Slice of Life: How round are your rotis?

Why is it so hard to shake off the stares of disapproving aunts and men in fancy suits? I am almost always on the receiving end of them at every family function. The sourness of the patriarchy that laces these comments never fails to sting and especially while the women slave over pots while the men lounge back.

I have witnessed in my own life and household what I have come to understand as patriarchy. My impressions as a South African of Indian heritage have resulted in a definition of patriarchy where a where a woman’s worth often hinges on whether or not she can make the perfectly round roti.

Being born a girl into a South African Indian family means that you’re hit with a predefined list of expectations shaped by the judgement of an imagined mother-in-law. These prerequisites for the marriage to one of their sons are silently agreed upon by our own mothers, the women we look to for affirmation.. Often, when a couple shows an intention to take the next step, his mother will ask:

Who is her family? Can she cook? How round are her rotis? Can she make all your favourite meals like I can? Has she dated anyone before? If she is studying does she has to know that she can’t work after she gets married?

These questions reflect the unrealistic expectations that many communities, mine included, have of young women about to enter into marriage. As for me, I am probably looking at a life of loneliness as I not only fail to meet these expectations, I am actively resisting them.

My stubborn refusal to to learn how to cook still ignites a fire in my mother. It is often the same argument day after day, which always ends at the same question; “What will your mother-in-law say? … Do you think your husband will help you with chores, you’ve got to be kidding! No one wants someone who can’t cook and clean…” These reprimands though, rather than encouraging me to change, just embolden my resolve to resist my future enslavementAs a woman, despite having a university degree, I get asked when I will get married rather than when I will find a job. There is a timestamp on marriage and once you pass that age South African Indian people, especially the aunties, think that no one will want you and you’ve passed your sell by date. Women are treated as objects to barter with rather than human beings with their own feelings and desires. I have never, and will never, come to terms with this way of thinking.

I look at the way my brother is treated by my parents, a way that gives him the space to live his life, his transgressions excused away with the saying, “boys will be boys”. The only time parents like mine burden their sons with expectations is when they lay down the law on the kind of daughter-of-law they expect to have. I am treated differently just because I am a female, this is not inequality, it is discrimination. “Boys will be boys” is nothing more than a free pass to the male of the to do whatever they like.

I, for one, believe in the concept of equality. Perhaps it is time to grow out of old concepts and develop a culture of sharing and taking responsibility as adults. I think that gender limitations and standards should be scrapped because I never want my future daughter to think she can’t achieve something just because she isn’t a man. And to my future mother-in-law, you need not fear your son will starve if you stop feeding his expectations and his belly and instead teach him how to roll the perfectly round roti.

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Slice of life: The blessing of independence from the women who raised me

My mother and grandmother are two strong women in my life who have contributed to my strong and independent character.

They have been the sole providers in my brother’s and my life, making sure that ends met so we could have everything we needed.

But they have done more than that, having taught me how to survive without depending on anyone else.

They taught me courage, self-sufficiency and independence as I witnessed how they both struggled but always provided for our family.

For as long as I can remember, I have always feared having to depend on someone else because I could not help but feel like I was imposing. In higher primary school, I refused to ask for help with my homework as I would think to myself: “If my grandmother can fix broken pipes, floors and ceilings around the house by herself, what is stopping me from figuring out primary school homework alone?”

My grandmother is somewhat of a stubborn woman, a trait that has rubbed off on me. She refuses to rely on a man to fix anything around the house. I used to get frustrated when she would ask me to help her cement the bathroom floor or to take the garbage away in a wheelbarrow to the dumping site, instead of telling my older brother to do it.

Eventually I came to appreciate her showing me how to perform these duties. I’ve learnt that I can do anything for myself without adopting the stereotypical attitude of, “this is a man’s job”. Limitations based on gender do not exist in my head because of my grandmother’s teaching.

My mother too, taught me valuable life lessons. “You need to work hard for yourself. You do not want to be at the mercy of anyone, especially a man,” she has always told me.

Determined not to rely on anyone, I decided to use my talents to make my own money. I began a hair braiding business at 15, inspired by my mother’s advice and my paternal grandmother and aunts who are very good at braiding hair. This is a skill that I am fortunate enough to have inherited.

By braiding people’s hair I am able to make pocket money for myself and help my family by contributing towards household expenses. I started off by braiding my family’s hair for free to perfect my skills, and went on to start charging my neighbours R150 to braid their hair.

My hair business was at its peak in third year at Wits when I stayed in a student residence in Braamfontein. There, a lot of young women came to my room every weekend so I could do their hair. This helped a lot because I could buy groceries and necessities for myself without burdening my family with requests for money.

