PERIOD

period

The year is 2016 and society is still afraid to speak openly about the female menstrual cycle. Do not get me wrong, I am not calling for the introduction of a law that insists that in all your conversations there has to be some period talk. No, I am simply asking humanity to not make me feel like me bleeding is a serious crime against the world, a crime so serious that it must not be spoken of. We have found a name for ‘it’ or many names for ‘it’. It is puzzling because ‘it’ brings life and ‘it’ is quite natural. Whether it is “that time of the month”, “monthly”, “code red”, “leak week” and my favourite “imvula iyanetha”, these are a few of the names that people use in order disguise the biological process that is happening. Every time I have a conversation about my female parts, I am always forced to use a substitute name for them in order to make them less ‘disgusting’ or it is implied that one should not speak about such things in public. I remember the first girl who got her period in primary school. When the young students found out, boys ridiculed her and the young girls isolated her for the fear that her ‘disease’ would spread to the rest of us. Clearly, we had been programmed to feel ashamed of something that happens to every woman in the world. As I progressed to high school (a same sex school), I found the reception towards menstrual cycles to be the same. Girls with stains on their dresses where spoken about behind their backs for being highly unhygienic and not taking care of that ‘thing’ because ‘that is disgusting’. Where do these views come from? After all, a female having her menstrual cycle is often a sign of health. All these views on menstrual cycles stem from religious or cultural interpretations of books or beliefs. Most religions define menstrual cycles as time of impurity, women are not to cook or have sex for a week in order to prevent Gods wrath upon the household also they are deemed to be unclean.

Another stigma comes from certain cultures in which menstrual cycles are said to be female only problems and only females speak about such things. A campaign called Happy to Bleed was started in India as a response to an Indian temple chief wanting to place a ‘period detector’ machine, in order to make sure that the women that enter the temple were ‘pure’. This is not the only example of discrimination against women but there are many more. The Happy to Bleed campaign highlights the absurdity of the many ways in which the female body has been oppressed and calls for women to appreciate their own bodies and for society to understand that bleeding is not a sin nor is it a crime that requires a detector. Nikita Azad, a college student who started the campaign explained its ironical name as so “We are using happy as a word to express sarcasm – as a satire, to taunt the authorities, the patriarchal forces which attach impurity with menstruation”. From this explanation one clearly sees that women have been made to feel impure because of a bodily fluid and that society constantly taunts females by problematizing their bodies. Since bleeding is such a sin I would like to explain in layman terms what a menstrual cycle is. A ‘Menstrual cycle’ is that natural thing that women get every month to show that they are not pregnant. When you menstruate, your body sheds the lining of the uterus and the menstrual blood flows from the uterus through the cervix and out of the body through the vagina. Biologically explained plain and simple. Thus, the absurdity of labeling a simple biological happening as a sin has severely harmed as a society. A grown woman on her period has to hide her tampon or pad when going to the bathroom because she has been made to feel ashamed of her cycle.

Girls are not attending school because they do not have the money for pads or tampons (often classified as luxuries thus made more expensive), an occurrence that has a dire impact on their studies and their development. Women are made to feel ashamed of their bodies from a young age. And men cringe at blood more than they do rape. It is time that periods are not made a taboo, but are turned into a topic in which I as a female can speak about without the fear of being ridiculed, belittled or judged. It is time that we speak about this part of the female experience not because we want to make you squirm at the idea of vaginal bleeding but because I should be free to speak about my body without it being an abomination because after all WE BLEED, GET OVER!

