Acknowledging ‘cis’ Privilege

When I was young it was so much easier. We had drag queens with a history of playing netball on Sunday afternoons, and we had butches of surpassing handsomeness. I have a soft spot for butches (is it so obvious?)  so I fell in love with all of them. There was something about the interplay of male and female energy in one body that felt like home to me.

We were all so poor that nobody transitioned in a bodily sense. The drag queens talked wistfully of saving to go to Rio to have the surgery done, but I only know of one person who ever actually did it. The butches, naturally, were strong and said little. As far as I can recall they did not want to be men. They wanted to be butches. And mind you, in those times just being out and staying alive was a challenge that drained everyone’s energies.

When I think of the people I now know were intersex, they were deep in the closet and working through tremendous trauma. Sally, having been all but castrated as a baby, was passing for male in a monastery. When Sally’s body became more female she confessed all to the Prior and was eventually expelled.[1] It was to be the beginning of a long journey to be recognized as human. Sis Funeka was undergoing genital mutilation at 18 and recovering from the after-effects which proved to be life long.[2] To this day she says she regrets it. Indeed, bodily mutilation creates tremendous trauma which in many ways cannot be fully overcome. Sally became asexual. Sis Funeka passed for butch. The rest of us lived in oblivion.

I know from my work with Black working class men that to get people who see themselves as oppressed in one way to acknowledge that they are privileged in another way is hard political work. In some ways it is the hardest. Victimhood is comfortable. Becoming a survivor, and from thence to resistance and then revolution is such a hard mountain to climb. For anybody to say that one must complete the journey by acknowledging the ways in which one contributes to another’s oppression seems just impossible. I can only imagine it begins with an apology. I am sorry for the ways in which I have benefited from the gender binary.  When Bernedette Muthien of Engender used to say the very act of engendering is violent, I had no clue what she meant. I can only apologize for my obtuseness. Without a doubt I was in some way seeking to protect binary privilege.

 

I have of course laughed at whites for years as I watch their fumbling attempts to acknowledge privilege. I have been amused and occasionally angry at the way in which they seek refuge in denial from having to confront the benefits which white supremacy bestows on even the most conscious of them. Well, karma has its own revenge. I sit now having to confront my liberal years. There can be no more bitter statement from one whose political life has been Black Consciousness.

 

In 2003 I ran a Girl-Child Movement workshop in Namibia and during the session on ‘what is gender?’ was told the story of somebody’s cousin who was born intersex but in such a remote rural village that nobody knew but the family. The mother bathed the child separately and brought them up as a boy. At that point I did not realize that this child was one of the lucky ones. If you are fortunate enough to be born in a rural area so remote that there is no doctor, no clinic and not even registration of birth certificates, there is a chance that you may escape genital mutilation and forcible engendering. The poor sods born in city hospitals are mostly not so lucky.

 

I became more aware of intersex issues when, upon being appointed Commissioner For Gender Equality in 2007, almost my first meeting was with Sally whose insistence was polite but uncompromising. Sally asked for me to intervene in the matter of forcible genital mutilation of babies, a matter so clearly unconstitutional that I needed no convincing that it was part of my job description. She also wanted me to complete the work she had begun with the Promotion of Equality and Unfair Discrimination Act (2000) of ensuring that intersex people had legal status. Yup, that’s right folks. Here we had a naturally occurring genetic order, occurring in about 1 in every 2000 people, something which orchids, pawpaws and snails handle without any fanfare at all, for which this sizeable minority had absolutely no protection in law. Until the promulgation of PEPUDA, the law required a human being to be either male or female. For those who were both (or should we say a third gender ?) the law literally declared them non-humans. Of course I promised to ‘help’ Sally.

 

AWID conference in Cape Town 2008, an intersex human from the US decided to come out in mine and Berne’s seminar. I said ‘but in my culture that’s very familiar. You get three genders, male, female and intersex. ‘ This person broke down and cried and needed much hugging. They said it was the first time in their life that anybody had said that.To this day I am ashamed that I could not see what the big deal was.

 

There wasn’t much I could do to keep my promise to Sally until the Caster Semenya debacle of 2009, at which point I am pleased to say the entire CGE pulled together as one and not only offered Caster any assistance in our power but also made the most of the opportunity  to raise awareness on this issue. It was good to be held by the organization and to know that LGBTI issues were not ‘my’ issue but all our issue. I only wish I could have led by example. I still needed to recognize intersex as a human issue: that while my siblings were dehumanized then so was I.

And of course I supported sis Funeka whenever possible, although it would be more correct to say she supported the CGE during the End Hate Campaign, doing all the groundwork of the Zoliswa Nkonyana murder trial and contributing in no small part to the legal history we made on the day we got a guilty verdict that specifically mentioned homophobic hate crime as a motive.

But see, I was still ‘helping’ and ‘supporting’. I continued to benefit from the gender binary without even thinking about it. I thought I held my job on merit without considering that no openly intersex person has ever been appointed to high office in this country. Sally had applied twice and twice been turned down. How liberal was I? It shames me now.

Yet it is easy to see how I have benefited from the binary system. Despite a life of much hardship, I have never been subjected to genital mutilation, and the life-long trauma which comes with it. I have never been subjected to the fear of genital mutilation and forced to hide my true identity in order to not be mutilated. I have never come out at a seminar and burst into tears at even mealy mouthed liberal acceptance.

 

I have written of being a lesbian child and how the secrecy I was forced to practice damaged my personality development, possibly irretrievably.[3] But I don’t know and cannot begin to imagine what it is like when the very fact of your genital mutilation is kept a secret and you do not even know about until puberty, or even later, when you wonder why you cannot have children and why you live in constant pain.[4]  I do not know what it is to feel lucky that you are still reasonably whole bodied.

 

I acknowledge my privilege in that I never had to wonder why I was not killed at birth as some intersex babies still are. I acknowledge privilege in that I never had to see guilt in my mother’s eyes every time she looked at me, until I no longer knew what love was, really. I have never had to be afraid in intimate relationships of – like the ‘stone butch’ of old – allowing myself to be seen and touched. I have had rejection many time in love but never because of my physical conformation, an accident of birth and something over which I had no control. Once, in trying to dissuade an intersex person from having surgery in her thirties I said “but it is a political struggle, you cannot solve it on an individual level” and she looked me in the eyes and said “but for me the problem will be solved”. I acknowledge privilege in that until that moment I could remain blind to the truth.

I know that too many straight women are genitally mutilated too. But they are never called ‘not human’, ‘freak’ or demonized and cast out of home as the personification of evil.   I don’t think comparisons of victimhood are meaningful, that is not what I am saying. I am just trying see binary privilege with eyes which have been socialized to be blind.

 

So you understand why it hurts me particularly when the Black feminist movement, in some essentialist appropriation which even I (a part-time essentialist for as long as I have been a scholar[5]) find embarrassing, seeks to in some way exclude or silence intersex, genderqueer or non-binary people from its work. It hurts my feminist heart to see women enforcing binary privilege and claiming it as some form of ‘right’.  The feminist movement here stands at a cusp. In ” The Epistemology of Intersectionality” elsewhere on this blog I have written on the importance of  understanding that for identity politics to be revolutionary they have to ultimately seek to deconstruct the very identity around which they organize. This is the political work done by conscious intersex and trans people. ? Is dismantling the gender binary not the most important political work we can possibly do? Should we not be extending leadership to those who do that work simply by living, with dignity and unimaginable courage, from day to day? Can we fail to dismantle privilege and still call ourselves feminist? I think not, because to do so would be to add wilful blindness to our exercise of privilege. It would be the end of us as a movement. We might survive but we would certainly not be feminist.