Staying in Braamfontein was particularly good for my business because there is a huge market for braids and I was easily accessible, living in student housing with most of my customers. I also charged affordable prices, taking into consideration the financial constraints faced by most students. I did so, however, without compromising the end result that my customers were looking for.

In early 2013, my little sister was born and I became the middle child. The very fact that I am someone’s older sister motivates me to work even harder at being financially independent. I love spoiling those who are closest to me. I constantly want to make sure that my sister gets anything she wants. More importantly, I want to lead by example and show her that a girl can do anything without relying on anyone but herself.

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SLICE OF LIFE: Social media has taken over my life

Social media continues its pursuit to take over my daily life. I am probably a better photojournalist on Instagram than most professionals and I have developed better investigative skills than the FBI.

I have come to a realisation that my activity on social media is far greater than the average joe. Or is it?

I constantly ask myself what life would be like without the various social media accounts that I have, and if the time and effort I put into each of them is actually worth it.

Posting pictures on Instagram used to be a daily activity until it became more like a full-time job. It takes me a good couple of hours to decide which photo I should put up on Instagram. I question every single thing about the photo.  Should it be in black and white? Would it look better if it had a filter that makes me look tanned? Does this photo match the scheme of my profile feed? I also struggle to find the perfect caption. Should it be funny, philosophical or even relate to my picture at all? I have spent countless hours scrolling through Pinterest trying to find a decent caption that fits my picture and then I just end up using an emoticon anyway. The amount of effort I put into posting one picture makes me wonder about the precious time I have just wasted.

It’s a bit of a catch-22 really. A world without social media would not allow me to do the small things in life that I enjoy. Facebook lets me check up on friends who I haven’t seen since high school. I can watch my cousins grow up in America without missing out on their milestones.

But social media sucks me in. One minute I’m watching a video of a man who ran the Two Oceans Marathon on crutches and two hours later, I’m watching a video of a dog barking to its favourite song.

My mornings usually begin with checking my cellphone and spending endless time checking my social media accounts. The process starts with WhatsApp, then I switch over to Facebook to check whose birthday it is (I would never remember otherwise). Then I have to catch up on what’s happening on Snapchat stories and liking pictures on Instagram. I watch people skydive in Dubai and think of all the activities I could be doing if I left my bed.

I finish off this ritual with a good scroll through Twitter, trying to find out the latest news in hopes that I will pass the week’s current news pop quiz. When I’ve completed all these chores, I finally feel ready to get out of bed.

As a student journalist, social media has become essential in my life. Twitter helps me stay tapped into up-to-the-minute news. I also share stories I have produced on there. Not everyone reads newspapers anymore and without social media, I’m not too sure how people find my stories.

Social media has truly become so rooted in my life that even my decisions are dictated by the things I see on Apps on my phone. Zomato decides where I want to go out for dinner. If I need to contact someone for a story, I tweet them.

At the end of the day, I’ve come to terms with my social media dependency. My relationship with my phone is not an abnormality, I actually think it’s become the norm in my generation.

If I had one rand for every time I looked at my social media accounts, I would be a millionaire.

Hold that thought while I go decide what photo I’m going to post on Instagram next.

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Who’s afraid of vaginas?

I can’t remember a time when my friends and I weren’t in conversation about vaginas, hormones, penises and all that jazz.

We throw the “v” word and the “c” word around at all most all encounters over a glass of wine in the midst of roaring laughter and revelations.

However, through the conversations I’ve encountered with women outside of my immediate circle I’ve noticed that a number of young women are much less likely to find themselves inclined to talk about their sexual organs and sexual health.

Somewhere between misogyny and patriarchy we have created this vagina Narnia that deems lady parts as a mystical part of the body that is covered in flowers of which flows an endless supply of rainbows and fireworks. When in reality, the vagina is the muscular passageway that connects the vulva to the cervix. This “thing” we don’t want to talk about, comes in all different shapes and sizes.

Why is it that we see women’s bodies on our TVs, in movies, and all over the internet yet we seem to have a problem actually talking about them in real life?

For a long time anything that is related to women’s bodies has been responded to negatively. There is an internalised fear of discussing women’s sexuality and a male-dominated society has deliberately constructed the idea of femininity to keep men in control.

It was Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex who argued that women have historically been treated as inferior to men for three reasons. Firstly, society teaches women to fulfil a male’s needs and therefore exist in relation to men. Secondly, to follow external cues to seek validation of their worth.

Lastly, women have historically had far fewer rights and therefore less public influence.

