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Posts in: Society

Mandela
Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail

Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail

Like so many others around the world, I have been thinking about the legacy of Nelson Mandela in the days following his death. He is arguably one of, if not the greatest statesmen I will ever live to see. I never had the opportunity to shake hands with the legendary man – I only had the privilege of being in the same room as him in the UK a decade ago – but I didn’t have to be near him to feel his presence, power, or influence.

When one saw Mandela, one could see – as so many others have said – his connection to other legendary political figures like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. But, unlike those other great figures, Mandela was a man living in ‘my time’. He was not long gone, relegated to history books, or crackling black and white footage. He was live and in colour and affecting change in real time for people across the generational divide: from my grandparents, to my parents, to my own generation.  I was fortunate enough to be born when I was and to witness history being played out before my eyes even when I was too young to completely understand, but aware nonetheless of the significance.

He was as charismatic and caring as he was bold and defiant; he was remarkable, but imperfect, still human and flawed like all of us, but capable, despite the many setbacks, of doing the extraordinary.  He lived out and practiced his famous quote: “It always seems impossible until it is done”.

When a man like Mandela passes away you come to realize how rare it is to come across people like him.

Mandela, sadly, is gone. On the day of his public and international memorial the skies opened up. It seems that the heavens were weeping too. When an exceptional person leaves this earth it makes one realize that there are too few who inspire and there is too little in this world that is great.

Goodbye Mr. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela . We will miss you.

Signing off,

Y.

Why Do You Hate Me?

bad-bossI’ve recently had discussions with friends who are dealing with some horrible bosses – people who seem to have made it their life’s mission to denigrate and verbally abuse their staff. I’m not talking about the sort of friends who have problems with superiors on a constant basis – if that were the case, I’d have to question whether or not they were the problem. (I mean, we all know those people who seem to coincidentally (!) have troubles wherever they land, but who don’t seem to recognize that they’re the ones who are the misfits). No, I’m talking about people who work hard and who have plenty of people who could vouch for the quality of their work, their team spirit, and all-around positive attitudes. Interestingly, these friends in the “problem” workplaces all work for other women.

If I had a dollar for every female friend or colleague – including those who are ambitious and who are seeking women’s equality in the workplace – who said that they’d prefer not to work for another woman, I’d be, well, not wealthy, but in a position to buy plenty of nice things. Of course, there are great women out there in leadership, executive and/or management positions who don’t fit the stereotype of the “crazy boss lady”, but when a woman does fit that bill, let’s just say it makes a person want to cower under their desk for fear of that woman’s wrath.

Some might blame PMS, the moon and the tides, a bad hair day, or some other phenomenon for what can only be called “bat-shit behavior” – there’s no other term that could adequately express some of the experiences friends have mentioned to me – but there is absolutely no excuse for actions – whether directed at women or men – that demean another person, or that cause highly intelligent, kind and functioning people to question their own self-worth or capacity to do their jobs.

I’d like to think that there are many more good female bosses than bad – those who want to set a positive example and serve as a protégé to others. In fact I know many who fit the bill. The problem is that the bad female bosses stand out and perhaps more than their equally bad male colleagues. And frankly, I don’t get it. There are already so many hurdles to climb as a woman in the workplace, so why add crazy, rude, or mean on top of the pile? We spend so much time at work – many of our living hours are spent with workmates, rather than life mates, children, or friends – that when that workplace feels destructive or soul-crushing, it has a huge impact, intellectually, emotionally and physically. Whatever the reasons for the behaviour – be it jealousy, poor manners, impatience, or simply hatred for others –it’s a poor excuse.

So, to those female bosses who seemed determined to make the lives of other women in the workplace hell, I say this: wouldn’t you rather be the person your staff aspires to be, rather than the one they loathe?

Signing off,

Y.

You Can Look, But You Can’t Touch

AfroWhile scanning some social media sites this past week, I came across news that the state of Pennsylvania will enforce a law making it illegal to touch a pregnant woman’s belly without asking her permission. There are, it turns out, lots of blogs and forums about the issue. Many pregnant women, for some reason, don’t like it when creepy strangers fondle their baby bumps. Go figure!

