Let’s accept something about ourselves and others: Each and every one of us has been conditioned to accept a certain version of a socially constructed narrative titled: “The way things should be.” We believe in that narrative with our hearts and minds. It’s a story we’ve been building since we entered a certain world.
Some of us believe passionately that we should all live on a plant-based diet.
Some of us believe the earth is flat.
Some of us wish fervently that people loved their animals as much as they do other humans, and ascribed the same rights to them.
Some of us think children should be seen and not heard, while others believe with equal passion that their little darlings should express themselves freely (in restaurants, loudly) should the children choose to.
Some of us believe in a man’s right to many wives.
Some of us believe in capital punishment.
And so the list goes on.
Basically, our upbringing and influences socialise us into having certain values and preconceived ideas about how things should (or must) be done.
That’s not rocket science.
Zealots prefer the must, because they’re more intractable and harder to convince of a perspective shift. They’re the so-called hardliners and they exist on both ends of the political spectrum: the right (conservative) and left (radical liberal).
When it comes to women’s rights and gender equity and parity of payscale, a conservative would be someone who believes emphatically that women are not entitled to the same benefits as their male counterparts. On the other hand, a hardliner on the left would seek sweeping change in gender stratification and would tend to be completely intolerant of male insecurities around female empowerment.
Where is the middle ground in all of this?
South Africa’s National Women’s Day is, at its essence, about honouring the power of women to facilitate positive change. It’s a commemoration of what is possible.
The fact is, however, that we are all capable of standing together to bring about necessary change, irrespective of gender. And real, permanent and powerful change, towards, for example, true gender equity, cannot and will not happen without the buy-in of all genders.
So you know what we need more of? We need to be open. We need to listen with our hearts. We need to find common ground.
To do that, let’s accept something else about ourselves.
We all threaten and intimidate one another for different reasons. Because someone has great hair, speaks eloquently or is punctual, professional and authoritative. Or because they’re thin, rich or tidy. Or popular. Or tall. Or petite. Or tells jokes well. Or cook amazing meals.
Once you accept that you do feel threatened by something, it’s easier to address it. Once you accept the unconscious bias woven into the thread of your version of “the way things should be” narrative, you can act with greater awareness.
You are going to socially interact with women, men, children, the aged, the infirm, people with different pigmentation, hairstyles, interests, styles of doing things, hygiene habits, first languages (and so the list goes on) all your life.
All you need to do is be a little more open to their story. Women, lean in and express your needs. Men, lean in and listen closer. Women, accept that many men feel as unsure of their roles and positions in society as you do.
Everyone, reach to your left and reach out to find something that can connect you to a stranger. We all have something in common. Even if it’s just looking up at the stars, and dreaming of something better. Remember that, and embrace what’s right. Deep down you know what that is.