[Originally posted on Conversation Zimbabwe)
I remember it like it was yesterday; and those who were there will likely remember it too (albeit differently and for different reasons): it was a nippy autumn’s night and there was talk of a people’s revolution. A group of men had agreed to meet to strategise. There were two women on the periphery of the meeting (even as we were *made* to sit in the middle… “gender balance,” the host chirped -_-). I, the imposter, brought in because I talk too much & my friend thought The Men could do with hearing thoughts other than their own. The other, bless her, a wife, with views of her own, but who only spoke when her husband prompted her to. Present, but absent. Absent, but there.
Prior to this meeting, I had publicly lamented how deeply entrenched patriarchy was (is!) in Zimbabwe. How The Men will seek to start and propel “revolutions” without women (small w, not a capital) even though women are needed. How even when they let women into the room, it was for window dressing at best; entertainment at worst.
As I sat there among The Men, my views concretised. I winced when one remarked about my looks and how I didn’t need to have an opinion. He meant it as a compliment. They always do. The Men had their curtain and their entertainment. They would now talk about the revolution and hope the curtain and the entertainment wouldn’t get in the way.
For most of the night, I listened, as one does when they are in the room, but not quite.
Earlier in the night, I had remarked that the trouble with Zimbabwean politics was that it is rooted in a cult of personality. That our major trapping has been to “follow the leader” and not the principles. That we worship fallible beings, not value-laden ideas.
Then verbose baritone attempts to justify the perverse focus on an individual veiled as debate. Then the topic was changed. But under their breaths they had lamented Mugabe’s life presidency and Tsvangirai’s refusal to leave the helm of the wound that remains of the MDC. Sekuru gudo natsuro. Fallible humans catapulted to golden calf-like status by a nation that worships. And loves to worship. A coup by the missionaries that colonised our nation that we worship more than their progeny do! (If politics fails, dear Man, start a church. You know you want to!)
Each later contribution I made that night was toyed with, then quickly volleyed off-pitch. Another topic. More wine. A strange ritual, if not perverse. I got bored and spoke less as the night wore on. Curtains aren’t meant to speak & entertainment isn’t meant to disturb. I wanted to leave and never return.
I knew the host would never invite me to exquisite dinner again. I am, after all, the woman that dared speak her mind while The Men were discussing matters of national importance over expensive wine. I was relieved and comforted by the knowledge that this dinner would likely be my last with The Men. Something about the air The Men exhaled didn’t feel right. It felt like that which could choke if you let it. It was heavy. It was patronising. It reeked of years of being told “You’re the man” and “That-a-boys” by a society that celebrates male mediocrity for its maleness and pretends not to see the excellence of women just in case it hurts the boys.
Months later, The Men might tell of betrayal by the leader they exalted. Or they will not (they might issue ‘press releases’ to the wind, and try to hide that they too were betrayed, for fear of being accused of not having seen what was plain before their eyes). They might meet again to strategise. As like-minded folk are wont to do. This time, no rabble-rousing women in the room. As their nature intended.
This is the cycle of our politics. Politics tainted by a deeply patriarchal and hero-worshipping core that is rarely awake to reason (or at least, a different point of view. And not just of women). Rinse and repeat.
I imagine many women have sat at the periphery of rooms discussing revolutions. Silent. Thinking. Listening to The Men make decisions and knowing that if they dare speak, they will be heard, but no one will listen. Even the Dr Amai Wizard Honourables. From Chimurenga to Chimurenga. From movement to movement. Present, but absent. Absent, but there.
Women excluded from the frontlines of the revolution for no other reason than that they (we!) are women. They won’t show you that on TV though… and it doesn’t make for a catchy hashtag.
[When our revolution comes, all hands on deck, please.]
Note: Any and all references to those excluded includes people who are not within the gendered binary of “men” and “women”.