 

And to welcome intersex as our own means welcoming trans as well, because the politics of the closet which even so called feminists enforce means, as my late friend Karin Koen never failed to tell me, there is a lot of intersex going on amongst the trans movement.[6] In fact I would go so far as to say we would probably not see the strong non-binary movement coming through the way we have were it not for trans. Trans is a liminal space, the joker in the pack, which makes a multitude of other movements possible.

Well, I continue to learn to see with non-binary eyes. No doubt it is a lifelong journey along which I stumble with humility. My feminism demands that I take responsibility. I own this.

 

Cis is probably not the right word. I mean, intersex people are as cis as the rest of us (if they are lucky).  Maybe ‘woman born woman gendered woman’? But then we are stuck with another acronym: WBWGW? I think the last thing Queer needs at the moment is another acronym. There. I have entered the liminal zone (or at least I peer tentatively at the margins). I don’t know who I am anymore. That is progress. The first step to knowledge is admitting ignorance.

 

[1][1] . http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2014-02-25-sally-gross-the-fight-for-gender-equality-loses-a-giant/#.WCsjzNV97IU

[2] Personal communication, Bernedett Muthien 15 November, 2016.  For more information cf. also  http://theangels.co.uk/?s=funeka+soldaat

[3] “Your Silence Will not Protect You”: Silence, Voice and Power Moving Beyond Violence Towards Revolution in South Africa OUTLIERS: A Collection Of Essays And Creative Work On Sexuality In Africa Theorizing (Homo)Eroticism In Africa Vol 1, 2008, pps. 30-45 http://www.irnweb.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Outliers-no.-1.pdf

[4] . Limor Meoded-Danon Ph.D. & Niza Yanay Ph.D. (2016) Intersexuality: On Secret Bodies and Secrecy, Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 17:1, 57-72, DOI: 10.1080/15240657.2016.1135684 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/297747175_Intersexuality_On_Secret_Bodies_and_Secrecy

[5] . Abrahams, Yvette “We’re Here Because We’re Here…” Speaking African Womanism , in Duncan, N. and P. Gqola et al  Discourse on Difference and Oppression, CASAS, Cape Town, 2000. http://www.geocities.ws/culdif/abraham.htm

[6] . Yes, I know trans has a perfect right to exist on its own without needing justification or anybody’s approval (although I continue to call for accountability like any other sector). But that is not the point I am making here.

Free Quality Education Available Here!!!

University of Life

School of Hard Knocks

Department of Bitter Experience

Course: Revolution 102 (Congratulations on passing the first semester! :))

Essay Topic:

Revolution‏@revooluution

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.(Camus)”

https://twitter.com/revooluution/status/788733261681786880

Form: Essay may take any form, i.e. academic or fictional prose, poetry, music, visual art, etc.

Marks:  Theory will be tested in practice. Pass means liberation. Failure takes you back to debt peonage and prostitution.

  1. “Samora Machel didn’t just say ‘A luta continua!’, the struggle continues. He’d also cue people to answer the question ‘contra o que?’, against what is this struggle, the respondents would have to articulate.” Mohau Bosiu, cited by Phumi Mtetwa. Please define what, or whom, your struggle is against?
  2. “A quick reminder of what I learnt as a (very) “young revolutionary in the struggle” (thank you, Angela Y Davis): ‘coup d’etats are 90 degrees; revolutions are 360 degrees. Guess which takes longer to realise?’” Please define your timeframe! What does short-term, medium-term and long-term mean to you? How realistic is that, given what you are up against?
  3. What is the situation nation-wide? It seems as if Gauteng, Western Cape, KZN and Eastern Cape are the @FMF hotspots, but as A C Fick points out, the media is consistently under-reporting what is happening on Black campuses. So what is the real picture of your organizational strength?
  4. What is it you wish to achieve over the next five years? What is your strategy? How do you plan to get there? Please divide your answer up into short, medium and possibly long term tactics.
  5. How does this work intersectionally? Privileged people have complained that the student movement is divided, but this is in my eyes an advantage. In the 1980’s the student movement was much more hierarchical, and this made it easy for authorities to weaken it by simply arresting or buying off the top tier of leadership. Today the movement is much flatter, disparate and comparatively open to dissent. This means it is likely to be much more long-lived. But how does this improved organizational structure impact on strategy/strategies? Motivate your answer.
  6. The beginning of the end was not Marikana, but Andries Tatane. Discuss.

The Questions We Can’t Ask, the Questions We Can Answer: Finding Language For #FMF To Read While They Heal

fmf

[1][2]       

yvette-changing-consciousness1

Mandala”Changing Consciousness” By Karin Koen

unity

 

How do we think about physical and mental illness in this age of HIV? When a comrade is ground down by too much grief and loss, do we check up on them are we too busy continuing the struggle? Do we respect weakness as well as strength? Or are we still stuck in the macho resistance culture of last century? Have we become brutalized? Is this why we are not only shooting our own children but emotionally abusing them – as if the burning of buildings can somehow justify shooting young people in the face and telling them it is their own fault? As if things becoming more important than people is a normal and everyday feature of life.

Mustard gas was a weapon of war during the two European World Wars. It was a tool of oppression when the then Minister of Education, F.W. De Klerk ordered apartheid police to teargas students in 1980. Now we do it to our own. Have we completely lost it? Sometimes it is comforting to think of taking refuge on madness. Sometimes the ones who are gone appear to be the lucky ones. At least they did not have to live to see this world we have created.

When people ask me what I do, I tell them I am a traditional healer. I try to heal the society which makes people sick, I say.

The recent death of a friend from breast cancer, the death anniversary of another, and the breakdown of a third brought low by too much loss, has brought home that I complicate my grieving by insisting on seeing illness as socially determined. Like another cancer survivor said:

“I completely agree with Lorde’s assessment in The Cancer Journals that the higher instances of cancer and other chronic illness are the result of toxins in the environment.  The challenge is for all of us is to force federal agencies to implement more restrictions on the use of pesticides and other toxins that ravage our air, food and water supply.  Without any drastic changes made to reduce and/or eliminate these toxins, I suspect we will continue to see higher instances of cancer and other chronic illnesses.”[3]

Deaths from perfectly preventable diseases had become essentially a call to action. They told me I was not working hard enough, my hours were not long enough, or that I was not shouting loudly enough.  My grief had become inseparable from my struggle. I used to at least give myself some recovery time according to Lorde’s maxim:

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”[4]

But then the Black feminists went and complicated it for me. They asked “Why?”. Why should Lorde have had to look after herself?