By: Nelisiwe Mkhele

New Anger – The rage of the snobbish black middle class.

slaves

There is a problem which certain people who were involved in “the struggle” and few others do not understand. The end of apartheid and the rhetoric of Ubuntu does not mean that all has ended and we are now one happy family that sits under a tree and sings kumbaya (excuse the cliché).  Yes, we were not forced to learn all our subjects in Afrikaans. Yes, we did not have kwela kwela’s roaming around our homes at 6pm in order to enforce curfews. Yes, we did not experience the white man beat us down whilst his dog eats into our skin. However you, “the struggle” generation did. That is why I am quite surprised at your response when you hear a born free generation child express their stories of racism, and you seem to render them exorbitant and completely ridiculous.  I recently read an article by Professor Jonathan Jansen entitled “South Africa: when student activism turns to gangsterism” and in this article he speaks about a “new anger” which leads to violence or as he coins it gangsterism.  In his words:

“I have studied the somewhat unexpected emergence of this new black anger with a mixture of intrigue and concern. Intrigue, because of who the voices are raising this strident critique of post-apartheid society. The critics are mainly middle class black students (or those aspiring to such status) who attended white schools and white universities in South Africa. In other words, they are for the most part children of privilege as far as their educational aspirations are concerned, and unlike the vast majority of young people who enjoyed access to premium institutions and made that experience work for them, their families and communities—this group of disaffected graduates are angry, and appear very angry. The argument of the newly angry is very simple: Thank you ANC for what you may have done in the struggle, but no thank you. We reject your closed and circular narrative of freedom—that you came, saw, and conquered. That is your narrative, not ours. We are still not free.”

This anger that the Prof speaks about is not new. Black people have always felt a sense of anger regarding the race tensions in South Africa. Do not let the 5 minute world cup moment of happiness erase what a majority feels every day in fairly simple instances of life. We see it when a racial matter arises in South Africa, like white students urinating in the University of Free State (which Professor Jansen is vice-chancellor) workers food or when our mothers and fathers watch documentaries about apartheid and always have a word to say about white people with tears rolling down their eyes.  The anger is not new just because it’s a new generation it is a different kind of anger. In reality it is an epistemic anger. The anger that I feel as a privileged middle class student in a white school when I am not handed a sports blazer that I deserve because of a supposedly “criteria change” which only seems to apply to my brown skin. The anger I feel when I am made to feel ashamed about the fact that I eat chicken feet and ikota whilst my friends eat Woollies and Kauai. The anger that I feel when I am forced to relax my hair (by the white school) because my hair is unruly and untidy. Or the “The need that I felt to adopt your English accent in order to avoid being marginalized was a strife experience on its own. Because at every turn you would mock the Black accent (or Blaccent) for its aberrant mispronunciations. Whether it be your own joke or one said by Wackhead Simpson (god, I despise this man). Even stories of the “incompetence” of your domestic work (or “maid”, as you power-vaulting self would prefer), coupled with condescending accents and impersonation, whilst I was sitting there and thinking of my own aunt and grandmother who were once domestic workers and what sort of experience they must have endured at the hands of spoil, unappreciative and condescending white kids (that’s the impression I was given by your tone and folly).” – Bongani Masilela on FB

Yes, we the children of a black middle class although privileged to attend these schools do not throw away the fact that we are uncomfortable within these schools. Many people seem to miss the point. Our parents fought in the struggle in order for us to register in these white/ private schools (amongst other things) however us being allowed to come in, does not mean that we are appreciated and welcomed. We do not expected to be treated like kings and queens in school but we do expected to be treated like humans. Why must my wearing an ‘isiphandla’ require an explanation when my ‘isiphandla’ does not affect any of your students nor does it show over my long grey blazer sleeve? Our parents have struggled to open the doors for us and our entering through these doors does not come in a rainbow colour wrapped present. We, the supposedly born free generation still suffer the consequences of our black skin. I see no reason why my suffering should be compared to that of the 76 generation because they suffering was immensely psychological and physical and arguably much worse than ours nor do I see no reason for people to disregard it because it no longer comes with guns and teargas (although that is debatable considering the recent #feesmustfall campaign).

