Meeting up for our monthly lunch date, one of my friends unexpectedly handed out a book to the three of us at the table, “Supporting a friend” she smiled. With “Miss Behave” as the title, I was eager to start reading. Which I did. That night. Until three pages. Then stopped. And didn’t pick up the book again for the next three years.
As I read the book this time and upon reflection, I came to understand the reasons why I could not carry on reading the book before. It had brought up triggers I wasn’t ready to deal with. And I mean, three pages in, how many triggers could it have brought up? None. But it was the idea of where this book was headed that I wasn’t ready to face. Three years ago, I was what she referred to as a “Man apologist”. I felt sorry for males who were losing their place in society as women started taking up their roles at home and in the workplace. I had assimilated myself to be one of the boys and thrived in it. I mean, being compared to a man is a compliment, right? I was also not ready to talk about race; and how both these topics made me feel so boxed in to typical stereotypes.
In three years, what changed? A punch in the gut. Not literally. Although it felt like it. And not one, but a few.
A friend at the time, trying to make me feel like I should prefer living in Asia than in Africa, simply because they were trying to convince themselves that they’d prefer living in Europe than Africa. In other words, “Go back to what I see as your roots because that’s what I’m trying to convince myself I’m doing.” (Can’t I have many roots, not just one?)
Or the time a woman’s pregnancy had been commented on inappropriately and males feeling comfortable enough to make them in front of me. (Clearly I’m not mother material, am I?)
Or the time I was continuously taken advantage of by a male friend, ending our friendship when I had finally run out of excuses for their misogynistic ways. (How did I go from superwoman to worthless because of his opinion?)
I was ready. I picked up the book, and finished it in two days. Malebo Sephodi made me feel so comfortable to be what society would view as misbehaved with her sharing her own stories. Her honesty in her learnings and unlearnings of who she had been and who she was at the time of writing made me want to think deeper about my own stories. Her constant challenging of the norms pressed upon us by cultural and societal norms gave me energy to face another day of questions.
She reminds you that fear is a scary thing. And it can be used to keep us in our boxes. Well, no, let me rather say, it can be used to keep us in the boxes others prefer us to stay in. And I always find myself unconsciously rebelling against this. Now, my challenge is to make this more conscious. To not be afraid to speak up and question when presented with an opportunity to share and learn or unlearn. From worrying about offending others, I’ve learnt through her book that the best way to work towards change is to share stories. And to hear others stories. To question. To research. And then when you are triggered by something someone shares, to question what’s brought up the trigger. It may be a fear that you’re now ready to face. This may take you from good girl to misbehaved woman, but it also may help in changing other people’s perceptions and breaking down damaging stereotypes.
Her question, “What happens when you miss who you truly are?”
My answer: “You are loved by society because you’ve stepped back into the box they’ve made for you. But You, the real You no longer exists. You do not love You and since you’re not loving who you truly are, neither does society.”
“It is traumatic to find out that so much of what you have been taught to believe and stand for is actually used to control you. Fear can be a tool to keep people trapped. We frequently accept norms in the name of culture and beliefs. All of these must be interrogated. We must decide how to analyse all that we have been force-fed. Some things we need to vomit out of our systems so that the truth may prevail.” – Miss Behave, Malebo Sephodi.