappointing”. She went on to say, “I don’t really want to be the subject of such conversations, I like just going about my business and doing my job.” She said female sports presenters “want equality, we always want equality”.

The unacceptable and sexist nature of Gayle’s conduct ought to be immediately clear. Most regrettably, a strong reaction by viewers and certain commentators has been that ‘it was evidently a joke.’ Against the context of sexism against women in sports journalism set out above, of which Gayle would have been no doubt aware, his behaviour is nothing less than sexist and deplorable. It is improper to ignore the questions asked and make a pass on a woman on live television as she is conducting an interview about the game. It’s akin to saying, ‘oh shut up pretty face. I won’t talk sport with you but I will buy you a drink. Talking about the game is too technical let me concentrate rather on your eyes.’

If he was genuine about his intentions with her (which is doubtful given his reported marital status – a discussion for another day), then he ought to have been respectful enough to respond seriously to her questions, as he would have done a male interviewer, and reserved the approach for an opportune moment off-air.

Gayle would not have been able to get away with such conduct in the courtroom or the boardroom. It should not be tolerated on the sidelines of a cricket pitch: the location of sexism does not alter its nature. His explanation that it was a joke or that it was blown out of proportion would not be entertained in other professional settings. In the same vein, McLaughlin should not be made to feel as though speaking out against Gayle’s conduct during a sideline interview of a cricket pitch is an overreaction.

Society cannot accept that it was just ‘a joke.’ If anything, his conduct perpetuates the sideline Barbie syndrome which focuses on the beauty of a female sports journalist at the expense of her professional ability – and insists that she remains on the fringes of this male-dominated industry.

Forget quotas — a change in attitude is the ticket to the top for women judges in Zimbabwe

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In what is viewed by most citizens of Zimbabwe as a historic step, public interviews for the selection of Supreme Court judges were held in Harare yesterday. Of the ten candidates, four were women. Two of the women candidates failed to differentiate between a court action and a court application, an elementary aspect of Civil Procedure in Zimbabwean law, much like the distinction between debiting and crediting in Accounting. Their responses to the effect that the question was “too technical” and that they would “read up on it when elevated” were the cause of much hilarity for the gallery, which was mostly composed of lawyers, law students and journalists.

Yet, for any woman lawyer sat in the room, the reaction was more intricate – a melange of surprise, anger, embarrassment and shame.

It is accepted that the fight for gender equality in the legal profession in Zimbabwe – and throughout the world – is ongoing and vicious. This is not assisted by the fact that, until 1982, women in Zimbabwe were considered perpetual minors who lacked legal and contractual capacity. It is not surprising therefore that. at independence in 1980, there were no female judges in the High Court or the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe. The Supreme Court building was set up to house three male Justices only and had no facilities for female justices. There has never been a female Chief Justice or Deputy Chief Justice in Zimbabwe, nor has there ever been a female silk. To date, no woman has ever been appointed to the post of Attorney-General. Zimbabwe has never appointed a female Minister of Justice.

The injustice of this state of affairs is self-evident. There has to be a problem with a system that permits only male lawyers to be promoted to the top legal posts in this jurisdiction. At the same time, being a woman – in and of itself – does not not equip one with a sound legal mind. Confidence, intellectual and analytical ability, strong written and oratory skills, charm and integrity do.

Against this backdrop, the issue concerning how to achieve female representation in the judiciary in Zimbabwe without compromising on quality remains a vexed question. (This is obviously not to suggest that the women currently on the bench in Zimbabwe are of inferior quality – the record of several women jurists in Zimbabwe speaks for itself.) The Zimbabwean solution to ensure female judicial representation has been to implement a quota system. In terms of section 184 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, “appointments to the judiciary must reflect broadly the diversity and gender composition of Zimbabwe.” The intention of the legislature in enacting this provision is clear: quotas are the quickest way to ensure women are elevated to the bench. Quotas can remove some of the structural barriers that prevent women from being appointed as judges, so the argument goes.