“Audre Lorde didn’t die a natural death.  She died an institutionally produced one, a death that was generated at the level of social infrastructure. I want us to learn to regard Audre Lorde’s death as an effect of racial capitalism—its fundamentally unequal provisioning of wealth and social goods, its ableist and productivist standards as to what constitutes a healthy person, its fashioning of health care as a private commodity rather than as a fundamental right, and its particular commingling of sexism and racism that at one and the same time materializes the constant demand that black women work and renders the work they do invisible. The conditions that produced Audre Lorde’s death, in other words, might also serve as a reminder that in the aggregate, black women bear a disproportionate share of racial capitalism’s propensity to work its workers to death. And a major feature of these death-making conditions is to be found in the ways in which it is structured so as to refuse to recognize as work what so many black women do for themselves, for each other, and for their communities…”[5]

Bahati Kuumba had by this time spent many years trying to bring us to consciousness about the sheer amount of emotional housework we do even in the struggle.[6] It was from that history that the idea of self-care seemed to me a revolutionary idea: a hot bath, a good book, actually not doing any carework (emotional or otherwise) for the day. Now, the notion that actually, maybe if I was not so undermined on a daily and hourly basis I would be well without having to self-care struck me with blinding force. Young people do occasionally come up with interesting ideas.

See, years of the sustained attack on Queer people’s existence known as hate crimes has left me often unable to grieve. I say my grief muscle is overworked. I started a new poetry collection called “the New Normal” trying to express this feeling that violence had become so normalized that any random day would bring news of another one killed, raped or beaten up.  The grieving stacked up so much that I was never able to finish it. There was no time to write. And I’m talking only about the ones which hit the headlines, many other private griefs would come to me rumour-wise. I could not other than see these deaths as political.

There are also the living dead. The one who took a government job and since then can only talk about what she owns. She has no conversation except about what she owns,[7] sends her son to a very expensive private school but lives in fear since she witnessed corruption and is scared for her life though it is obvious to the meanest intelligence that she will never tell. I look at her and think “What future? What future are you preparing for your son?”

The friend who disappeared down a bottle and never came back. The friend who can only hold it together on legal drugs. The friend diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder who could not hold down a job and was forced back to live with the preacher father who quite likely perpetrated the traumas which caused the BPD in the first place. The friend who was never diagnosed with BPD, outwardly highfunctioning but who continues to push-pull in her personal relationships, going from one wreck to the other. The steady, responsible but emotionally autistic friend. The friend who promised not to commit suicide but who is barely part of living community. As Neo Musangi has put it:

“it surprises no one that i disappeared

i have been the space between lines,

a face in the crowd, a crack on peeling paint,

he knows that to gradually disappear, she only needs to love

an empty heart.”[8]

 

The living dead clutter my life, sometimes they come to workshops. They think of themselves as comrades. Sometimes this is the only meaning in their lives left to them, coming to meetings bearing mute testimony to the physical and mental violence which broke them. It is hard to feel alive amongst these comrades. I wrote about it in that poetry collection I never completed:

“I have been silenced and separated by violence

Mind, body and soul torn apart

I am with Audre Lorde on this one

I just don’t think chains and whips can be sexy for the children of slaves

Still, I too have repressed memories of a reality so evil that physical pain seemed a pleasure by comparison

I remember the need to re-enact those dramas of dominance and submission

Trying desperately to imagine a sense of control

I know the long road up the Mountain

Re-mothering myself

Studying the difference between pain and pleasure

Learning self-love like a child, one step at a time

Until I no longer needed to cut myself just to feel something like alive”[9]

 

So the idea of wellness as a birthright, to no longer feel tired but rested and full of energy as the norm struck me with stunning force. I knew that state once. It was youth. I had understood my exhaustion as simply the consequences of age. These young feminists questioning Lorde’s legacy made me rethink my approach to wellness. I became more aware of the constant draining from emotional housework. I started to be able to literally see the energy draining from my soul as I organized with my loving but emotionally dead comrades.

What I then noticed is that I myself had become unfeeling. This urge to be well, to not be drained constantly, to actually feel like getting out of bed in the morning was so overpowering, I simply did not want to other-mother the struggle for a while. This meant not supporting my comrades. It was not depression, it was not any form of mental illness. It was simply tiredness. I was about to cross over to the living dead. The important thing about this response was that it was a normal response to what was happening around me. Human beings are so made that they habituate, to a drug, an emotion or a situation. I was simply suffering-ed out, death-ed out. I don’t think I am alone in this. In the age of HIV/AIDs and gender-based violence, we have sustained so much loss that we run out of feeling. And it has become the norm. Koleka Putuma says that illness has become an embarrassment to the social polity:

“There are protocols to reaching out:
Do not share a meme of your panic attacks on social media
Your 3456 friends do not know of the epilepsy that came before,
The willpower it took to pick up the phone and tell your mother
That today, it is hard.
It is sore in all the places you cannot see or wrap uh gauze around.
Do not post a selfie of your self-mutilation
God forbid, your status reveals that you are lost or breaking
No one will comment on how raw or close to healing your wound is.” [10]

 

Let me repeat this point again. I am not saying that mental or physical illness is rife, or that lacking in compassion has never been a feature. I am saying it has become normal. My friend Tandisa Nkonyeni used to counsel out of a container in Soweto. She said to me once: “A woman comes in complaining about depression. I ask her about her life. 45 minutes later I tell her ‘there is nothing wrong with you. This is an absolutely sane reaction to your circumstances. If you lived your life and were not depressed you would be having a serious [mental] problem.’”

To underline this point by force of contrast, let us turn to Keguro Macharia who reminds us of a past before we were overwhelmed by loss:

“Audre Lorde framed black women’s lives and experiences in terms of survival. In her hands, survival was more than simply enduring. It was not about resigning oneself to a fate and hoping to make it through. It named the strategies of care and knowledge that made it possible to imagine, make, and transmit how to live and how to love and how to be across generations. “[11]

What does it mean when our current young poets are framing their experiences, not only in terms of loss, but in terms of the fact that people cannot be expected  to care? That those who are sick are afraid of even seeking compassion, lest they be a bother to the tired ones?

More force of contrast: amongst the ancient Khoesan there was no word for ‘evil’, only ‘sick’ as ‘in out of balance with the ecosystem’. A person who has lost touch with the rhythm of Creation. So the cure for illness and evil would be the same: to bring the afflicted person back into the community of interdependence. But a species that lacks care for its young? I seek a herb or a ritual for that.

Perforce, over the past five hundred years, the Khoesan studied evil in minute, intimate and daily detail.  It became a loan word, coming perhaps closest in meaning to ‘alienated’.  The consensus seems to be that of the first cause there can be no understanding. It is a question which does not compute. What species wishes to place itself outside Creation? Why hurt another when the principle of interdependence means sooner or later that pain will come back to you, or somebody you love? Why build up bad karma for yourself in your old age, or for your descendants? To these questions there is no sensible answer. The words ‘to be part of’ just didn’t seem to compute for the primary evil doers.

Accepting first cause as a given, though, it is possible to come to some answers. I shall frame this in psychological terms: when evil is done to us, and we do not process in a safe and supportive environment, we continue to re-enact the traumatic events over and over again. Our subconscious needs to tell a narrative and if we are unable to express it in words (like, say, we don’t have a language for it, or we do not believe that anybody will listen) we will act out over and over again until resolved. That is, we will do unto others what was done to us unless there is a conscious effort to heal. Healing is hard. Many people prefer to become separate from their pain, to deny, and thus to re-enact over and over again. Once begun, evil will give rise to heteropatriarchy, capitalism, white supremacy, ableism and ecocide.

