The Movement Show with Luyanda Khumalo: Slindokuhle Cele and Nonhlanhla Mbonambi
The Gender Feminist Speak Out
Topic: Body Politics and Hair
Date: 26 September 2020
Radio Presenter Introduces us
Nonhlanhla: Sawubona lapho okhona mlaleli ngiyethemba iWeekend ikuphethe kahle, igama lami uNonhlanhla and we are from Agenda Feminist and we are back yet again for another engaging conversation.
Slindokuhle: Sanibonani emakhaya, my name is Slindokuhle and with all the controversy that Clicks sparked for over two weeks, today’s topic will be Body Politics and Hair. We will be looking at how we view ourselves as bodies and the impact society has on our appearance.
Nonhlanhla: Body politics refers to the practices and policies through which powers of society regulate the body, as well as the struggle over the degree of individual and social control of the body. The body is always subjected to social, cultural, economic, and political definitions and policies are based on those perceptions. (PERHAPS YOU COULD SAY HERE THAT WE THINK WE OWN OUR BODIES, BUT THAT IT IS SUBJECT TO THE CONTROLS YOU MENTION IN YOUR SECOND STATEMENT).
AS FEMINISTS WE NOTE that society’s preference (SHAPED BY THE MEDIA, AND OTHER ‘forces’) for a woman’s body must be slim, or petite – GENERALLY A WESTERN IDEAL OF A WOMAN’S BODY). For many years only women with a specific body type were the only ones who were considered to qualify as models and portray leading roles in the mainstream. Nowadays plus size women are also given opportunities/ also represented.
Slindokuhle: Bodies being subjected to systemic regimes, such as government regulation is a method that ensures bodies will behave in socially and politically accepted manners. Feminist scholars have argued that the body is both shaped and colonized, the politics of the body argue that the body itself is shaped by control. Women’s bodies have been policed by culture and society; they must be considered “acceptable” when they dress in a certain way and behave in an acceptable manner which is being Feminine. Denial of constitutional rights of women seeking abortions, gay men, lesbians, and transgendered people, or people with disabilities have demonstrated the unequal application of free speech, privacy rights, and the Equal Protection clause.
Nonhlanhla: Writer Deborah Eade argues that “understanding sexuality and body politics, and getting beyond gender barriers, would profoundly change the social and economic policies of mainstream development. This is not simply about taking gender and sexual diversity into account.” With Clicks having had such a vile advertisement about black women’s hair, it shows that we still have a long way to go in fighting racism and inequality also. For centuries black women have been and still are being discriminated for their hair, skin, and culture. White attributes-including straight white hair are still viewed superior. (HERE YOU COULD MAKE THE LINK BETWEEN BLACK WOMEN’S HAIR AND BODY POLITICS.)
Media content such as films, tv shows and advertisements plays a huge role in shaping the way we look at ourselves in relation to the world around us. Through the course of history, celebrity role models that represented the many arrays of African skin tones and hair types were scarce , making it more difficult for black children and adults to feel valued and included in a world they did not see themselves in. Today celebrity actresses and musicians like Pearl Thusi and Sho Madjozi are helping set the stage for natural haired black woman to be themselves on screen and in real life.
Slindokuhle: Body Politics in feminism can be considered as the struggle for people to control their sense of-being, social, and cultural ‘bodily’ experiences. But non-heterosexual people are excluded, they must hide their sexuality and cannot express themselves to avoid discrimination. We exist during a time where there are horrific incidents of homophobia, the disturbing killings of trans people and sexual abuse against the LGBTQ+ community for being themselves and not conforming to social “norms”.
Radio presenter shares a few comments
Slindokuhle: South African black girls/women’s hair is discriminated against even in black spaces like home, school, and workplace. In 2016 a 13-year old Zulaikha Patel became a symbol of the fight against a policy regarding black girls’ hair, yes we celebrate young black girls fighting more for themselves but the fact that we live in a time where teenagers are fighting also says a lot about our societies.
Author Nadia E. Brown writes, “Black women are keenly aware of how their bodies and physical experiences are racialized and gendered. They understand the ways in which their bodies fall outside the dominant constructions of beauty and femininity and experience the impact of race and gender-based stereotypes on how they are perceived”. Black women are excluded even by the mainstream, especially dark-skinned women.
Nonhlanhla: Black women’s hairstyles in workplaces are mocked. Influencer and Digital Creator, Laila Amakye Mensah shares, “In most white-dominated workspaces, co-workers misunderstood why black women wear their natural hair or hairstyles that are seen as traditional African hairstyles”. Black natural hair has been seen as a political statement or an act of defiance and it also has an impact on how black women perceive themselves. Most women of colour, both consciously and subconsciously try their best to assimilate for career progression and most of the time assimilation does not look like an afro.
Slindokuhle: Black women should be able to walk freely with their hair without facing any prejudice. Also, it is quite questionable why people bully black women for wearing wigs, for years black women’s hair has been discriminated against but when they start wearing wigs there is a problem. The issues go beyond black women’s hair, they are dehumanised, and most socio-issues affect them.
Nonhlanhla: That is all for today, do let us know what your views on Facebook (at Agenda Feminist) with regards to this topic are. Do tune in next week on the Gender Feminist Speak Out. Nisale Kahle.
Brown, N. E. (2018, June 12). WHAT’S HAIR GOT TO DO WITH IT? BLACK WOMEN’S BODIES AND THE TRADITIONAL LOOK OF SUCCESS IN AMERICAN POLITICS. Retrieved from Policy fieldRACE & ETHNICITYCIVIC ENGAGEMENTDEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE: https://scholars.org/brief/whats-hair-got-do-it-black-womens-bodies-and-traditional-look-success-american-politics
Eade, D. (2011, June 10). Body Politics: the gender development gap. Retrieved from https://www.thebrokeronline.eu/body-politics-d50/
Gershon, N. B. (2007 ). Politics, Groups and Identities . Body Politics .
Brobbey, L. (2019, 11 22). ‘Don’t touch my hair’ — black women’s hairstyles are misunderstood at work. Retrieved from FINANCIAL TIMES: https://www.ft.com/content/b5c3fa4e-e6c0-11e9-9743-db5a370481bc
Schlyter, A. (2009). Body Politics and Women Citizens. African Experiences.