Friday, January 19, 2018

A Man's Livelihood: The Parenting of Self

It’s always my aim (new year or not) to read more books, particularly non-fiction. I’m currently reading Steve Biko’s “I Write What I Like” in candle light because living in Rural KZN means you could be the only one in your neighbourhood without electricity. And even though you do electrical engineering there is nothing you can do about it but condemn the government and manufacturers of electricity meters to hell.

I’m in the process of reading “Fear-An Important Determinant in South African Politics” and I’m feeling a frenzy of emotions.  Justified anger because “if white people could be cruel enough to cow the natives down with cruel force and install themselves as perpetual rulers in a foreign land, then anything else they do to the same black people becomes logical in terms of the initial cruelty.” Melancholy humour at his surmising that “Hitler is not dead, when I turn my radio on, when I hear someone in jail slipped off a piece of soap, fell and died I say we have been lied to: Hitler is not dead. He is likely to be found in Pretoria.” Steve Biko’s conviction that black people have no reason to aspire (and assimilate) to whiteness and the subsequent reasons for his conviction effuse me with a sense of empowerment. My mental space also has traces of hopelessness and determination from reading The Guardian’s “OprahWinfrey: One of the world’s best neoliberal capitalist thinker” earlier.

With all these emotions in mind I imagine my inner parent is frantically trying to stabilise my emotions and maintain a semblance of calm. Trying to keep me from falling into a hopeless depression because of the dim lighting and Biko’s renderings of black suffering. On other days, my inner parent must keep me from falling hopelessly in love with perfect strangers or making a fool of myself in front of the one I love. At times, she drags me out of bed at dawn for a morning jog or spin class because health is wealth sand she wants that coin. She bullies motivation, determination, and perseverance out of me because “Baby girl, we have a vision! Get on with it.” Almost always, she reminds me that fear, self-doubt, and anxiety shouldn’t take up permanent residence in my life because SHE WILL NOT HAVE IT!

I’m convinced that my description is overly and unnecessarily spiced and peppered but it’s a true description of how my mental space feels. I think that successful adulting is the ability to successfully parent yourself, which is manage this frenzy of emotions. One can imagine the mind is a control room much like the one on “Inside Out”, with the inner parent being neutral (albeit stressed) being that is responsible for overseeing one’s emotions. The emotions being underlings that have varying degrees of dominance and rebellion. I believe that everyone has different combination of dominant emotions and those emotions have dominance of varying degrees.
"You are the most qualified person to be your parent. You have insights about your mental health, endurance, physical health, and access to resources that nobody else has and are thus the most qualified to successfully parent yourself."
The combination of dominant emotions and the degrees of intensity of those dominant emotions is the reason or manifestation of individuality. According to an article shared by Puja Mondal, differences between individuals may be explained by the facts of heredity or nature, environment or nurture, and training. The article goes on to discuss how race, sex, heredity, maturity, as well as social and economic status are the top 5 factors that are considered causative of individual differences. This can be interpreted to say that these facts (facts of heredity, nature, nurture, environment, and training) are the top five facts that determine the dominant emotions (or character traits).

These dominant emotions or character traits in turn determine what is most important in one’s life (i.e. the necessities of one’s life) and consequently one’s livelihood (one’s means of acquiring the necessities of life). Individuality (less barriers to entry, glass ceilings, and oppression) is the reason that everyone isn’t burning their fingers with solder, or prying over spreadsheets, or covered in paint.

Taking care of oneself, one’s ability to solve their problems, one’s anxiety, one’s motivation, and one’s interpretation of a happy life is different from the next because every one of us has a different combination of dominant emotions and even if they were the same, they are of varying intensities. I am convinced that keeping this in mind would spare us a lot of judgement and unnecessary self-criticism.

I for one, I am easily inspired by other people’s success stories, but the same success stories that inspire me can easily throw me in an emotional slump when I think of how much my peers have done and compare it to how much I have done (which easily amounts to nothing). An awareness of my emotional space, the dominant emotions in my emotional space, the subsequent monitoring of the dominant emotions, and grooming of emotions that positively contribute to my growth could deal with said emotional slumps. Doesn’t it make sense that if you introspect regularly, that you are more likely to be aware of negative behaviour (read: action and personally unwanted consequence) and thus be able to change it?

So, going forward into 2018 (yes, some New Year, New Me BS) I aspire to not only read more non-fiction but also to introspect regularly as well as edit and redirect my actions and reactions.

As I was preparing to write this post I remembered a Humans of New York video (here) I’d seen that stayed with me (this sound so preachy) as I was looking for it I found this one below. It's one of those of things that kind of break your heart but is also eye-opening. Maybe it will speak to you like it  did to me and help clarify how the same thing can mean different things to different people…. See you in the next post. 


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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A Man’s Livelihood: Defining Livelihood

Source: Grist

The second semester of 2017 birthed the series of posts that I will be publishing over the next few weeks. This series will explore the definition of livelihood, how individuality (or personhood) is linked to a happy life, the factors that influence what a happy life looks like, as well as a few stories and lessons I learnt during this time.

