BUSINESS/FINANCE, GENDER POLITICS

Why you should cut “just” out of your emails

pomegranite logo jpeg.JPGBy Liz Fletcher of Pomegranite

Have you noticed how often you use the word “just” in a professional context, particularly emails? I’ve been thinking about why I use it so much in tricky situations and if it’s something that women use more than men.

I often find myself using it when I feel like I’m being annoying to a client (while I’m trying to do my job), for example, “I just wanted to check in with you about…” or “I’m just following up on…”. It makes the sentence feel like a smaller inconvenience, like what I’m really saying is “I’m sliding this tiny little thing it into your stack of to-dos but it’s not a big deal” while batting my eyelashes.

Using “just” helps to make me feel like I’m less of a nuisance. But I’m doing my job, so why should I want to feel like this? While it might seem like “just” smooths the path for requests, it also makes us appear small; it diminishes respect for our work and ourselves. Why shouldn’t we take up as much space in someone’s to-do list as anything else?

Compare the same phrases without “just”: “I’d like to check in with you about…” and “I’m following up on…”. Do you hear how much more clear and direct the requests are? It’s as if you’ve sat up straight while asking. That’s what a professional relationship should be.

Ellen Leanse, a former Google executive wrote a 2015 LinkedIn blog about the word “just”, when she noticed women (including herself) using it way more than men, and how she tackled it in her office. She began to notice that “just” wasn’t about being polite,

“it was a subtle message of subordination, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even duplicitous. As I started really listening, I realized that striking it from a phrase almost always clarified and strengthened the message.”

Try this experiment, which we also did in our team. Search or read through your emails for the next couple of days and count the number of times “just” appears. Notice why you used it and how it changes the tone when you remove it. We were astounded by how often we use it and have committed to clarity and confidence by removing it.

IMG_8110Liz Fletcher is the co-owner of Pomegranite, a boutique online presence consultancy which she set up with her business partner Sarah Gurney, in 2013. The pair met studying English literature together at Rhodes University and grew the business through developing thoughtful storytelling on digital platforms.

The Pomegranite offices in Cape Town and Joburg service clients which are predominantly in the SME, NGO and education sectors.

Liz gets a kick out of bringing the magic out in her team and developing systems and plans that help the business run smoothly.

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EDITORIAL

We need feminism more than ever – write for us!

It’s 2017.

This year we have seen the forces of feminism and patriarchal political power collide in America. We saw millions of people march against discrimination, hatred, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and inequality. They used their voices and bodies and refused to be silent.

We’ve seen the debates arise over the female candidate to take over the reigns of the ANC, and how often the first female and former Chairperson of the African Union, anti-apartheid activist, former minister of health, former minister of home affairs, has been described as ‘Zuma’s Ex’, rather than a political figure in her own right.

Whether you like her or not is irrelevant – likeability isn’t a criteria for male leaders. Whether she’s perfect or not is irrelevant – perfection is certainly not a criteria for male leaders. Does that mean we should accept low standards for women’s leadership – hell no. It means that we should subject all our political candidates to the same level of scrutiny, and that shouldn’t have anything to do with their gender or genitals. It should be about their capabilities.

We’ll all know that political leadership is not the only gender issue to consider in South Africa. We have drastically high levels of sexual and domestic violence, sexual and gender minorities continue to face abuse from their communities and the political system that won’t let them access their rights in terms of the law, we have municipalities that award bursaries to girls based on their virginity, we still have child marriage, we still face an academy that remains predominantly white and male … I could go on.

It seems as though the struggle for gender equality is not anywhere near over. But, take a moment to think about those marchers we watched in the USA just weeks ago.

They weren’t just marching against – they were marching for. They were marching for equality, for freedom, for safety, for love, for power to mean something other than power over another. They were marching for themselves and for others.

In our own ways this year, let’s begin to consider what we need to be fighting for now, so that we don’t sit with a situation where we’re fighting against something later. All is not lost, but we can’t be complacent. We need to work together.