Yet, quite unwittingly, installing a quota system for judicial appointments is akin to affixing a band-aid to a fractured wound: various underlying problems remain.

Most importantly, an unfair impression is created that the women who have been elevated to judicial posts are there merely because they are women. Quotas in general are offensive and create the impression that, unless a special dispensation is created for women, we cannot succeed. Women who are elevated to the bench are thus perceived to be substandard, incompetent, elevated only due to an accident of biology. Additionally, women elevated through quotas are seen as “token”, may generally be less respected and will have less influence. Quotas also set women against each other, competing for a certain number of “women’s seats”, which might destroy co-operation and unity. Equally, it can be argued with great force that quotas distort the idea of representation because they create the false impression that only women can protect the rights and interests of women. The quota system also implies that women are to confine themselves to branches of law where there the issue of gender is relevant such as family law and the law of inheritance, to the exclusion of other branches of law such as the law of banking and negotiable instruments, tax law, insurance law and the law of insolvency. With so much emphasis on gender quotas in the new constitution and the current government, women are still, in some cases, only ‘getting’ something because of their gender. Unfortunately, even to this day, if a woman gets elevated to the bench, it would still be questioned whether she was actually the best candidate.

There is only one answer: one must be, first and foremost, a judge, with all the poise, competence and disposition that comes with the role – not merely a woman holding judicial office. Those who push for quotas for women don’t understand that the jurisprudential x-factor and internalized principles are what make outstanding judges, male or female. Our attitude and approach in this regard has to change. The capabilities of junior women lawyers must be nurtured from an early stage. Having more and more judges, who so happen to be women, will not transform the legal landscape.

One cannot ride affirmative action, identity politics or third-wave feminism to reach the legal hall of fame.

There, I said it.

Of success and stigma: The dilemma of the African alpha female

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Thirty years ago, the notion of an African alpha female might have been unfathomable. Africa had generally done very little to overcome the traditional view of a woman’s role in society. In many African states, women were regarded as chattels to be inherited. They were given no formal education as their primary purpose in life was to be given out in marriage. Women, despite their age were considered to be forever under the control of either their husband or male relatives. Women and girls could not inherit or own property nor could they participate fully in public life or any decision-making within their immediate community. They had no right over the children they bore and were commonly the victims of domestic violence.

Today, with varying degrees of success, African countries have overcome the notion that a woman is a perpetual minor, with no capacity to make any decisions of her own. A number of superficial attempts have been made to project an image of gender equality through, for instance, forced quotas for female representation in Parliament, an appearance of access to education and the promulgation of anti-domestic violence legislation. More African women have made it to Oxbridge and Ivy League universities. More women are becoming law, medicine, architecture, engineering and accounting professionals. More women are employed in all sectors of the economy. We even have the odd African female president. Notwithstanding these apparent gains, huge remnants of Africa’s discriminatory past continue to haunt the modern African woman, worse so if she is an alpha female.

To illustrate the point, I take the example of the modern, black, Zimbabwean alpha female. She is well-educated, financially secure and intelligent. The usual charge of a gold-digger waiting to be rescued by an upwardly mobile man simply does not apply to her. She is more than able to fund her taste for the finer things in life. Due to her fierce work ethic ingrained in her from a very early age, she is fairly accomplished. Rising steadily through the ranks of her career ladder, she has all the hallmarks of a success story waiting to happen. She is the kick-ass female who gets things done.

However, she, at twenty-seven, is unmarried. [Insert loud gasps, looks of disdain and feelings of societal pity here.]

