To contribute or not to contribute? That is the question.

Please excuse the terrible heading, I couldn’t help myself. This week I’ve been contemplating a fairly new development in Zimbabwe mass media. Our largest Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Mail, recently started a column in its In-Depth section called Her Point of View. A female journalist writes it. The columnist’s tag line is “Ladies this is your chance to be heard by your male counterparts” and she asks that women write in with their lived experiences and stories (her e-mail address is wendy.nyakurerwa@zimpapers.co.zw, in case anyone is interested).

I tend to be quite sceptical when the hand that oppresses, chokes and strikes purports to feed me, it leads me to wonder what they could possibly be gaining from the activity. I tend to be wary of encouraging what is at best an introduction of tokenism. We don’t need token women to show us that it is possible to excel within patriarchal structures, we need those structures to be dismantled. There tends to be a serious risk of legitimising oppressive structures and allowing the status quo to continue through avoiding any discernable reform by providing a pressure valve. If enough people have somewhere to rant or if they perceive there to be some sort of progress, then the powers that be have bought more time. However, the column does explicitly call for multifarious women’s experiences with the possibility of great public exposure and infiltration. Following on from the discussion we had last week about the necessity to disrupt negative/ patriarchal discourse in public media about gender disparity, query whether this may be a time when we have to make as much use as possible of any openings given us? It’s not very often that there is an opportunity to write for a publication with national circulation. Perhaps if we inundate Wendy with our experiences, our complaints and our tales of triumph over patriarchy we can have an impact on the type of conversation the wider society is having when it comes to gender disparity. Surely it’s worth a try?

As expected, there are already complaints rolling in about the introduction of the column on the basis that there is no comparable men’s column. This complaint completely disregards the fact that there are very few female contributors in the paper as a whole and we tend to appear occasionally dealing with gender issues. The entire newspaper is the men’s column. The creation of Her point of View does echo one of the original ways devised to alleviate the overrepresentation of men in powerful institutions. Student unions, for example, largely have a women’s officer as part of the governing committee who is presumed to have the authority to speak on behalf of all her gendered counterparts. In the past few years, these efforts have been under attack as being sexist, as some people feel that surely we live in post-feminism times and gendered privilege if ever it existed outside of myth is a thing of the past.

I would agree that it is sexist in the sense that it is ludicrous that the only way women’s needs and concerns could be represented was if a woman were appointed to explicitly deal with them. Thus maligning the needs of, in Zimbabwe, 52% of the population and artificially presenting them as the needs of an annoying minority. Furthermore this contributes to the misconception that men and males are the yardstick of proper humanity and women are just a weird deviation, not worth being considered in their own right. This is problematic.

Given the continued need to speak up under the pressure of patriarchy I charge all women to actively use the little spaces that are etched out for us. One of the first things we should probably mention is how silly it is that it has come to this. Silence gives the impression of compliance with the status quo allowing those active in the enforcement of patriarchal norms to sleep well at night. One such tiny space of acknowledgement of women’s struggles is the column called Her Point of View. Questions about the propriety of the term “lady” being used in the tagline aside, this is a valuable opportunity to shake up and interrupt the accepted discourse on the nature of women’s oppression and further an understanding of what a life lived under patriarchy’s reign of tyranny actually looks like.

Get writing people!

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