This doesn’t mean we all have to agree. There isn’t one feminism that is right for everyone. Feminism may, at times, feel exclusionary, hard, wrong, and uncomfortable. Challenging privilege and power often does. Diversity should be celebrated not feared.We need to promote gender equality, and recognise intersectionality. We need to know that our personal struggles may not be the same, but that each person’s struggle is valid.

The point is, things are not right in this crazy world, and we need solidarity towards the end goal – making this a free, equal, and safe South Africa for all people.

Feminists South Africa is back, and we need your writing to make us aware of issues of importance in your heart, in your homes, and in our country. Send it all through to feministssa@gmail.com 

Let’s hear those voices, even if they shake.

Jen

SEX AND SEXUALITY

The Power of the Pussy

Kagure Mugo, Feminism, Masturbation

By Kagure Mugo

Have you ever sunk your fingers into yourself? Not in a flurry of horniness, or during some sexy time with a partner or out of boredom at 30, 000 feet during a flight (if that is your thing). Not rushed it but touched yourself slowly, deliberately so that you really understand what the feeling between your legs is all about? Allowed yourself to submerge into yourself?

You should.

It is important to explore the depths because the vagina is a magical, largely unexplored wonderland, and powerful place. Not only is it wildly misunderstood but the vagina, like its female host, can bounce back from intense trauma as you do not call it the miracle of child birth for nothing, the miracle being how does one even begin to do anything with it again. This miracle aside there is also the, equally important, fact that it is an all engulfing, all consuming, vortex of pleasure that one can literally get sucked into.

Kegel muscles are a very real thing. You contain the cosmos between your thighs, feel the big bang.

I have increasingly become enraged with the idea that women are secondary consumers of pleasure with men being the target market and us picking up the scraps. I also understand that in the general scheme of things this may not be the most ‘important’ thing to be angered about when it comes to the fight for women globally however, issues of pleasure and sex tie into matter of agency over one’s body. If one cannot negotiate a sexual transaction with a partner what more can one negotiate from a place of power in other sectors of your life?

Understanding the importance of sexual agency, I went looking, trying to find out about women and pleasure. The first thing I properly learned about the power of female sexuality was baby sexology 101.

The clitoris.

It is criminal to mention sex and women and not mention the clitoris. Which is why a great number of men (and some women) need to be be brought up on charges of corrupted coitus. Driving the dick under the influence of ignorance.  More often than not people will think of pleasure in terms of simply filling a woman up with a swollen appendage and not stopping to think of the numerous erogenous zones doted around the female body, one of the most important ones being that little bulb of desire between her thighs.

A great deal of the information I found about loving your vagina came from very western sites. I was given all the usual advice. Touch yourself, do a weeks worth of stretches and get into a yoga type pose and have a good look at your pussy. Know it well enough to pick it out of a line up if it was arrested. However, the inner traditional farm girl in me was reluctant to go all the way.

I needed to ground the knowledge of knowing and owning my sex and sexuality in something. Thus my Afrocentric nature refused to allow me to stop there. The notion of the power of women and pleasure could not have started as something in a ‘Journal Of Sex’ published somewhere in the States. There had to be something here, on the continent, that had gotten us to a point where women’s sexuality had to be so seriously policed that the aforementioned clitoris was in some places cut off.

My search led me to find AfricanSexualities: A Reader, with information about Osunality, an Igbo-based belief in the goddess Osun. She was the goddess of childbirth, the life cycle and most importantly pleasure. Osun represents ‘a female centered, life transforming energy that courses through and animates life’. It is a force that is ‘highly sensual and sexual’.  The paper ‘Osunality’, by  Nkiru Nzengwu, states that women who embody the Osunality force ‘brandish their sexuality openly and quite unselfconsciously.’

