I WILL speak because I have a voice
The anger felt hot, like the sting of sizzling cooking oil against naked skin. Quickly, it percolated throughout me, burning my core and making me want to shout out.
“I am entitled to my own opinion!”
Last weekend, I posted the following status update on my Facebook page: “Fungai Rufaro Machirori doesn't like men who think it's their prerogative to think for you. Surely if I was meant to have no opinion, God would have put socks in my head instead of a BRAIN! Steer clear if you subscribe to that backward mentality because I am not having it!”
A while later, one of my ‘uncles’ (actually a friend’s uncle) wrote me a long email explaining to me how offensive the tone of my post had been and how, if I continued to speak my mind like that, I would alienate all males.
Believing fully that his argument made no sense, since I was asking those very narrow-minded types of men to steer clear anyway, I chose to take it all with a pinch of salt.
But later that evening, a male friend interrogated me and asked me why I was always ‘scolding’ men. What, he asked, was I eating in the UK that was giving me so much fire to post scathing Facebook status updates?
I couldn’t believe it! What was meant to be a warning for men who I thought were far less progressive had actually held sway with these guys, men who I have always deemed to be progressive and open-minded.
And that’s when that sting of anger began to burn.
Slowly, older statements began to flow through my mind. Just the week before I had been walking home with one of my classmates who’d told me that I was essentially a sweet girl, but my only vice was that I used my voice too often.
“Why don’t you be like the other girls?” he tried to sweet-talk me as we walked through a steady stream of afternoon rain. “We [the men in my class] know they are intelligent but they don’t make a show of it talking so much in class all the time.”
I am taking a deep breath now just remembering that horrible conversation.
So because I am always keen to ask the lecturer a question or to sit in the front row of the classroom, that is somehow offensive to the guys?!
My heart bleeds. My anger softens into sadness because this all reminds me how so far off we are from granting women the same liberties as men. Instead of being active thinking critical human beings, many men would still prefer us to be wallflowers.
And so, for a day, I complied with their demand and shut my mouth up. I changed my Facebook profile picture to an image of me with my mouth written over and obscured, and told my friends that I wouldn’t be speaking for the sake of the dear and frazzled men.
The responses were overwhelming and some were oh so emotional.
One of my male friends wrote, “Fungai, I'm not sure which male friends you are referring to, but I'd rather you un-friend them than you gag yourself. Keep it coming.”
Other friends realised that this was a prank, an experiment in understanding whether or not my voice is of any relevance.
But yet others reminded me why it is I speak. One of my best friends wrote, “I hope this won’t be for long. You say things we are afraid to say. We need our voice back.”
A rush of sensations I cannot fully describe in words seeped into my chest as I read that comment.
And then another one came through. “If they don't like you they need to not listen. What you say is insightful and amazing, never edit yourself for the sake of others.”
Quickly, the anger was being replaced with renewed energy, with a sense of responsibility, with the conviction that I would continue to take the proverbial bullets and stabs to my spirit for the sake of those who would not, could not speak; for the sake of honouring my life’s true purpose.
Later that day, my father called me all the way from home in Zimbabwe. After chit-chat about the weather and other things, we zeroed in on how studies were going. He asked me, as he has done before, to keep in mind the idea of doing my PhD because in his own words, “you were born to be great.”
I don’t know if being a doctor or professor makes anyone greater than the average person, but I understood what he meant. Because he sees my potential to be more than I am, my father encourages me to harness all the possibilities and opportunities to become thus.
If my father can perceive this and appreciate it, then I don’t care what any other man says. My parents did not educate me – academically and socially - to the best of their ability to then have me acting like they did not.
Every word I speak out, every norm that I challenge is a tribute to them and in honour of the legacy that I inherit from them; in honour of my mother, the first black female editor of a Zimbabwean public newspaper.
As a little girl, I often sat in my mother’s office watching her read and re-read content, calling in journalists – male and female alike - to tell them where they were going wrong with their work and how they could improve it. I remember too how she sat in newsroom conferences, the only woman among a group of men, some of whom still felt that a woman’s hands were best served scrubbing floors than scribbling comments across pages of draft newspaper articles.
I come from such a legacy and I intend to continue it.
My World Pulse signature states, “I will speak because I have a voice.”
I claim that voice. I love that voice. I live to make that voice louder, more beautiful, more genuine, more Me.
I am Me - being and becoming. 'Me' is not a destination; it is the bus trip along the narrow tarred strip of life, gazing out the window at the different elements and learning to relate to each in my own way. I am Me - take it or leave it... But don't feel obliged to have to take Me. I am just fine being and becoming Me as I am.