Friday, 26 April 2013

Cinderella: the sequel

I recently came across a blog called “confessions of a confused nigerian girl”[1].  She wrote an absolutely hilarious post about how to get a Nigerian man to marry you.  It was completely tongue in cheek, but there was a whole lot of truth in that post.  I remember when I was a single young thing waiting on a husband.  There were loads of people ready to give me ‘helpful’ advice.  Apparently, all that really consisted of was people telling me I was “too opinionated” or “too stubborn” or “too independent”.  It’s amazing how it’s never anything positive after the word “too”. Now that I’m well into my 4th decade, I’m quite happy to be “too” whatever the helpful advisors say! Reading that piece made me reflect on what I might say to my single sistahs out there.

Firstly, I’d say “know your value.  As women, we are notoriously bad at knowing our own value. We often undervalue ourselves or base our value on other people’s view of us. As you wait to be married, spend your time wisely.  Know your value, know what you're worth, and know what you bring to the party. You must do the work, to make sure that you are complete and whole before you get married.  That way, you will know that you were complete before you got married; you’re complete while you’re married and even if you never get married, know that you are still complete.  Contrary to the rumour, marriage is not first prize in the lottery of life.  Life is the first prize and you owe it to yourself to make it the best you can!

Secondly, I’d say that “no-one’s perfect”.  I know that this may come as a shock to some of you, but it’s true, no-one’s perfect- not even you.  My sister and I have a running joke that if our daughters want to read fairy tales, then we’re going to write sequels based in the real world.  Can you imagine Cinderella the sequel? The one where she comes home after a hard day’s work, the house is a wreck and Prince Charming is slumped on the couch in 3 day old underpants!  What’s my point? Even the most “perfect” person is going to have flaws and you need to understand that from the outset. Before I got married, someone challenged me to write an “anti list”.  Most people tell you to write a list of things you want in a partner. My friend asked me to write a list of the flaws that I would be prepared to accept in a life partner. Compared to the gazillion things that were on my list, I could only come up with two for my anti list. I suspect if I asked anyone else to do that, they’d find themself in a similar predicament.

The last point is very similar to the second one, but it’s about the red flags that can come up in a relationship. Those things that are absolutely not negotiable in any relationship.  Things like any kind of domestic violence.  If you are experiencing violence in a dating relationship, it’s only likely to get worse in a marriage.  So I’d say “know your deal breakers”. It’s important to maintain healthy boundaries in all our relationships, because when we don’t, we can end up in all kinds of a mess!

So there it is, my advice to all my sistahs out there, waiting for him to “put a ring on it”.  Live well, have fun and spend your time wisely, while you wait.  It will pay dividends in the end.

Until next week, go well.


Thursday, 18 April 2013

What's that you said?

I was listening to an interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie the other day.  She is one of my favourite authors and I must confess she’s kind of become my hero.  She was mostly talking about her new book, but she also talked about some of the assumptions make about her, because of the way she wears her hair.  It got me thinking about the assumptions that we make and that other people make about us. We’re not necessarily in control of the assumptions, but it’s worth remembering that we’re always communicating- and not always with words!

I’d like to talk about three common assumptions that I think affect quite a few women: how you wear your hair, whether or not you call yourself a feminist and identifying as a survivor of domestic violence.

The relationship that women have with their hair and what it means to them has been going on for centuries.  It’s not called a woman’s “crowning glory” for nothing!  For Black women, that relationship is even more fraught, because of the idea of ‘good hair’ and ‘bad hair’.  Good hair is straight, silky and easy to manage.  Bad hair on the other hand is kinky, tightly curled and not so easy to manage.  You can cheat though, by applying a chemical treatment and voila, out comes the good hair.  However, recently, there’s been an increase in the number of Black women wearing their hair in its natural form.  As a naturalista of 16 years, I can honestly say, there’s nothing quite like it.  What I still find amusing are the assumptions that people make about me, because I choose to wear my hair natural.  When I first cut it, someone asked me if I was gay? Someone else asked if it was a political statement, which I found quite bemusing, because it was just hair to me. I had plans to buy a couple of wig if I ended up not liking it. Finally, a senior colleague told me she loved my teeny weeny afro and she would cut her hair, when she no longer had any more ambitions- ouch!!!!! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that hair for a Black woman is intensely political, because as the feminist slogan goes “the personal is political”.  Wearing my hair like this, says something about my beliefs on what makes a woman beautiful and the pressures being put on young women to look and dress a certain way, in order to be viewed as beautiful.  Beautiful by whose standards?  I think there’s something so regal about natural hair done in twists, knots or even an updo.