The story generated some empathy on my part because, although I’ve never been pregnant, I can understand this particular form of ‘stranger danger’ – strangers reaching out to touch a particular part of your person out of curiosity and ‘interest’. NB. To be clear, this form of ‘stranger danger’ obviously doesn’t include touching of a menacing nature – it’s just touching of the annoying variety.

For example, as the owner of a newly minted teeny weeny afro (TWA) that is quickly morphing into a badass fro – if I do say so myself – there has been greater interest by others to reach out and touch it. There has already been some unsolicited touching of the fro. Not long after the big chop, a former colleague, seeing me for the first time with the new do, reached out  to touch the fro.  I can’t recall whether I visibly recoiled in shock, but I did cringe a bit inside.

I think I cringed partly because it took me back to the days of my youth where I would, from time to time, have my head petted like a dog by people who were curious and who wanted to know what my hair felt like. There would, invariably, be comments like: “It’s softer than I imagined” or “It doesn’t feel real” – I guess the definition of real is very subjective. I also suppose one can’t expect tact from ‘human petters’.

I mean, I get it. Things that are, from our individual perspectives, peculiar or different from what we know peak our curiosity, but that “desire to know” doesn’t override respect for personal boundaries or according respect to others. This is why I find the “You Can Touch My Hair” exhibit, and resulting short films on YouTube, particularly fascinating.

The project, developed by Antonia Opiah, explores society’s fascination with black women’s hair. The women who participated in the project did so for various reasons: from wanting their texture of hair to be put on display, to a desire to engage with an audience beyond the black community.  The reaction by onlookers is mixed: some black women engaged in a mini-protest of their own against the project; some passersby (particularly non-blacks) are reluctant to touch the women’s hair, while others (black and non-black) are gung ho to act given the permission to do so.

While I support initiatives that encourage dialogue and cultural understanding, which the project does in part, I also have an involuntary aversion to the method used. I want to celebrate what Opiah is doing – given the importance of sisterhood and all – but I can’t do so wholeheartedly.

First, on a personal level, I can’t imagine subjecting myself to this type of engagement with strangers in the venue Opiah chooses – and willingly allowing them touch me to satiate their curiosity. Perhaps that is the introvert in me. Second, and maybe this is extreme, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between this endeavour and the freak show attractions that took place in Europe in the 19th century, such as the ones that Sarah Baartman, also known as the Hottentot Venus, was subjected to.

Of course, the circumstances and economic and social conditions in which these exhibits were situated are markedly different: the women involved in the “You Can Touch My Hair” exhibit are willing and independent participants, and it’s questionable whether Baartman had the personal agency to control her life and how she was presented to society.

I can’t help but analyze the exhibition beyond a basic and literal level. It seems to me that the medium is the message.  The exhibition has the whiff of a circus side show displaying the “other”’s anomalous state. Even though it is a person of colour at the reigns of this project, is it less of a freak show?

Signing off,

Y.

 

 

 

Too Smart for Your Own Good?

Are you a female who is afraid to tell members of the opposite sex exactly how many degrees you have? When meeting a man you fancy for the first time, do you lie about your profession for fear that you will come across as too accomplished? Have you ever met a man who liked smart women “in theory”, but who couldn’t seem to handle it in practice – with you? Well, then you might be too smart for your own good. You, my friend, might suffer from “smart girl syndrome”.

Since the rise of feminism, medical professionals have been conducting research to counter the effects of “equality” and “smart girl syndrome” whereby women have come to believe that they should have wages comparable to their male counterparts and who have sought achievement in educational and professional endeavours.

The bacteria, known as Feminitis, has infected society writ-large and has left some, including the male species, unsure of how to handle the scourge. Due to Feminitis, some men have been left unsure of how to treat their female counterparts. They are left wondering: “Should I hold the door open for a lady”? “Do I pay on the first date”? “Is chivalry dead”? In addition to this, some men long for the “simpler days”, pre-Feminitis, when everyone knew what it was to be a “man” or a “woman”.

Given the confusion, and the numerous problems Feminitis has caused, such as paid maternity/parental leaves, regulations against sexual harassment, and female sports teams, the latest medical breakthrough, a pink pill developed by Feminomica, Feminitis will soon be a long-forgotten memory.