Did you even know that it’s normal to have bacteria in your vagina? Did you know that even healthy bodies have a scent and it is actually a good thing because that scent is your pheromones?
But you wouldn’t know that because you aren’t bothered to discuss these things with your doctor, let alone your friends.

Another concerning aspect of this internalised fear concerns going to the gynaecologist. It seemed to me that the women who are afriad to talk about their vaginas were more afraid to go to a doctor about a sexual health issue than an older woman.

Visiting a gynaecologist is a pro-active approach for preventative care of which pap smears and annual exams are very important. According to some health practitioners advise, a woman’s first pap smear should be done within three years after first having sexual intercourse or by age 21. In all honesty, Pap smears are simple tests that can detect abnormal cells on the cervix. Wouldn’t you want to know if there was an abnormality in the “v” thing you carry around?

Whether you have body image issues, concerns about the way it looks and smells or anxiety about achieving orgasm, conversations about sexuality and sexual organs would be a beneficial social activity for all of us.

Surely if you can’t talk about vaginas, then how in the world are you going to take care of one responsibly? Maybe if we talked about the vagina a little more we wouldn’t be so scared of it. Maybe we would have more respect for it and we wouldn’t think it was so “icky and gross”.

OPINION: I am white and I am an African

Samantha Camara. Photo: TJ Lemon

Samantha Camara Photo: TJ Lemon

One of my guilty pleasures is the movie Mean Girls.  In the movie, a character named Karen asks the lead character Cady: “So if you’re from Africa, why are you white?” Although the question is asked in a funny way, the idea that there are no white people in “scary, dark Africa” is a stereotype that has often annoyed me.

Does the unavoidable pigment of my skin really exclude me from being a member of the continent I call home?

I have been extremely privileged to represent South Africa overseas in international competitions. Every trip has come with countless stares, mumbles and tactless questions from strangers about my obvious lack of expected blackness.

I can remember two accounts in particular, the first round of questioning came from a young Texan man who was fascinated with the strange mixed group of South Africans, to which I belonged. To his absolute amazement, not only were some of us white South Africans but we were all dressed in “real clothes”, were well-groomed and could speak fluent English.

He then launched into a list of questions about what it was like to live in huts, how we felt about being fully dressed instead of wearing animal skins, the difficulties of driving elephants to school and what we feed our pet lions.

In his defence, we all wove elaborate stories of what life in wild Africa was like. After a few minutes, the stories became too elaborate and we felt bad so we told him the truth about life in Johannesburg and that most of the wild animals were kept safely in zoos and game parks.

“Often I feel like I am not allowed to be proud of being African because my skin is too light.”

The second incident happened in Malaysia a few years later, while I was walking in the city to get food with friends. A local woman, seeing the South African flag on my backpack as I walked passed, stopped me and with genuine confusion asked me why I was white if I came from South Africa.

Fighting back the urge to give an offensively sarcastic and dramatic answer of “Oh my gosh! I’m white? I never noticed! All my life is a lie!” I opted for the more polite response that there is actually a reasonable amount of white people in South Africa (Surprise! We are not a bunch of unseen yeti-like creatures of legend who have all immigrated to Australia).

Despite my often humorous or sarcastic responses to questions about race, I find that these questions, which often come from a place of sincere misunderstanding, cause me to question my identity as an African. From a young age, I saw myself as member of a diverse and abundantly beautiful country.

I have jumped at the chance to make friends with people from other African countries and dreamed of exploring this beautiful continent I am lucky enough to call home.  I was born in South Africa and have lived here my entire life, does that not classify me as South African? According to my I.D book it does, but I feel that society has a different opinion.

Often I feel like I am not allowed to be proud of being African because my skin is too light, like I should be ashamed to be a white African because it does not fit the common global idea of what being an African means.

I am fully aware that I am not black and that my South African family tree does not span the ages of history. But, I am an African. I am an African because this is where the roots of my identity lie, this is the land I love and this is where I will always return when home is needed.

SLICE OF LIFE: White riches, and white guilt

Oh, what it is to be white and middle class in present-day South Africa! The struggle is real. People, do not brush aside my pain. You do not understand my hardship in trying to convince people I have not benefited from my low-level melanin casing.

Okay, perhaps I need to admit that denial is not just a river in Egypt. I may not like to say it, but hi, I’m Robyn, and I’m a member of the white privileged elite in this country. Luckily, I am not alone in my plight. You’ll see a lot of us around. We’re generally hanging out in places like Sandton City, getting ridiculously over-priced haircuts.