The descendants of the Khoesan and slaves studied evil for two hundred and fifty years of slavery, meaning two hundred and fifty years of institutionalized rape. After a  century or so of silence we eventually came to speak about it – although rarely directly. That is not how the children of rape speak. We revived Khoesan culture, language, and built a movement. As a people we said that we would not allow the slave master to survive in us. The genetics we could do nothing about, but we could counter-genocide by turning our back on the culture into which we were forced to be born. This we have done. Throughout that battle, values came first. We lost our land, our cattle, our knowledge, our very bodies, before we were prepared to lose our values. For to become other than ourselves meant that we would have lost everything. Therefore this new state of non-feeling worries me (whenever I can summon up enough energy to worry). To held on to our values until just when we are almost in sight of victory would be a great tragedy. It would render the last five hundred years meaningless. It would mean that evil has triumphed.

Meaninglessness is indeed just another word for evil. Chaos is as necessary as structure for creativity. Pain, as in birth and death, is normal.  It is in the life between that one seeks to make happiness as in worship. Pain, as in loss and gain, is part of living. I used to when I was younger rush to help a comrade because I knew that if I did not rush they would be back on top again soon and I would have lost my chance to be there for them. I hear nowadays this is called ‘co-dependent’. But for my ancestors it was called ‘normal’. It meant ‘belonging’. But to be in pain alone, to isolate yourself from other people because you are afraid of being a bother, to refuse connectedness, to be too tired to care, is the triumph of meaninglessness.

I plan to retire in this country. When that happens I would like it not to be riddled with corruption to the point where no implementation occurs. I would like it to be run by caring, competent people. It makes sense to me to invest in free liberatory education now so I can spend my last years in peace. That is every adult’s plain and simple task, surely?

In short, my #FMF youngsters, you did well to rise up. The last 22 years have not been good to us. Those of us who sold our souls for dollars (or more precisely Renminbi’s) are not having such a good time as they thought they would. Else they wouldn’t need to be constantly high. Here I do not even mean in spiritual terms, as in the thirst for material things cannot be slaked and leads only to an ever greater spiritual poverty. We know that. I mean it in a literal sense. The black middle class has not been sober for decades, whether abusing substances, religion or power. Because they cannot cope with what they had to do in order to be what they are. Because they cannot deal with separation from their communities. They stopped computing and have nothing but addiction to replace it with.

So don’t listen to anybody, including me.  I could say so much: Continue to refuse to be part of the living dead. Care for one another. Be the parents you never had. Practice compassion. Stay true to your values. If my generation is to have any redeeming feature, let it be that we have shown by example that selling our souls does not bring happiness.

I could make a call especially to Queer youth. I worry about the tremendous pressure for conformity, within the broader movement and even weirder, in the Queer movement itself. Suddenly, it appears, there are normative ways of being Queer. Really? How does that work? It just tells me that we desperately need to move away from the politics of fear and hatred towards a revolution of love. Who is going to do that if not the Queer youth? Is love not what our movement is all about? Did I miss something?

But you will none of you listen to me and that is exactly as it should be. You are young and will make many mistakes. That is also as it should be.  Experience is the most expensive education ever, taking payment only in heart’s blood, sweat and tears. School of hard knocks does not accept credit cards. But bless you for rejecting all notions of settling for less! Keep up the good work! Nothing and nobody can ever stop you from learning.

 

 

[1] . https://twitter.com/Zwelinzima1/status/781097788788580353

[2] . I am sorry I have forgotten where I found this. If anybody knows, please comment so I can attribute intellectual property.

[3] . Christian, Tanya Breast Cancer: Lessons that Audre Lorde Taught Me The Feminist Wire 14/2/2014. http://www.thefeministwire.com/2014/02/breast-cancer-lessons-audre-lorde-taught/

[4] . Lorde, Audre A Burst of Light: Essays Firebrand Books,  New York,1988.

[5] . Low End Theory  On Audre Lorde’s Legacy and the ‘Self’ Of Self-care, Part 2 of 3 14/5/2013 http://www.lowendtheory.org/post/50428216600/on-audre-lordes-legacy-and-the-self-of

[6] . Kuumba, M. Bahati. African Women, Resistance Cultures And Cultural ResistancesAgenda 20, no. 68 , 2006, pp. 112-121.

[7] . “Jimmy Choo! Really? One year’s earnings of a domestic worker on your feet? Another on your head? And you expect me to think this a good thing?”

[8] . Musangi, Neo If I Dissappear http://www.feministloft.com/if-i-disappear/

[9] . Love Her – One  22 September, 2014.  Unpublished.

[10] . Putuma, Koleka Grief Will Always Ask: Why Culture Review Magazine 20 September, 2016 http://www.culture-review.co.za/grief-will-always-ask-why

[11] .Macharia, Keguro Michelle Cliff and Cedric Robinson https://gukira.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/michelle-cliff-cedric-robinson/

FIVE WAYS TO PREVENT BREAST CANCER: AN UNSCIENTIFIC APPROACH. In honour of Karin Koen and Elaine Salo

 

The reason why I call this an unscientific approach is because it is impossible to conduct a double blind clinical trial proving prevention. It is not impossible to design such a study but it is unethical and morally unthinkable. You simply cannot ask a certain number of women to use substances thought to cause cancer and an equal number of women to not use them in the hope of ‘proving’ that cancer is preventable. In such a situation, the precautionary principle – widely applied in the climate change field – is applicable. If you are doing something the consequences of which you cannot fully foresee then don’t do it. Zen Buddism applied to planetary ecosystems, of which you are part. Similarly, if you are not sure whether something causes cancer, don’t do it. Continue not to do it for a number of years, and if you are still healthy suddenly the need for a double blind clinical trial seems less overwhelming. So here’s a breakdown of things which may increase the risk of breast cancer. You can laugh at me but why bet your life on my being wrong?

 

  1. Nine times out of ten we are killing ourselves through our mouths. Pesticides and herbicides contain many known carcinogens. These operate mainly through endocrine disruption, that is, they disrupt the hormonal balance of the body. Until recently, it was thought that very low doses of these toxins would be ‘safe’. However, recent advances in scientific understanding (the little of it that remains unfunded by Big Agribusiness) is inclining towards the theory that there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ level.[1] This is because the endocrine system, like all living systems, is about balance. It does not matter if the imbalance is as light as a grain of sand or as heavy as an elephant, it will still tip the scale. Once the hormonal balance is disrupted all it takes is an unusual amount of stress to set the cells dividing at a cancerous rate. I am simplifying here but you get the point. Especially for women and genderqueer people, who are at high risk of gender-based violence, the added stress of Rape Trauma Syndrome and other Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (or even the constant worry of fearing them) places enough strain on our bodies without adding endocrine disruptors to the mix.

