As a societal group often defined by our internal strength, women’s strength continues to be tested by the struggles of everyday life. A month such as August – aimed at celebrating women – also brings women’s issues to the forefront. One of these issues is that of a modern woman and traditional ideals. What she thinks of them, whether or not she holds on to them and how she interacts with them.
Just like technology, women have developed through the years. Some argue that this change has been for the better – often citing reasons such as women having access to education and jobs. But some staunch traditionalists have also argued that this change has been for the worse… Resulting in some modern women losing their traditional values. This past Women’s month, the Department of Arts and Culture urged women to wear doeks as a way to “honour, appreciate, celebrate and recognise women who fought for us to be where we are today”. This was met with mixed reactions; it had some people on social media stating that wearing a doek is a symbol of oppression, while others said that they viewed it as an important expression of heritage. Most people just dismissed the doek as nothing more than a fashion statement.
Speaking of heritage: a picture of the beautiful Amanda du-Pont recently found its way onto Twitter and got a lot of people talking. The image shows the bare-breasted du-Pont participating in a traditional Swazi ceremony (the reed dance). In my opinion, this is something we as young people need to see a lot more of in the media. These are the people we look up to and this picture illustrates that even a nationally celebrated, modern day celebrity such as du-Pont still appreciates the significance of her heritage.
In the same vain, Minenhle Dlamini serves as another great example of a modern women with traditional values. Minnie looks amazing in the traditional Zulu attire that she wore during a photoshoot for the KZN Tourism Department and epitomizes the idea of “iNtombi yom zulu” nge mpela (a true zulu girl). I mean who wouldn’t want to look like this?
All these occurrences reignited my thoughts on the “modern women and tradition” debate in addition to raising a number of questions. Do modern women follow tradition and what does it mean to them? Should the two be mutually exclusive or is there a way to reconcile the two in this day and age? I decided to find out what my fellow sisters had to say about this because, the way I see it, there are three kinds of women: modern, traditional and modern with traditional values. To illustrate my point, I spoke to women that fit into each of these categories and hear what they had to say:
The modern woman – Boitumelo Mosia
When I was growing up, my gran would always say ‘a woman’s pride is her head.’ With that said, I’m always conscious of how my hair looks or what I have on my head. I personally find doeks/head wraps convenient. You can wear them differently, whether [you] have short or long hair. A doek adds that classical vintage look to modern fashion and of course [it] hides bad hair days (laughs). To me, it’s a fashion statement.
The traditional woman – Siphokazi Nobela
As a traditional woman, I believe tradition is not something you decide to follow, it’s in the way you were raised, it’s instilled in you, just like good values. With the times changing, people’s morals and values change together with the times – which is unfortunate because tradition is part of who you are. Wearing a doek for me is an honour, it shows respect, at home (husband and ancestors) and in church to God. It doesn’t make me any less of a woman, I’m a proud traditional woman and any excuse to wear a doek is a great excuse for me.
The modern woman with traditional values – Nhlanhla Abundance Mabilisa
As a black woman it’s imperative to know your roots. Knowing your roots will give a clear history of where you come from. As a result, your life as a modern or career woman will be rooted and be shaped by strong values of knowing who you are. Therefore, as part of being aware and having full knowledge of your culture; being married to a traditional man or family will only complement your Africanness and pride, which distinguishes us from other ethnic groups.
So wearing a doek or a dress long enough to cover your toes won’t be a problem because it symbolizes a dignified African woman who is in one spirit with her man and supports what he believes in as an African/traditional man. This act by his wife of respecting his culture gives him honour, dignity and respect within the entire family and village or community at large. This is what makes us unique.
With all that said, I think it is also important to consider the role played by men in the lives of modern women. Taking the Zulu tradition into account; men are viewed as the sole providers even though that idea is fading with every new generation. That idea is one as old as time; a man as a provider, protector and head of the household and it isn’t solely a Zulu cultural ideal either. These days however, some men would gladly pull the “times have changed” card to justify them wanting their wives to contribute to the household’s income. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is when men pick and choose what customs and ideals they want the women in their lives to adhere to without holding themselves to the same standard.
We can argue both sides of this and other related arguments until kingdom come, but it all boils down to how one was raised and what path they choose to follow. After all, most of us are a product of what we’ve been taught. The duality of such a life is one of the challenges that most modern women struggle with, especially when it comes to relationships. One cannot argue the fact that times have changed and roles vary depending on the couples, but in order to strike the ideal balance, communication is important.
As young women of this generation, the choice of being traditional or modern lies with us. We will always be responsible for the decisions we make because at the end of the day they make us who we are. The modern woman and tradition can co-exist, that relationship just needs to be redefined.
Follow me on Twitter @officialNqobi_M