The notion of the phallocentric nature of sex was actually birthed in Ancient Greek philosophies, with the local context being a little more female friendly. Other traditions from within various African countries and contexts recognised the vagina not as being penetrated but as engulfing the penis, able to completely drain it of its power but still able to continue even when it is sexual partner is deflated. This idea of the vagina flips patriarchal notions of sexuality on their head, and allows for a new conceptualization of the agency of women within the sexual ritual.

So outside of all the socio-historical research and rights rhetoric what does it mean? It all means that you should be having amazing sex. Epic sex, mind blowing sex. Because understanding the power of the vagina means that you understand that it should be getting first class treatment. To waste the sensual power of the vagina on bad sex is the equivalent of using a nuclear power plant to power a couple of street lamps.

There is so much potential that is lost with current ideas of sex, furthered by porn, and widespread ideas of men being the main consumers of pleasure — ‘giving it to her’, ‘pounding the pussy’ and ‘having a third leg’ takes power away from the vagina and places sex in an extremely phallocentric light. Sex becomes all about the penis and how whenever it turns up to the party then it becomes the shindig of the year. This takes away from the fact that the female body has so much, and needs so much, and can do so much, all on its own.

A woman can have multiple orgasms and the vagina can rejuvenate and reinvigorate itself after marathon sessions. The female body is built for pleasure, in so many ways however this has been suppressed not only physically but mentally. Not only is there the physical manifestation of women not needing pleasure (a survey showed that only 54 percent of heterosexual women experience regular/any orgasms) but women themselves have been wrapped into cognitive notions of sex being a ‘chore’, ‘duty’ or something that is supposed to happen in a relationship or interaction that can sometimes be enjoyable.

This thinking needs to be dismantled. The sexual act is more of a personal, spiritual, and social journey to get women to the point of being able to know about, own, and have the sex they want.

Some men do understand that there is sex outside of the penis but so many men (and women) still believe that a penis is the only thing that makes sex, sex. Those who do understand that there is more to life than that make amazing lovers. They are the ones who their partners speak about their trysts in hushed tones over glasses of chardonnay and giggles. They are the ones who make their partners shift their hips when the memory of the last night the spent together floods them. It is the partners who high-five themselves for giving head or knowing that they need to stroke the clitoris to make a woman’s knees weak that secretly rule the world of sex. They are the ones who understand the pure, astronomical force of a woman’s sex outside of the penis and for that they are silently saluted around the world.

For the women with these astronomical organs it is about finding out what makes the big bang happen. It is about finding what it is you want in bed, no matter how much or how little. How ordinary or how weird. It is about understanding the path to power is a personal one, not only is it about suddenly becoming a sex goddess, it’s about knowing what you want or do not want.

The power is in the choice made in knowledge, not the act.

ENVIRONMENT, GENDER POLITICS, HERSTORY

Celebrating the Unbowed ‘Crazy Woman’

Njoki Wamai, Kenya, MaathaiBy Njoki Wamai

Wangari Maathai was always there with us in our house in Kenya when I was growing up. She was there on our television screens, in the morning news on the radio before we went to school and in animated yet hushed conversations about her courage between my parents and their visitors in our living room during the troubled mid-90s. The strong dark woman in African prints and braided hair speaking truth to power when no one dared question the then dictator President Daniel Arap Moi.

She was there even after Moi called her the crazy woman with insects in her head and sycophants in parliament chorused calling her a badly behaved woman and a divorcee who was a threat to Kenya’s national security.

She was there in press interviews and run-ins with the Moi governments hired goons after graciously kneeling to plant a tree.

She was there, at home with grandmothers in villages urging them to plant more trees, as she was dining with world leaders in exclusive locations explaining complex concepts of why they urgently need to address climate change.

The grey Monday morning she left us on September 25, 2011 signified the mood that enveloped me and indeed Kenya and the world as we came to terms with the loss of yet another great non-conformist. Her courage to turn her back on old formulas while inventing the future had left an indelible mark in Kenya and the world we live in. Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary President of Burkina Faso once said that,

“You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future. It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. […] We must dare to invent the future.”

