Mlilo Mpondo
Mlilo Mpondo

Independent women

When I found out that I was pregnant I felt sorely close to falling into the trenches of a “black stereotype”. I already had no man and no job, all I needed was a Standard 8 qualification, a monthly government social grant, a mkhukhu (RDP house still pending), and I would have been well on my way to being the perfect candidate for an Oprah Winfrey outreach campaign.

But unfortunately I have a university degree, I can afford to get an expensive weave, and even though I still live with my mother, it is still a house with a pool in the suburbs. So I guess I don’t have it that bad.

I grew up in a home filled by many mothers and not enough wives. In our home the definition of a true and wholesome woman was not found in the scriptures of matrimony, it was instead associated with how independent you were as a woman. A “good woman” had evolved from one with a husband into one with her own resources. Independence was an attractive commodity in our home, coupled with ambition and discipline, these were ingredients made for happy, successful and abundant lives.

I have been an independent woman for the past two years; since my daughter was born I have indulged her every whim. Or rather my own self-obsessed whims that have everything to do with keeping up appearances, yes the Jones’s are still a yardstick to be kept up with. I have bought expensive toys, children’s clothes and still managed to look good enough for people to wonder “how does she do it?”

I did this because I wanted my child to have the best, but for selfish reasons I was proving a point to her father that it could be done without him. But independence is a bitch I tell you, it’s a far cry from glamorous, not exactly what Beyonce sells to us in her “independent women” anthems. It’s easy to be a Survivor when your bank account is larger than the GDP of most African countries. But alas, since men became rare features in the home, daughters are taught to strive for independence: “Work hard and excel at school and the world is your oyster.” Not exactly. The standard of living is far too high. Yes I would love to parade myself as a woman not concerned with the trivia’s of consumerism, but how could I when society pays more attention to my appearance than to my craft. Even more sinister, how could I when I have come to learn that my validation among peers is based solely on what I own. Can I please get an amen?

I won’t lie, when I’ve struggled to afford a pack of cigarettes I’ve often toyed with the idea of having a sponsor. A man not old enough to be my father or too dark-skinned to warrant suspicion and cultured enough to play host to the finer things in life and with pockets so heavy he would feel compelled to share the burden.

Every woman knows the respect she has for a man with a J.O.B. In a taxi an old woman once said that beautiful women should know how to capitalise on their good looks, as far as she was concerned school was a necessity reserved for the unattractive. Her theory was this, we all aspire toward a lifestyle of some esteem and that is why children leave home, go to university and work tirelessly at unfulfilling jobs for measly salary slips, it is all in pursuit of a dream. “So?” she asked, “why dear child, with a face like yours, are you still taking taxis when any man would be more than happy to buy you a car if you would allow them to claim you as their own?”

There is obviously still a very clear socio-economic interaction between the sexes. My friends and I have often discussed the politics of abusive relationships, physically or otherwise, and in what ways financial components contribute to these relations. Truth is abusive relationships aren’t experienced in the same way, being pummelled in an upmarket penthouse without financial worry is far superior to being pounded on in a shack when its roaches and rats are a constant reminder of your financial lack. The emotional and physical torment of abuse is burdensome enough without having to agonise over the price of taxis for your children to get to school or the food they will eat that night.

So the question of independence to me, a 25-year-old university graduate and mother of one, has become an anthropological undertaking. It questions the very nature of relationships between men and women, sex and money, power and subjectivity. But I have the luxury of choice, which makes me wonder about the woman who makes these choices based on necessity. And so I have resolved that for her sake — the 25-year-old mother receiving a social grant, living in an mkhukhu and still waiting for an RDP house to call home — I will be damned if I should ever undermine my independence no matter how great a burden it is.

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