About 20 years ago when I was in high school (I know I don’t look my age 😊), you had 2 groups of girls. The cool girls and the girls with nappy hair and crooked teeth. I fell in the latter group. My father was also not the headmaster or the church pastor. I slid lower down the ranks.
I don’t know who decided on these ranks, but there they were. I had to fall in line. Like many other teenagers who don’t know their place and trying their best to fit in, but only succeeded in standing out, like a sore finger.
‘I hope that my presence on your screen, and my face in magazines may lead you young girls on a beautiful journey, that you will feel validation of your external beauty, but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.’ — Lupita Nyong’o
I eventually finished high school and went to college in Cape Town. I stayed with my aunt and worked nights and weekends at KFC in Claremont, the one in Main Road. I was lucky enough to find a decent job straight out of college. I could get my own place that I shared with my brother and later my sister came to join us.
Throughout this time I was grouped in a certain class.
We were the Coloureds from Mitchells Plain who were all gangsters. I didn’t need to open my mouth. It didn’t matter that I was not from Mitchells Plain. I fit the profile before I could open my mouth. Talk about judging a book by its cover.
‘I raise up my voice — not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.’ — Malala Yousafzai
With that racial bias and stereotypes came the realisation that there was a glass ceiling. You could only be the PA, don’t ever think you will make it to the corner office. And when one of the girls got knocked up and the baby daddy is gone before the baby is born, it just reinforced our positions.
That maybe you should hold on to the merchandiser’s job at Edgars. At least you’re not the cleaner. And so we never get rid of the stereotype. Even if you can now afford to book a table for 10 at the Codfather in Camps Bay, when you walk in they size you up and down and think, Oh Lord who let them in?
‘It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.’ Madeleine Albright
My message to you, don’t let it take you 20 years. Twenty years to understand that you have just as much right as any other person to be here, breath in the free air and own your space.
You don’t have to be a feminist and burn your bra and demand equal rights. You can do so silently, with fierce determination, to firstly quieten the voices in your own head. Once you have conquered those, the rest is easy.
‘I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.’-Audre Lorde
It starts with you believing that you belong here.
You have a purpose. Others look up to you, some you don’t even know. You carry their hopes in your heart because you have the voice they don’t have.
‘And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.’ — Anais Nin
Be fully, magnificently, you!