So I wrote this for Sister Namibia (current edition) at a very dark moment for me. I think it’s the kind that makes you rethink societal perception pertaining to culture and how it observes the place of a woman vis-a-vis a man’s.
The conclusion remains with you!
It is easier to stomach the lack of female presidents, CEOs, managing directors, directors general, etc., in the global scope — but how does one explain the absence of women in the cultural arena when their very existence has always been synonymous to culture itself?
Even if you let alone the corporate world and took the film industry as a case study, you would still find very few female-directed or written movies, plays, music, etc. The media even finds it newsworthy to tell the story of a man (in every aspect) while magazines are strutted by topless women who provide default male readers with eye-candy. Yes, there is a rise of magazines that actually tell the story of women’s achievements across the world, this included. However, it is just not enough, because such types of media focus on the achievements of women and how they’ve become successful. They tell feel-good stories that inspire, as does Phenomenal Magazine. And that’s fine. But who is going to tell the horrific, sad stories of millions of girls, women, grandmothers who undergo experiences nobody would dare put in writing?
True; this is not the first time this aspect of the topic of culture with regard to the place of a woman in society has been addressed. There have been tens of thousand-page-long studies about this, not to mention social and literary material. But one journalist (Bashida) has since given it a name; cultural femicide.
With many made-up “–cide” terms defining many social or even scientific concepts that apply to or affect the human race in one way or another, especially since the 20th century, it is time someone labelled the idea of side-lining women in most aspects of life as we know it.
As with many –cide terms, cultural femicide is “the way in which women’s stories and lives are silenced by a popular culture that gives priority to men’s narratives.” And does it not have a real effect on the formers’ lives while creating the impression that women’s stories are not as worthwhile as their male counterparts?
This type of –cide says men’s stories are the default while women’s are part of “other”.
It is for the same reason a man is found “sweet”, “sensitive” and even considered “a good” [if not a better] parent when he babysits for just a couple of hours. But who applauds the single mother who breaks her back to provide for her children, pay bills on time, and sustain a business without the help of a nanny or the baby’s father [and the list of examples continues]? Well, she is expected to be “strong”, to brave the waters, even when the currents do not allow, without complaining or sharing her pain as that is considered her way of soliciting sympathy.
It is for the same reason a woman would apply for a job as a director general for a state entity, for instance and not get the stint, because a man is “more suited for the job”.
It is for the same reason fans and haters alike would rather a man became the world tennis champion instead of Serena Williams.
Seriously, politics aside with regard to what Namibia (case in point) would have been like had Pendukeni Ivula-Ithana won the Swapo party elections to be the presidential candidate in 2012 instead of the now president, Dr. Hage Geingob; would one then argue that ‘Katutura’ – the movie – would have had a different synopsis altogether had it been directed by a woman, instead of Florian Schott?
Maybe the analogy is farfetched in this context, and this article is not meant to glorify feminism, but let’s face it, it is these kinds of [certain] downplayed aspects of social culture that place “strong black women” or women generally, to be a president’s mistress(es) instead of the first lady, or better yet, the president herself. It silently goes with the weakening, “Behind every successful man, there’s a strong woman” adage. What then would be said about a successful woman?
For the ‘Olivia Popians’, how does one explain the strength of Olivia Pope in ‘The Fixer/Scandal’ coupled with just the right amount of vulnerability and poise, to be in some twisted love triangle in which the most powerful man and the president of the free world worships the ground she walks on? That in public she is the invincible Olivia Pope who “handles” and “fixes” situations, yet behind closed doors, she undresses and weeps for the president of the United States of America.
And if that is too far from reality, consider the $9 billion witness of Wall Street, Alayne Fleischmann, who has become JPMorgan Chase’s worst nightmare. Yes, the US is far from home and maybe the examples are a bit ambiguous, but they make the current world news, making them relevant.
Fleischmann has tried to stay quiet, but after eight years of keeping the heavy secret of one of the banks that caused the credit crunch in 2008, she could not take it anymore. Today, she says in a RollingStone interview that, “…it was like watching an old lady get mugged on the street.” She had to whistle-blow on a corporate giant and that has not proven to be a piece of cake.
Six years after the crisis that brought the global economy to its knees, it’s not exactly news that the world’s biggest banks – Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America – stole on a grand scale. Fleischmann was then working for Chase. That’s the main reason why the most important part of Fleischmann’s story is in the pains Chase and the US Justice Department took to silence her.
“Every time I had a chance to talk, something always got in the way,” she tells RollingStone. She was blocked at every turn by, amongst others, a court system that allowed Chase to use its billions to bury her evidence, and architects of the crazily elaborate US government’s policy of surrender, secrecy and cover-ups.
Imagine what a thrilling movie Fleischmann’s story would make, if ever a woman picked up her laptop, did some digging and typed away! And yes, Fleischmann’s story sounds like a blockbuster movie already; a female employee witnesses a financial criminal offence that brings the global economy to its knees and then she is quietly dismissed as soon as she internally raises the flags and years later, she cannot sleep or eat, as she watches the global economy bullies buy their ways out of justice.
Of course she is not the first whistle-blower, but the fact that she is a woman whose life becomes a living hell in Wall Street, makes her story worth the trouble – the gospel according to Olivia Pope. She’s a gladiator, alright.
They have tried to silence her for eight good years, but she won’t budge. Now isn’t that a perfect definition of cultural femicide?
In a world where women are expected to stay silent about rape, corporate scandals, sexual harassment at the workplace, emotional, physical or sexual abuse by spouses, brothers, fathers and professional superiors… it is empowering to see those who stare at the realities in the face and just bark, “boo!” As Fleischmann says of her story; “…the assumption they make is that I won’t blow up my life to do it. But they are wrong.” She will get them or die trying, I hope!
Muriel Rukesyer once said; “If every woman told their story in broad daylight, the world would split wide open.” So why don’t we start splitting the world open, one chip at a time?