In following the Feminomica regime, women the world over will have a much easier go at life. Female ambition will be reduced, fewer feminist dissertations will be written, and the world will return to a Mad Men existence -well, at least pre-Peggy Olsen promotion to copywriter.

For best results, women should take at least three doses of the pink pill each day – not to be confused with The Pill, of course. In addition, following the subsequent steps will be your prescription for success:

1) Read Maxim, GQ, and Esquire – or other men’s magazines –  with great earnestness – as though you were preparing for the LSAT.  Repeat as necessary, or supplement with rap or R & B videos featuring curvy and well-endowed women. Mimic the scantily-clad women, true examples of femininity, and the effects of “smart girl syndrome” will be minimized.

2) Hang out with valley girls who sound like they should be in Clueless. Choose, particularly, those who are skilled in “up talk” and who unnecessarily use the word “like” while twirling their hair. You will be guaranteed not to be considered a “smart girl” after spending extensive time in their company.

3) If, despite the Feminomica regime, you still harbour interests in such professions as law, medicine, or finance, or other areas requiring one degree at minimum, it is recommended that you continue to fib about your true profession. Rather than saying such things as, “I am a doctor/lawyer/financial advisor/senior analyst”, say instead that you work in the area, not specifying your exact rank. If someone happens to think that you work for someone in those professions, so be it. Or, you could just say that you’re a backup dancer for Akon. That will get them every time.

Signing off,

Y.

Crowning Glory

kozzi-scissors-and-comb-for-a-hairdresser-859-x-605A lot of emotion and cultural and social connotations are caught up in hair – from the colour of it, to how it’s cut and styled. Hair has significance. The state of it tells others how healthy we are, whether we spend a lot of time on our coifs, or prefer the ease that may come from a shorter do, and if we’re creative, iconoclasts, or conventional.

For women, in particular, hair also signifies beauty. It’s a woman’s calling card. Even the Bible makes reference to it:  1 Corinthians 11:15 – But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given her for a covering. (King James version).  Hair in many cultures is a woman’s crowning glory – even her greatness.

We’ve all seen the myriad ads for shampoos and conditioners with women with long, shiny  and swishy hair – Pantene hair I call it – informing us of what our own hair should do and what it should look like. It’s unrealistic of course to think that the look can be replicated in real life without the assistance of a hair and makeup team and strategically placed fans, but women the world over buy the products that promise to make our hair as fabulous as what we see on screen.

But what are you to do if your hair isn’t swishy and doesn’t match the cultural norm? Well, for so many, it means doing everything and anything against your own hair’s nature for various reasons: from ease (if you’re naturally curly-haired it can be nice to comb one’s hair from root to tip with nary a knot or tear) to fulfilling cultural norms of “good” or “respectable” hair.  Brazilian blow outs or keratin straighteners, Japanese straighteners, and chemical relaxers for women of African descent all “tame” and bring hair into “conformity”.

There comes a point though for some women when they just get plain tired of “the process”. Chemical straighteners can wreak havoc on a sensitive scalp; and for any of you who have watched, or are familiar with Chris Rock’s film Good Hair, where he shows the actual chemical composition of a relaxer, well, you know it’s frightening to think that a product that you put on your scalp can also eat through an aluminum can!

Not long ago, I had an enlightening conversation with a friend who had been relaxer-free for several years. One thing she said that resonated with me referred to the prospective dangers associated with the various chemicals we use – for our hair and our skin. She said: “If I become ill, with cancer or some other illness, I want the cause to be a mystery.”

It made a lot of sense to me, especially given the dietary changes I had made in recent years- eschewing meat, etc. Being relaxer-free meant being free from products with compounds I can’t pronounce. And it also meant being free from social conventions and allowing my hair to do it’s own unique thing – kinky, curly, or fro-like depending on its mood – defying what the broader  society may deem as “proper” and “professional”.

My intention isn’t to sound high and mighty or self-righteous given that it’s only been a week since I cut off my straight, relaxed ends. I’m not in a position to tell any other woman what to do;  there’s no single choice or style or method that all women (especially those of the curly variety) should abide by. Hair is personal and the decisions made with regard to its treatment and care are individual choices.

I  loved my relaxer when I had it –  I just outgrew it. Now I’m head over heels and falling in love with my curly hair – my real crown of glory. I missed it!

Signing off,

Y.