Time is precious. The older you get, the more you understand what this phrase truly means. As a woman I have reached a point where I am starting to feel I have wasted a lot of time. I have wasted a lot of time getting used to things I never should have had to. I remember a few years ago my mom telling me that my little sister, who was barely 12 at the time, had been crying because she had started to experience men catcalling her. She could not understand why this was happening to her. ‘Is there something wrong with me? Is it my fault?’ These are just some of the questions she would ask that no woman, let alone girl, should ever have to. At this point I realised I had been desensitised to this unacceptable behaviour from men that I had now been accustomed to for years. I had forgotten what it felt like to experience this for the first time: an old wound hand been opened. What was I supposed to tell her? ‘That’s just how men are. You just have to get used to it’? These words would cut even deeper hearing them from another woman, and more often than not, that is the case. For a lot of girls, cat calling, or sexual harassment as it should more rightly be called, can start as young as at 10 years old. So at an age that young, when one has little to no understanding of sex and sexuality, we expect girls to excuse men’s erotic behaviour?
I wasted time losing my confidence. Studies have shown that girls experience a drop in confidence at adolescence due to societal pressures. A woman is supposed to be pleasant, nice, kind, soft spoken, compromising, and agreeable and under no circumstances must she ever lose her temper. I have always had a bad temper. This is something I have had to work on my whole life. I am also strong willed, stubborn and opinionated. I grew accustomed to hearing from people that I was a handful, I was too outspoken, I intimidated men and that all of these qualities would make me undesirable to men. I would be lying if I said I did not let it get to me for a while; that I did not try to change, to smile more and be less uptight. After all, I was only criticised all the time. The worst part was realising that all the boys who possessed those exact same ‘undesirable’ qualities never had to experience the same criticism because ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘this would make them great leaders one day.’ I wish I had been told instead that my passion would help me with my career one day; that having the confidence to ask to be paid what I am worth would be an asset; or that being assertive and speaking my mind would force people to take me seriously in the work place. I have had to waste my time relearning and rebuilding what I had already possessed.
I have wasted time proving myself. Walking into a room or meeting someone for the first time, I know that absolutely nothing is expected of me simply because of my gender. No one expects me to be intelligent, hardworking or talented, not even when I tell them so. If, by some chance, they do believe me, they never expect me to be excellent at what I do or to be anywhere close to being the same as or better than a man at it. If you are lucky, you might be spared the condescending undertones that suggest you are ‘cute’ for even trying. After all, actions speak louder than words right? A man simply has to exist in order to be awarded any recognition, even that which he does not deserve. His ‘masculinity’ suggests he is competent, smart and accomplished at whatever he claims to do before he has even claimed it. He will spend his time doing his work instead of proving he can do it. To add insult to injury, we are expected to put men on a pedestal. As a result, we waste our time shrinking ourselves, dimming our light in the process. Often we meet men that are not quite at our ‘level’ in a number of possible respects. They are entitled to feel intimidated by us and we are expected to tone ourselves down to their ‘level’ or better yet, even lower. If they are still unsatisfied, they may exert their rightful dominance in any way they deem necessary.
Lastly, I wasted my time not being angry. I have been forced to deny my experiences as a woman, for the sake of avoiding being too controversial. I am forced to be quiet for fear of being labelled the ‘feminist type’ or the ‘angry black woman.’ Any conversations concerning the reality of women’s lives are strictly for entertainment value. No opinion should be expressed too passionately. Both sides of the argument must be presented but no conclusion will ever be made. This is the way things are and no suggestion of how to move forward or change the narrative will be made. My anger is considered a phase that I am expected to grow out of when I ‘come to my senses.’ When I fail to come to my senses, I will be considered immature. My anger must be contained for the sake of my own safety. I must respect the stranger who gropes me inappropriately enough not to call him out on it.
In the words of Tracy Ellis Ross, ‘it is men’s responsibility to change men’s bad behaviour.’ It is time to stop making excuses for men and embrace our anger. It is time to remove the phrase ‘that is the way things are’ from our vocabulary. It is time to protect women’s confidence and to stop holding them back. I wish more of those that came before us had wasted their time being angry. I wish I did not have to waste any more of my own time, but I must. We must waste our own time changing the status quo, so that those that have/will come after us never have to waste theirs.
By Mufaro Mukoki
Our guest writer Mufaro Mukoki is a Fashion Creative/ Activist/ Lecturer. Her design aesthetic focuses on the expression of the realities of living in today’s society with a particular focus on the feminine struggle.