Having grown up in a Christian family I read the bible a lot. It followed naturally that I would believe in the supernatural power of God. This blog, however, is not about what I do or do not ascribe power to in my personal space but I mention this part of my upbringing to make reference to a story in the bible I once read that got me thinking about how courageous women are.
It takes courage to pursue one’s dreams
The story was about the twelve spies from Israel that were sent to “examine” the land of Canaan that the Lord was going to give to their possession as a people. Ten of the twelve spies came back reporting that it would be impossible to take over that land because the people were too powerful, the city is very large and greatly fortified. They could not even imagine fighting the people of that land. However two out of the twelve spies had a different attitude, they reported that yes the people are big and the walls are huge but conquering them can be done, it is not impossible.
I liken women who pursue their careers in whatever field be it sports, law, social and business entrepreneurship, academics and in many other fields, to the two spies who came back from exploring Canaan with a different attitude from the rest. The world of “work” was without a doubt created for men but the women who have over the years dared to initiate working environments that are suitable for women to work in. Women advancing in any field of work has never been an easy task due to a number of stumbling blocks that they come across based solely on the fact that they are women. One such subtle but lethal stumbling block is the social pressure of “being found suitable for marriage”.
The pressure and expectations are real
Women especially young women are expected to “behave” a certain way, not be too successful more than their male counterparts or they will definitely end up alone. They can achieve but not too much, they can make money but not too much money and they better make sure they remain “humble” in their achievements if they do not want to end up alone. I was once asked by a dear family member (whose relation to me I will not mention) “who will marry you when you have a PhD?” dumbfounded by this question and not really sure how to answer I was rescued by my sister “other men with PhD’s as well” she said jokingly. That was the first time I was subjected to this kind of pressure and I remember walking away from that conversation counting the number of “men with PhD’s and who are perusing PhD’s who could be potential husbands” … sad right? I think my experience was a tip of the iceberg compared to the stories millions of women can relay with regards to this type of social pressure all because they are bold and courageous enough to pursue their dreams. I respect women folk because despite what society has said and done over the years women have not been the kind to sit back, fold their arms and say oh well this is our fate.
Resilience is key
To me, they resemble those two spies who came back with the same report but had a different attitude, an attitude that said: “it may be difficult but it is not impossible”. One such woman who comes to mind is Caster Semenya. That girl has been handling her case with such grace and dignity. I draw a lot of strength just by observing her hold her head up and fighting to stay in the game despite the IAAF’s determination to get rid of her. I can only imagine the self-strengthening conversations she must have with herself to keep herself going. Often times when I get discouraged in my academic journey I read about her and her strength always comes through for me. Caster is a true embodiment of WOMANDLA!!!
I imagine that those two spies had their nation, they were more concerned about the future of the people who they had left behind and not so much their own lives. Women like Mamokgeti Phakeng who are willing to forsake their comfort (salaries to pay for student fees), fear, personal time to serve their nations defiantly inspire and build courage in other women to be bold in chasing their dreams and serving the people of their nation and the world.
We women in our respective fields work hard to contribute to overcoming the numerous challenges in our various disciplines, environments and social spaces. We do not offer ourselves in service to other people by applying ourselves to our work because it is easy to do but because it must be done. If not for us then for generations to come. As Beyoncé said it our “persuasion as women can build nations” in this academic space we woman are working to build an informed nation.