An essay unpacking why this scribe can no longer accept all commissions
Words: Oratile Mashazi | Illustrations: Lucy Rose Currie
When I first got in the game I wanted to profile artists. I wanted my words to be a reflection of the stories that were socially relevant and would inform the creative culture and industries. But the past year has shed light on the notion that some stories are more pertinent than others, so while there are many interesting people to profile and beautiful work to put words to, I have learned that my gift is to speak for people like me: people who are creative and progressive and experience multiple and intersecting oppressions.
It is like the world and living a happy empowered life is for men and no one else. It is only they who can walk streets safely without harassment, it is only them who can live without fear of being humiliated, assaulted, murdered, all on the basis of their gender conforming. For those who cannot conform to masculinity, life can be so unsafe.
This situation is infuriating. It's maddening that I can’t wear a dress in my city because grown men will start screaming at me and try to grab me. Worse still because this behaviour is so normalised that nobody does anything about it. Our society and culture has accepted this oppressed and fragile masculinity, and no matter how many womxn are raped and murdered each day, masculinity remains beyond censure.
The brutal tools it employs to perpetuate itself go unchecked. I am unable to can, with all of it. So I’ve decided not to feed the monkey anymore. No more pandering to the egos of musicians who make beautiful music but are practicing misogynists. No more profiles of dudes just because they dress nice.
There is enough of his-story pervading the internet and while it is not always harmful, I want to be a part of making the internet a safe space for womxn. Particularly the queer and womxn of colour who don’t get to see themselves smiling from the screens as much as they should.
As the black womxn’s glory abounded in Rio, I felt undiluted joy and pride in watching people that look like me filling up podiums and WINNING. I feel even more driven to play a part that empowers my people. And because my work is about publicity and creating for the internet I am giving myself permission to push black femme power because we are underrepresented everywhere. In every major industry. In every movie. In every house song you’ve heard and wondered who was singing because the sexist music industry didn’t credit her for the the work she put in.
As a heterosexual womxn I can count on one hand the healthy supportive relationships I share with heterosexual men. On my other hand and ten toes I can count the violation, the entitlement, the emotional abuse, the ever-seductive withholding of acknowledgment and the horrifying cycle of abandonment then self-victimising spiraling into madness and chaos.
And I entertained it all, because I want to be loved and desired. But I gave myself permission to admit that the cost of my desire to have the love of a heterosexual man is too great. I’m not willing to always be the bigger person, or ‘the strong black womxn’ who is ignored and undermined and unloved, but is always loyal and faithful to her loved ones.
Done with it. I’m carefree now, and only those who know how to act can be loved by me.
In the oral tradition, the storyteller is a receptacle and sharer of people’s knowledge. And the epistemology around the intersection of colour and femininity needs to be expanded. There needs to be a movie about two queer womxn of colour in a relationship, kissing and fighting and falling in love and getting up to random gags without tragedy, without any black bodies coming to a gory ending because that story needs telling. There needs to be content that doesn’t refer to rappers who identify as womxn as female rappers. There needs to be more music like The Internet’s ‘Ego Death’ where for the first time I was seduced by a womxn seducing another womxn and it was sexy AF, and liberating, and not at all alienating and homophobic and misogynistic, like much of the content spewed through the airwaves.
Right now there are people who need my skills to tell their stories, to promote their art and entrepreneurship, and my profiling another heterosexual man won’t contribute to the struggle for gender equality, to the better representation of womxn, to the empowerment of womxn of colour, and those are the struggles that need bolstering, that need more airtime. While I give myself permission to write stories about whoever I choose, I have found a deeper understanding of why I have been gifted with this talent, and for now I use it to advocate for equality and the freedom all humans should have to be themselves without fear. As it stands only men who identify as heterosexual can enjoy these freedoms while the rest of us toil in their shadow and suffer at the hands of racist, sexist, heteronormative social censure and policing. But we live our truth anyways, we push passion and work to create a world that has a more loving perspective.
The plan is to be a part of the contribution to safe spaces online and irl. Where I can go to a site and see a story by Kyla, or images by Zara or a feature on Nonku, written by me. Or I can go to the club in a crop top and not have strangers grabbing me or acting like I’m rude/crazy for not being interested in their lame/offensive come ons. There is much to be done but it feels empowering to not be a part of the problem. To advocate that it is time for womxn to shine and own our space as equal partners and contributors in our communities. Viva!