 

Play it safe. Eat food you have grown yourself or buy as much organic food as possible. In fact, do the planet a favour and stop emitting carbon at those expensive gyms. It is the most insane thing ever to be using electricity to do such an ordinary human thing as exercise. Garden organically instead, in your own or a guerilla garden you find somewhere. Carbon free and provides healthier food. Eat free-range meat, organic eggs and milk. Find a local grower (hopefully a women’s co-operative) or set up a community supported agriculture arrangement to source what you cannot produce, and while you are about it eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables high in betacarotenes and antioxidants: carrots, pumpkins, cabbage and her cousins, and so on. Yes, organic is more expensive than pesticide-laden food. But I can guarantee you it is cheaper than breast cancer treatment.

 

Plus you can use your consumer power to support small scale agriculture and women farmers. What is known as a win-win situation!

 

  1. Check your deodorant. Deodorants increase your risk of breast cancer because they are applied directly above the lymph nodes, the place where breast cancer is most likely to occur. Think of your body as a system. Say you are eating pesticide-laden food, breathing in pollution or drinking toxic water, all very ‘normal’ everyday urban experiences. Your system needs to try and get rid of these poisons. One of the ways we do this is by sweating. But if you are blocking your under arm sweat glands then you have just undermined this natural cycle. You are forcing the toxins back into your body where they start disrupting the balance which tells cells when to stop multiplying. So play it safe. When you are at home and hopefully working in the garden, stink away. If people don’t like it let them go bother somebody else.

This effect is doubled if your deodorant happens to contain cancer-causing chemicals. Yes, I said there are carcinogens in most deodorants and anti-perspirants sold on the market today. Aluminium is the one where the correlation is best proven, but parabens come a close second.[2] Parabens are preservatives which are also known endocrine disruptors. You are adding grains of sand to the ones already contained in your diet. It is a further problem if synthetic fragrances are used in your deodorant because companies are allowed to patent these and in order to protect their patents it is legal to not declare the ingredients thereof. So we have absolutely no idea what they do.  If the label of your deodorant says ‘aluminium’, any word ending in ‘paraben’, such as ‘methylparaben’, ‘butylparaben’, etc, or most ominously ‘fragrance’, toss it. Learn to read the labels. It can save your life.

Search for natural and organic deodorants. I am using Victorian Gardens’ one at the moment because I find that bicarbonate of soda ones give me a terrible rash. It can be ordered online.[3] Or have a look at a health food store near you! There are many traditional herbs and clays which can be used as well, so think of getting to know your indigenous knowledge systems as something which might save your life. Another win-win situation.

  1. Be a critically thinking consumer about those mammograms. Obviously if you are a high risk category, eg. with a high rate of breast cancer in the family, you might want to consider regular checks. But recent medical advice is that regular mammograms may in fact increase your risk of breast cancer. Because it increases your exposure to radioactivity.[4] Again, scientists are also re-thinking the notion of a ‘safe dose’ of radiation and for the same reasons, namely the notion of balance. Some of the chemicals involved are not that great either. Really.  Then there is the problem of ‘precautionary’ biopsies where you only find out if it is cancerous after the surgery, something, hm hm, extremely common amongst women with lots of medical aid. Let me run this by you again: your body is a living system, not a machine. Running your breast through a radioactive machine and then doing invasive trauma filled surgery is going to disrupt the system. Your breasts do not like it. This is in itself may increase your risk of cancer. The debate has raged for years, and I am not going to go into which cancer societies are funded by Big Pharma and which not. Suffice it to say that the move towards consensus is to have fewer mammograms for shorter periods of your life.[5]

 

My advice is to apply the precautionary principle: maximize those factors which prevent breast cancer and minimize those which may cause it. Do prayer, yoga and meditation which are great absolutely toxin free stress reducers and bring your body back into balance with your mind. Hug lots for the same reason. Have fun. Though self-examinations are discouraged nowadays for goodness knows what reason, for feminist purposes they are enjoyable, especially if conducted by your lover. Maximize those and give radioactivity a re-think.

 

  1. Burn the bra! This is not my feminist idea of a joke. It has been shown that constricting the breast tissue for many hours daily may increase the risk of breast cancer. This is for mechanical reasons that operate similarly to the deodorant issue: when you compress your breast tissue you limit blood flow and strangle the lymphatic system which is one of the principal means through which your body rids itself of toxins.[6] Apparently there are some insane people who actually sleep in bras and these obviously increase their risk since it means your body cannot be free to function even at night. So this is currently one of the hot frontiers in the breast cancer prevention debate. My take as a large-breasted woman who in fact never wore a bra at all until gravity finally got the upper hand at 42? Well, the precautionary principle says that you can without cost to your professional life easily toss the bra at the same time as you toss the deodorant: when you are at home or chilling with friends. Then see in ten years’ time when the scientific debate has concluded if you are still alive. Or not.

 

  1. Reconsider oral contraceptives! Along With Naomi Wolf[7] I have for years been saying that the ‘sexual revolution’ seemed to have benefited men more than it served women. Since becoming an aunt I have been saying so even more forcefully. There is no such thing as a free lunch. For every freedom there is also a responsibility. Especially from the point of view of African culture, I cannot say that giving up ancient ideas of mutual obligation and care in favour of sleeping around with whoever has not involved a lot of sacrifice, not least a marked lack of emotional safety. Now it seems as if it may be deadly. In fact, the link between contraceptive pills and breast cancer is one of the most scientifically uncontested ones. Even highly conservative organizations now acknowledge the link.[8] See, the problem is that humans did the same thing with the Pill as we are now doing with AZT’s. Highly scientific clinical trials were done on a few thousand people. Did we have any idea what would be the consequences of spreading this medication to millions of people over decades of time? Nope. Like runaway global warming, this is an example of where we failed to apply the precautionary principle. Pharmaceutical companies made millions, many men got lots of sex without concomitant responsibilities of marriage and child-care, and no doubt women too had a good time, but at a cost. See, I am going to repeat this one last time. The body is a living system. Abstracting it from life and sticking it in a laboratory where we investigate what one single substance does to one specific group of people over one specific period of time is only going to tell us so much. Now the results of decades of sticking oestrogen and progesterone into an incredibly delicately balanced endocrine system about which we actually know very little[9] lived by millions of women in an even more complex planetary ecosystem is an increase in rates of breast cancer. Ooops. There it is.

Yes, this has been known by doctors for a long time,that is why dosages have been steadily falling since the neutron bomb contraceptive pills of the 1960’s. And of course it remains better to increase your risk of breast cancer than to have children you cannot feed.  We will be doing the planet a HUGE favour by having fewer children and in fact are going to need to do so over the next generation or two or we won’t have a planetary ecosystem to keep our kids in. But that said, there are many healthy non-toxic ways to avoid getting pregnant. The most obvious is to end gender-based violence, and I won’t go into that since Professor Gqola has told us exactly how to go about it.[10]  But obviously, if 1 in 3 women in South Africa are going to be raped at least once in their lifetimes then it is likely that one-third of all children born are as a result of gender-based violence. Probably more, since rape is the situation where you are least likely to be able to choose contraception. But that is a really bad reason to use the Pill.