One of the biggest dilemmas that confronts her is that her parents will not let her move out of home. Apparently, for a woman to live alone is ‘taboo’ and emblematic of loose morals – “hazina hunhu”, so they say. The real explanation for the reluctance of Zimbabweans to allow a right-thinking, financially independent, adult woman to move out of home lies in the hangover from traditional African culture highlighted above: according to the precepts of African tradition, an African woman is a perpetual minor. Throughout her life, she is required to fall under the guardianship of her father until she is married. Upon marriage, her husband takes up the role of guardian. Curiously, African culture does not appear to accommodate that middle-of-the-road situation where a woman is no longer dependent on her father for her livelihood but has not found an appropriate suitor (should she be minded to do so). Society frowns upon her for being alone.

The difficulties surrounding such an approach are myriad. At twenty-seven, an African woman has the maturity of a mother who can run an entire household. Focusing on one’s career often means subordinating the need to get married for a time – either to find the right kind of African man (the type which is self-assured but won’t feel threatened by female success) or to ensure all career objectives are met by the appointed time the alpha female has set for herself. Constantly and from a young age, the African girl is told – by her parents, mentors and society – how boys are bad and that she should focus instead on school. Even upon completing high school, she is told that having a boyfriend is somewhat shameful. Yet upon reaching twenty-five, there is an inexplicable, unspoken 180 degree shift in attitude. She has to get married – and NOW. Today, if possible but by the end of this year will also do. [Insert  all manner of expletives here.]

To the African alpha female, such a proposition is contradictory and patently nonsensical: her career has taken off, she wants to travel and see the world, world domination has become her focus in life and she realizes that there is more to life than becoming little more than a domestic appendage to a man’s life. Her bucket list now includes getting a book published, giving a speech to over 10,000 people, parasailing, swimming under a waterfall, learning to play a musical instrument and touring Prague and Paris.

And all society can do is ask  – why are you not married? [Snore.]

Her dilemma does not end there.

Feminism is a dirty word in Africa: it conjures up notions of women who disrespect the patriarchy. You know, the type of woman who will report her husband to the police for domestic violence instead of apologizing for what ‘she did’ to prompt the abuse and undertaking to be more submissive in the future. [Sigh] As a general principle, the traditional African male prefers to be treated as a demi-god, does not like to be questioned and views a woman as part of his accumulated wealth – after all, he paid a healthy quantum of lobola (bride price) for this acquisition. For reasons that are self-evident, this mindset is illogical and unacceptable to the African alpha female. She is not a domestic servant, though she may love to cook and clean on her own terms. She knows better than to take instructions on how to live her life. She chooses not to act without first interrogating the merits of such action. In short, she is looking for a partner who edifies and complements her not a master to dominate her. She has no hang ups about a man taking the lead but he must be competent to do so. Unfortunately for the African alpha female, the man described here is an endangered species in Africa.

Too old to be unmarried but not old enough to move out of home, she faces the grand dilemma – should she give in to the pressure to get married or should she suffer the stigma of remaining the sad, unattached woman for whom African society has no respect?

Sadly, many African women do give in to the pressure to get married – all at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons – on everyone else’s terms but their own. They sacrifice their dreams and ambitions to appease society. Outmoded African attitudes towards women condition the alpha female out of the African professional woman, steering her instead to a strictly nurturing role rather than world domination.

Surely the time has come however to accept that marriage, in and of itself, is not an achievement or the route every woman must be forced to take? A woman deserves respect in her own right – and this should never depend on whether or not lobola (itself a sexist practice) has been paid for her.

“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s. And guess what they might have planned for you? Not much.” Jim Rohn

On being a woman advocate in Harare: deep voices, romantic passes – and ugly shoes

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Here’s a piece I recently wrote for the Advocate magazine published by the General Council of the Bar of South Africa.

* * *

Eleanor M. Fox, Walter J. Derenberg Professor of Trade Regulation at New York University, once said that women, people of colour and others historically denied a place on the upward track of the traditional hierarchies in the practice of law, have today, more than ever, the chance to succeed on merit. In January 2012, after a year of practice in the Prosecution Division of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and another year pursuing a Master of Laws degree at the University of Cambridge, I decided to become an advocate at the Harare Bar. Inspired by several women silks I had encountered as a Pegasus Scholar at The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple in London, including Eleanor Grey QC and Alison Foster QC, I believed the courtroom was where my career was destined.

