Smoke and Mirrors

I had a weird dream the other night, in which I was staring into my bathroom mirror which was all steamed up (as it does, because I like a hot shower). What was particularly eerie was that no matter how long the window was open, or how much I wiped the glass, the mist wouldn’t clear and I just could not see my reflection.

Now, one doesn’t have to be Carl Jung or desirous of exploring the significance of mirrors in dreams, to see the symbolism of self in this. As a woman reaches middle age, she has been a daughter, mother, wife, sister and professional for many years, but when the home starts emptying, one is more and more alone with oneself. And that can be scary.

For so long I have been defined by my roles as wife and mother, that my own identity as a human has become shrouded by the mists of their identities. I need to redefine my purpose and find who I am again.

But we cannot actually ever de-link ourselves from our children, nor do I really want to. Did you know that cells from a child may migrate to a mother’s brain:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientists-discover-childrens-cells-living-in-mothers-brain/

So we become a sort of chimera of every child we’ve carried. (No wonder my brain seems so crowded sometimes!) And these cells can also be passed onto their siblings. All of this shows that the mother-child and sibling bonds are incredibly strong. We carry them with us wherever we (and they) go. There is actually something comforting in that – if you can get past how creepy it is!

The other symbolism that struck me about my dream was that a hidden reflection can suggest that the self feels unseen. Sadly, that is such a common thing in women that I feel like a bit of a cliché.

Perhaps that’s why Jenny Joseph in her poem ‘Warning’ suggests that when [she] is old [she] will wear purple.’ It’s to stand out and be seen – like Queen Elizabeth of England who always bright colours, so people can spot her in a crowd. Of course that’s not really what it means though to feel ‘unseen.’ It means to feel invisible, unnoticed, a will o the wisp at best.

I say this without a hint of self-pity because in many ways we women do this to ourselves, quietly cleaning up after everyone, washing and packing away clothes; making sure the electricity meter is fed and the bins are emptied, the pets are fed and the cupboards fully stocked; stacking and emptying the dishwasher like a fairy presence (Okay I’m literally too noisy for people not to know when I’m doing dishes, but still you know what I mean.) This martyrdom becomes pointless when it is only your own mess and your feet echo on the tiles in the silent house. And we wonder, ‘And now what?’

At core I do know who I am though and I like focusing on others, especially when I am sad or hurt. We walk this earth together. I am excited to see whom I still have to meet along the way.

Maya Angelou says this:

“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”

Perhaps it is enough to continue putting one foot in front of the other, facing down hardship and loneliness with laughter. The children always come home anyway, and bring with them more young souls to love.

And a splash of colour is not a bad idea either. I think I’ll go with orange! That’ll show them.

I am blaming men

Trigger alert.

Tshegofatso Pule Stabbed and Hanged Whilst Pregnant..Facts Of The Case

I am angry today.

Tshegofatso means ‘Blessing’ in seTswana.

What a beautiful name for a beautiful woman, who was about to give birth to another beautiful girl-child.

And yet she won’t because both were murdered.

I am sickened by the inability of our society to rid this world of gender-based violence. All these cute little catchy phrases like GBV and BLM mean nothing to Tshegofatso’s mother. I don’t want to hear anyone say, ‘All lives matter’ or ‘’ it’s not all men.’ That means nothing to Tshego’s mom either. In fact it is downright insulting. It’s an outrage.

It is time that men owned this problem. I am impressed to hear Tshegofatso’s uncle speak out in this vein. Just how are we raising our sons that they have such contempt for the sanctity of life? And lawyers (men) like him need to stand up and be counted now.

I have just watched the Jeffrey Epstein documentary on Netflix and again I am sick to my stomach at (male) lawyers who stand accused of at best not doing their jobs, and at worst collusion and guilt of abuse of so many young women.

What struck me was one survivor saying, “you won’t remember me because there were so many, but I will be forced to remember you for the rest of my life.’

And what about the others who stand accused: the powerful Bill Clintons, ‘Prince’ Andrews? Donald Trumps? Harvey Weinstein has at least gone to jail and fallen from grace, and back home Uyinene’s murderer will never see the light of day again (we hope). But all those famous ones…? Will this all be swept under the carpet and are they hoping the dust will settle so they can just carry on as before? Like ‘Khwezi’s’ infamous violator? He certainly has. Has anyone investigated Alexander Acosta? Will they?

What about the #MeToo Movement, #TimesUp, and in our own country, The Rhodes Reference List and all the female-led protests? How successful have they been in changing the narrative of femicide and rape in the world?

But the real question is: where are the men leading the way in combating the abuse? I am sick of hearing the gaslighting that goes on around this issue, like ‘men also get raped you know.’ That’s not the point and just as it’s gaslighting to say that ‘all lives matter,’ so does that argument not hold water when women are not safe anywhere, even during lockdown. In 3 weeks of lockdown, gender-based violence units recorded 120 000 calls. Let’s just unpack that: 120 000 in 21 days…5714 women per day! And that’s the ones who were able to seek help.

And we’re worried about COVID-19?!

None of what I am saying is new or startling and that is the greatest tragedy. We have heard it all before. Every now and again a case will grab the headlines and people will march and protest and then it’s back to business as usual. In fact, in Gauteng, people returning from an anti-GBV rally in Gauteng last week, found the body of yet another woman near Soweto. She is still unidentified though, so no headlines for her…

It’s these murders and rapes that make me extra angry. It’s not just famous actresses crying out it’s a young woman at a festival, a schoolgirl walking home from school, a child in her home, refugees and war victims. I have listened to and read the essays of too many students over the years to have patience for this anymore.

After Uyinene died, my school took a day to purge social media of posts, jokes or anything that smacked of rape culture in an effort to examine our own culpability; yet toxic masculinity is more pervasive and ingrained in the human race than that.

I once watched a father berate a young female teacher with vile language in front of his own son. Needless to say, he didn’t last long at my school, but I often think about him and his son, and wonder what kind of adult that young man will become.

A word to the women who defend their sons and lovers : shame on you. When you raise your sons by different standards and indulge that ‘boys’ will be boys’ mentality, and let them believe they are little princes in your home, you are guilty of encouraging rape culture.

But what I really want to know is what men are doing about it. All those people who worked for Jeffrey Epstein knew what he was doing; yet did nothing; even if, like the man who managed the island communications, they resigned, they still didn’t stop it. I don’t get that!

I have been sexually harassed in the workplace (it ended badly for him); I have had men try to intimidate me physically and mentally and I have even had someone try to kill me, but as Maya Angelou says, ‘Still like dust, I rise.’ As Sylvia Plath (who was abused by her famous husband too btw) also said, ‘we shall inherit the earth’. But at what cost?

Silence gives consent, gents. It’s time you spoke up; stood up and grew up. This is not a female problem. It’s a male problem.  YOU fix it.

Don’t you dare comment on women’s bodies or laugh at sexist jokes; don’t you dare use female body parts as pejoratives, because then YOU are part of rape culture. Don’t you dare victim blame or defend men’s actions. Don’t you dare patronize women you work with or assume that a ‘yes’ to dinner means yes to sex.  Don’t you dare think that your punching her is her fault, or that you have ANY right to her body, married or not.

Because then you might as well have stabbed Tshegofatso yourself.