 A Man’s Livelihood was born after countless hours spent with some of my guy friends (and their friends) and experiencing their silliness and brutality when they alone (alone because, majority of the time I think of myself as one of the guys). Despite the fact that I think of myself as one of them, they complained that I asked too many questions at the most inconvenient times. Gladwil (the person I hung out with primarily) complains that I say things aren’t supposed to be said, he also swears he will sue me if I don’t give him credit for the series (which I won’t). The behaviour of the guys I spent time with made me wonder what motivates people to do the things they do.

To understand why man does the things he does, I think it’s important to first understand what we are born with. I would like to say we come into this universe with a purpose, but there is no evidence that points to the fact that we are born with a purpose or a destiny. What we could conclude though, is that we are born with a desire to live. And while I believe that we are born to live, or at least with a desire to live, this is not to say that children who were/are still born are born so because they have no desire to live or that they do not deserve to live, I think understanding this aspect of birth and life requires spiritual and biological enlightenment that I do not possess. I realize that I ought to tread carefully when talking about life and loss (especially that of infants), that I ought to go about it in a manner that is not insensitive and callous. I also realize that some of the statements that I will make do not apply to all infants, but they form the basis of my conviction about what we are born into this life with.

One of the things that are a testament to the fact that children are born with a desire to live is their innate knowledge and understanding of health and comfort. Evidence of this knowledge is an infant’s ability to suckle a mother’s boob at birth, their unceasing screams when their diaper is soaked or muddy, their slumber when they tire and screeches of hunger.

The desire to be well fed, well rested and clean are secondary to the desire to live since they enable an infant to live/stay alive. Only later do children develop coping mechanisms; mechanisms that enable them to deal with neglect, malnutrition and other challenges. If you have children of your own or in your family you have probably witnessed a child’s panic when their faces are (accidentally) covered by a blanket. They’ll wrestle with the blanket until they have uncovered their faces or proceed to wail when they don’t resolve this problem themselves. I cannot say that their panic is due to the fear of death but it’s safe to assume that they panic because they see the darkness as a threat to their ability to live.

Hunger and fatigue can be life threatening, they can set in motion a set of biological events that can lead to death. However, a wet diaper does not have the same potentially life-threatening consequences that hunger and fatigue have, but one can imagine how uncomfortable it can get. Darkness in itself is also not life threatening, but it is not enjoyable. This is evidence that the things we need aren’t always directly related to the things that help ensure that we stay alive. Considering the behaviour of infants we can conclude that we are born with a desire to live happy lives, with health and comfort being the bare essentials of a happy life.

"Livelihood a means of securing the necessities of life..."

The behaviour of infants becomes relevant when you consider what the definition of livelihood is. Livelihood is defined as a means of securing the necessities of life, synonyms of livelihood include salary, income, upkeep, nourishment and subsistence. Taking the definition of livelihood into consideration, the question then becomes what are the necessities of life? The behaviour of infants infers that the necessities of life are a myriad of things that are not always related the body’s ability to stay alive; although the necessities of life definitely include food and clothing, these are not the only things that are essential.

Livelihood is therefore, not merely a means of securing the necessities of life but the means of securing the things that help one live a healthy and comfortable life (a happy life). My sister argues that my interpretation/definition is flawed and I’m being unnecessary, let me know if this definition makes sense and if you agree or disagree in the comments section below.

In the next post (The Parenting of Self) I will look at what a happy life looks like as well as the factors that influence what a happy life looks like. Subscribe below so you can get a notification when the post goes live :).


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Monday, August 28, 2017

The Infruriating Culture of Catcalling

Source:Huff Post

I started thinking about writing this post after I’d had to endure street harassment at the hands of some guys that were in a van (the typical men that are prone to perpetuating catcalling). I got home that night to Ericka Hart’s discussion on catcalling and street harassment on Instagram (I screamed YAAAS!). I related to almost everything they said.

Source:The Odyssey Online
In an effort to find the origins of catcalling they discussed why black men only catcall black women. Ebony (Ericka’s boyfriend) blamed slavery (sort of). He argued that in the aftermath of slavery, black women were the only people that black men felt that they had any power over and they catcalled black women in an effort to make themselves feel more “empowered”. He also argued that it was an iteration of patriarchy and white supremacy. The conclusion was that black men don’t catcall black women only. The perform the same kind of street harassment on any other race, it just LOOKS different when it is across races. Furthermore, black men aren’t the only agents of this vile act (the focus on black men can be explained by way of the black liberation lens and black love ethic).

At some point during their discussion (I’m guessing it was out of frustration) Ericka said: “where do [cis black men] find the time to sit around and harass people all day!?” And I was like (hand on chin, frown in place, contemplative look): this is a valid question, where do they find the time? This happens at home (Richmond) as well. Ericka stays in New York and I stay in the rurals of KZN, yet we find that (although on different continents) black men exhibit the same kind of behavior, why?

