• Janet Sibanda

Call me Womanist!

There are different schools of thought around the term Feminism. For some reason, some of the views give the aura of women trying to be as manly as men. It’s as if their power lies in being forceful, shrewd, tough, even domineering, and unfeeling just like men.

Women by nature, however, are far from that. We are fair, softer, gentler, warmer, and more loving than men. Then why so much pressure for equality in all the wrong ways?

My personal definition of feminism is not about equality in the literal sense or similarities, it’s about equality and meaningful consideration in our differences.

Taking it a step further to equality hinging on the very premise of who and what we are not what we should be. I’ll explain.

I’m a woman, mom, wife, and female worker. I’m not a man, father, husband, or male worker. Therefore, I’d expect to be treated on the basis of who I am; a woman. As a woman, I’ll have crippling period pain. Maybe not every month, but some months are harder than others. So please don’t roll your eyes at me and tell me I’m looking for a get out of ‘jail’ (I’ll be nice) work free card. I’m genuinely suffering. I breastfeed, men don't, so why would I want to be treated equally to a man?

I’ll plunge you into the mess of feminism that few people fail to see. The sad reality about the work space is that, though men play a huge role, I feel women are just as discriminatory towards other women much like men. The paradox we exist in is this; naturally, because women understand women better and they ought to be able to support each other. Yet you get the feeling that subordinate women are somehow paying for the sacrifices their female supervisors/ superiors had to make when they were climbing up the success ladder. It would appear, you are more vulnerable as a woman because the other women have no blind spots. It becomes a crime to be a woman, especially one who is bearing children. You dread the prospect of a sick child and literally resent having to attend to your child’s mental, emotional, physical, and educational wellbeing. The piercing glares you receive or questions about your priorities by a person who knows full well, which priorities are more important; tell you, 'there is no room in the inn for you'.

How many women or fathers can say the road to six months exclusive breastfeeding was an easy one? Let’s not even talk about those who sought to get to twenty-four months breastfeeding as advised by our Ministry of Health and Child Care. Did the workplace consistently allow you to utilize your breastfeeding hours? If you wanted to express milk for your child, did you have a clean and private place where you could comfortably do so? Or where you directed towards the toilet, by a well-wisher with a warm smile, because they too enjoy their food served from the toilet. My personal favourite taunt was, ‘you may as well wean, that’s what other women do’. Then I’d ask, by choice or lack thereof?

Men, in as much as they experience this discrimination through their wives, exert the same type of discrimination on their co-workers. When I would travel on the job with my breastfeeding baby and other male colleagues and single younger females, I had to do everything extra well and early. Comments always floated around about women who travel with children cause unnecessary delays or are unreliable with outputs. So I made sure my family and I were the first to get to the car each time. If we went into the field far from my child and any safe place to express, I would suffer silently with engorged breasts full of milk and no means of relief. To top it off, after leaving the worksite, other colleagues would opt to buy food before going back to our accommodations. By which point, a headache and my aching my breasts would be neck n’ neck in a race for causing the most pain.

My heart cries out for the men, who try to break the mould in taking a more active role in family care and are prohibited. No one can change the status quo if we continue to institute policies and systems like paternity leave, as a form of lip-service, with no intention of implementing them, if at all such policies exist.

I long for a workspace that recognises results as opposed to where the results were made (in the office or at home), or what time you sit at your desk. Covid-19 may have taught us a thing or two about remote-work. Let’s not sweat the small stuff boiling the ocean with petty issues. Let’s focus on the bottom line. While we are looking at results, let’s also appreciate that my male counterpart does not have the responsibilities I have. Therefore, when you consider promoting him over me, remember I’m raising future staff members. After all, businesses and institutions operate as going concerns right? So, his ability to work late, take that impromptu work-related trip, or go out for drinks while his wife cares for his family should not be your excuse for discriminating against me. Similarly, when it comes to how we are remunerated, remember, we got the job based on qualification and merit.

I dream of humanity in the workplace that will compromise and meet me halfway, by providing a clean and private space for me to express when I need to. Even provide onsite day-care facilities, so I’m productive because I know my newborn is safe and within reach or I don’t have to pay for extra, exorbitant after school care facilities. When I know, I am considered for my worth as an employee, I’m sure the employer will enjoy the benefits of my peace of mind.

I know there are some who are thinking, so why not just stay at home? Fair enough, yes, I can stay at home. Then I ask you this; why should I? Do I not have the right to advance my career just like my husband or male counterparts? Should I continue to be entry-level all my working life just because I want to or already have kids? Why are the systems designed to uplift the vulnerable, the very engines that drive marginalization? Are we saying because you earn a living, you are excluded from the category of vulnerability, therefore the rules don’t apply to you? Are we saying being a single parent or young widow(er) isn’t worth considering?Is the natural process of childbearing universally considered an obstacle to professional success? Are we saying the world of work is for men, menopausal, and youthful women?

We need to double back and rethink this model of living and working. Many smart, progressive, intelligent, and productive women slip through the cracks because of failure to recognize that we are different from men. It is in our differences, that we are stronger.

In conclusion, I am a woman and not a man. I want to remain compassionate by choice. I want to be understanding, loving, and nurturing too. I want to be able to make decisions about my life and career trajectory. I do not want choices dictated to me, like how many children I should have, when I should have them, or feel bad for having them. What I decide to do with my womb is my business. I want to be treated with fairness and mutually acceptable respect, recognizing the many different facets of the woman that is me.

Equal consideration within our mutually exclusive identities as men and women makes more sense to me, than base equality. The workforce needs a human face; not the metallic, robotic, and cold environment that it is now. I’m a Womanist!

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