It’s Women’s Month, again. The political theatre circuit is packed with shows in which actors imitate feminism, anti-GBV initiatives and commitments to policy changes that will “save” women from an imaginary boogeyman that nobody can truly pinpoint. It’s a spectacular Broadway opening out here and again, the focus is being shifted away from the conversations we want to and are already having.
I won’t discount the importance of politics in implementing policy changes that will contribute towards changing the gender landscape of the country, which has been in crisis for decades. However, I am not a politician and the ones we have, have not taken our voices seriously for a long time.
Perhaps, I could start with what I really want to see?
At the top of our minds must remain the understanding of where gender oppression emanates from: it is patriarchy. We also know that patriarchy does not only oppress and brutalise women, but all those perceived as feminine and therefore weaker. This is why the first victim of patriarchy is the boy child whose “weakness” and by implication, femininity must be terrorised out of him to produce a worthy recruit to the system later. As the late bell hooks asserted: “Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence”. For those of us whose femininity remains into adulthood, patriarchy earmarks us for harm. Women, queer people, trans people and non-binary people face this fate under different circumstances but continue to battle alone to our own detriment. We need to practise and invest in true solidarity in the fight against patriarchy.
When we talk about sisterhood, we have to expand our understanding of who the sisters are. Queer and trans people have also contributed largely to shaping the ideals of femininity, sisterhood and womanhood in ways that transcend binary gender and the classifications that currently still constrain us. Femininity and womanhood have largely benefitted from the norm setting directed by queer people and at its best, this cultural process should have been symbiotic. However, we have often been seduced by competition leading us to betray each other.
TRIGGER WARNING FOR THE HATERS: BEYONCÉ
Though subject to rightful scrutiny and critique, Beyoncé’s latest project, RENAISSANCE, has reintroduced the conversation about solidarity, collaboration, acknowledgement, and cultural creativity shared between us. The album is a dedication to her uncle Johnny who was a gay man who made immense contributions to her budding womanhood and later theatrical prowess as an entertainer known for her beauty and sensuality. The album features the work of multiple queer and trans artists and pays homage to the sound and aesthetic of ballroom culture – which was born out of Black queer and trans people being excluded from mainstream queer society and society at large. Indeed, we do need a renaissance of solidarity and community building.
I mention this album because it is a practical, visible and recent display of the solidarity I am calling for. Such displays are important to drive home the message that we depend on each other in the making of our personhood which when it reaches out to the next person, forms our sisterhood. We must form relationships with each other that support and nurture each other, not only because we do each other’s make-up and lay each other’s wigs, but because our survival depends on it. Nobody is coming to save us. Not during Women’s Month. Not during Pride Month.
It must also be said that solidarity does not mean that we always agree. There is space for honesty and accountability in solidarity. We can be honest about the ways that we hurt each other and how some of us inherently have more social power than others, which drives inequality amongst us in different ways. Yes, cis heterosexual women have the power to be homophobic and transphobic and gay men have the power to be misogynistic. These afflictions have plagued our movements for years: we must be honest about this. There is also the reality that we cannot count on every gender oppressed person for solidarity. Zora Neale Hurston told us that “all skin folk, ain’t kinfolk” and the same goes for gender. That is a reality we have to live with, but despite it, we can invest in forming community with those who do show up to the table.
So, in the spirit of focusing on what matters, working on this solidarity requires us to rewire our thinking that has undoubtedly been tainted by patriarchy, which works to diminish, disregard and isolate us. We have all been inducted, directly or indirectly, into reverencing the normativity of masculinity and for some, we have been brutalised into kneeling before it with the hope that we will be protected by it. We have repeatedly come to harm this way, by denying our own shared power: the power of the divine feminine.
All of the ways of thinking and being that have been dismissed and devalued by the rugged force of patriarchy have always been at our disposal, beckoning for us to tap in. We may have done this in isolation for personal fulfilment before, but where could we go if we tapped into it as a collective free from competition and tendencies towards dominance? Finding out can only be sweeter than wondering. I believe we can get there if we trust each other.