Turning to the pleasure side of sex there are plenty of non-toxic, more pleasurable and much cheaper methods of contraception. Probably the easiest of these is to become a lesbian. May be emotionally hazardous depending on who you end up with but solves your contraceptive problem for life. [11]  If you really, absolutely, not in a million years could stomach the thought and insist on being heterosexual, then use a condom. If you are allergic to latex or can’t stand the thought of emitting all that carbon, then practice non-penetrative sex in combination with the rhythm method. Do as the Khoesan did (in fact all matriarchal peoples) and get in harmony with the moon. Yes, it is more trouble and less reliable than the Pill. But it won’t increase your risk of breast cancer or render you a scientific experiment at your own expense. It will also serve to begin to undermine monopoly capitalism in the pharmaceutical sector. They lose their profits from the Pill and will also be less able to sell you expensive breast cancer treatment. I call that a good deal.

 

 

[1] . . The 2013 Berlaymont Declaration on Endocrine Disrupters Available at http://www.brunel.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/300200/The_Berlaymont_Declaration_on_Endocrine_Disrupters.pdf . Last accessed 30 May, 2014.

[2] . http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/02/17/deodorant-chemicals.aspx

[3] . http://www.thevictoriangarden.co.za/shop/bath-and-body/deodorants

[4] . http://www.breastcancerfund.org/clear-science/radiation-chemicals-and-breast-cancer/ionizing-radiation.html?referrer=https://www.google.co.za/

[5] . http://www.prevention.com/health/updated-breast-cancer-screening-guidelines

[6] . http://www.brafree.org/

[7] . Wolf, Naomi (1994). Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How To Use It. New York: Fawcett Columbine.

[8] . http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/features/birth-control-cancer-which-methods-raise-lower-risk

[9] . I will give you just one example: search the web for a single source of information that can tell you how to keep intersex people healthy in their natural state and you will find none. Zero. Zip. Nada. The only medical science that exists out there is about how to make them single-gendered. But as to what constitutes their optimal hormonal balance or what happens when they are exposed to multiple endocrine disruptors in a binary gender system which in itself stresses them to hell and gone and you will find a big empty gaping silence. Now if modern science has no idea of the complexities which go into keeping a person healthy who has lots of everything in intricate beautiful balance, how are we to understand the complex hormonal interactions even of single gendered humans? Short answer: we don’t. Your lives are being played with people, while Big Pharma makes lots of money. How does that make you feel?

[10] .   Gqola,  Pumla Dineo RapeA South African Nightmare Jacana Media, Johannesburg, 2015.

[11] . Peeps, I dealt with GBV already. OK?

Biko Day 2016

LIFE

For P.C. Jones

 

Why are all our heroes dead ?

Is it because the living

Do not loom over us, larger than life,

But their faults do?

 

We remember the courage of the dead

Honour their wisdom

Take the truth of their lives to heart

And love them always

Because they practiced what they preached

And died for the struggle.

 

Still, who knows the courage it takes

To get up every morning and breathe

In

Out

In

Out

In

Out

Living

Not the grand passions of the hero

But the silly human moments of life?

 

I do.

And I respect

You

Who choose to live for the struggle

 

Your Womanist Auntie’s Top Twelve Tips for Surviving the Feminist Movement In memory of Elaine Salo

 

 

  1. Spaces for places, people. Don’t sweat the small stuff. If people want to be separatist, let them. Go off and start a separatist movement of your own. Like a movement of people who HAVE SORTED THEIR ISSUES.
  2. Don’t be a hypocrite. Acknowledge privilege. It may hurt the first few times but you will soon get used to it. And when you acknowledge, do so effectively. People do not have time to waste on your browbeating. Send the limo to the township to ferry children to school and take the #*^%&%!! taxi. Sign over your inherited property to a Queer shelter for kids who have been thrown out of the house for coming out, and then wear that T-shirt that says “F–k white people”.
  3. Don’t be a chauvinist. If you speak Zulu the entire meeting without arranging for translation then don’t get upset when I respond in Afrikaans. And nope. No, you do not get to name me. I will sweetly pull you up short the first three times you call me out of my name. The fourth time I will take you outside and show you feminism Mitchell’s Plain style.
  4. Make a point of keeping your sexlife apart from your politics. Yes, you won’t get dykes without drama, but there has got to be some boundaries. If she/they votes against your constructive and valid motion purely because you dumped her/them last night for that sweet young thing, don’t be surprised. Yes, she/they should be bigger than that. But she/they aren’t. So if you can’t keep your thing in your panties/boxer shorts, then go find a sex life somewhere else.
  5. Also, be sure separate the space where you sort your issues from your struggle meetings. You don’t want your discussions of how many pamphlets to print mixed up with an argument about the way you hurt her feelings.[1] (pace Joanna Russ) If you want to join the movement, the first thing you got to do is set yourself up with therapy/peer counselling/online support group, something. Look, if 1 in 3 women gets raped at least once in her lifetime at least 30 % of your movement at any given time is walking around with some form of post-traumatic stress, if not full blown Rape Trauma Syndrome. This is quite apart from our inherited loopiness from 400 years of genocide, slavery, land dispossession, segregation, apartheid and then the Zuma regime.  People are not well. Make a point of having an emotional health space which is not the space where you discuss strategy and tactics or where you implement. Otherwise you are never going to get anywhere.
  6. Aaah, toxic bosses! There are a lot of fu—ed up people out there. You know, people who actually want to be patriarchs but the freaking system won’t let them because they have the wrong genitals. Somebody is going to write a Ph D thesis on that species one of these days. Maybe you? Tell yourself you are doing data collection and in the meantime here is a breakdown of the main subspecies:

a/ The NGO Mama. The technical term is ‘elite capture’. Nothing can happen unless it goes through her. She has been powerless her entire life and now she is dedicating the little bit that she has to make sure that you all pay the price. If you are working for struggle wages, with compulsory overtime and weekend work as standard, where only the buttlickers get to go to conferences and such and you find yourself having to explain to the community how your carefully negotiated workshop schedule got changed for the fourth time in this morning’s meeting because your boss woke up with another bright and completely impractical idea, then this is your NGOM subspecies. Tell yourself you are building your CV and then move on.

b/ The manipulative Queen. Do yourself a favour! Look up the symptoms for Borderline Personality Disorder[2] online and then tell yourself that you did not cause it, you cannot cure it, and what you need to do is deal with your co-dependency issues. Collect your data and consider it a capacity-building experience.

c/ The “I did not struggle to be poor” Queen Bee (no offence to bees intended), who is purely in it for the honey. If you notice that she and the Chair of the Board seem to do an inordinate amount of travelling business class and staying in five class hotels while this person with a post-graduate education decides that no, the community does not need more than two capacity-building workshops because the budget does not allow for more – or no, the organization cannot afford workplace childcare – then again, collect your data and move along.

d/ actually another version of the Queen Bee was the Director of an NGO I knew whose girlfriend worked for a funder and who coincidentally employed girlfriend as a consultant out of said funder’s budget. Unless the Board got its sh-t together (usually not or they would have got the Director figured out long ago) there is not much you can do but sit and learn. You never know when experience tracking down corruption may come in handy.

