Save for the obvious public blunders by the likes of advocate Lindi Nkosi-Thomas, who made a spectacle of herself at the Constitutional Court hearing in representation of Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete this week; and lest we forget Judge Thokozile Masipa’s blinded bid to save Oscar Pistorius-one would have to admit that women fall short in supporting one another.
Yet again, the defining moment this week has also been the vindication of advocate Thuli Madonsela in the entire Nkandla saga. Sweet. Some of us knew that the day of reckoning would come for a lot of those who sank to the lowest lows by jumping on the bandwagon to shame her, particularly by using her looks as a weapon.
It wasn’t just the men within the you-know-which-governing-party and its alliance partners but, not surprisingly, the women.
Recently, in crowded rush hour traffic, my bus driver was trying to manoeuvre through the nightmarish Jan Smuts Avenue. An indistinct car happened to stall (or something to that effect) on the road. The driver kept quiet but there was audible chatter in the two seats behind me. The two women said in unison, “O etsang? and ke mosadi!”. Noted.
The second incident happened on the morning of a different day. This time, the bus driver was trying to allow as much people in the bus as possible and requested those in the isle to move further back. He then nonchalantly mentioned to his colleague how “these women”, he said “once they get in the bus- that’s enough, they don’t care about accommodating the next person getting in”. Noted.
So, what’s seems to be the problem here? Nothing new. Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie stated in her now famous “Why we should all be feminists” talk how, from childhood, girls are conditioned to compete for the affections of men and to “aspire to marriage” but never for jobs,etc.
This is partly true, but one could go further and suggest that the fight doesn’t end with fighting for men but continues into workplaces, common spaces and any other place we get an opportunity to size each other up. The working relationship of two women is more likely to have different dynamics as compared to that of two men.
This fight is often than not self-defeating and destructive. The truth is, a lot of the time we (and I mean women) support others not because of their need for it…but because it is convenient for us.
In her book Lean In: Women, work and the will to lead, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg muses that while women’s professional advancement depends on society (men and women) doing things differently, it’s actually women already in leadership who hold the key to pulling those below to the top.
Sandberg cites that our common experiences and challenges place us in a better position to not only empathise with one another but to also effect sustainable, meaningful change. Yet there aren’t nearly enough women at the top or junior professionals striving for leadership- we’re too busy looking out for ourselves; battling with ourselves and others. We could possibly be our own worst enemies.
The mere recollection of one group supporting a man during his rape trial years ago and marching for his dignity a decade on while being aloof on critical gender issues reveals a sad state of affairs.
Ultimately, we can chant as many slogans as we want and declare a fierce “sisterhood” (and that’s probably a step in the right direction) but until we face the fact that we wouldn’t say anything positive either about a woman who is strong, holds her own and unapologetic about her choices or offer a helping hand to one who seems down and out, all of this will just be white noise.