Even though I don’t yet know why black men SEEM to behave the same across the globe, I do know that catcalling is harassment and that it is violent. It is a form of abuse that instigates a climate that oppresses women further. Catcalling is rooted in patriarchy and sexism and must be dealt with accordingly. I was a bit at odds with myself for being mad a catcalling and catcallers. The reason for this conflict is because I thought there was a link between catcalling and wooing in Zulu. Since I’m an advocate for Pan-Africanism and Afrocentricity, I had to have a conversation with myself about why catcalling offends me, if my anger is justified, and the role my culture potentially had in birthing catcalling.

The Zulu culture, I’ve since concluded, can be very violent towards women. And this is a bitter pill for me to swallow because I love isiZulu (the language as well the culture). The language is awfully poetic and culture a series of intricately woven practices and beliefs (read here). But some of these practices are oppressive and are rooted in patriarchy. In my analysis I’ve concluded that elements of the wooing process in the Zulu culture are very much violent. For example, ukutwala. Ukuthwala is (to put it very bluntly) a process that involves abducting young women (generally) and forcing them into marriage (often with the consent of their parents). These women are locked in a room (a house if they are lucky) with no access to the outside world. Unless they are with someone that is “guarding” them, they cannot leave the room/house. In the long run, the women generally give in and end up staying with their “husband” willingly.

Source: The Zulu Kingdom
Another example of such “violent” behavior would be ukushela in general. Traditionally, a man pursues a woman until she agrees to be with him. This can take months, if you are lucky, and if your ancestors are unhappy with you it can take years. While pursuing a girl, a guy will harass a girl until she agrees be with him. This harassment could be anything like knocking over her bucket of water on her way back from the river, running away with whatever goods that she is carrying (she will either have to run after the guy or tell her parents about the guy neither option is attractive). I remeber one time my mother had to go after a guy with a whip (no jokes) because some guy insisted on shela-ring (asking out) my sister all the way to our house and inside the gate (in isiZulu this is the epitome of disrespect). 

But cat calling’s origins aren’t Zulu, in fact they aren’t even African (I’d love to say catcalling has western origins but I’m really not sure where it comes from). Catcalling is a skill that is not unique to construction workers. Regular guys who, at first, seem decent are/can be perpetrators of catcalling. As a black woman it is easy to assume that catcalling is uniquely practiced by cis black men on black women (as history would have it, black women are the scum of the earth and ought to bare the worst of what patriarchy has to offer). But it’s not unique to cis black men, nor is it experienced solely by black women (much to patriarchy’s disappointment).

Ariel Chates’ states that although catcalling dates as far back as 200 BC, it wasn’t always called catcalling (read here). In its earlier forms, catcalling was known as the “wolf whistle”. Ariel argues that the name wolf whistle has predatory connotations and alludes to male lust, whose symbol is a wolf.  “The term “catcaller” didn’t come around until the 1700s when theatergoers would whistle and jeer at the actors to express disapproval for the actions onstage. The term didn’t take on a sexual meaning until the 20th century. It’s a shame I even have to do this,” she states, “but let me remind the men on the street: You aren’t watching a Broadway production of that girl’s walk to work. This isn’t American Idol. She’s not trying out for whatever perverted fantasy is playing in your head.”
“Like most women I know, I treat street harassment like unpleasant weather – a common occurrence I silently endure by drawing my coat tighter around my body and walking briskly ahead with a stiff neck.”~ unknown

There have been calls to criminalize catcalling. To acquaint catcallers to the same treatment and laws that stalkers have to bare; I think jail time is tad too drastic, and black men would surely suffer the most from this, it would also be difficult to contain (how would we distinguish between a regular compliment and a catcall?) There are seemingly multiple solutions to the problem of catcalling. Proposed solutions range from ‘‘engaging with the catcaller in conversation in order to better understand the problem’’ (I wouldn’t. Men can be violent when called out on their bullshit, and this hasn’t worked thus far), to “handing the perpetrators a business card with a hotline that will direct them to someone that can educate them on why catcalling is bad for society” (who would pay for this venture? And men would probably use this line to hit on the women anyway). I feel like all I can, and am willing to do, is write about catcalling. I will share educational posts on Facebook and on my page.  But it really feels like a hopeless situation.

Source: Yahoo News
I could go on to explain how catcalling plays a role in reinforcing rape culture. I could also explain how other women can play into the hands of patriarchy and rape culture by implying that women should take corrective action (by wearing modest clothes etc.) But then this post would be long and nobody that would ever get to the end (or find the subscribe button at the end of this post, which you should do if you haven’t).

The oversexualization (is this a word?) of women is universally acknowledged and, to an extent, accepted. There are scores of articles, seminars and studies on what the perfect female (and male) body should look like. But the reality is there is no singular standard of beauty, different people are attracted to different things. In acknowledging the different standards of beauty, we must also stay keenly aware of the fact that women aren’t on this planet (by divine intervention or by chance) for men to gawk upon! Whatever a woman chooses to wear, it is not an invite or reason for men to harass her by way of unsolicited and often vulgar “compliments”.

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