Wangari was labelled a mad woman but because of her madness she reinvented our collective future albeit in her small way.

Wangari Maathai, feminism, politics, kenya
Picture supplied by the author

In her memoir Unbowed, she reveals the difficult choices she made in her personal life in a conservative Kenya after she went through a painful divorce where she was labelled by her ex-husband as a ‘too strong-minded a woman who was not easy to control’. By Wangari’s refusing to conform as a ‘well-behaved woman’ in her private space she made history and expanded the public space for women at a national and international level in various spaces such as the private space, the academy, in politics and most importantly the ecological space which she was later feted for as a Nobel Laurent. As a feminist, she exemplified the personal is political mantra from her days in the National Council of Women of Kenya, as a founder of the Green Belt Movement when she publicly initiated a campaign that supported another trail blazing Kenyan woman Wambui Otieno whose legendary case to bury her husband SM. Otieno advanced women’s rights. Many ‘well behaved women’ who were beneficiaries of the patrimonial politics of Moi’s leadership refused to support Wangari as she fought for the rights of another ‘crazy’ woman( Wambui Otieno who fought for widows rights to bury their husbands) and for a younger generation of Kenyan women who now enjoy these rights.

These instances of madness and non-conformity have led to several legacies she left us on environment, women’s emancipation and politics. On the environment, her madness finally bore fruit when she recovered and secured our public spaces such as Uhuru park, Karura forest and more recently our water towers: the Aberdare and the Mau complex from land grabbers and corrupt politicians. Internationally, as the co-chair of the Congo-Basin fund she tirelessly campaigned to save the African water tower.

In conclusion, the most notable constant that enabled Wangari to soldier on despite adversity and insulting labels such as ‘mad woman’ is her love for the environment.

“A true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.” Che Guevara.

We miss you Wangari.

CULTURE

You Girls

Rosa Lyster, South Africa, essayBy Rosa Lyster

A slightly famous author once accused me of liking Sylvia Plath. I was at a book party, standing outside in what the slightly famous author kept on calling “the smoking garden”. It was a concrete courtyard in the middle of the corporate hotel where the party was being held. Very brightly lit. No chairs, even. Writers standing around, all hunched up and furtive, smoking the most depressing brands of cigarettes. Your Rothmans, your Princetons, your Benson and Hedges Special Mild.

The slightly famous author took all of this in his brisk stride. He was at the book festival to promote his latest novel. Like all of his previous works, it was about a young and vaguely left-wing white man clashing with various South African authority figures (mothers, corporals, sergeants etc.). Like all of his previous works, it contained many fine descriptions of Highveld storms, and the gnarled, shining white corpses of lightning-struck trees. His books were not as popular as they had once been. There was something a bit funny about his latest one, especially. It was too obviously nostalgic for the early eighties, too wistful for a time when the voices of people like him had mattered most. The reviews had been mixed. Perhaps because of this, his reading had been badly attended. Also, it was scheduled at the same time as the fourth event featuring an authentically famous writer, the star of the festival.

The slightly famous author did not seem embittered by this. He gave the impression of having a sincerely wonderful time, looking avidly about himself and saying, “Here we are, then. Here we are in the smoking garden.” He seemed enchanted by it all: waving brightly at everyone who went past. A nice man, really.

I saw a girl I knew ask him what his favourite kind of meat was. There was no reason for her to do this. The slightly famous author answered her with avuncular dignity. He looked gravely into her glittering eyes. First beef, he said, and then ostrich. Chicken last. She asked him if he could ever give up bacon, though, and he said no. She said that bacon smelled delicious, and he agreed. She adjusted the sewn-on panda ears of her woolly hat as she asked him if he had ever tried crocodile. He said yes. She said she could never eat crocodile. Yuck. He laughed with total abandonment. Was he on drugs? Was he one of those men who you only realise is drunk after they have tumbled silently down a flight of stairs, wearing a resigned and worldly expression? I could not say.