  1. Bitter truth: lot of people like to feel good about the struggle while at the same time being scared witless at the prospect of actually challenging white supremacist heteropatriarchal capitalism. They are comfortable being victims. So they invent a lot of activity that at heart is sound and fury signifying nothing. This allows them to stay very busy (and spend lots of donor funding) on absolutely pointless activities which tire everybody and lets them feel good without making squat difference in the real world. Trust your common sense. If it sounds like an idiotic idea it usually is. [3]
  2. That said, never be afraid to make a complete fool of yourself. You are not bigger than patriarchy, which is the all time most foolish system imaginable. So

a/ you know that point in the meeting at which that permanently waif-like emotional vampire who is looking for someone to project her stuff on has just managed to manipulate the entire collective into a stupid and pointless idea which has bullying at its heart? Don’t be afraid to make gat. If everybody cracks up laughing the tension will be broken and there is every hope that something constructive may yet emerge.

b/ ja, you know that other moment in the meeting where we all have bitched, complained and generally made ourselves very comfortable in our victim status, the time has come for constructive, creative suggestions and a painful silence starts to spread around the meeting while everybody starts furtively looking at their cellphones? Make your suggestion! The worst they can do is laugh at you. But you know, Goddess sees you and will give you brownie points in feminist heaven for at least trying to be a real revolutionary.

c/ and if the movement dumps your suggestions of building biogas digesters, starting food gardens, fermenting effective microorganisms, improving the water supply, volounteering at pre-schools, scrutinizing the Auditor-Generals accounts to figure out exactly how much money has been embezzled which could fund free quality education, or some other activity which might make A REAL DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF ACTUAL WOMEN and combine immediate needs with long term strategic qualitative change; in favour of yet another demonstration/workshop/petition/[4]activity which involves lots of rhetoric, many speeches and much grandstanding for who gets the biggest microphone (see point  6), then you need to start asking yourself if you are really in the right movement. 90 % of the time it is less emotionally draining and more productive to just go off and start another movement (see point 1).

  1. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When the good time girls, opportunists and bandwagon jumpers (not to mention ministers in Zuma’s government) start to say that they are feminist, smile sweetly and take it for the compliment it is. Here we have spent decades trying to mainstream the feminist movement and this is the inevitable result. We are now the fashion. Pat them on the back and then get the hell out of there.
  2. Still, remember that at the heart of feminism is choice. And that for every finger you point at other people there are four fingers pointing back at you. So if you are in a movement where the pressure for conformity is intense (people are ganging up to bully the lipstick lesbian or have decided there is only one politically correct way to trans) and others are walking around saying that yes, they read Abrahams and Abrahams has said that you are not a real feminist, realize that you are probably not in the feminist movement at all. Go back to point 1.
  3. So can you really know whether the movement you are in is feminist? Easy! Take a good hard look at how they handle conflict. Feminism is all about process. Do they

a/ ensure that even the smallest minority is heard even when it is not what Everybody Else is saying?

b/ take it for granted that everybody needs to be held accountable for their actions, and it is NO BIG DEAL to be asked to account?

c/ resolve conflict openly, i.e. tell you in public with witnesses or a recording device what their problem is, give you a fair hearing and acknowledge any factual evidence you may wish to bring to the table?

d/ take steps to limit the conflict to the actual protagonists, assuming that they are grown people who will take responsibility for their actions and remember that the struggle really is bigger than they are?

e/ accept that you are the agent of your own liberation, i.e. that telling who you are and what you should be doing in the name of feminism is probably not very feminist? You think?

 

Or do they

i/ Shut people up when it gets uncomfortable?

ii/ start crying and saying you are nasty when you ask them why they did that tomfool thing in the organization’s name when the previous meeting had precisely decided it was tomfool?

iii/ resolve conflict through gossip, innuendo and rumour, backbiting and going suddenly quiet when you rock up, e-mailing stuff about you which you are NOT being cc’ed, all the while smiling to your face and telling you they are your only real feminist friends?

iv/ drag non-combatants into the conflict, creating caucuses and movements within a movement, expecting everybody to take their side and when people – surprisingly – don’t, insist on making it an issue of personal loyalty? As if patriarchy cared…

v/ decide that they are the real experts at liberation and yes, their pain is really much more important than workingclass/unemployed and unemployable/rural/ trans/genderqueer pain and that it is actually all about them. So they think nothing of occupying the entire meeting/movement with THEIR ISSUE and will not let it go without creating maximum amount of drama and division.

 

Well, there you go my childen! Remember, just like you cannot let the faith-based institution stand between you and Godde, you should not let the movement stand between you and bringing down patriarchy.  90 % of women/trans/genderqueers are still unorganized. If you are in a movement like 11 i-v/ you will probably even find your Neighbourhood Watch or your Consumer’s Association more potentially radical, and at least considerably more useful. You can exhaust yourself trying to stay and fight or you can what?

 

MOVE OUT AND BUILD A MOVEMENT!!!

 

 

[1] . I deliberately use the female pronoun here because hopefully genderqueers are more mature than that.

[2] . Nope, not being able-ist. In fact, I think we need a Mad Pride movement desperately. But see, I own my craziness.

[3] , No. We do not need workshops on how to use sex toys. We used to have to figure out stuff like that by ourselves. If the younger generation don’t know what to do, they shouldn’t be joining the feminist movement. Neither do we need  ‘sex-positive spaces’. Let them go do it in the bush like we used to. It’s called tough love.

[4] . Not saying that we don’t need these things. Just saying that if they at some point don’t lead to practical action then you are probably not in the feminist movement.

Khoelife Entry into the Soap Challenge Club

The soap I made is named “Power of Love”, something my nation desperately needs at the moment.

The challenge was to design a soap using an impression mat. But I couldn’t find one that I liked, so in the end I made my own. I found some rhinestones that did the job perfectly!

Photo E Davey

Photo E Davey

Then I cast the silicone mould.

Photo E Davey

Photo E Davey

 

Now my problem is that I am always tempted to colour outside the lines. Though I dutifully read through all the instructions,  no sooner did I hear that it was impossible to paint a wet mica then I had to try it. I guess that is one way to keep growing and learning! I should mention that I have only used botanical colours, this was my first mica ever. But I thought it is festive season and we can afford to indulge ourselves in some sparkle.  I mixed the mica in oil and applied it with a dropper. I then let it dry for a few hours.

Phote E Davey

Phote E Davey

Thinking through the design was the tricky part. The instructions were to focus on the texture created by the impression mat.  So to think of something that enhanced the pattern without overshadowing it took some effort. In the end I decided to go with my favourite tilted wall pour in these adorable heart popsicle moulds.

IMG_0237

Now to assemble it all! Being very careful not to disturb the mica, I decided to apply the first layer with a bottle.

Photo E Davey

Photo E Davey

Then I added another layer with a spoon and added my embeds.

Photo E Davey

Photo E Davey

I let it stand for a few days without gelling. And here’s the  loaf!!

Photo E Davey

Photo E Davey

 

 

 

The final cut.

final cut

Tagged

Learning to think differently – or is it going back to what we know?

Photo Ethne Davey

Photo Ethne Davey

photo Ethne Davey

photo Ethne Davey

 

How do we know what we know? Or do we not really know and are only too happy to take somebody else’s word for the truth?

