A Note on Your Voice
Sometime earlier this year I stumbled onto the blog “On the frontline” of well known gender activist and writer from Zimbabwe, Everjoice Win. One of my favourite posts called “What I know for sure, as a 49 year old going on forty” had this piece of advice that has come to be my favourite from her:
“Nice women who speak in a sweet, squeaky whingy voice only get eulogized at their graveside. Speak up. Speak loud. Tweet. Write. Shout. Better to be more powerful and well respected in this life, than as a tokoloshe. Practice saying NYET. Very often.”
I will remember this and, perhaps more importantly, I will be quoting it because it speaks truth to far too many women’s lives.
Over the last year, Vanguard, has maintained a weekly hour slot on radio where we discuss the most popular articles and in that short experience of radio, I’ve become increasingly aware of a strange phenomenom – on a slot specifically focused on women, women seldom call in whereas their male compatriots, especially the “progressive patriarchs”, feel the right to call in saying things as trite as “Panashe, what you need to understand about women is bla bla bla … [translation: “this is a man’s world, women do best to fit into it”].
What is interesting is that I am sometimes led to think that only men listen in, but that is not the case.
In fact, women send their tweets in the numbers but just don’t call. On one occasion a woman tweeted that she loved the show and so I responded that I would love to have her call in. She responded saying that “one day she would have the courage to do so.”
Outside of that, it took me a year to convince one of our sites most widely read writers to actually write. All along she would say that she felt that she had nothing worthy to say. That she didn’t know enough.
Now, I am not a fan of self-help (as I believe it is one of the mechanisms that the neo-liberal project uses to victim blame and keep us distracted from the socio-economic structures that keep some of us “successful and happy” and others not) nor am I the Iyanla Vazant type, but one of the things that I spend most time on as the editor of the publication, is reminding many of our brilliantly talented contributors that they are worthy. They are not in need of embellishment. That their perspective matters.
Is this all surprising? No, we live in a highly racist, patriarchal and ageist society. Women, especially black women and even more so, young black women, are penalised for putting their hands up. What more for a young black woman who might be queer, disabled or both? What more for poor black women?
In my own time working for a media corporate, as a heterosexual upper middle class black woman, I was always told that I was too big for my boots. In fact, after pitching an idea to the head of the company, one of the senior journalists pulled me aside to tell me that he had more years of experience than I had been alive.
In other words, how dare I, as a young black woman have an opinion? How dare I think that what I had to say was worthy of being heard?
There are very real reasons why women don’t feel they have the right to speak. There will be consequences. You will lose childhood friends, make your elders uncomfortable and perhaps be passed up for that promotion. You will be told you are unmarriageable (who needs that patriarchal institution anyway?), you are difficult, you are stubborn, you are overbearing, you are just angry.
To that we say: njalo! We are all that and more. We will continue to use our unmarriagable, difficult, stubborn, overbearing, angry voices to deconstruct White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy and construct our Queer Womanist Future.
In service to that dream, we are a space that was created to centre your voices. Use it and abuse it. This is yours. In submitting to Vanguard, please do remember that. Despite what White Supremacist Cis-Hetero-Patriarchy says remember: You are valid. You are worthy. You do not need embellishment.
It might seem contradictory to say this, but whether or not Vanguard chooses to publish your work, your voice and your perspective is valid.
Ever grateful for your walking the journey along with us,