Reflecting the stories of our time

2010-11-26 14:51

We caught up with performer and soon-to-be mom Lebo Mashile to pick her brain on the challenges of raising a good man in a society as violent as ours and on the role women in power and artists alike should play in highlight issues of gender violence.

How loud is the voice of women in our society today?
The voice of women in South Africa right now is quite reflective of the positions of women. In the sense that it’s very schizophrenic, on one hand you’ve got women who are occupying positions of power, influencing, we’ve got women who are climbing the corporate ladder, the political ladder on the other hand it is one of the most repressive and violent and unequal societies in terms of gender relations of the world.

It’s a difficult terrain to navigate, you know, on the one side you’ve got very powerful voices of women in media, women in the arts, women definitely challenging … speaking out on this issues.

On the other hand when you look at mainstream media and how women are reflected, if you look at women who get the most visibility in newspapers, on our television screens and on radio. You see a society that praises women for being concubines, it praises women for being gold diggers, and it praises women for being naked.

You spoke about those in powerful positions, do you think they have a duty to the not so powerful in their communities?
I think it’s a very difficult situation for women who are occupying positions of power in South Africa right now because the kinds of roles that these women are playing are really unprecedented.

Our grandmothers were holding our communities together but to see a woman CEO, or a woman cabin minister, a black woman, that’s unheard of in South Africa. We do not have an example of what has been done by other women.

It’s like the ultimate freestyle. When I judge the actions of powerful women in South Africa I put it in that context that they’re doing what has never been done before and for that they deceive a lot of leeway.

Having said that, I think that the last sixteen years have put women in a very difficult position. For a lot of women, if you to the patriotic line you have a better chance of making sure your children go to a good school, you have a better chance of being able to make sure you going to be voted into power and remain in that position. It’s not fair to place the burden of transforming the society solely on the shoulders of the women who occupy positions of power.

What do you think the role of the arts today is, specifically when it comes to gender issues?

I think the responsibility of every artist in any era, in any place is to reflect the era in that you are living in, the stories of your time.

But it is a difficult position to occupy as not all artists want to be activist, not every artist wants to have that on their shoulders.

And sometimes I also question that. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine yesterday and she’s talking about how she wants to move to Tanzania in the next couple of years because she would like to write about roasters instead of writing about rapes.

I think ten years ago, a statement like that would have been infuriated me but now I’m thinking like yeah we deserve the right to have a normal peaceful life.

But having said that, I love living and working in South Africa as an artist because it pushes me on a daily basis, it pushes me as a human being to constantly define and redefine my politics, my spirituality, my relationship to gender, my relationship to race, my relationship to national identity. All these things are constantly in the public domain and in the private space as well.

You have quoted as saying you want to raise a strong black man, what does this means?

This is the first boy in our family and I’m excited, I’m intrigued, I’m also equally terrified at the prospect of raising a black man in society that is deeply patriotic as South Africa.

I hope that I can be able to pass on my values and my sense of justice to my child. I think that is what he is going to need to navigate this terrain.

The role models that they have in mainstream media now are horrible. I think the kind of icons we are producing in South Africa are people that are most newsworthy as men but as women too but specifically men are probably some of the most disgusting, dysfunctional, misidentity creatures that I have come across in a very long time.

So I hope that my child can be the kind of person that is able to dissemble the messages coming at him. I hope my child is the kind of person that is able to choose for himself what he wants and what he believes.

In the face of all these other stuff that is going to try to confuse him, side track him or get him to go down another path.

I hope is the man who is not afraid to be the different kind of man. Even if that means he is going to be ridiculed by other man, even if it means he is going to be ridiculed by women. Even if he going to be isolated and ostracized. I hope that he will be the kind of person that is not afraid to choose his own path and to live by his own convictions. So for me that’s strength.

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