IWD: Making and remaking my identity on human rights

Date: March 28, 2012
  • SHARE:

Johannesburg, 28 March: March is known to be human rights month in South Africa. Every year, 21 March is well marked on most South Africans’ calendar, a day on which we celebrate human rights. The day is celebrated against the backdrop of a progressive Constitution that guarantees freedom of choice, equality and forbids discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation among other things. As a woman in this South Africa, I am questioning myself about my identity and place in society.

I come from a line of women and men who can be described as being “unconsciously conscious”. Manners, decency, and chivalry were part of our genetic make-up…but time has exacted an (e-motional) toll on us. The cents I am left to make sense of are double-standards, inequality, isolation and what I call “stupid pride”.

I feel that the battle of the sexes always existed and that there has never and will never be a time of equality. Of course the tables turn and victories are won – but as long as the sins of our fathers are visited on us, each generation will have the task of being the change they want to see in their time: whether it be for gender equality, saving the rhino or economic freedom in our lifetime.

My grandmothers were like chalk and cheese: one a conservative, strictly Zulu-speaking, Calvinist woman, who sits on the floor in the presence of men; the other a liberated Qua descendant, Lutheran who also happened to be the leader of the only women’s marching band to ever come out of Kliptown. She owned a laundry, a library and sent her grandchildren to private schools in the 1950’s.

My grandfathers on the other hand were rebels with a cause who lived and loved in their own ways. One, a conservative Zulu man who preferred boys to girls and made no bones about telling this to my mother on the announcement of my birth.

The other a liberated and caring German-Zulu. He taught us that everyone is equal, ‘winded’ us when we referred to gay men as “moffies”- but also believed that a, “woman’s hair is her crowning glory.”

Fortunately, I got exposed to these contrasting worlds which provided me with a wide variety of choices in the making and remaking of my identity.

This does not mean that I escaped from earning the life lessons about what it means to be a woman in a man’s world. Or rather, the lessons that come with being a woman in a world that I believe is as much mine as it is that of any man out there – only to realise that other men and even women do not see it that way. I will not mention how I have lost friends and lovers because I am never prepared to play the part of the head-nodding-girlfriend at the expense of my dignity.

At school, I had to survive challenging teachers who expected me to be the ‘coloured girl’ in class who did Home Economics and not Computer Science. As an adult, I am also forced to continually look past the fact that I am actually a descendant of the indigenous and original tribes of this country.

The saga continues as I continue to counter attitudes, challenge stereotypes, disregard bigots and negate falsehoods about what the internal and external socio-political dictates of being a woman in South Africa are.

In retrospect, I never played victim and will never.

The truth is that I have never engaged in an exchange where it did not matter (however fleetingly), to me or the opposite sex that I am female. And I am glad for it, because that is what I am, “Hear me roar!”

Those encounters have been occasions to learn, to teach and to merge, and I know factually that this is somehow connected to the meaning of my name. ‘Zenaida’ means womanly or hospitable woman and in some ancient Arabic, South American and Russian languages – is the generic feminine for names that mean ‘manly’. They say your name is your nature, so I again thank my parents for branding me a feminist from the start.

Men as primary authority figures, friends, lovers – have been an influential part of my life. They have taught me to see that we are all walking, talking contradictions…and that it is O.K. My circle of trust is equally populated by women and men whom I know will walk through the fire with me – and that is the only kind of person I want around me.

My sojourn as a human, underground anarchist, woman – is far from complete. I definitely still want to live to see a few more crosses burning in favour of women’s rights, men being freed from the obligation of conforming to skewed roles, equal education, women’s economic emancipation and women’s social liberation from the role of side-kick.

This side-kick mentality is what is getting too many women kicked in their sides. I choose to be in my own lane, yet travelling toward a better future with my lovers, sisters and brothers in arms. I look forward to another human rights month in 2013!

Zenaida Martin is the National Content Manager for Print and Mobile Media at loveLife. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, International Women’s Day series, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.


0 thoughts on “IWD: Making and remaking my identity on human rights”

Alex Bhiman says:

What a powerful imagery when she says burning the crosses in favour of women’s rghts, economic and social liberation.
How sad that taken as a whole in this country today there are still many crosses to burn.The quality of women leaders and the organisations have yet to flex their muscles.
Let’s hope that by the next Human Rights Day more crosses would have been burnt.

Stephen Wagner says:

i want daddies cockAdd your comment here

Stephen Wagner says:

i want daddies cockAdd your comment here

Comment on IWD: Making and remaking my identity on human rights

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *