By Chelsea Haith
Siphokazi Magadla and Dr Nomalanga Mkhize do not take shit from anybody. Patriarchal discourses? They deconstruct them. Problematic white feminism? They dismiss it out of hand. Unrealistic ideals of femininity? They destroy them. Stop bleating, Taylor Swift. These are the women that we need to be listening to.
The Young Women’s Dialogue (YMD) discussion on 30 July titled #MyAppearanceIsPolitical dealt with conceptions of beauty and femininity. Magadla discussed the resistance inherent in the fashion of icons such as Winnie Mandela, Brenda Fassie, Miriam Makeba, Coretta Scott King and Leba Mathosa.
“It’s a non-question that beauty is political,” Magadla said, referring to the colonialist discourses that position a slender, white, female body as the touchstone of femininity. During apartheid, Winnie Mandela used her beauty to resist the oppressive system that removed all normality from black lives. “She was pushing against notions that black people are not beautiful,” Magadla explained. “She used style to affirm our dignity as black people.”
Now, according to Magadla we are moving towards beauty as a brand. Women like Khanyi Dlomo present a certain kind of beauty conception in which the ‘Destiny woman’, the ‘Luminance woman’, present a feminine ideal. “Notions of beauty are interconnected with luxury. Do we find ourselves in a space where we have a narrow view of beauty?” Magadla asked rhetorically.
Mkhize in turn complicated the idea of femininity further by discussing the erasure of the human processes that women’s bodies go through, most notably defecation and menstruation. Ideals of femininity elide the natural from the female experience using what Mkhize calls a “colonizing discourse”. “Black women critique themselves according to a conception that is forced upon them,” she said.
Setting up opposing systems of culture and ‘tradition’, Mkhize discussed the ways in which white feminism fails to account for the majority of women. Citing the confessional culture of social media she critiqued the event’s hashtag #MyAppearanceIsPolitical and explained that women need to acknowledge the way in which they discuss beauty and to then challenge those systems and remove themselves from the limiting white feminist conception. “We need to find new grammars and idioms to speak to issues of discourse,” she said.
Note: The images featured in this piece are the posters used to promote the event.