I’ve had a few nicknames in my time, but my most favourite by far is ‘mad feminist’.  That was the name hurled at me, by a disgruntled defence lawyer, when I suggested that his client might like to plead guilty to assaulting his girlfriend.  There are so many assumptions made, when you call yourself a feminist, that I could probably write a whole blog just on that.  I listened to another talk given by Ms Adichie and she was talking about feminism and the assumptions people had made about her, when she identified herself as a feminist.  Call yourself a feminist and you’re likely to be called a ‘man hater’ or gay or just completely irrational.  As I said in last week’s post, “feminism is the radical notion that women are people”.  I’m not quite sure how that translates into any of the above assumptions, but there you go.

Lastly, I’d like to touch on the assumptions that people make if you identify yourself as a survivor of domestic violence.  The first and biggest assumption is that in fact you are a victim and not a survivor.  That somehow, one does not survive the violence, but remains always in victim mode- weak, powerless.  That may be true for a while, but any woman who has found the strength and courage to leave an abusive relationship is a survivor in my book.  Another assumption is that women in abusive relationships don’t think clearly or logically.  Again, that may be true in some instances, but most survivors I’ve met have thought about their situation and identified the best way to keep themselves and their children safe. I still remember when I thought I’d found my ‘perfect’ domestic violence survivor, because she was a professional and articulate woman.  When she asked me to drop her case, she said it was because she needed a year to get her finances in place, so she could take care of her children.  She also said, she didn’t think the abuser would kill her, within the next year.  I don’t know about you, but that sounds like someone who’s done a lot of thinking and has come up with the best plan she could, given her circumstances.

There are so many other assumptions that people make, based on colour, faith, age, gender, sexuality, socio-economic class, weight and physical ability.  What they all have in common is a lack of knowledge about the individual.  An assumption presumes that people are stereotypes, when the reality is that there is so much beautiful diversity around us.

What assumptions do you make about people? What assumptions do people make about you? How does it make you feel? This week, I’d like to leave you with a challenge.  When you find yourself making an assumption, catch yourself and set yourself the task of finding out the truth of the situation.  The results may well surprise you.

Have you have been affected by anything in this post? Would you like to speak to someone in confidence? If yes, contact us through the website, for a free, 30 minute consultation.

Until next week, go well.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Oops, have you had an accident?

There was a big brouhaha a few weeks back over some lyrics in Beyonce’s new single, ‘Bow down’. I’m not sure what people found more shocking.  The fact that it was such a radical departure from her usual lyrics or that she used the word ‘bitches’ in the song. As you can imagine, the blogosphere was alive with commentary.  One that caught my attention was someone who described Beyonce as an ‘accidental feminist'.  I was very intrigued by that notion and have been mulling over whether or not it’s possible to be an accidental feminist. After thinking about it for a while, I don’t think that’s possible.  Feminism isn’t something you trip over, or something that hits you on the head! It’s a social movement; it’s a way of understanding gender inequality; a lens through which society and the role of men and women is viewed.  What I do think though, is that whilst you can’t be an accidental feminist, you can certainly be an ambivalent one. Feminism is nowhere near perfect and it certainly isn’t a homogenous movement.  This week I’m sharing three areas where I am ambivalent about feminism and what it means to me.

Firstly, I am ambivalent about feminism, where it intersects with my colour.  When feminism started, it was pretty much a bunch of White women, with some fairly middle class concerns.  For example, there was an enduring discussion around housework; who did it? Should it be paid? Could you get other people to do it, so you could go out to work? It seems ironic, that they didn’t notice that the women, who were most likely to be paid for doing other women’s housework, were predominantly poor and women of colour.  Sometimes, when I’m following the latest feminist discussions, I wonder, is my story as a Black woman included in feminist narrative or am I once again on the outside because of my colour? Does my colour trump my gender? Why should I have to choose?

My second area of ambivalence is about the intersection between feminism and my faith. I remember when a former colleague found out that I was a practising born again Christian.  He looked at me in amazement and said “I thought you were intelligent”.  Unfortunately, it’s not the last time I’ve heard that and I have certainly felt that there is an unspoken assumption that feminism and faith don’t go together. I can understand where that assumption might come from.  There was a book out a couple of years ago, called ‘The Surrendered Wife”.  It seemed to imply that to be a good wife; you had no mind of your own and were completely under the control of your husband. Although the author says this isn’t the case, some of the suggestions are frankly quite scary! I know that the church has failed a lot of women, by advising women to just put up with the abuse, but that’s due to a fundamental misunderstanding of the biblical roles of men and women.  I certainly don’t believe that you can’t be a feminist and have faith at the same time.

Finally, I’m ambivalent about what it really means to be a 21 century feminist.  Is it really about having to adhere to a ‘one size fits all approach?’ That you’ve somehow let the side down, if you decide to be a stay-at-home mum. I read an article this week that was arguing that women in lower paying jobs hadn’t really seen any benefits of feminism and that in fact the wage gap between them and their corporate sisters was about 198%!  For me feminism is about choice-more specifically, my choices about what looks like success for me, in the context of my own life.  A lot of young women these days don’t see themselves as feminists and in fact actively avoid any suggestion that they might be.  To me, that’s a little sad. Most of the gains that we enjoy today as women are as a result of hard fought battles by feminists and they continue to fight for the issues that are important to us as women and as human beings.

