If there were 8 people in the room, black and white of different ages and they all had to speak, do you know in what the order they would be in? Look at the hierarchy below:
Old white man > Young white man > Old white woman > Young white woman > Old black man > Young black man > Old black woman > Young black woman
The young woman is at the bottom of the chain as if her opinion doesn’t matter or her story is of no significance. Here in Africa, a young woman cannot address older men. The best example is how at bride price negotiations it’s a discussion about her but she isn’t even in the room to voice her opinion about a life-changing conversation that concerns her. We need to stop leaving the young woman behind and stifling her struggle.
African women need to tell our own stories
Ava Duvernay and Shonda Rhimes are changing the game. I applaud the way they are telling crucial stories from the black woman perspective. They are debunking the myths and destroying the stereotypes. Please be patient with me as I paint this picture for you.
When I was studying journalism, they taught us that people will always be drawn to narratives that perpetuate the preexisting prejudice or stereotypes that they already have. If the stereotype is being challenged, the cognitive dissonance theory kicks in and they reject this new way of thinking.
The black woman has been stereotypically portrayed to always having to take the burden. As if that was her raison d’etre to suffer in life. A great example of this is how people will always joke that in horror movies, the black man will die first. Black women, however, are always being portrayed as having to suffer as their main purpose, I haven’t seen all Tyler Perry movies but the ones I have, have this stereotype as the backbone of the movie.
The black woman has also been stereotypically described as angry, loud and volatile. We saw Serena Williams express herself and as sure as the day is long, she was placed into this stereotype. In her Nike advert, we saw that she was not the first to slam her racket but as a black woman, it was a whole different ball game. (Pun very much intended.) When a black woman expresses herself and her emotions she is seen as being aggressive.
My favourite actress in South Africa – Thuso Mbedu has been given the chance to be the first South African woman to lead an Amazon series, and guess what role she will play, a slave. What was Lupita N’yongo‘s multi-award winning role? And Halle Berry, the first black woman to win an Oscar, do you know the role she played in order to get that award?
I haven’t seen Thuso’s role but I am willing to bet my bottom dollar that a nude sex scene will be involved. There is a stereotype that sexualises black women as voracious sexual beings. This began in the slave trade era and normalised the sexual exploitation of black women. The tragic story of Sarah Baartman comes to mind. A black woman taken from her country and displayed as a freak show because of her “protruding butt.” Also black female slaves being raped by their white owners. This made it okay to violate black women like they deserved it. This ideology is still perpetuating now with tabloids in Zimbabwe framing rape stories wrong and victim blaming which makes sexual violence survivors afraid to report these cases because we all know they’ll get crucified in the newspapers. These three acting roles have similarities, they are all black women that got celebrated for perpetuating an existing stereotype.
In comparison, have you watched the way Shonda Rhimes told the story of a black woman that survived sexual violence? There is a stark difference from the way men would choose portray it. There was an overwhelming response to that episode of Grey’s Anatomy because each person took something out of it. It attacked every myth when it comes to the violation of not just black women but all women. These are the stories and Shonda is setting the example of how these stories can be told better. Only a woman can tell a woman’s story that remarkably.
In the same vein, female storytellers did a sterling job of relaying the story of #SurvivingRKelly. The men had covered this up for years from record label owners to the legal team to R Kelly’s management. If it hadn’t been for this documentary it would have never come to light. Do you think that male storytellers weren’t aware of this story? Don’t be naïve. They knew but they didn’t want to touch it. R Kelly was making too much money and hey, he was targeting young black girls. Who cares about those anyway?
It’s time for the African woman to be heard. It’s time for her to tell her own story that changes her paradigm. It’s time for more women to be trained in multimedia storytelling and start producing real stories about the African woman’s struggle. We need more female photographers. Surely there’s more to African women than fetching water and breastfeeding.
How does she do this? Where can she start?
Right here, she starts right here, through blogging and other forms of content creation. To start a blog is free, it’s the internet that is pricey especially here in Zimbabwe. There are so many resources online that can teach you how to blog. Most people that blog in Zimbabwe are self taught. I had to do it in varsity, the basics anyway, and the rest was a hunger to learn and that’s how I’ve come this far. In January this year I took it upon myself to start a blogging masterclass for female bloggers on WhatsApp. The class has 48 students and counting. This is so that these women are adequately equipped to tell their own stories and start to build an audience. No two people are the same, our struggles will never match, so their content is bound to be original and a representation of their personal struggles and victories.
As women we’ve been plagued with the stereotype of being gossipers. They turned our greatest superpower and tainted it to be a bad thing. Women make the greatest storytellers and we need to start harnessing that superpower for our own benefit. Storytelling is how we will change the paradigm.
We need to teach the young girl how to create her own content. In a place where she is in control and cannot be censored or told that she can’t say that out loud. On a platform where she can’t be edited or misrepresented through being spoken for.
How lucrative is the black woman’s story?
Do you know why we are keen on Beyoncé‘s story so much? She is the perfect example of a black woman taking control of her story. The legal paperwork that’s in place that censors people from just saying anything about her to her banning any video or photos being taken of her at performances or outings. She has kept her life private and has her own team to record her and only then does she show the world what she wants the world to see. She has taken control of her narrative and we are enamored by her shroud of mystery.
Let’s not stop at Beyoncé. Let’s look at the Queen of Talk, Oprah Winfrey herself and how she has built a whole multi-million dollar empire from telling stories. Zimbabwe no longer has magazines to celebrate the African woman. In South Africa, Ndalo Media has recently crumbled and that was the beacon of hope for female stories to be told. Yes publications are costly to produce but through blogging each woman has her own magazine to tell stories that need to be told.
I blogged about my ectopic pregnancy at the age of 19 and people called my mother and told her to reprimand me and have the post taken down. They felt that it wasn’t a story that I should tell publicly. They wanted me to preserve my reputation and not confess to being a flawed birthgiver. They didn’t approve of people knowing that I’d fornicated outside of marriage and became “damaged goods.” The backlash was harsh but the number of women that contacted me to share their stories on the same subject far outweighs the negativity. This thing happened to me and I have every right to discuss it if I want to. To let other women know that they are not alone. Pretending that something didn’t happen doesn’t erase it. All the hardships I have endured have made me the woman I am today and I will continue to share my stories on my blog and inspire other young African women to also take ownership of their narrative in order to thrive.