The girl who loved meat was just getting started. I had an idea of what was coming next – she was going to ask if he had a Kindle. Whatever his answer, she was going to say that she could never have a Kindle. She loved the smell of books too much, see. She loved the feel of a book in her hand TOO MUCH. Old books? Don’t even get her started. The smell and feel of a mega-old book? Please.

I could see it all playing out in front of me. The slightly famous writer could too, I think. He decided that things had gone far enough. He took control by turning to me, blowing smoke into my eyes and ears, and asking me what I thought of J.M. Coetzee. South African émigrés of a certain age love to ask this question. They imagine us sitting around making Coetzee voodoo dolls, writing lists of all the reasons Adelaide is a stupid place to live. They want us to feel betrayed, as if Coetzee is our collective dad who abandoned us for a different family. They want us to take it personally.

I said that I thought Disgrace was a very good book. The meat girl looked disappointed. Coetzee was such an easy one, and I was letting the side down. She moved away. The slightly famous writer pressed gamely on. Women, he said, don’t usually like Coetzee. They don’t like Coetzee or Updike or Bellow or Roth. Or Nabokov, now that he thought about it. He peered at me elatedly, a sort of terrible puckishness suffusing his features. Eyes suddenly more bright, incisors more pointy. It was clear that he had made this speech before. His whole expression, his posture and everything, said, “Here I go again. Get a load of me.” Other people were slaves to the kind of PC nonsense that insisted that women could like Philip Roth, but not the slightly famous author. No indeed. He was here for the truth. I wanted to lie down on the floor.

I said, although there was no point, that I liked all of those writers a lot. He laughed throatily at me. He told me I was just saying that to be contrary. Name a Nabokov novel, he said, besides from Lolita. I did. Name a Bellow. Tell me with a straight face that you got through the whole of Sabbath’s Theatre. Tell me your best book out of all the Updikes. Say which bit in Waiting For The Barbarians made it worth the hassle.

I told him and told him and told him. His laugh became richer and more disbelieving. He was capering on the spot, punching the air with little fists. He was having the most wonderful time, and he didn’t believe me for a single minute. “You girls,” he said, shaking his head. “Say what you want, but I know you all go home and read Sylvia Plath.”

I opened my mouth. I closed my mouth. I opened my hands. I closed my hands.

You girls. You girls, with your crush on Ophelia and Virginia Woolf and Elvira Madigan. You girls think you’re witches. You girls, with your anorexia and your cutting and the flowers in your hair. You girls, and your dissertations on perceptions of female hysteria. You think Mad Girl’s Love Song is the best title for anything, and you can’t believe you didn’t get there first. You believe that dying is an art, like everything else. You believe that you would do it exceptionally well. You girls with your incessant talk of periods and mermaids. You girls with your poster of The Lady of Shallot above your bed. You think you have a wound that will never heal. You girls keep tearing open the stitches.

All that. He didn’t say it, and probably he did not think it, but that’s what I heard. I opened my mouth. I closed my mouth. He ground out his cigarette and lurched inside, giving a disgraced cartoonist a reassuring arm squeeze as he went.

This was about five years ago. I have had some time to think about what I might have said. Something like a lie: I’ve never read Sylvia Plath, and actually I hate her, and actually I’ve never heard of her. Something like another kind of lie: I know The Bell Jar off by heart, and I admire the gumption of a woman who believes it is appropriate to equate her personal suffering to that of a Jew during the Holocaust. Or, something like the truth: I like her all right – not my best, and not my worst. But you can’t say that, to someone like the slightly famous author. Someone like the slightly famous author, he wants you to be one thing or the other.

I saw him three days ago in an airport. He was shorter than I remembered, with the contented face of a man on his way to the first-class lounge. He nodded to me as I walked past. I nodded back. I hear his last book sold very poorly indeed.

Rosa Lyster lives in Cape Town. She is completing her PhD at UCT, and writes an essay a week at rosalyster.com

Originally published on Rosa’s blog, here