Guess what I finally got my hands on today?! My author copy of Living While Feminist, the book I have a story in. I’m currently sipping on some bubbles and cradling it in my hands because I’m a published author guys! Everything was delayed with the publication and printing over lockdown – it was supposed to come out in March! But finally this powerful little book is heading out into the world and you can buy one people (there’s also an ebook if that’s your thing).
But before you go and do that, I want to tell you about my story in there, and what it means to me. In fact, I did a reading of it, so perhaps it’s easiest to have a listen to this short extract:
That’s the start of the story (called “The Most Beautiful Boy The World Has Ever Seen”), and it’s about something as seemingly innocuous as hair. It may seem a small thing, but while feminism can be about the big issues, it’s also about the little things. Because the little things – like words people say, or looks they give you – have power. They accumulate. Until they are bigger, and become more immovable and impossible things.
This cyclical experience of mine (which my story describes), got me thinking about how your upbringing or how you are parented influences your views on the spaces that women occupy in this world. I had never considered my parents feminists. But they must have done something in the way they brought me up that made me believe that men and women deserved the same opportunities and the same freedoms. Because some people, very strangely, do not believe that.
I also had a chat to my female cousins, who were raised by my mum’s two sisters, to get some insights into how they felt their upbringing had influenced their views on feminism today. They are funny, clever, interesting and ambitious women, and I’m proud to call them family. We all agreed that it was as young adults that we first noticed how women were treated differently from men. Whether this was at work or on the sports field, it was often an abrupt and maddening realisation. Perhaps we do not know that we are feminists until we meet those who are not?
I’m fully aware that our upbringings come from a place of privilege, and that this plays a large role in forming these mindsets. The same applies to our educations (another factor that my cousins cited), specifically certain teachers, who opened our eyes to injustices of all kinds, and explained that there could be a better way. In fact right now, I can hear my teacher Mrs Lester admonishing a bunch of us 13-year-olds for some action she had found distasteful and shouting across the classroom into our shocked faces: “NOBODY LIKES A FEEBLE WOMAN!”
But the truth is that much of the world does prefer feeble women. When we are subservient, we are pliable, usable, and easy to discard. However this notion, of the woman who is lesser, and just there to serve men, only “benefits” a few of those men. The broader issues with an unequal society and its patriarchal structure, is that it doesn’t only hurt women, it hurts men too, and societies suffer as a result. I’ve been reading The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates and the stories and statistics in there are astonishing, mirroring this exact sentiment: “If you want to lift a society up, you need to stop keeping women down,” writes Gates.
Us feminists have had to learn to become comfortable with the label. Neliswa Tshazi’s excerpt in the book describes how she initially imagined that true feminists were highly educated, well-read intellectuals, and that she could not identify with that term at first. I too, never thought I was smart enough or well read enough on the topic to declare myself a “proper” feminist.
But as much as the movement is about educating yourself, I believe that calling yourself a feminist is also about a feeling inside of you. A fire burning, if you will. It’s about character before it’s about upbringing, demographics or geography. Because I imagine that you could force-feed certain people as much feminism literature as you like, and they would still emerge not believing that women deserve the same treatment as men. But we will continue to try.
Living While Feminist features stories from a broad range of South African writers and covers topics such as skin, hair, sex, health, safety and parenting. It also includes essays on race, state violence and power, and feminist resistance. A portion of the proceeds goes to the Rape Crisis Centre in Cape Town, to support the vital work they do there.
My story is about becoming a woman, losing a mother and raising a daughter. I hope you enjoy it, along with all the insightful stories in there. We need to share these stories, if we are to work towards a more just society, and a better world – for all.
International readers can also buy a copy on Amazon.