To start with this has nothing to do with the smash hit released by Ariana Grande earlier this year – which I must add, I absolutely love, both song and Ariana. What I want to talk about, however, is the outrageous superhuman abilities we believe women are inherently born with and thus are believed to be good grounds for us to hail their abilities to live up to them. In this age of transnational and intersectional feminist discourse and activism, the rate at which we are defining and redefining feminism is incredible and yet, for most people who aren’t in circles who dedicate in so-called ‘rigorous’ academic debates about it or aren’t on feminist blogs, Buzzfeed and the likes… it can become pretty hard to keep up with.
I can admit it, the terminology, the political correctness, plurality of positions, beliefs and contexts can be quite intimidating when the topic is such a sensitive one. It does little help that there are woke police who, as Roxanne Gay puts it, “patrol the halls of discourse”, so that those who are less fluent in the dialectics of activism are shamed into silence even at the slightest offense.
That being said, though, we must get back to the godlike abilities that are expected of women while everyone attempts to crash course from the tuition-free school of life where women are expected to offer free classes at every and any time of the day. Not only are we expected to have all the answers to all questions regarding the feminist movement(s) that account for all the plot-twists conceivable, but we’re also expected to always be patient and calm and willing while we do this laborious intellectual and emotional activity. All the while, never tiring. Because women are all so strong, right? Wrong.
Not all women. We tire of explaining why “No, I don’t want to have sex” is not a new coy or shy persona we’ve randomly decided to try on to spice things up. We tire of having to explain that it’s incredibly disrespectful and offensive to constantly have any conversation about our bisexuality followed up with questions about threesomes (obviously with men). We tire of having to play oppression Olympics about aspects of our intersecting identities with those of men. We tire of having to justify why describing us as “unlike other girls” is not a compliment. We tire of trying to explain the nuance of the beauty or brains false dichotomy. We tire of humoring preferences of natural looks over heavy make-up and synthetic hair. We tire of humoring your fear of being catfished and why it’s your reason for having trust issues – and having to explain why it’s insensitive. We tire of defending our bodily autonomy over negligent and ill-informed legislation. We’re tired of explaining why your fears of transwomen don’t come close to the all the fears transwomen face outside of dating, alone. We tire of explaining our “paranoia” about street harassment and drawing mental Venn diagrams for you to see all the overlaps between male bystander culture and rape culture and all inherent interplay.
On the one hand, throughout all of this women are expected to have mastered maturity, level-headedness, and tranquility and yet in all public spaces from the media to entertainment, “traditions” to pop culture to corporate culture and our everyday social interactions, we’re never short of the caricatures or more subtler hints at the erratic, frantic and irrational nature of women.
A while ago I read came across a book titled, “Black Macho and the Myth of the Black Superwoman” by Michele Wallace and it struck a chord. I hadn’t read it but from that title alone, I had an infinitude of stories that could relate to it and even more, conversations I have had with friends about this phenomenon.
I’m sure we can all recall a time when the biggest compliment you could pay a woman was, “You’re so strong” – and there are probably many who still take it as a compliment. But since we’re taking multiple truths and the plurality of personal experiences seriously, surely we can acknowledge that there are scores of women who are neither interested in being hailed nor deemed worthy based on the magnitude of their tolerance and endurance on the oppression-pain-discomfort Richter scale.
This isn’t to absolve women of their role in social and political discourse when it comes to feminist issues, but it’s an attempt to start humanising women. Positing supernatural capacities on women is a trivialisation of all the injustice dealt to women and once we change the way we speak about this, we can change how we think and behave in these situations.
Often these compliments come from a good place, such as the South African metaphor for women, imbokodo, meaning “rock” which connotes an anchor and formidable force alike. But even these benevolent connotations need unpacking because only then can men take on more responsibility and play a bigger role in transforming toxic attitudes and behaviors towards women even when they’re well-meaning.