No need to out-woman each other

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We celebrate each other one day of the year and for the other 364 days we ruthlessly attack each other, says Chelsea Johnstone.

Cape Town - It’s that time of year again. We’re using the month of August to honour and chant how wonderful South African women are, as we reflect on the hardships and power struggles endured over the centuries.

This is the time to celebrate the breakthrough of females who have made a difference in society. But we also use this time to emphasise just how far we still have to go.

And while we point out the barriers, we seem to miss one very important obstacle, an obstacle so conspicuous, yet we blindly stumble over it again and again, losing momentum just before our second breath kicks in: ourselves.

On August 9, 1956, a column of women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the heinous pass laws. This was a body of woman armed with opinion and united for a cause.

It was the birth of our fearless female heritage – though, 58 years later, it’s a heritage still lingering in a confused adolescent phase.

We celebrate each other one day of the year and for the other 364 days we ruthlessly attack each other for not having the same superficial desires, morals or beliefs.

We judge women for the way they behave and dress, or we play down their talents because we feel we are equally as good at something – if not better.

What difference are we actually making and what change are we effectively instilling in the mindset of our nation when we are constantly belittling our own?

Now some may argue that wisdom comes with age and that maturity dissolves this problem, but I see it every day and the age of the woman behind the snarky remarks, the insensitive judgement and the one who reluctantly applauds the other “she”, has nothing to do with it.

Regardless of the phase in our lives, we fail to fully appreciate our fellow mothers, sisters and daughters – whether we choose to admit it or not. We are perpetrators of gossip and victims of discrimination, however minute, imparted on us by the very “women” we celebrate at this time of year.

We demand external respect, yet the internal needs fixing first. How do we rally behind a cause that cries for the dignity of women to be acknowledged, yet we strip each other of that very thing?

For the 20 000 women who marched that day, their differences were put aside, but I can’t help feeling today’s marching ends just a few steps too short.

It’s not enough to support each other because the glare of the spotlight leaves us with no choice but to make a contribution. And I choose the word “spotlight” intentionally, to illustrate that it is all a performance – an act.

For, like actors, we play our role when prompted to and then we go back to living a life so far removed from the show we have just lived out on stage. Without persistently poking at the taboos of feminism, I hope we can gain confidence in gender and that the need to out-woman each other stops.

We are not fighting each other, but the snares and chains that restrict us from success.

Let us not forget that a battle can only be won if every member of its army is fully kitted and equally as co-operative.

So this year, when we hashtag and post online about how proud we are to be females, may the beautiful words we speak on this day resonate long afterwards.

* Chelsea Johnstone is a postgraduate student in the Department of Journalism at Stellenbosch University.

** The views expressed heer are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Argus



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