Particularly, I looked forward to litigating in Zimbabwe.

The last time I had done so continuously was in 2009, when, as an attorney, I defended commercial farmers who faced criminal prosecution for remaining on their farms.  Economically and politically, the situation in Zimbabwe had improved.  The renewed stability in the economy once again made the practice of law a worthwhile endeavour.

Against this background, I offer these musings upon being a woman at the Harare Bar.

At the outset, it must be highlighted that, whether one is a man or a woman, being an advocate is a tough job.  The expectations are high, the deadlines, brutal, the issues, complex and the hours, long. The additional domestic demands placed on women in African societies make being an advocate an unlikely option for the archetypal Zimbabwean woman lawyer.  The absence of any women advocates at the set I joined, Advocates’ Chambers, ought to have been the first sign that the system was not designed for the “non-male advocate.”

I wish I could have described the non-male advocate as “the lady advocate.”  However, doing so would conjure up the idea held by many female lawyers throughout the world that to be called a lady lawyer is patronising and has sexist undertones due to the association of the expected “ladylike” behaviour.

On that score, it became very clear to me in my early days at chambers that there was little room for “ladylike” behaviour in any classical sense. Amid sexual banter and crude jokes, I soon became “one of the boys.”  I joined in the laughter at teatime and often myself sounded like a construction worker. I was torn between, on the one hand, wanting to avoid being judged too weak or too fragile to last in the system and, on the other, abandoning my femininity. Therefore, as I strove to make my gender a non-issue in my interaction with fellow members of the Bar, paradoxically perhaps, I also became more bent upon asserting my femininity.  Purposely, I wore only skirt suits. My hair and nails were always a big deal.  My room in chambers was full of flowers and pretty scents.  One member of chambers remarked that my room was “girly.”  Soon, it became accepted that the non-male advocate was part of the fabric of the institution.

Yet, the newspapers often still refer to me as “he” when reporting upon cases I have argued.

When I take their calls, attorneys tend to mistake me for “Advocate Mahere’s secretary,” expecting as they do to hear another man on the other end of the line.

Generally, women judges tend to receive me differently from how they would receive a male counterpart.  It is, I find, a mix of veiled hostility and surprise – the irony! Equally, a silk I appeared against once remarked how he “has a problem with girls” in a conversation I have since put down to strategic pre-court sparring designed to take my eye off the ball. Some have opined that I get briefed because I am “a pretty face.”  This is made worse by the many romantic and even sexual advances and passes made by instructing practitioners and clients alike.

Sigh.

Suffice it to state that it may be easier for a fish to ride a bicycle than it is to achieve an appropriate balance between being firm and, at the same time, being polite in response to these obstacles without coming across as “angry.”

This applies particularly to the courtroom setting.  Experience has taught me that anger helps a man command a courtroom.  Obviously, a non-male advocate achieves the opposite effect.  While the former comes off as assertive, the latter is often remembered as emotionally erratic. An incrementally more intense hearing can do the woman advocate no favours unless she masters the art of controlling the pitch of her voice.  She may do well to ensure that her voice achieves the lower register, something the male advocate usually does not need to strive for. But the double bind is that, to fit the stereotypical image of an advocate means being argumentative and aggressive.  If a woman chooses to reject this image and to adopt a less combative form of engagement, she runs the risk of being labelled too feminine, leading litigants to doubt her fibre as a lawyer.

It is almost as though the non-male advocate cannot win: damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t.

Moreover, while my male colleagues are assumed to be serious and to be embarking upon a lifelong career, I am often asked when I will quit or take a break to start a family.  There is, therefore, a constant need to reflect that I am a committed and competent professional and to convince each judge and opponent that I mean business and that I am in the profession to stay.

