A couple of weeks back I shared a commitment to forgo privileges that I had enjoyed by virtue of being a man. A few days after posting that statement, a female friend of mine asked me what I meant by it. I had ideas of what male privilege was and I told her, but as we spoke I realised that there is so much more freedom and security I enjoy in the world because I’m a man, which is enjoyed at the expense of women. Eager to learn more about this I had a longer conversation with an inspiring woman, Wozani Thabede, who runs a successful consultancy firm, with a law degree in tow and a passion for women’s empowerment. This is a snippet of our conversation:
Q: Wozani, would you say there’s a difference between you and a man on the streets?
Wozani: “Yes there is, people see women as visual beings. When I’m walking on the streets I’m being judged by the way I look and the way I’m dressed; what my hair looks like, what my handbag looks like. Whereas for a man, I believe people look at a man and they see a man. If they are judging it may be a race thing but apart from that I think a man is just looked at as a man.”
Q: If you had a chance to change things, especially the challenges you face in being judged by the way you look, what would you change?
Wozani: “Well, I want to be able to walk on the streets and not feel the differences between me and a man. I want to be able to do certain things that men can do on the streets. Take for example, I wouldn’t walk at night alone, but a man can easily do that.
So many times I’ve had male friends or colleagues be like: “I’ll accompany you to this place or that place” maybe as a source of protection, but its something I’d like to be able to just do without having to rely on someone because if there isn’t a man readily available to help me do something, then it makes it difficult”.
Q: When you find yourself having to rely on other people to get certain things done, how does it make you feel?
Wozani: “Do you know what the saddest thing is; it doesn’t make me feel any type of way anyway because I’ve accepted it, it’s my way of life. I don’t know if that’s good or bad but I think it’s sad”.
Q: What would it take for you to feel safe on the streets?
Wozani: “Changing the current perception of a woman, as being the weaker sex, as helpless and hopeless; addressing that would change things 100%”
Q: How would you do that, how would you change minds?
Wozani: “I think men need to understand the position we are in as women. They need to value us, they need to see us as equals and that would certainly go a long way”.
Q: Earlier you mentioned how you’d like to walk on your own at night, what is so unsafe about the night for a woman?
Wozani: “You can get robbed, you can get raped, especially rape…you just feel vulnerable”.
Q: What is it about manhood and how we teach manhood, that makes some men rape, violate and rob people?
Wozani: “I think there’s the element that men have been portrayed as the stronger sex, or as the more powerful sex; so some men want to validate themselves through these acts. There’s an element of male perpetrators of violence against women wanting to demonstrate power; they feel inadequate, which is funny because these are the things they tend to want women to feel. They feel like they are weak, so it’s an element of wanting power”.
Q: Does this mean that some men don’t have power unless they use violence in trying to control other people?
Wozani: “First of all, I think it’s important for men and women as well to understand the differences that God, I’m Christian so I’ll refer to God, or even if you don’t want to refer to God, to understand the differences that are between men and women.
So now if they don’t understand these differences, like men that view women as a weaker sex; when you have women that know and understand who they are, why they were created and are strong, then it tends to intimidate these men. So this is where I think the differences are between men and women I’m talking about need to be really addressed. If a woman is strong and open minded it doesn’t mean to say she’s trying to intimidate you, but we women are equally as strong, and have the ability to be as equally independent as men. This shouldn’t be a threat, it should be a blessing because we can work together”.
Q: What would you say are the differences between men and women? What strengths do women have that men do not have, or that they share with men and what weaknesses do men have that women don’t have?
Wozani: “I think man by make was designed to lead, to protect and provide. He was designed to be a covering. Ultimately women were also designed to lead, they were designed to be care givers, to be nurturers; If you give a woman a seed she will make life out of it, so we’re designed to birth things. Now, what men or what people don’t understand is these differences. So if I’m designed to provide as a man and I’m designed to nurture as a woman, both of them are provision, you’re providing something.
