Speaking at the Leading Lady Lounge of the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) this past weekend, President Jacob Zuma’s fifth wife defined ‘having it all’ as “a [balance] between motherhood, a successful career and the role of being a loving and supportive spouse.”
“I’m not necessarily a feminist. I think for us to succeed in our struggles, we cannot leave men out of the equation.” – Tobeka Madiba-Zuma.
What I understand from this statement is that she operates off of the notion that all feminists hate men and that we want to exclude them from the realization of our equality or lives in general. That is not the case Mrs. Madiba-Zuma. There are different schools of feminist thought and some strands of it actually support your stance that “for us to succeed in our struggles, we cannot leave men out of the equation.” Men, however, are not THE essential component. Here’s why.
The ‘nuclear family’ is a concept of family life that gained traction at the beginning of the 20th century and refers to a household consisting of two married adults (usually a heterosexual couple) and their children. The tendency to hold this ideal of family as the strict norm was influenced mainly by the church and the highly-prevalent theocracies of the time (governments in which priests rule in the name of God). It gained even more traction as a marketing tool in the latter parts of the 20th century and eventually, we all just accepted it as the norm of what a family should look like. Any variation of family that resembles anything other than nuclear family is often shown to us in the media as “not normal.”
Due to this, girls have always been pressured into viewing the woman’s place in the family unit and in society as a whole as that of wife and mother. The father was the breadwinner and head of the family. He “brought home the bacon,” while the mother fried it up in a pan and ensured that the entire family was fed, happy and well taken care of. As long as she catered to her family’s every whim and was available to them 24/7, she was considered a ”good mother.” Such thinking gave birth to a generation of women who thought of themselves last. Perhaps women like Thobeka Madiba-Zuma. A balanced life from Madiba- Zuma’s perspective subscribes to these ideals of family and the household with the exception of her inclusion of a successful career.
That line of thinking became so pervasive that the idea of a new-age woman – one who tends to care for herself as well – is often met with disdain. This is inconsistent with the reality for most South African women, who are more often than not left to raise children without a partner by their side. Then prevalence of paternal absenteeism is one of the many reasons why South African women have tried their best to “have it all” despite the presence of a man in their lives.
According to the SA Institute of Race Relations, only 33% of children under the age of five (5) were living with both their biological parents in 2013. At the same time, 39% of South African children lived with their mothers only. Raising a child is a major responsibility in all aspects (financially, mentally and emotionally) and a lot of help is undeniably necessary for any mother to cope. But the stats above serve as evidence of the fact that this help cannot always be sought in the form of a man. As a result, single mothers need to make sacrifices. They may have to miss out on sleep, forfeit a social life and deny herself a sex life, etc. Still, women cannot be taught that a man is the way to have all of that (well… with the exception of that last sacrifice but hey, there are ways around it).
Considering her position in society and the kind of clout that she wields, Mrs Madiba-Zuma shouldn’t make such sweeping statements on the complex lives South African women are forced to lead based on the kind of life she has led. She is a woman with a formal education that has worked with many high-profile companies, she currently owns her own home, is married to the president and has a PA. That is a distant scenario for the average South African woman (or man, actually). Someone in her position should be aware of the potentially emotionally distressing consequences of what she said.
Mrs. Zuma needs to take the reality that most South Africa women live through into broad consideration before commenting on women’s affairs so simplistically. Some women do not have men in their lives due to reasons beyond their control while other may not even want them. Importantly also, South Africa’s shocking domestic violence and femicide statistics clearly point out that women shouldn’t be pressured into believing that having a man around is always what’s best for their homes and children.
So no, mam’ Tobeka, women do not NEED men to “have it all”. For us to succeed in our struggles, we cannot leave men out of the equation but we do not need to think that we should rely entirely on men for our happiness either.
Follow me on Twitter: @Kay_Tatyana
The #2014Elections has set an exciting and vibrant context for the future of South Africa politics to unfold upon. What happens now that you’ve voted? How do we gauge whether we’re “moving the country forward”, whether we’re “bringing change” or “economic freedom in our lifetime”? Stick with #LiveVIPZA and we’ll give you analysis, debates, comments, polls and all YOU need to understand, enjoy and interact with SA politics.