Top-quality, hard work will usually achieve this – as will working longer and harder on tough briefs.

From the foregoing, it is probably little wonder that there is yet to be a female silk at the Bar in Zimbabwe. While about 50% of all law graduates are female, the attrition rate amongst women lawyers is extremely high.  The unfortunate further result is that few join the Bar. There has to be something wrong with the system if I am the only non-male advocate practising in Harare.  I look forward to the day when this statistic will change.

This will be a long time coming, however, because the sad truth is that the safest way to success as an advocate is the emulation of males, even to the extent of learning to speak lower and louder, wearing one’s hair short and donning a dark, conservative suit, with ugly shoes.

Zuma, whites and being African: Has our culture gone to the dogs?

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The American dream is often described as the upwardly mobile ideal of having a good home in suburbia with a white picket fence and a dog playing in the garden. The African dream, on the other hand, has evaded any precise description. The reason for this is that Africa is complex. The continent’s uniformity cannot be exaggerated. It is best defined as a fusion of different experiences and diverse peoples. Colonialism, for its own part, threw a spanner into the works of what was originally, authentic African culture.

It is against this background that Jacob Zuma’s remarks, to the effect that Africans are corrupting their culture by copying ‘white’ behaviour, must be considered.

Speaking at a traditional event in the province of Kwazulu-Natal in his first public appearance since being re-elected the president of the African National Congress a week ago, Jacob Zuma controversially asserted that having a pet dog is not African. He further opined that black South Africans who buy a dog, take it for walks and to the vet are “copying” white culture. Mr Zuma’s office attempted to defend the remarks on the grounds that the message of his speech ‘was the need to decolonise the African mind post-liberation’.

The flaws in the South African president’s reasoning ought to be immediately evident: Were dogs brought to Africa by the colonialists? Do black people need to learn from white people that dogs require feeding? And exercise? Or to go to the vet? More importantly, what is African culture? Is it language? Surely not – if you put a Zimbabwean, an Egyptian and a Kenyan in the same room, chances are they will not speak the same language, unless they resort to the colonial fallback, English. Is African culture to do with food? That cannot be: most Zimbabweans would consider a Cameroonian dish consisting of yams and ‘pepe’ tortuous to eat. Likewise, most East Africans would find Zimbabwean food, say sadza nenyama, extremely bland for its lack of their usual oriental melange of spices. One cannot seriously contend that it has to do with dressing…just strolling through Sandton or the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront reveals that the clothes typically sold in South Africa are anything but ‘African’ in any perceived cultural sense. There is no such thing as a homogenous African traditional dress. The same Africans that reject mini-skirts as not being ‘African’ flock to the traditional reed dance in Swaziland to gawk at scantily dressed, topless Swazi girls in the name of – you guessed it – culture! Is polygamy African – let’s not even get started on that one.

And now for the saddest part:

Inherent in Zuma’s comment is the view that white people are not African. And that African culture is completely inconsistent with anything remotely linked to colonialism. Of course, this offends common sense in view of the numerous vestiges of “white culture” that dominate African life, especially in South Africa – the German cars, the Italian suits, the Irish whiskey, Swiss watches and the English language.

And so, to reduce African culture to a discussion on dog ownership is irreverent; and to allege that black people ‘copy’ white culture is desperate. Our culture is so much bigger than that. The mere fact that there is no agreement amongst African people as to whether they like to own dogs or not demonstrates that this aspect of human life (as is the case with most other things people carelessly define as ‘culture’) is too subjective to form the proper basis for what defines African culture. Accordingly, to define culture merely on racial grounds is misplaced. Black Americans and white Americans share the same culture – they are American. The same can be said, to a large extent, about black British people and white British people. This should apply with the same force to being African. A black Zimbabwean may have more in common, from a cultural perspective, with a white Zimbabwean than with a black Nigerian. It’s not to do with kinky hair or straight hair, light skin or dark skin. It is about identity – that unique factor that unites people, and not what divides them.