It’s not to say that these elements I’ve mentioned in a man can’t be found in a woman and vice-versa but then I think they have been so separated and divided that no one is allowed to cross the other line. For instance, I grew up with brothers that were told not to cry because ‘men don’t cry’. They were told “You’re being too soft, you need to be a man” and I myself have been told that “You’re not a man and you don’t do that, you don’t go that far”. As an example, not too long ago someone said to me “It’s not advisable for a woman to buy a house before she’s married because that intimidates a man”, so why can’t I start to think about provision for my family as a woman when a man can?
I think those are the differences we have created for men and women and they are blurred a lot. If anyone crosses the blurred line they are ridiculed for trying to lose their identity, and then scenarios where people think they are not strong enough, or they are inadequate, come to play because they are demonstrating the characteristics they are told to not demonstrate”.
Q: What kind of man wouldn’t be intimidated by a woman who buys a house before she gets married?
Wozani: “I think it would take a confident man, I think confidence is everything. A man who is confident that assets, or my assets are not going to come in the way. A man that is confident that at some point in his future he is going to achieve over and above what he has now. A man that is confident that he is going somewhere and that where he is now is not where he’s going to be for the rest of his life”.
Q: Does this means the nature of men’s attraction to women should change and vice-versa, with women less concerned with men’s role as protectors and men less concerned with women as carers?
Wozani: “No. I previously mentioned the differences that were there when we were created. What I’m saying is that we should not use these differences to create injustice, division or to create a stronger and a weaker sex. I’m saying we should embrace them, embrace the differences, embrace the strengths of both sexes and use them to build better communities, better families and better nations”.
Q: What does injustice look like, what does the misuse of that balance between men and women look like?
Wozani: “What injustice is, is if I am a nurturer as a woman and if society has said I’m going to be the primary caregiver of children because I am a nurturer…then injustice is that I don’t have the same privileges that the man has purely because for example if I go on maternity leave I’m not paid the same as what a man is going to be paid when he’s at work; but I am creating a future, I am creating the future of that company, so that difference should not be used to create injustice in me being out of work and out of money. This is an injustice because I would be doing something that I was created to do and not being supported to do it.
Another example maybe would be in the workplace; people view the woman as soft, so they tend to not want to give them positions of leadership. Apart from being viewed as soft, generally they are not treated equally as men because people say, “One time she’s going to decide to have children and never come back”, or maybe “Due to her nature she’s going to embrace things that are not right or necessary in the business because she’s an ‘embracer’”. So that’s what I mean by injustice”
Q: Has the environment we’re in forced you to take up fights you otherwise would not have had to take up if you were viewed as equal to men?
Wozani: “I’ll be honest with you, it’s taken me a long while to get to where I am. The first few times I encountered stereotypes, I backed down and I really fed into the system of society and at some point even thought that ‘maybe the task wasn’t for me’. When I did decide to go for it, I worked extra, extra hard… It didn’t help being young, and unfortunately it doesn’t help being old sometimes as well for a woman so you just don’t know when its the right time, if there is ever one. And yes I can certainly say I had to work super hard to prove that I can do the same work that a man can do”.
Q: What would a fair world for men and women look like for you?
Wozani: “The interesting thing is I actually don’t know. I think the lines in everything have been blurred so much that I don’t even know what would look good and what wouldn’t. To try and answer that though; I’d like everybody to get recognised for the work that they do regardless of where it is or who they are. I’d like strength to be recognised regardless of what area or what element of it there is, and I think that would make a perfect world for a woman. And by recognition I mean should get paid for, rewarded and seen as hard work.”
For any man who’s ever wondered about male privilege, this is a good introduction. I’ll be collaborating with influential women like Wozani to share a series of posters on male privilege using the hashtags. #uPSIDEdOWNwORLD and #SeedsofChange. Look out for updates on the blog and on social media and don’t forget to let us know what you think in the comments section below. A big thank you to Wozani for taking time to let us into the dynamics of #MalePrivilege.