The world is a cruel place for two black people who love each other- particularly if that love is against the backdrop of culture, religion and wokeness, and the plethora of inconsistencies that come with a combined, fractured belief system, writes MATHABO SEKHONYANA
As a Mosotho I have seen my own grandmother sitting bald on a mattress in a dark room after her husband died. I have also seen my uncles standing, drinking and mourning upright in what is essentially the same situation. The stark difference in mourning across genders is really a commentary of the general understanding of relationships – the men on their feet while women kneel in the dark.
I have not, and to an extent still do not, aspire to romantic relationships or to marriage; maybe that is because my aspirations have always been about success in my craft and in my own personal growth. But as my biological clock has begun to tick, I have begun to think about why it is that for the most part of my adult life I have remained single. The fact is that I am 27 and I do not seem to know how to “keep” a man. This might partly be, as Chimamanda Ngozi- Adichie stated, that we do not teach our men to aspire to marriage but we expect our women to.
“Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important goal. Now marriage can be a source of joy, love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage while we don’t teach boys the same?”
I would go even further and ask why it is that we teach our boys what the women must do, the line they must toe, without teaching them the inverse that lies outside of financial provision? I would ask how you even know which line to toe when your feminism, your culture and your religion are playing a game of tag with your sensibilities? The truth is that love is confusing when you are serving so many masters, each as important to who you are as the next.
In my blog post “What if the Proverbs 31 woman was a feminist” I write: “I have been thinking a lot about the intersectionality between blackness, religion and feminism – can you really be all things without compromising yourself? Let’s consider braai plate economics for instance:
Black culture says take care of the man first – so you dish up for him before you dish up for yourself.
Religion says that the woman does not eat the bread of idleness – so you rush to the kitchen to join the other women making salads while he sits outside drinking beers with the other men.
Patriarchy says know your place – so although you are having a good time, the man says he wants to leave, so you leave.
Feminism says fight it – so you make a point of sitting outside with the boys so people know that you are not the kind of woman who will be led by patriarchy and oppression even though you don’t really mind bringing him a plate.”
I think it is the internal war between all of the things we have learned at our grandmothers’ feet, in our lectures and in the hallowed halls of Ted Talks and social media that make it hard for young, black people to keep love. We do not know what we believe, what we want, what we are willing to compromise for and so we flit from relationship to relationship simply hoping something sticks.
There is an argument I hear often about how women who stay in relationships are strong and how women who leave didn’t have the strength to endure. I think my generation knows how to leave, but that is because we do not build relationships and homes that seem worth staying for. I think generations before had it harder and easier – on the one hand they put up with a lot more pain, humiliation and angry silences, but on the other hand their belief system was less fractured, so the expectation was clear, you stay and you make it work.
My feminism, the one I choose to subscribe to, is about choice. That is easy enough – building the life and love I choose. The problem is that my religion and my culture are not about choice, they are about following a pre-set path.
I do not know how to keep a man, because to a large extent I do not know what kind of woman I want to be in relation to a man. I have pieced together the things I do not want to be, but who do I want to be? Who do I need him to be? More than the vague need for kindness, respect and laughter, what does that look like every day, in every decision? I think many women my age struggle against those very same things – who are we really?
I am so angry at the women who have gone before us for not having the hard conversations, for not teaching us well enough (perhaps because their mothers, and their mothers, and their mothers, didn’t do so either). I am also angry at the complacency of broken adults who refuse to simply stop and take a moment to think and decide before diving into yet another doomed relationship.
To be clear, I am angry at men too. I am angry at a society that makes it easy for men to coast along. I am angry at our fathers and grandfathers and problematic mothers who have not taught their sons how to be our partners without emotionally abusing us into silence.
It is difficult to answer the age-old question about what it means to be a “good” woman, and I do not have the cheat sheet. Perhaps our mothers’ greatest sin was that they did not have the cheat sheet either, that maybe they too were just trying to make it work. Perhaps it is ok that we understand that, but do not excuse their inability to recognise our problematic households and raise us on their own terms.
Even in that judgement I am convinced however, that we have not introspected enough to have the difficult conversations with ourselves either. I am convinced we have not elevated the conversation much past the point of the problematic nature of patriarchy, and that is what we require now. A different rhetoric that does not excuse men but allows us to take charge of our own trajectory.
Maybe that starts with all of our cards on the table, our laundry hanging outside for the neighbours to see, and our hearts worn upon our torn sleeves. Maybe we need to sit down with patriarchy, Christianity and your grandmother’s tired eyes and figure out who we want to be. Maybe it ends with learning enough to raise daughters who know who they are, and sons who know how to honour themselves without dishonouring other people’s daughters.
Perhaps we ask the difficult questions, and fight for the answers – and possibly for the person we love.
Sekhonyana is a digital content producer at POWER 98.7 and the author of Kintsugi: the art of broken things. Buy her book, follow her blog , and connect with her on Twitter: @mathabopris. This article first appeared in the Power FM website