And so no, you will not be more African if you kick your dog.

Zuma is definitely in the dog house for this one.

Is feminism a disease?

Feminists are often depicted as angry, hairy battle axes – the usual bra-burning mantra. Yet the relevance of feminism in the 21st century cannot be overstated. Feminism is about equality. At its core, feminism is a movement based on the belief that all people – no matter their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation are equal, and deserve to live their lives free from discrimination. One does not have to be one of my favourite authors, Julie Zeilinger, to understand this. I am surprised to find, therefore, that many people, African (read Zimbabwean) men in particular, perceive it to be a disease. How could people oppose a movement that simply wants to ensure women retain their self-respect and are free from abuse?

What made me think this?

A faux post-apocalypse now pervades Harare after the ‘excitement’ surrounding the beating up of Tinopona Katsande by her boyfriend somewhat died down. Initially, it was alleged that he did it because she had refused to assist him with housework. It later emerged that he was ‘punishing’ her for behaving as though she was not taken on a night out earlier that weekend. There is no basis upon which we can prefer one version of events over the other – but that is not the focus of this rant.

I digress further – one might be forgiven for taking the view that unless one is a pretty socialite in Harare, no attention will be paid to the ordinary woman’s experience with domestic violence. The recent example of Ms Katsande was an acute, if useful, reminder of the manner in which women are often treated by their husbands and partners in Zimbabwe. Photos of her swollen face and desecrated weave went viral on the internet. No doubt, the perpetrator of the violence ensured that her usual caramel skin was left black and blue. Indeed, this episode was sad, unfortunate, unforgivable – one can’t run out of negative terms to describe what happened to her. What I grapple with, however, is that Ms Katsande’s experience was mild and unusual in the Zimbabwean context. For example, on the 29th of September, at around 3am, a 33-year-old Harare man allegedly fatally assaulted his wife with a knobkerrie over suspicions of infidelity. Sebastian Satero of plot number 16 Danbury Farm in Marlborough accused his wife, Rennie Jakarasi of having an extra marital affair and a misunderstanding arose. She sustained severe injuries and died on the spot. In a bid to cover up the offence, Satero removed Jakarasi’s blood stained clothes and burnt them together with the knobkerrie. He then fled leaving Jakarasi’s body lying on the ground.

Not many people paid attention to the plight of this woman. It may be the case that Zimbabwean society has come to accept that ill-treatment of women by their male counterparts is acceptable, in the same way that “small houses” (read mistress/illicit second wife – take your pick) have become the norm, in fact, a nigh necessity for the typical Zimbabwean man.

Even on a global level, women make up 70 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion poor and own only one percent of all land in developing countries. One out of every three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. An estimated 50 million girls “missing” in India due to female feticide and infanticide (a practice in which parents abort their female fetus or kill their female infant based on the sole fact that she is female in a culture that prefers males). And that’s just scratching the surface.

So the question then becomes, do we still need to fight for women’s rights? Or is feminism a dirty word whose significance belongs to a different era?

As observed by writers like Zeilinger, the impression that the need for feminism was buried right alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony – the accepted creators of the original ‘girlmance’ – and that Gloria Steinem and her counterparts resolved any lingering issues in the ’70s, is simply not true. The examples of domestic violence alluded to above are clear evidence that sexism is alive and well, even if it may take a different form from issues like being denied voting rights, the absence of contractual capacity on the part of women and the existence of marital power.

I end where I perhaps should have begun – what is feminism?

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” ~ Rebecca West

Choose happiness…

There is happiness when each moment is used in a worthwhile way. Happiness is such nourishment that it can transform a person from weak to powerful. It makes difficult things easy and heavy things light. To remain happy and share happiness with others is a great act of charity. Happiness eludes those who seek it – for happiness is a choice. No matter what happens, my happiness should not be lost.