Yes we are certainly not free, apartheid was not only a physical process, it was the process of the mind and as I have mentioned above an epistemic violence and thought. Epistemic meaning that it had to be thought out and implemented in the black mind that European ideas are superior and our African ideas are inferior and problematic. It is difficult to understand epistemic violence because it is not often seen but felt.  The “new anger” generation feels an anger which I think needs to be expressed. We cannot be foolish enough to think that just because black people are allowed into the space of whiteness, all is well. The epistemic violence has been micromanaged and bred in the same schools which we are so privileged to attend. Understand that racism and discrimination still exists today in these institutions that we so hate but love. We cannot force a generation to stop feeling the pain it feels because another experienced much worse. We can only try and understand what they are going through and their stories. Movements such as the #feesmustfall are not violent or as professor Jansen refers to them “gangsterism”. They are movements which aim to create change. The blocking of entrances into university might disturb you for one week. But the blocking of entrances to university is a brief example of how a R9350 registration fee blocks the bridge to a fairly decent life, for a not so fortunate middle class student, which is often created by a university degree. We cannot associate the misbehaviour of a few with the purpose of many. Our protests come after six months of negotiations and discussions around a table in which the voices of students were reduced to voices of nothingness. Our protesting, dear sir, is not gangsterism. Did the youth of ‘76 achieve anything by sitting and waiting for the government or did they march to their own freedom with blood being shed on the way?

I beg to differ on those who think anger is only found in the black middle class. There are many students that I have met in university that do not come from a middle class status but still feel a certain anger towards the whiteness that has been perpetuated by the university. We cannot deny the pain that we feel when we are made to feel inferior in the very same schools that our parents fought in the struggle for us to attend.  We cannot deny that we do not feel free because we cannot express ourselves and our cultures (which is our essential being) because ours is too ghetto. I can express my views as a middle class because I am granted a platform in which I can express my discomfort and struggles in a place which my parents thought would be peaceful after “THE STRUGGLE”. The young guy who comes from “slightly not so well of background” finds the same problems that I experience as a black middle class student. I see this anger as a cycle.

It starts with one attending a township school which has one dominant race a black/coloured or Indian. And then moving to a “great” private high school because of a scholarship or such and diving into the world of whiteness. In this world of whiteness we deny ourselves “us” in order to conform to the twang in the white university or private school. It ends with the realisation that one has been convinced and programmed in a very subtle manner to hate thy self and thy home.

feesmustfall

We do not spit on the graves of those who fought for our freedom. We are simply saying that the road to freedom does not start and end with one generation but lingers onto another generation. The need to “breathe” and the need for “freedom” is rightly expressed by the new generation because we do feel oppressed and unequal. Movements such as the #RhodesMustFall movement express the sentiments which Biko expressed over 40 years ago: “the basic tenet of black consciousness is that the black man must reject all value systems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity”.  

I’m sorry that my words sound like another privileged black middle class child who so happened to stumble across a book by Fanon or Biko. These writers do not create my anger, but only put into perspective and diagnose a disease that has eaten me for a long time: : “A New Anger”.

-Nelisiwe Mkhele

My hair

hair

My hair is my hair.

It is on my head not your head.

My hair does not seek your opinion.

Nor does it want it, require it, or need it!

My hair is my hair!

 

My hair is not a calculator …

To what you defines me as African

Are you really going to reduce my Africaness to hair?

Really?

 

I love my hair straight, coiled, curly, bald, sometimes big and sometimes short

But does my hair determine the contents of my soul?

But does my “natural” hair make me more African than the female with the weave?

 

No I have not been “colonised”

I am aware of my African ancestry

And I wear my hair the way I want because my hair,

Is an expression of me

 

Your opinion of my hair,

Your questioning of my hair styles,

makes me believe that you have a certain complex

a “blacker than thou” complex

this complex ironically displays the same colonised mind

that you claim to be running away from.

In the same way that the coloniser judged me based on my appearance

you look at me, and reduce my mind and soul into a physical attribute

mirror

I look at the mirror

And I am constantly told

What to be as a female

I am told: what to wear

What to be

How to act

And what my hair should be like

I am told (rather than being given my natural right of speech and opinion)

What my African self is, based on my hair

 

See the problem is

When you reduce my Africaness to hair

You take away the content of my character

And you place value on the bodily component of me

You reduce me in the same way your colonisers reduced you

You reduce me to a hollow being

A being filled with nothing but air

A being which does not know itself

A being which is not African

A being which is bleached

You reduce me to a being. Being.

You reduce me to hair

But you forget.

That I am not my hair

And that my hair is my hair.

 

By Nelly Mkhele