Over lunch with a number of my friends today, we were speaking about our current (famous) South African female role models. Surprisingly, a number of them said they had none and others questioned why only South African because that’s just too hard.
It was at this point that I asked myself, “Where are all South Africa’s strong women for young girls to look up to?”
No, I wasn’t talking about the internet or Forbes’ definition of remarkable women: which often entails being the first woman to accomplish whatever it is that she has accomplished.
I don’t think that the fact that you grew up in Diepsloot township and became the first African female pilot gives you automatic role model credentials, nor does the fact that you have your own a talk show where you interview A-list celebs from cricket players to socialites to ministers, nor does owning your own clothing range and being South Africa’s first ambassador for L’Oreal…
The fact that we consider these women to be the models of the ultimate achievement in one’s life in no way inspires young women to aspire to causes greater than themselves.
When addressing us at our graduation ceremony a few days ago, the Head of my school spoke about the difference between a life of success and one of significance. In emphasising the differences between the two, he noted, “A life of success is one which honours one for one’s own achievements, whereas a life of significance, however is one which honours others with the success which one has attained”. I select my role models based on their significance rather than success, because not all successful people lead significant lives…I mean look at many presidents of states, for instance.
It is with great confidence that I can say, while achieving one’s dreams against all odds is a success, it isn’t all that significant because I believe that that was the only option you had. To become the first female dj is great because deejaying is a predominantly male-driven industry but if your passion lies there, you have no choice but to chase that dream. To do anything otherwise would be pathetic; so yay! Bonang Matheba and Terry Phetho for becoming African pioneers as ambassadors of massive beauty brands. Hooray to your success! Now about your significance…
We need less female figures who are idolised more for their aesthetic features than anything else. We ought to focus on the positive impact they make in society, given the influence that they now hold as a result of their achievements.
We need more selfless women who will not become famous for giving but for sharing. We don’t need actresses giving loads of money at local charities and giving their precious time to take lovely pictures for their fans and the media.
We need women to share more- to share their time and of themselves, sharing advice and wisdom, sharing expertise to mentor youngsters who aspire to the same paths as theirs.
Emily Pankhurst. Oprah Winfrey. Judge Judy Sheindlin. Iyanla Vanzant. Tyra Banks. Michelle Obama. Hilary Clinton. Leymar Gbowee. Emma Watson. Edna Adan (former First Lady of Somiland). Where are all these women in South Africa? I ask myself so many times.
Where are president Zuma’s wives? I have been brought up to believe that beside every successful man is a strong, supportive woman. At no point in my life have I witnessed any of all six first ladies, take on roles that will inspire young girls and young women to take charge of their lives and aspire to greatness in this oh-so culturally patriarchal country of ours.
What are they doing with their A-list access cards? Waltzing into SABC studios on Women’s Day only to air their rivalry to the world, instead of presenting a united front to the country as an example for other women to follow? These are causes in which they could develop their status as First Ladies and show their dedication to the empowerment of women, which I’m assuming they have because well, they’re women too.
The South African names I associate with iconic women of strength, selflessness and colossal significance are the Union Buildings marchers: Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Bertha Mashaba, Charlotte Maxeke, Nadine Gordimer, Bessie Head, Helen Jabavu, Antje Krog… Sebenzile Nkambule (of One Day Leader and Talk 702) and the indomitable Deborah Patta and not forgetting our very own Lady of Justice – Thuli Madonsela.
Slowly but surely, revolutionising the influence of women on the political stage are the women of the Democratic Alliance party. Yes, Lindiwe Mazibuko and Helen Zille are the some of the most brave women this country’s spotlight has seen in a long time. Although the nature of their work may be arguably hazy with blurred lines, these women have dared to go where few others have dared to go in terms of enforcing accountability and combating corruption within government.
I also have no intention to confuse being an influential person with being forcefully politically inclined, but rather to advocate for a cause which does not only benefit one’s self but uplifts and empowers others.