Does Zuma’s Spear need protection? What is its main thrust? Should it stay up?

If you live in a country where to insult the President is a criminal offence, you cannot but stand in awe when you wake up one morning to images on the internet of Jacob Zuma, the President from across the pond, depicted in Lenin’s striking heroic pose with his genitals exposed. Humorous, shocking and offensive, the painting does precisely what its creator intended it to do – it provokes.

The painting by Brett Murray is entitled The Spear. This ‘work of art’ is a happy victim of the Streisand effect – it has been obscure since 2010 when Murray painted it but shot to stardom just a few days ago when the ANC’s public condemnation of the painting unwittingly brought widespread local, regional and international attention to it.

Sundry digs have been taken at the painting, from references to it hanging limply to questions about the piece’s main thrust. When analyzed carefully, however, the painting may actually be more than a trivial abuse of artistic licence. Curiously, there is no spear in the painting. A somewhat simplistic view might suggest that this is a phallic reference but a more convincing interpretation advanced by some critics is that the work’s title can be read as a knowing reach-back to the ANC’s armed wing during the apartheid era, Umkonto weSizwe, The Spear of the Nation. One could go further and suggest that the absence of a spear is an attempt to contend that the ANC as led by Zuma is no longer the spear of the nation. What might also come to mind is the famous illustration of Barack Obama in the Hope portrait, painted by Shepard Fairey in 2008 – is there any hope for Zuma’s South Africa or has his presidency been overshadowed by his ill-conceived domestic policy and sexual indiscretions in his personal life? Most noticeably, the painting draws from historical images of the late Soviet ruler, Vladimir Lenin – an apparent reference by Murray to Zuma’s socialism-in-miniature policies.

Trvial? Distasteful? A crude stereotype of African male sexuality? Culturally chauvinistic?

The painting may be all or none of these things yet one thing is certain: it calls for African men to carry out some serious introspection about their sexuality and the manner in which they treat women. While polygamy is acceptable in various African cultures, it is not a licence for men to treat women as they please. Zuma has treated women as disposable and replaceable. He has four wives, two exes and 22 children by ten different women. Zuma was also charged in 2005 with raping a struggle comrade’s daughter, but was later acquitted. He is hardly a role-model for young African men in a country and continent where HIV and AIDS are endemic. Zuma should not cry foul when society, whether through art, satire or in general conversation, point this out.

“As usual, the spear had no protection”, one satirical commentator jabbed.

What requires the most protection, is the right of citizens to express themselves freely, through art or otherwise,  in criticism of conduct they find demeaning or unacceptable and policies they feel should be changed.

If for this reason alone, The Spear should stay up.

Act like a lady, think.

It all started with Steve Harvey’s best-selling non-fiction book released in 2009 entitled “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy and Commitment.” Three years later, a feature film based on the book, titled Think Like A Man, was released by Sony Pictures. It is unsurprising that any reference to having to ‘act like a lady’ has since been removed. All you need to do now is – think like a man. Stripped to its essence, this new thinking suggests that a woman needs to get into the mind of a man with whom she is romantically associated in order to pre-empt his thoughts and conduct herself in such a way as not to antagonise him too much. This is the only way to keep him, the thinking continues.

What’s wrong with thinking like a lady? Can a lady not think? Why act like a lady if you have to act like a man? Why not act like a man if you’re going to think like one? Why should being a lady constitute an act?

How is it that such a concept is even mildly acceptable in the 21st century? Whatever happened to a woman being allowed to be the person she wants to be, to express herself as she feels appropriate and to be loved for who she truly is? Why must she fit into a mould that’s cast by men in order to gain acceptance?

At the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, Sheryl Sandberg, one of the most powerful women in business and the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, spoke of an “ambition gap” in how girls are being raised in contrast to boys. ForbesWoman recently wrote a piece based on Sandberg’s ideas and highlighted the main causes of the ambition gap between men and women as being, inter alia, that boys are taught from an early age to be strong and smart while little girls are taught to be pretty princesses. The dainty little princess grows up and is now confronted with the view that she needs to step outside herself and start thinking like a man. Why? Because if she doesn’t, men won’t be interested in her.

