Just under a year ago Nobuhle Mtshali asked me to write a piece on being a woman. Without thinking twice I agreed; sure that I had an amazing superwoman story to tell. A month later I found myself still trying to put my story together and I ended up sending her this message:
“So confession time: I have written and deleted and written and deleted and I am struggling to find the WOW in my womanhood. So much I want and need to say and I am drowning in thoughts of how I am woman. This task you have set has taken me to so many places… like it is so easy to stand for power woman, leading women, women in society and the workplace but when I look at myself I don’t feel like I’m there. I just thought I would share with you so you don’t think I am playing down your project. What you are doing is so so so so important and I want to be a constructive part of it. I am journeying but I am hoping to reach the story soon. I have not forgotten”
It has now been almost 10 months and I feel like I am still in the same space. A space where I feel like my story is too boring to share on such a platform. I have been held back by my fear of not just disappointing Nobuhle or myself but every woman who would read this. Today I had the realization that this has been my whole journey as a young black woman. I find myself wondering if I am a WOW woman, if I will ever be the power woman, the leading woman, the woman to look up to in society and the work space.
From a young age I have had haunting insecurities about my body, my achievements and where I fit in society. As a young girl, advice that was given to me started with “Girls do this…”; “ Girls say that…” or “girls should be…”. I was always on a search for myself as the perfect girl. After 26 years of searching I find that I have moved from girl to woman and I am still not sure where this finish line is. I have always looked to social media, papers, movies and even fairy tales to see how close I am to being a WOW woman and was often disappointed to find that I was moving further and further away from all the expectations.
As I write this so many thoughts flow through my mind but the most prominent is that I am a woman because I was born this way. My gender was chosen for me at birth and that left me with a life of always having to do more, to be more to be better than men. Truth is being woman, for me, is literally being me. Over the past two years I have been on a journey; trying to define what being a woman is for me… no-one else but me and this is where I am at right now.
Being a woman is being resilient: I have found that even doing the simplest thing brings about so many comments and opinions. People feel the need to comment on your looks, your weight and the industry you find yourself in, to name a few. Often you hear people say “Wow, how do you work in such a male dominated space” as if my ability to succeed there is some kind of anomaly. If not that you get comments like “Oh my, you are so cute” as if for the rest of my life I will always be a baby, a lesser, never fully present in a room but a youngin in the spaces I try to occupy.
Being a woman is being confident: For the longest of times if someone didn’t compliment me on something I felt like it was because I wasn’t achieving it or I was doing something wrong but now I have found so much joy in telling myself all the things that are true to me. I am successful; I am smart; I am beautiful. Saying these things does not make me arrogant. It makes me honest; honest with the most important person in my life, myself.
Being a woman is being me: I am a woman, by birth, by the structures of society that define gender. It has taken me a long time to realize that the best kind of woman I can be is fully being myself. In all my forms I represent myself as a black woman. When I am weak I am a weak black woman; when I am strong I am a strong black woman; when I am sad I am a sad black woman; when I am happy I am a happy black woman… no matter what I am a black woman.
So I guess at this stage of my life when I am asked to write about what it means to be a woman I would answer, “It means being me, Banele Caroline Lukhele, and being the best version of it.” I am resilient, strong, confident, sexy, smart, emotional, insecure, caring, stern, a daughter, a sister, an aunt and maybe one day a mother but most importantly in all of this I am a woman… A black African woman.