Don’t believe me? Clap your hands if you’ve heard a variation of this argument before:

“I’m tired of hearing about apartheid. I’m tired of feeling guilty for being white, and being made to feel like racism is my fault. I didn’t cause it, why should I suffer through affirmative action/Black Economic Empowerment/*insert other complaint here* in order to fix it? It’s time to move on from the past.”

Robyn Kirk

This statement is an amalgam of conversations I’ve had with many people over the years, and is even an echo of what I used to believe myself. It is also completely and utterly wrong.

When I say that white privilege is still prevalent in South Africa, please try to understand why I say it before you sharpen your pitchforks. I know white privilege exists because I probably wouldn’t be here if it didn’t. Perhaps it’s easier to see the privilege entwined with my skin colour because my roots aren’t as deeply entrenched in this country as other people’s.

I am first generation South African, the daughter of Irish immigrants. My father sometimes tells the story of how our family got here. He was working at a textiles factory in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, 40 years ago. There was a man there named Greg, working as a machine operator, and my father started up a conversation with this man.

“Oh, you’re an electrician?” Greg said. “So am I. I can’t find any of that kind of work though, which is why I’m doing this. There aren’t enough jobs in this country for us … Do you know where there is work, though? South Africa.”

And so, to South Africa Brian Kirk came. He worked on six-month contracts during the 1970s, doing electrical work here for half the year, and returning home for the other.
In 1982, he and my mother got married in Ireland and moved out here a few months later. They’re still here 32 years later with four daughters and one grandson.

They gave us a good life. We grew up in a nice house, went to excellent private schools and had the opportunity and funding to go to university. I don’t mean to take anything away from their love and devotion – they worked hard to provide.

But did they work harder than a domestic worker, who left home at 4am to get to the madam’s house to cook and clean? My parents’ hard work had more material reward because my dad was a white, skilled worker at a time when the “white” part mattered an awful lot.

“I know white privilege exists because I probably wouldn’t be here if it didn’t.”

My story may not be exactly the same as other white South Africans’ stories but, if you look at them critically, you’ll see a common thread running through them all.

Not so long ago, race was a deciding factor in the work and pay you could expect, the humanity you were shown and the standard at which you could take care of your family. We, as the children of those who went before, need to realise and admit this.

Yes, it is not mine or any other young white person’s “fault” that apartheid happened, but we need to accept that we have benefited from it, in small ways and in big.As a country, we need to keep talking about the wrongs and hatred of the past, not in order to assign blame, but rather to create understanding and move forward. I will quote William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Everything exists now because of what was before.

We need to understand where we’ve come from to find the right path to where we want to go. Sometimes this means admitting we’re complicit in something we wish we weren’t, but if that’s the only way to move forward then I think it’s worth the pain.

SLICE OF LIFE: Sense and sensibility

“I come here with no expectations, only to profess, now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is and always will be yours.” –  Edward Ferrars, in Sense and Sensibility.

Jane Austen ruined us … or rather Emma Thompson did, with that exceptional screenplay.  We expect men to profess exactly what they mean when it comes to love. We expect them to be expressive.

Women. We always seem to take it to the extreme when it comes to our affections.  If it’s not too much, it’s too little. It’s never in between.  Either way, you are almost certain to come across as “crazy”.  I hate that.

I hate that a conversation with a guy is never just a conversation with a guy.  And I hate that we are blamed for over-thinking statements like “you’re brilliant”, or “you look lovely” or “you get me”.  I hate that we are prone to misreading those “harmless” words and actually thinking a guy might like us.  We were seriously misinformed by those Drew Barrymore films.

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The flipside is having your guard up all the time.  This is my favourite default.  Sure, being risk averse is boring, but it is safe.  You will not be the one lying on the bathroom floor, wiping tears away on a Friday night because you finally realised that “he’s just not that into you”.  (That movie ruined us too, by the way).

You will, however, be the shoulder on which your damaged friend leans while you hand her a Kleenex.  And you will be relieved that you are not her, for one night.

 

 

Every other night, you see, you’ll be attending parties alone.  Banquets and weddings included.  (Gay best friends are not as abundant as one would think).  And it’s not some hard-core act of supreme feminism.  It is excruciatingly awkward.

I know because I have had to answer questions like: “Where is your date?” or “Don’t you have a boyfriend?” or “Have you considered becoming a lesbian?” And I have had to watch purses. I am the official PURSE GIRL.  It is not cool to be the purse girl, unless you’re Tina Fey.

“I’m so sorry for all those guys out there who do not have any balls.”