Plus ca change, yes?

This is compounded by shocking statistics on the way society is constantly programmed to conform to the idea have to work their existence around the idea of male superiority:

Only 16% of protagonists in film are female. Only 7% of film directors and 10% of writers are female. Between 1937 and 2005 there were only 13 female protagonists in animated movies. The female characters in G rated movies are just as likely to wear revealing clothing as in R rated movies. Gloria Steinem opines that more than 70% of women on TV are in their 20s and 30s. She observes that a male dominant system values women as child bearers so it limits their value to the time that they are sexually and reproductively active and they become much less valuable after that. Geena Davis observes that all of Hollywood is run on one assumption: that women will watch stories about men, but men won’t watch stories about women; it is a horrible indictment of our society of we assume that one half of our population is just not interested in the other half.

The most shocking expression of the absurdity currently finds itself in the expression: act like a lady, think like a man. Or, per the movie, forget about even acting like a lady – just think like  a man. The whole concept of having to ‘think like a man’ is counter-revolutionary and this prototype of how women should behave is nonsense upon stilts. If a woman needs mind games and power-play to sustain her relationship, then she shouldn’t even be there. Never are men heard to say, ‘act like a man, think like a lady’. Acting like a lady but having to  think like a man perpetuates the attitude that women exist to pander to the whims of men as opposed to the idea that men and women are partners who enter into relationships for the mutual benefit of each other.
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Thought has no sex. Either one thinks or one does not.

The ten worst stereotypes about powerful women according to Forbes

Forbes Magazine is always a good read. Inspiring, balanced and critical, I always find in there something that speaks to me or provokes me to think, whether or not I agree with the views expressed. Recently, the magazine published an article about ten of the worst stereotypes about powerful women.

It is my own view that twenty-first century post-feminism has had a damaging impact on the gains of the feminist movement of the last century. Feminism now carries a negative connotation, with many women, young and old, shying away from being labelled as such. Many fear that they will be perceived as cold and lonely if they associate themselves with the feminist movement.

Consequently, women continue to be judged more, even by other women. As an African woman, the third dimension of an entrenched patriarchical sub-culture and tradition adds its own texture to the challenge of being a modern career woman. For many African people, a woman’s place is in the home. Only in the last two decades were women recognized as having their own legal capacity in Zimbabwe. It is generally not considered an admirable feminine attribute for a Zimbabwean woman to be outspoken or to challenge the status quo – traits that are generally positive when espoused by men. I am yet to hear of a female chief. In addition, the legal world in Africa and abroad is mostly a boys’ club. There are no women on the Commercial Court bench in London and Lady Hale is the lone female justice of the United Kingdom Supreme Court. It remains a challenge, albeit interesting, to be female in today’s working world.

Against this background and drawing from the experiences of some of my own personal heroes (heroines?…whatever!) including Halley Bock, Olivia Fox Cabane, Jill Abramson, Laura Chinchilla, Carol Bartz and Christine Lagarde, Forbes highlighted the following as the ten most hated and pervasive stereotypes of powerful women which we continue to allow to seep into the collective subconscious:

  1. Ice Queen.
  2. Single and Lonely.
  3. Tough.
  4. Weak.
  5. Masculine.
  6. Conniving.
  7. Emotional.
  8. Angry.
  9. A Token – to fulfil diversity requirements.
  10. A Cheerleader – not a coach or a quarterback.

I could not agree more with Forbes: while male leaders are allowed to have complex personalities, powerful women are often summed up by hackneyed stereotypes that undermine them and their power.

Ode to the women who nonetheless build their ranks as heads of state, corporate leaders and media executives in spite of these stereotypes.