The biggest feminist misconception is the standing illusion that having more women in positions of power within a country and in the institutions that govern it, makes a country more feminist and sensitive to women’s issues.
History has proven this myth otherwise as seen through the actions of leading women in Africa and those in more ‘developed’ countries. The social reality on the ground has demonstrated that not all women are feminists, in the ideological sense nor through their actions in the world.
We’ve seen that there a great many women who still serve to uphold the systems that continue to perpetuate patriarchy whilst oppressing their whole gender, and subsequently, contributing to their own disempowerment and that of other women.
Thus, those women want to be in power as much as their male compatriots and the so called feminist figures, but their role in those positions is to continue to nurture those masculine spaces instead of making them conducive for all sexes. The self-perpetuating fantasy of female empowerment is still cruelly trapped between ideology, what we want to achieve and what truly happens on the ground. True empowerment is still a luxury, and in some sense, a lip service offering very few black women have yet to experience.
In South Africa for instance, women ministers compromise of over 41% of the cabinet but the social conditions of women in this country don’t seem to have changed that much. We are ranked third on the list of countries with a high concentration/representation of women in parliament, but in the same vein, continue to be a country where most women are likely to die from violent attacks by men, with not enough laws and resources being put in place to curb that surge of violence nor to protect women.
We live in a country where single mothers are more likely to be poor vs their male counterparts, even though women are charged with the responsibility of heading households. South Africa is infamously a rape capital with a culture of sexual violence that continues to rein terror in the lives of all kinds of women (especially black women), with very little intervention from the state.
Thus, women may be holding powerful seats but do they have any influence within those institutions or are they expected to be benchwarmers?
The increased presence and role of women in political positions doesn’t seem to reflect the sort of things the state meaningfully prioritises. Female representation has become a lot like black face, quantitively we seem to have more women in leadership positions, but not a lot is changing when it comes to enforcing structural decisions that advocate for tangible change in the lives of everyday women on the street.
There are few women who are speaking up for true empowerment but the rule is that we have the likes of Baleka Mbethe and Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma who still uphold very regressive views that contribute to the oppression of women. They seem comfortable with the world being run by and for men’s interests because they’ve ben using their seats to protect and enforce masculine rhetoric.
The other sad reality is that it’s a struggle for women who want change because they get to occupy positions in institutional structures that are heavily embedded in centuries of patriarchy, meaning, system are already in place that propel whoever occupies those seats to govern in favor of men.
Explaining the common complaint that most female leaders tend to ‘dress and act like men’ to get the respect and authority that comes with their positions, feeling the need to be cut-throat and unempathetic (but then again nobody expects a man to have empathy) because they are under the gaze.
Without a fair chance, their leadership is always being scrutinised and compared to that of the men that came before her. The institutions are designed in a way that lead most women to fail in their resolve to champion the cause for the women that elected them into those positions. The structures have been in place for centuries, and yet, we expect that a woman ought to turn things around in one sweep. We don’t even give women enough time to bring the change, they often work under an ultimatum. If they don’t succeed within unreasonable time, we want them gone. We blame it on their incompetence, lack of leadership but mainly because they are women.
For time eternal, men have done nothing for women empowerment, and yet, we allow them to lead in their own pace. Men have led us to pointless wars, death and economic collapses, and over and over, we’ve allowed them to continue to take the reins. Whereas, women lead with a short gun to their heads because we expect them to perform miracles, to overturn centuries of colonial and patriarchal structures in a short space of time without support.
We are always just sitting and waiting for women to fail so we can feel validated in our subjective believes that women are never meant to lead.
Take the Eskom situation for instance, they internally promoted their new CEO. She is probably the first black woman to have held the reigns of the state entity, and already we are predicting failure because of the nature of the beast that is Eskom and our doubt at her strength and capabilities. As a Black woman, she’s faced with multi-challenges and obstructions at the top. If it’s not the perpetual nature of self-doubt aka imposter syndrome, then its misogynoir (the intersection of racism and sexism directed at black women). And if it’s not being undermined at work, it’s within the personal spaces we occupy.
The stakes are always much higher for black women, there is always a lot to lose because the opportunities are very few and far. Also, when one black woman fails at something, society tends to use her as a case study for why all black women are incapable. Thus, black women are taken as representative of their whole group.
There is always an element of being pinned against one another, with the expectation that we are only competing against each other as though institutions can’t afford to have more than one leading black woman at a time.