Although the title of the blog may seem somewhat arbitrary, I assure you that it is not. As it turns out the lived experience of third culture kids (TCKs) immersed in what is supposed to be their society is remarkably similar to that of a woman under a patriarchal society. In both situations it is quickly made clear by those who enforce the rules of conformity that you simply don’t fit. Furthermore any consequences suffered by virtue of your inability or unwillingness to fit (the powers that be do not really care which it is to be honest) are clearly the fruits of your labour. You are deviant.
I am back in my home country of Zimbabwe after a nomadic upbringing and am experiencing all of the delightfulness that is culture shock. I had expected that that would be the case, since it is a well-documented part of the TCK experience. However, I thought that this would largely extend to things like missing amenities such as reliable public transportation or reliving being able to satiate caffeine cravings at cafes conveniently positioned at virtually all street corners. What I hadn’t quite bargained for was that I would miss being allowed to have an opinion. As it turns out I can be regarded as an illegitimate contributor to a conversation on my nation or the society in which I live.
All too often, the validity of any opinion that I express that is not regarded in a favourable light is called into question not on the basis of its merit but on the basis that it is imbued with “other” experiences. I can be ignored on the basis that half of my life was spent living in and exploring other nations. My having seen or interacted with other societal norms apparently prevents me from being a properly subjective participant in any conversation. This completely disregards the fact that I was raised within the culture of my parents, even if it was performed abroad. I speak Shona, the major local language, at least conversationally and have met all the legal requirements that enable me to have an opinion of all things Zimbabwean. I am a complete citizen. But most importantly, I am subject to the rules, norms and expectations of the society by virtue of being resident here. Furthermore, I have nothing to immediately set me apart as not Zimbabwean, so I am treated and judged accordingly. Indeed when I open my mouth and that weird international school accent slips out I am regarded as an odd Zimbabwean as opposed to a non-Zimbabwean. Yet when my opinion fails to toe the preferred line, I apparently lose the ability to be authoritative on my own lived experience, in my country. Amongst “my people”.
Silencing is a common tactic of the dominant. My experiences as a third culture kid are echoed in the lives of all people who fail to meet the yardstick of expectation that they, more likely than not, had no role in crafting. One such place where this is echoed in the status of women. I realise that we are not a homogenous group and the theory of intersectionality makes it clear that at any given moment different forms of oppression may be at work, inter-mingling to create differing experiences and dynamics of oppression. But in the end, we are all oppressed. Keeping that in mind, I feel more than comfortable in decrying the status of women in my society.
This is not to say that there haven’t formally been great strides in this respect. There are certainly token women in government and we are definitely accorded rights in the new constitution passed by referendum in Zimbabwe last year. Indeed gender equality is supposed to be one of the guiding values in the interpretation of the constitution as a whole. The constitution also provides for the creation of a Gender Commission, which I’m obviously very excited about. But. But there is a huge disconnect between the formal equality so magnanimously accorded us, and the actual status of women. It is all well and good to have laws protecting women, however, without addressing issues of access to justice and enforcement of customary law away from the courts or having a strategy to improve the social status of women the actual impact of these rules in daily life will be negligible. A lot happens away from the watchful eyes of state institutions, you know over there in the so-called private sphere. Indeed the inability to have a comprehensive reform/ information/ discussion strategy calls into question the ability of state organs to carry out their activities in the spirit of gender equality as required by our constitution. Query whether or not relying on the hope that most civil servants are open to a radical change in the status quo, contrary to the way in which they were socialised, is a bit of a gamble? Can anybody say – risk of dragging feet?
Not too long ago, someone took offense to my feminism and asserted that feminism was the root cause in the breakdown of family, church and state. Debates on whether or not there is truly any breakdown occurring and if there is, whom this breakdown should be attributed to aside, this seems to be a commonly held sentiment. The view is essentially that women are just agitating for recognition and rights in order to bother men when really everything is peachy. After all, who isn’t fond of a little boot-on-neck-like oppression? I thought I’d pout for a while and then decided that maybe I could be a bit more productive with my anger and frustration. Although there are several well established feminist and women’s organisations and NGOs in the country, gender issues tend to remain on the academic fringes where they all talk to each other, attend conferences and agree. There isn’t as much of an on-going mainstream discussion on the status of women. So in behaviour entirely uncharacteristic of Zimbabweans – I thought it might be time we talked about it.
I’ve gone ahead and created an online platform where I can rant on my experiences of being an other in Zimbabwean society. My ravings will initially fall into three categories: 1. Academic-ish articles on the legal status of women, from a feminist jurisprudence standpoint 2. Responses to questions people ask feminists and finally, 3. Commentary on the social status of women and whatever we’re currently talking about in mainstream media.
Let the games begin.