So there you have it, I am an ambivalent feminist, but a feminist nonetheless.  Personally, I’m comfortable with my ambivalence as I continue to explore what feminism means to me. I’m comfortable, because when I’m done with the reflecting, mulling over and examining, what I am left with, will be mature and tested.  It will be the best representation of the values I stand for and the beliefs I hold.

Until next week, go well.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

...if I knew back, what I know now...

I have a confession to make: I absolutely love birthdays! Mine, someone else’s, I don’t mind. My birthday is coming up later this month and no matter how many I have, I’m always seriously excited by the next one. Apart from my inordinate love for birthday cake, there’s something so hopeful about clocking up a new year.  It reminds me of the first day of a new term, with new notebooks, just waiting to be filled up.  I haven’t always felt this way.  As a younger person, I recall various stages when I wanted to be older, because it represented freedom (or so I thought!).  Well you know what they say about hindsight- “it’s always 20-20 vision”. Looking back, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learnt along the way.  To remind myself and encourage you to enjoy yourself at whatever stage in life you find yourself.

As the saying goes: “youth is wasted on the young”, so firstly, I’d say to my teenage self “stop trying so hard to fit in, that you lose your uniqueness”.  I know that I wasn’t the only one on that trip.  The desire to fit in, with one’s peers, can start from as early as age 10 and peak in the late teenage years.  I remember being so anxious about how I measured up against my friends, that in hindsight, I probably missed out on a lot of the fun of just being a teenager.  I see young women around me, dressing alike, speaking alike and acting alike and I long to see some spark of the uniqueness that I know is inside them. I know that it can be scary to be different from your friends at this stage, but the confidence that comes as a result of knowing who you are and forging your own path is amazing. 17 year old Gabby Douglas, the 2012, gold medallist gymnast is my heroine. At an age, when most teens are still trying to work out who they are, she’s winning medals at the Olympics! The great thing about life though is that unless you’re dead, it’s never too late to make a change. Are you tired of running with the pack? Do you feel like your uniqueness has never had a chance to shine? Then, just do it.  Strike out on your own, forge your own path, make your own mistakes.  Above all, just enjoy yourself along the way!

Secondly, I’d like to say to my 20 something self “it’s okay, not to know it all”.  For my generation and even more so, for the generation after me, there was an expectation that we’d have life all sussed out in our 20’s and go on to world domination. I don’t know about anyone else, but my 20’s were about finding out who I was and what I wanted to be.  I didn’t feel in any way like I had all the answers, even though I put up a pretty good show, pretending that I did.  I remember being a newly qualified lawyer and panicking that someone was going to find out how inexperienced I was at the law.  With the benefit of hindsight, I understand now that the value is in the journey, not the destination.  That life is about having adventures, facing challenges and learning lessons all the way through- because that’s how you grow.  It doesn’t matter if you’re in your 20s, 30s, 40s or beyond, open yourself up to the lessons life teaches you. If you’re like most people, you’ve probably made some serious mistakes by now. Great, at least you know what not to do now and chances are you learnt a big lesson along the way.

Thirdly, I’d say to my 30 something self, “find out what you love to do and do it”.  Life is too short to spend it doing something that you hate, just to pay the bills.  I know some of you may be thinking “what is she on? those bills really need paying!” What I’m saying is at least have an idea of what your passion is and work towards it.  If you don’t want to take the plunge all at once, then do it as a side gig at first, to test it out. Daydream about what your passion will look like.  Dream of being a fashion designer? Start sketching, do a vision board, start making clothes for yourself.  Just do something, no matter how small, everyday to start making that dream a reality.  It was in my 30s that I discovered my passion as a domestic violence activist and I can honestly say that it’s been the best time of my life, professionally speaking.  I can’t imagine ever retiring from it! What are you passionate about? What’s that dream you’ve had forever? Chances are that the first hurdle you have to overcome is yourself. Think about what life would be like, if you never pursued your passion.  Hopefully, that will spur you on to get started.

I’m well into my 4th decade now and as they say “age ain’t nothin’ but a number”.  I finally feel like I’ve got a clue.  I know who I am and what I stand for.  I know what’s important to me and the values that I can’t compromise on.  Does that mean I’ve arrived? Nope.  It just means that I feel able to go hard after my dreams, accepting and learning from the lessons along the way.  It’s a whole new adventure and my next birthday is a chance to write another chapter in my shiny new ‘notebook’.

Has this piece struck a chord in you? Would you like some help to work out your next steps? Why not try some coaching? Contact us through the website and sign up for a free 30 minute consultation.

Until next week, go well.