By Jen Thorpe
There are days when I simply don’t think I can do it. I don’t think that I can get up, take a look at how screwed up the world is for women, and act. It’s these days when I tend to sit on the floor doubting my ability to make a change. I get depressed. I drink a lot more caffeinated beverages than I should in the hopes that they will get me going. But they don’t. The feeling of powerlessness is completely overwhelming.
My boyfriend, bless his heart, wants to give me a good kick in the butt on days like these. He says I’m mad, that change takes time, that Patriarchy has been here for hundreds of years and it probably still will be in its various forms long after I’m gone. ‘Be patient’ he says, ‘you’re doing good stuff’.
Last night I watched a documentary on the way women are represented in the media (news and home entertainment), and how powerfully this affects what we think about our ability to succeed. One of the most interesting parts was how the media encouraged women to get back in the home after the world wars using advertising. They (the government in cahoots with the media) literally programmed women to be at home, and to forget how much they had enjoyed working during the war and all the benefits that came with that freedom.
So after spending one of those days on the floor, doubting what I could do I thought a little more about ‘programming’. We as women in South Africa don’t have much to look at in terms of positive role models. Of course, there are a few who show us that we can get there if we try really hard, but they seem so far removed from who we are that becoming like that seems implausible. It’s essentially the ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ scenario, combined with ‘what you see is either really scary and alienating, or seemingly unattainable’.
Ellen Neuborne, in the amazing book Listen Up: Voices from the next feminist generation, says the following:
“Programming is a powerful thing. It makes you lazy. It makes you vulnerable. And until you can recognize that it’s there, it works for the opposition. It makes you lower your voice…It is a dangerous thing to assume that just because we were raised in a feminist era, we are safe. We are not. They are still after us.“
So this month, when you look around at how our government is seeking to restrict the free flow of information, and to employ a Chief Justice who is unjust towards women, do not despair. It is your programming telling you that you can do nothing, when in fact you can make the changes you want. Michelle Obama says ‘lead from where you are’, and that’s exactly what we need to start doing. It’s harder if you do it on your own, so I suggest you find some friends and do it together.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead