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These days it’s hard to blog about work because I can’t breach confidentiality and pretty much everything I’m working on is confidential – or by discussing it I might seem to be disrespecting someone or an organisation (I had a meeting with ZNBC yesterday that shocked me so much, but can’t talk about it, cos I need to work with them, so don’t want to feel offended).
So I decided to blog about relationship issues that I’ve been observing here – and to be fair, I’ve been a party to it too, but thinking about my friends, watching Think Like A Man, I wanted to get this off my chest.
I’ve gone to several kitchen parties, baby showers, weddings etc since I’ve been back in Zambia, but what I’m hard pressed to find are truly happy couples. In fact I was slightly taken aback when at my last all women’s event, the mainly married women were talking about how they didn’t have passwords to their husbands phones, but the kids did, so they were using the kids as spies to find out if their husbands were sending or receiving inappropriate messages! What?!
They talked about it like it was so normal. Why on earth would I want to be with a partner I didn’t trust? Perhaps in other ways the man is making her a happy woman (in her soul, not physically).
Each relationship is different so I don’t judge when people stay in bad or unhealthy relationships, because we’ve all been there. But it does make me wonder, why would you do that to yourself?
Well I guess it’s like what Steve Harvey says, you have to have standards and you have to have self-respect.
Some of these women seem like proper Type A women – they have senior positions in their companies, real position of power, and they make their own money. Professionally they have self-respect and standards – they must have or they wouldn’t have got as far as they did. But something falls apart when it comes to relationships.
I blame it on the societal pressure. We’re women in Zambia, a country that looks down on you as a woman, let alone a single woman. I’ve walked into countless meetings where I have been blatantly ignored and disrespected because of being a woman, and more so a woman without a ring on her finger. Yet I might be the more senior figure in that room.
It’s a constant battle to walk that fine line of being strong enough as a woman without coming out like an aggressive wannabe male figure. So I can understand the urge to want to come home and be a woman, a woman who has a strong man by her side to take care of her – not because she needs to be taken care of, but because she wants to be.
But we put up with a lot just to have that man in our life. And is it really worth it? This morning my ipod decided to play Ciara’s Like A Boy and I was really listening to the lyrics.
‘What if I had a thing on the side, made you cry
Would the rules change up or would they still apply
If I played you like a toy?
Sometimes I wish I could act like a boy’
Or my personal favourite ‘Tell you I love you but when you call, I never get back’
Sadly despite what Ciara sings, I just don’t think a man can comprehend the pain women go through caring for someone who simply doesn’t care about them. In fact switch up the roles as suggested in Ciara’s song and the labels attached to the woman are anything but flattering.
But yet we still stay in relationships that do nothing for our soul. Sometimes it does seem hard to identify bad relationships – i.e. he doesn’t beat me, he doesn’t cheat on me etc – but it’s the little things isn’t it? That’s what having standards is about, standards and self-respect.
Why do we think it’s ok that a man can make you cry, not value your time, just because he says those three words us women love to hear? If you’re not important enough to have a call returned, your time respected, your commitment valued, what are you saying about yourself?
Sometimes being alone does not mean being lonely, it means having enough standards and self-respect to wait for the person that will value you and treat you like the queen you are to come into your life.
We all know this, one day we’ll listen and do it – then maybe you’ll have Kings stepping to you, to make you his Queen.
I’ve been gone awhile because I’ve been crazy busy at work and trying to not life go past me. But the other day I heard a story about one of the families we employ and it moved me so much I had to share my thoughts.
About two years ago this man’s daughter was raped – by their landlord no less. She went and got tested for HIV at the recommended times and she was found negative. This past weekend she had another test, as an organisation was doing HIV testing in their neighbourhood, her results came back positive. She’s 19 years old.
The father, visibly upset, told me that he’d told her off for all the men she was ‘moving around with’ (a random Zambian phrase that I’ve never totally understood), and that if she continued to do this she will definitely throw her life away because look at where she is now.
The man wasn’t at all stigmatising his daughter, or at least he didn’t think he was, but did blame her behaviour on her now positive status.
I asked him if his daughter ever had counselling after she was raped and he said a couple of times but then she stopped. I kind of had an aha moment and advised him to get his daughter back into counselling, even if it’s just for the girl to learn how to stay positive with her status.
My aha moment was really as a result of a conversation I’d had with this professor at the University of Western Cape when we talked about how to integrate message on violence against women in relation to HIV. Someone at the time wanted to do a storyline in a show around a woman who gets raped and is infected. While that does happen, it’s actually not the rape that puts a woman at risk of infection, it’s what happens next.
In the movies and TV shows, you usually see the woman who has been raped as the demure, quiet woman who is scared to be touched by a man and shuns sex altogether. Of course the other end of that pendulum is the woman who goes on to become a commercial sex worker (to use a pc term that no one other than in the development world uses) – and clearly sex workers are at risk of contracting HIV. But there is that group in the middle that people don’t really talk about. The ones who aren’t commercial sex workers and aren’t not having sex, but in fact are having a lot of sex. The ones who are for all intents and purposes, promiscuous.
I use the term promiscuous because by definition it means undiscriminating casual sex with many different partners, but I’m not a fan of the term because of its moral connotations. You can’t label a person who has been violated with a term that is moralistic in definition.
I don’t think unless you’ve been through it you can imagine what it’s like to be raped. And while each case is different, and all ultimately result in a woman being violated, I could guess that there are different degrees of rape – none being ‘better’ than the other. But being raped by an acquaintance could bring out a different trauma than being raped by a stranger, and that’s why even each rape survivor is different and while they can relate to some similarities not each survivor can necessarily understand what the other is going through. But I digress.
My point is for those women who are raped and then deal with the aftermath of indiscriminate sexual experiences, they are the ones who are at a high risk for HIV infection. I don’t necessarily think that it’s indiscriminate sex, it’s more that the survivor is looking to gain back the control that they think they lost, and probably afraid to say no. Isn’t it easier to have sex, even if you don’t really want it, than risk being raped again? Though when you think about it, you’re pretty much being raped over and over again, you just think that you are more in control because you said yes rather than no and have it forced on you.
The problem is that society, certainly in Africa (ok Zambia), tends to sweep sexual abuse, rape even, under the carpet, rather than providing the support that victims need. I think that it’s possible for a rape survivor to lead a healthy sexual/relationship life without counselling, but I think it’s probably easier to do this with some counselling and a good support network. Yet we tend to brush counselling off as something only crazy people do. We also have a fear of the confidentiality aspect – not surprising, you hear so many cases of counsellors, doctors even, discussing patients cases it’s scary! But then again rape survivors have to realise that it’s not their fault. If we could move past this shame/blame thing then maybe it would be easier to not go through the indiscriminate sexual practices.
Anyway, my point is that this poor 19 year old girl has probably ended up infected because of unresolved issues as a result of her rape. And this is what we need to remember when dealing with sexual violence and HIV/AIDS, we can’t forget about the after-effects of rape, which a woman can deal with for years after the assault. Specifically in Africa we need to address this because sexual violence is way too common, whether it’s used as a weapon of war in conflict areas (I shudder when I think of the statistics in Congo) or as an every day risk in areas where women aren’t valued and thought of as second class citizens. And while I have used the case of women, it shouldn’t be forgotten that there are male victims of rape too. We need to use our voices to speak for and support survivors and ensure this doesn’t continue to happen to other people.
At first I couldn’t understand why these beautiful women with great bodies were going around dressed in outfits that made them look homeless. They kept saying to me that they didn’t want to be sexy or attract attention. I didn’t really get that, because I think if I look good on the outside, I’ll feel good on the inside. And let’s be honest, some people can’t help but look sexy, especially if they are well put together. It’s not even about having to show any skin, but if you have a good body and your clothes fit you well, and you carry yourself with confidence and class, someone will think you’re sexy right?
I didn’t really get what the big deal was until I went on a date last week. It would be an understatement to say the guy was easy on the eyes – you could look at this guy for ours and be in awe, he is in short an adonis. What started out well enough went horribly wrong when it soon be came clear that he was more interested in getting into my pants than getting into my mind (and initially I had thought he just wanted to pick my brains as we are in the same line of work).
By the end of the date I was pretty peeved off. It’s always flattering to have someone be attracted to you, but it is frustrating when all they actually see is T&A. In fact when I remarked that it would be nice to date someone who didn’t want to have sex with me, he’s snorted, ‘with that body? good luck!’. And it dawned on me then and there why the women I’d previously mentioned decided to play down their God-given assets.
I really try not to over-analysis every situation – but let’s be honest, I’m a woman, of course I do! – I couldn’t help but wonder if this is why a lot of women in Zambia end up in situations they don’t want to be. 1 in 5 women in Zambia report having experienced sexual violence in their lives. And this is probably just the more obvious sexual violence cases. I wonder how many people think of reporting coercion. It’s such a subtle form but when you feel you have to have sex with someone even when you don’t want to, it’s never a good idea. But I digress.
I hope one day men, especially in Africa, learn to respect a woman – whether she’s saying no or yes. Because that’s the other side of the coin. If I’d met this fine man and was sexually attracted to him, then it would still have been a problem having sex with him on the first night – as a woman, either way you’re screwed (no pun intended).
Sometimes I wish I lived on a deserted island, where nothing is that complicated. Or I wish people would understand that I simply don’t care about what other people think, because either way, if people don’t understand you, they will always have an opinion of you, so why get worked up about it? Aaaah because society isn’t that simple. So back to desert island it is.
Being back in Zambia, the land of MCP (multiple concurrent partnership), there isn’t a day that goes by when there isn’t some conversation of extra-martial relationships, mainly from the men’s point of view. Rarely do people discuss a wife’s infidelity – I guess because, though it is becoming more common, it is still pretty rare.
Men who have ‘other wives’ (mistresses, girlfriends, side-plates, ATMs (assistants to madam), small house, whatever you choose to call them) is quite common in Zambia, to a point of seeming to be expected and accepted. But people still comment on it, so maybe it’s not as accepted as people think. Though married men get away with it, while the wives are the victims and the other women are the sluts, home wreckers, and even on some occasions assaulted by the wives – there has been the public case of the woman who had the other woman murdered and a couple of cases of acid thrown on the mistress’ face.
My personal opinion of this is that wives are not victims, they choose to be if they want to be, but they are not by default victims and women need to stop this mentality. I know what you’re thinking, it’s easy for me to say this because I’m not married. True. But I also hope that if i get married I wouldn’t accept my husband being unfaithful to me.
The men get away scott free. Women blame the other woman, and in some cases the other woman can and should be blamed, because there are some evil women who knowingly go after other people’s husbands. But a lot of married men actively pursue these other women – because they know they can. Sure there is the onus on the other woman to say no to these men, but why should she?
If a single woman, wants to just have fun and not settle down with someone, why is it her problem who the man is? Of course if the said woman falls in love with the man, who obviously won’t leave his way (do they ever?), then she really is up sh*t’s creak and shouldn’t be in that relationship.
I’m not at all defending the other woman, I’m just saying that as a married woman, it was you and your husband who made those vows and if a man isn’t honouring them then put up or shut up. It’s like any other areas of our lives, you don’t like your job, stop whining about it and quit; you don’t like being fat, go on a diet or accept it, etc. But don’t get fooled, you aren’t a victim, we get treated the way we allow ourselves to be treated. I’ll concede that our culture doesn’t really tolerate divorce and we do have traditional says that express the fact that a man’s infidelity won’t break the house, but when your happiness and health (hello, HIV is alive and well) are at stake, then where does culture and tradition get you? As one of my girlfriend’s said, I’d rather be single and happy, then married, alone, and unhappy. Anyway, I’m not that ingrained with my culture, so again, maybe for me it’s easier said than done.
Women have to learn to be empowered, the other day one of these health programme managers told us that the concept of being faithful to one person wasn’t really understood here, because being faithful meant you financially provided for the person and the kids. And herein lies the problem. Until women are financially independent and respected they can’t make the best decisions for themselves. But then again, some of these women are financially independent and they still stay in faithless marriages. As for the whole ‘we’re doing it for the kids’ excuse, sorry but that is all it is, an excuse. We learn about relationships first and foremost from our parents, so what are you teaching your kids? All you’re doing is perpetuating the cycle.
Ok, now I feel like I’m getting self-righteous and high and mighty so i’ll leave it here (and look for my pet cats! lol). It is only my opinion and as a single woman, I guess it is easier for me to say this than if I really was in the situation…
I was having a conversation with a woman about my age and was shocked to learn that she was sexually assaulted by a family member as a young teenager. I was shocked because I seem to be having this conversation a lot, different women talking about sexual assaults that have happened in their lives. It’s shocking how many woman have had this experience and kept quiet about it.
Next week marks the 100th International Women’s Day, yet there’s still so much us women go through that still isn’t properly regarded or addressed. Sexual violence is one of the most brutal attacks that a woman can face that causes years of pain and damage to the woman, sometimes in ways that even she doesn’t recognise. Yet nothing is really done to encourage women to speak out about it, deal with it and bring their attackers to justice.
Something has to be said about how we value, or don’t as the case may be, women. And when it’s black women, even worse. Somehow I don’t think the world would turn a blind eye if it was masses of white men (ok women, but definitely not if it was white men) getting raped daily in the Congo.
This speaks volumes of the strength of women, but why should women have to carry this pain? African women seem to have it worse. Men just seem to assume that women are nothing more than property, or something to control and do with as they please. There is definitely need to get both men and women to value and respect a woman.
I’m obviously not saying that all African men are like that, but I know too many women (African) who have suffered some type of sexual abuse (and sometimes abuse generally) to not question the cultural nature of it.
I’m glad that organisations like Unicef are developing campaigns like Brothers for Life to try and address some of these issues of what an African man should be like, but unless it’s sustained and has a serious investment behind it, it won’t really make that much of an impact. Trying to change the fabric of someone’s being is not a small feat or a job that can be done overnight.
But we also have to start telling the stories of women, and really bringing them to the forefront. I hope UN Women takes the challenge seriously, and really addresses the plight of women globally. This can’t keep happening to generations of women coming up in this world.
I’m one of those people who likes clothes on other people, but terrible at putting on a half-way decent outfit myself. Ok, not that bad, but enough for me to think, what am i wearing? (Half the time) So with my up-coming move to Zambia, I decided that my current wardrobe is not going to cut it.
This is partly because at MTV I can get away with wearing thigh high boots and a mini dress (not that I do wear that), whereas in Zambia, I have to be a little bit more conservative at work, especially with the clients I’ll be working with. I may have the shoes to make any outfit fly, but I still needed some key pieces.
Lucky for me, Manenga, a friend of mine is considering launching a career as a stylist – so I willing volunteered to be her guinea pig. She looks fly all the time, so was an easy decision for me. I think you need to sell yourself with yourself. I don’t want you to be my stylist if you look a hot mess, or be my hairdresser if your hair isn’t on point. Of course there was still the risk that just because she can put herself together, didn’t necessarily mean she could style me.
I was willing to take the chance anyway, especially when I realised the best part of it was that I didn’t have to do any shopping – you can, but as I hate shopping for anything other than shoes, I thought I’d rather pass. The style transformation began by talking through the look I wanted, colours I liked, all over a glass (or two) of bubbly, I gave her money and off she went shopping. Within a few days she brought me three outfits, none of which I would have bought myself, but every single one looked great on me.
I never thought I worried about getting older, but after looking at her pieces I realised I have been worried about getting older and that’s probably why I’ve still been rocking curve hugging outfits. But the outfits she brought me, still flattered my body and made me look classy, professional and trendy and cool at the same time.
I’m now excited about getting the remaining pieces from her, and rocking a whole new look, that really will take my image to a whole new level. Something that I’ll need as I move to the next chapter of my life. It’s like a mini re-invention of myself.
And yes, when her business is up and running, I’ll share her site so everyone can look fabulous!
Another interesting day in the office that led to the topic of masturbation. It actually started by talking about women in their late 20s never experiencing an orgasm and how possible that was. Which led to the debate about how believable (or not, as the case might be) that some women don’t masturbate.
I personally am a big advocate for masturbation. I think that it teaches people to appreciate their bodies – you have to touch yourself, which some people find weird – and it’s also a great form of safe sex. It’s also something that you can do on your own or with a partner.
In many countries around the world it is still so taboo, but I think if we encouraged more young people to masturbate they might not feel the need to have sex, and can hold out until marriage, or whenever parents and/or society deem it to be the appropriate time or age to do so.
And if you’re sexually active it teaches you what you like and what you don’t like, and therefore have a more pleasurable sexual experience with your partner. Or at least that’s what people say, I haven’t actually figured out how this works.
But that last point actually took the conversation in the office in a different direction when someone suggested that they learnt what they liked and didn’t like from porn. Well, not literally. They used porn to educate themselves on what they should be doing sexually and then tried it on their partner, and those experiences taught them more about what turned them on and off.
Well I don’t know about that, but I guess people get ‘sex education’ from many different sources, so we need to be educating through those different sources. It’s nice to see that there are some porn films (programmes?) that use condoms, because those is another way of normalising using condoms – for the people who get their sex education from porn.
But I’d still encourage masturbation – you get comfortable with your body, it’s pretty safe (unless you’re sharing toys), and allows experimentation without actually having sex. It’s interesting that people are still uncomfortable talking about it though.
Twitter is interesting. I used to think it was a tool for narcissistic people, of course now that I’m on it, I’m not singing that tune anymore. While I’m still trying to learn the ins and out of it – what is the hashtagging about? – I have found it very interesting to learn stuff people I respect and admire tweet about.
One of those people is Reverend Run. I usually love his tweets as they’re inspiring and motivational. Something that I like to read when I get up in the morning and right before I got to bed. However, the other day he tweeted ‘Fellas:::If she’s amazing she won’t be easy, if she’s easy she won’t be amazing -Jamal Bryant’.
I see where he was going with it, (and I suppose I must clarify that it is someone else’s quote), on one hand he can be seen to be empowering women to be more virtuous. On the other hand he’s reinforcing women with low self esteem who do have sex easily to be kept down.
I’ve seen it too often, young girls who got caught up in a bad situation – be it some form of sexual abuse – or just not loving themselves enough to say no, or peer pressure or something else that made them make that one decision to have sex when they didn’t want to. On the first night too. It’s hard to come back from that.
It takes real strength to break that cycle of having sex with men who don’t deserve you, and to say that if you have sex that easy you’re not worth much is pretty irresponsible if you ask me.
Black girls especially have it really hard as it is, sexualised in the media, not many examples of black men loving black women and treating them right (thank God for President Obama), that it’s easy for us to suffer from lower self esteem, dysfunctional perceptions of our bodies and believing we’re nothing more than a show-piece or sex toy for our men. But it’s time we change that.
First of all we need to show young black girls that being beautiful doesn’t mean you need to be half naked (Beyonce please put some clothes on in your videos), and also celebrate our diversity. There is not one definition of black beauty. Once we can instil that love, pride and respect within them we can move onto sexuality.
Our bodies are our temples, or should be, but we have to be more clear about that message. If a woman who loves herself, has self-respect and high self-esteem generally wants to have sex with any number of men, should we persecute her? Why does that make her less amazing a person?
How can a person be defined by the number of times she opens her legs, or to the different number of men? She could be an amazing person who has had bad things happen to her in the past, or she could be an amazing person who just likes sex?
Makes me wonder how come there are enough male celebrities who claim to be sex addicts but no female celebrities – could this possibly be because they’d just be labeled sluts. It is a double standard. Should we not then be saying than man-whores are not amazing men (well generally they aren’t), we just need to hear it more often – and not be the scorned woman.
Though maybe I misinterpreted the quote and what he meant was that it takes work to get and keep an amazing woman! That she has standards that might be high, but that’s what it takes to be with such an amazing woman. I’d prefer it if that is the message, so I’m going with this version, so that I can still keep Rev Run as one of my inspired personalities to follow on twitter.
Of course it’s also spurned me to think that there might be something else I should be doing. Watch this space.
It’s been a long couple of weeks for me, both at work and in my personal life. We’re gearing up for the bi-annual (every 2 years?) International AIDS Conference in Vienna, and we have some pretty amazing stuff going on there, and trying to work across what we’re doing on the ground and online is a pretty hectic task. But I do love it, and I’m excited to see it all come together.
And seeing that I am a ‘happy-drunk’, I managed to volunteer to organise and host my sister’s friend’s Hen party. Though I did one for one of my closest friends a month or so ago, I have no idea what to do for this one. It doesn’t help that she and her friends are students, so budget-wise, that’s quite restricting – and I unfortunately can’t foot the bill! I have to sort it out pretty soon, seeing as it’s scheduled for this Friday – yikes!
On another note, I’m actually thinking about finally getting on the twitter bandwagon… still thinking about it of course. I’m half tempted, but then I think about whether I have the time to do it – I barely have time to blog these days! And then there is of course the fact that I have frequently declared that I’d never get on twitter because you’d have to be seriously narcissistic to be on it (unless you’re only following people, then you’re a potential stalker!), I do like to be a woman of my word. But then again, I am a woman, I do have the right to change my mind! Anyway, as it stands, I’m merely thinking about it. Right now I have to focus on overseeing our Vienna activities, writing my assignment (not to mention starting on my dissertation), and writing about two business plans, oh and organising the hen night! Do I really have time for Twitter?
Our office really can be a fun place to work, especially because so much of what we do revolves around sex. Sometimes I don’t even know how the conversations come up but I do worry about the poor emerging markets team hearing our rather graphic conversations – hmmm surely there’s an HR policy that goes against sexually inappropriate conversations? But of course it’s not inappropriate, it’s work related!
So the masturbation one came up … actually I have no idea how that one came up think it was from our fans on facebook discussing it. It was interesting to see the comments! People still believe that masturbation can make you blind because it’s some great sin from God. Hmmm ok.
Then it was that women don’t masturbate, only men do… hmmm ok. And then my personal favourite, normal people don’t masturbate.
I did like the woman who then said, but it was good for relaxation because you really shouldn’t have your body all tense. Interesting that no one said that it was a good method of safer sex!
Today was more fun, my colleague Julie Allen, has been asked to sit on a panel during the International AIDS Conference to discuss how you can make the female condom more appealing to men. Our response was, ‘surely you should make it more appealing to women first?’
We discussed who had ever tried using one – no one and who was willing to try one – to help give Julie some first hand research to use for her panel – no one. Finally someone admitted having tried it once. The downside, it sounded like shagging a plastic bag (heard that one before). The merits? Well, ‘as a guy, you don’t have to use a condom, what’s better than that?’
We decided to put it to the fb fans. Wow, shock, wow.
Mainly women responded – not that many but still – and pretty much all of them said that they didn’t think it was safe! Interesting.
So back to my point – how do you make it more appealing to women? Seriously have you seen it? Nothing is sexy about it. At least get the packaging to a sexy point like most male condoms. And can it not be easier to insert? Well maybe it is easy to use, but the instructional graphics on the pack seem quite complicated…
Anyway maybe the second generation female condoms (creatively titled FC2) are more sexy and less noisy (they claim this at least). Funnily enough, think i’ll stick to the male condoms for now.