 

 

Soap-making is equal parts arts and science. It helps me a lot in thinking around what science can and cannot do. Of course working my day job in climate change has focused the mind powerfully around the limits of science. There is a sense in which the current crisis constitutes a huge ‘Ooops’ on the part of Cartesian science.  It works very well when there is a single cause for a single effect – like combustion engines. But when we are confronted with a single cause which has multiple effects (like pesticide endocrine disruptors ) then science is stumped because the problem does not lend itself to the experimental method. Or when we see multiple causes having a single outcome (gender based violence, say, or global warming) then again the positivistic approach we have all been taught to revere as the fount of truth fails to provide answers. In fact, if anything the crisis teaches us to be open to humility. You don’t know what you don’t know and life has a way of rubbing your nose in it. Or, as at present, the entire planetary ecosystem…

But then again, this only confirms what organic farmers and indigenous peoples (or those of us who are mad enough to be both) have been saying for a long time. So where do we go from here? Do we look for other gods in human guise to provide the ultimate answers? Or do we – finally – learn to think for ourselves? I have attached a new paper: Epistemology of Intersectionality, where I try to go deep about these things.

 

PLEASE DO NOT ASK US TO TEACH YOU TO MAKE SOAP – AS A REFUSAL MAY OFFEND

Khoelife has a standing offer for any NGO, CBO or individual: if you sign up as a distributor and build up your turn-over to the point where you have created one or more jobs in production – we have been making soap for a long time so we can tell you exactly where this point is – then we will train someone from your organization to make soap. As long as you can feed and transport your trainee to our soap workshop, it will not cost you a cent. Once we feel that the trainee is able to make soap with renewable energy to Khoelife’s exacting quality standards, which could be anything from three months to a year or two depending on what type of soap you are wanting to make, we will assist you to set up your own workshop. Personally I feel at least a year is best because the thing with renewable energy is that it puts you back in touch with natural cycles. The soap and your energy source really behave differently depending on temperature, humidity, etc. So I don’t feel I have properly trained someone until they have been with me for a full year. However some of the simpler soaps can probably be taught a little faster than that. Be that as it may, when Khoelife feels you are trained then you can produce soap under licence and pay us a royalty fee of a few cents per bar produced.

Now we really like this approach. For one, it makes more sense for a social entrepreneur to first build marketing and distribution, so they know what size production unit to set up. This way you can produce to an existing market where you are familiar with demand.There is nothing worse for a small business than to sit with excess capacity, where all your money is tied up in production while your stock is not moving. Of course our production method: making soap one pot at a time using very basic energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, is much cheaper to set up (and more adaptable to scale)  then the fossil-fuel ‘make it big’ approach. It is like the difference between organic farming and chemical farming. The first allows you to choose your scale while the second imposes scale. Still,  I have researched entrepreneurship for a good decade and a half and spent the last three years trying to run a soap business, so I know whereof I speak. I have never met a small business owner who does not complain of stranded assets in the context of an unexpected fall in demand. We constructed a business precisely to address this problem. To begin with marketing and distribution means we carry the production overhead for you until you are strong enough to stand on your own.

For two this has the added advantage for the start-up business that we do not charge you for training. We make our money back from licence fees over time. So if we teach you to make soap it means we believe in you enough to invest our time and knowledge without asking any up-front payment.

For three, this means that you are on your own but not alone. The trainee in a social franchise system is a way of making sure that you have somebody to call at any time. I have been making soap for 19 years and I still get horribly failed batches. One of my most comforting things to do at that moment is to watch Youtube where friendly and courageous soap-makers actually post their soap failures. It makes me realize I am not alone. Natural cold-process soap can be easy, but it can also go horribly wrong. So it makes sense for everybody to work with a consistent approach over a period of time.

For four, from our side it is advantageous because we do not want to grow too big. To expand horizontally rather than vertically makes sense to us. Having lots of co-ops producing under licence while we can focus on supply issues and quality control, works.  Not least because it would give me more time to relax and produce hand-made specialty soaps or work on new recipes 🙂

This approach allows us to really get to know an organization or individual. When you have been a distributor for a couple of years, it means we have worked with you long enough to know that you can be trusted to produce under the Khoelife label. Quality control is a BIG issue with us. We do not let a product go out with our name on it unless we are 100% happy with it. So it is a huge gesture of trust for us to teach other people to make Khoelife soap and it is not unreasonable of us to want to do so in a system with checks and balances.

The interesting thing, though, is that lately we have been getting lots of enquiries from people who want to learn to make soap. When we present our standard offer,  they tend to want to enter into long negotiations with us.  When we explain politely that we are in the business of selling soap, not training the competition and that no, we are really not going to close our workshop down for the day to come teach you to make soap unless you fulfill the terms and conditions required to make soap under licence and even then we expect you to come to us, people can get quite intense. When we then  even more politely explain that if you did not call us to buy soap then we really don’t know why we are having this conversation, people can get quite excited.   Now this astounds me. Is it because we are small? Is it because we are female? Is it because we are Black?

I mean, who phones Unilever and says ‘can you teach me how to make soap’? If Toyota refused to close down their plant for the day in order to teach Volkswagen to make cars, nobody would be surprised. So why do people expect us to want to teach them to make soap? It baffles me. I would love to hear your comments about what this is about…

And it is worth repeating that we are committed to training. We do not believe it is right to keep knowledge to yourself. All we are saying is that there is a system and we will train people who adhere to the system.

I am pleased for the compliment. Every one of the people who have come asking for soap workshops have prefaced their request with: “I really love your soap”. Great! Then buy it! And if you love it enough to want to sell to your networks then go for it. When we can see tangible results we will be only too happy to offer training. But we do not offer once-off workshops and no, wanting to pay us for it is not going to make us want to do it.

Now, some natural soap-makers do offer workshops.  Often this occurs when they are in the business of selling soap-making supplies. It makes sense for them to teach people to make soap so people can order more stuff from them. Or just possibly they are not selling enough soap and so teaching other people becomes a necessary source of income for them.  It is not for us to speculate. Nor are we going to comment on the approach that says it is possible to teach people to make soap in a day or two. That may do very well for some, and if that is what you want, then we suggest you approach http://www.howtomakesoap.co.za   or  http://www.nakedsoap.co.za

There is Bev Missing’s The rain book of natural soapmaking Bev used to run rain soap company but has since sold it to American interests and retired. So of course she would write a book. Which is a fantastic read and available at Exclusive Books.

The Queen of Soap, Anne Marie Fabiola of Brambleberry fame, has a new book also at Exclusive. Brambleberry are the people from whom I order some of my natural soap colorants, and have so far found them of a high quality.  The Soap Queen blog  http://www.soapqueen.com/ has lots of tutorials and you can also order their e-books online: http://www.brambleberry.com

I love the wonderful world of internet! When I started making colour soaps Youtube came to my assistance and there are any number of videos on any kind of soap from the basic to the most complex.  Big ups to the kind and sharing soap-making community!! There are also innumerable blogs, Facebook pages and online soap-maker’s forums.

So we appreciate the people wanting to learn to make soap and are only too happy that they are so enthusiastic about the virtues of natural soap.  We hope they have found this blog helpful. But if all you are wanting is a workshop or two, please don’t call us! Should you want to become a serious distributor with an eye to becoming a social franchisee one day, do please contact us at enquiries@khoelife.co.za

 

 

WE ARE LIVE!!!

You can now go to our new website: http://www.khoelife.co.za It is lovely website, user-friendly and interactive. But this blog will continue for those who like to go deep 🙂