I wouldn’t know how it is for guys, but I have heard (from a guy) that approaching a girl with a “big” personality and intellect is quite daunting.  Apparently it’s much easier to forego that girl for a less intimidating one.  Gee … I’m so sorry for all those guys out there who do not have any balls. (Not really, it would be a disservice to humanity if they had the opportunity to procreate).

So the rest of us are in a catch-22 situation.  You can’t wear your heart on your sleeve, but you can’t wear your “go-away” face either.

I like to consider what Mindy Kaling would do.  Only because she’s a Hollywood leading lady of colour, who happens to be a graduate from Dartmouth College (I know, right! She’s talented and smart) and is in denial about her weight.  Also she dated BJ Novak, so she makes good choices.  Unfortunately, I don’t have her on speed dial.

So the next sensible thing to do is this: don’t create unrealistic expectations or manufacture relationships in your head.  A conversation with a guy is just a conversation with a guy.  And a compliment from a guy is a just compliment from a guy.

Also, do not do this:

Elinor Dashwood:  “Did he tell you that he loved you?”

Marianne Dashwood: “Yes … No … Never absolutely.  It was every day implied but never declared.”

OPINION: Deep divisions between east and west campuses

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Percy Matshoba
Photo: TJ Lemon

As an East campus dweller and a West campus trespasser, I used to find that being recognised as a credible student did not come easy. 

I always felt compelled to prove my intelligence, particularly on the side where the sun sets. In my first year as a Witsie, I discovered there was an unspoken hierarchy between the different Wits campuses, and East campus was at the bottom. You won’t find this status on notice boards, and there’s no statistic to back it up. It is simply implied by our over-the-bridge neighbours, in questions like: “Do you even need to study?” or in comments like: “I wish I was a BA student, you guys sit on the grass all day”. 

After a year of desperation, I enrolled in a commerce course in which our lecturer would often warn us that if we failed, we could always enrol in a BA course. It wasn’t that I was unsure of my choice or that I did not have a sense of direction, it was that I had allowed my insecurities to dim my light. I did not want to be an accountant or an actuary, despite the pay. I did not find the idea of being a lawyer appealing. I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted to inspire, inform and to simply “write what I like”.

After many years of dodging questions like: “What are you studying”? Or “Is there a big market for what you’re studying?” I have found that my choice of study was not what I needed to alter to appease the unimpressed. It was my response to their attitudes. Mine needed to be the weapon which broke the ignorance.

The war between east and west has its source in our country’s education system, which esteems some courses over others. This arrogance has led to companies funding only the faculties which are home to those esteemed subjects. Our attitude as a country has created a clear divide. The fact that there is a divide between the Wits campuses is merely the symptom of a wider problem, not the root of it. I have learnt that I don’t want to be valued because of what I do or how much I earn. I want to be valued because of what I contribute to society.

Mother Teresa once said: “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”

White Lightning strikes again


It was with a heavy heart that White Lightning, my closest companion since 2006, was admitted to the car-hospital this week. Unfortunately, this has become a frequent event for me from the time he reached the grand old age of 200 000km, so much so that the car mechanics recognise White’s tender hummm when I roll up to the garage.

My friendship with White Lightning has been incredibly strong. I mean, how many friends do you spend two hours of every day with? This is our bonding time en route to campus from the northern suburbs.
In that time you really get to know someone.

Together we have stamped our place on the Barry Hertzog strip. To date there has not been a single fully-loaded taxi we have not been able to overtake. It’s a tough challenge, I know – White is not the fastest off the mark. He’s proven to be fully dependable so long as you don’t try to go over 55km/h, hence the origin of his rather apt name, White Lightning.
I’ll never forget the day when the mechanics all crowded around the pit and asked me: “How did you manage to drive around for four months with broken CV joints like that?”

Seemingly, White Lightning had been “living beyond death”, as one mechanic put it. Admittedly, White does predate South African democracy and still has a Nokia hands-free kit that fits an old brick, but that simply makes him a bit old-school.

Many of my peers in the newsroom have relationships with similar skedonks and I can completely relate to their gripes about the e-toll and petrol price increases which add to their living costs. In fact, from the beginning of this year I have spent over R3 000 on petrol alone. (Let’s not get into the extra costs of a new set of tyres, battery, lights and boot cable.) I have even made contingency plans to re-route my usual back-routes once everyone starts using them to avoid the e-tolled highways.

I can say with pride that we care enough to prolong the lives of cars like White Lightning across campus, despite not having much spare cash.

While everyone else will be relaxing on Workers’ Day, I know I won’t be the only student spending some quality time with their skedonk, giving him his first wash of the year.

Read more of Jay’s work at http://jaycaboz.wordpress.com/