Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Criminal Encounter

When there is an itch, scratch it. That is the driving force behind two blog posts in as many days; that and the fact that I have a few days off work. Yesterday’s blog was a departure from the usual drivel I try to limit myself to and nigh incomprehensible as one Anonymous so charmingly pointed out. So allow me to go back to the usual in this post.

Two weeks ago my mother asked me to look in on two boys who had been admitted at the hospital I work. When I got to the ward both boys (17 and 19) were being guarded by the police. One had a huge gash on his face and said he had been in a car crash. The other had several gunshot wounds. Seeing as my mother is rarely in the company of criminals I assumed the kids were the victims, hence the police guard. They are the sons of a friend of my mom's.

It is only recently that I got the full story. The boys, in the company of a parolee had been part of a hijacking gone horribly wrong. They had ambushed a man in a parking lot and the 19-year-old had shot him. While the man was writhing on the ground, the 16-year-old had driven over him, leaving him dead on the tarmac. The parolee, a man who is in his 40s, scuppered leaving the boys to fend for themselves. They were caught by the police in about 30 minutes and the resultant shootout had seen the 16-year-old lose control of the car and the 19-year-old shot by police.

I had gone out of my way to be pleasant to people who had done something so despicable. I had touched their shoulders reassuringly and promised them they were being taken care of. I had looked into the eyes of two criminals and treated them with common courtesy and decency. I hadn’t seen what they were.

I’m fucking pissed with myself.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Misunderstood Single Me

The lot of the 21st century single woman is to suffer being misunderstood. Or rather, more candidly, it is to wallow in the belief that she is greatly misunderstood. Decades after the Suffragettes began their march towards unleashing the modern woman on the unsuspecting male-dominated world of the early 20th century women are still struggling with self-identity and coming to terms with the perceived identity ascribed to them by male counterparts and often their own families.

The month of August in South Africa offers much room for reflection about what it means to be a woman and what I can expect of myself as a woman. As a month dedicated to the celebration of women and the commemoration of an historic event then country, I feel it fit that I acknowledge something I feel is now taboo and not in keeping with what is in vogue in terms of celebrating women’s right; the right to be an old-fashioned kind of woman.

Perhaps my impatience with today’s woe-is-successful-young-me woman is the seeming betrayal of the sacrifices that have been made for today’s women to enjoy the same rights as men as well as the right to be generally divested of societal pressures on where the proper place for a woman is. There seems to have been a paradigm shift which shows the modern woman going overboard with the whole independent theme and somewhat becomes an overzealous version of a 17th century male. However, before I indulge in rampant self-flagellation let me remind myself why I am fed up with Successful Singleton Suzy.

She is able to waltz into any place in the world and demand whatever she can afford without suffering dependence on a “benefactor”. She is able to pursue both family and career without having to feel she is being pulled in two different directions. She is able to enjoy her success without having to constantly fight for the right to pursue such success.

And yet, even with all of these “rights”, Singleton Suzy is still not happy. No, she is misunderstood and believes herself to be on the fringes of modern society, without a proper place. She is the sufferer of the “Successful Single Woman Over 28 Phenomenon” as having been outlined by many “scholars” one may find on the internet.  Okay, perhaps there are legitimate reasons that can be argued that young successful women are a lonely group of people but there are mitigating circumstance that they ought to take responsibility for.
This phenomenon basically outlines that certain women in their late 20s are unhappy and lonely; they apparently suffer from a Quarter-Life Crisis (made popular by the book, TwentySomething: The Quarter Life Crisis of Jack Lancaster by Ian Hollingshead. The Quarter-Life Crisis details the emotionally rollercoaster Twenty Somethings undergo once they come to the realisation that they have achieved great strides in their careers and are now in the first flush of real wealth. Seemingly, they can’t cope with this. The natural developmental stage that one who has achieved a career and success must then undergo is to seek out a mate and get to the business of creating a family; it’ Psychology 101. Suppressing this urge because “that is no longer what is expected of women” is probably the root cause of all this angst Twenty Somethings then experience.

So instead of going out, meeting people and socialising Successful Singleton are living behind their computers, blogging ferocious and correcting grammar of social networks.  They voraciously collect Twitter followers and spend a great deal of time engaging social and political commentators and weighing in with their “wealth of life experience” on matters such as world politics and the economic status of third world countries, the developed world’s continuing  pillaging of such third world nations’ natural resources and the futility of the Iraqi wars. They erudite and they are brilliant.

An article on the single women over 28 years old of China reveals that they seem to feel above the average guy in the street who they might have otherwise married had these women been less educated and unsuccessful. The premise of the article is that these women are being badgered by their family (read “moms”) to settle down and start making babies. The outrage! How dare families suggest such an abomination, these women have chosen their paths and those paths have no detours to Baby City to buy the latest prams for their offspring thank you very much!

I’m going to be honest; as a woman “of a certain age”, I am terrified. I am terrified of being alone and I want to change it. I am giving to the primal nature of my humanity.  I want to admit that lurching home after yet another networking session where I consumed great wine, scrumptious food and partook in “life-changing” and “opinion-shaping” conversation is no longer enough.

I want the picket fence, not the two-storey walk-up two-bedroom flat in a trendy neighbourhood. I want the SUV, not the hatchback or the deliciously sexy sports car that has been home to many of my shoes and handbags that never seem to make it out the bucket seats at the back. I want to rush home after work, frazzled because I need to make dinner. Bugger the take-out because I want to try out that recipe I saw while Nigella Lawson belt out. I’m happy to concede that going to the carwash with my Sunday newspapers while chugging down Seattle Coffees’ cafĂ© lattes, rabidly Tweeting my opinion on ever y lead story is no longer satisfying. I want to watch my husband spend an inordinate amount of time washing my car, not because he particularly wants to but because I hinted I might drag him shopping with me and the kids if he so much as looks like he is not very very busy!

 Most of all, I want someone else to share my success and my children to bear witness I did more than just climb some corporate ladder in this life. Because at the end of the day I want a legacy; and I have realised that I don’t have Mandela-esque ambitious enough to leave a legacy for the entire world, just a legacy for a family of my own.

And why the heck shouldn’t I want that life, despite centuries of female revolutions I don’t believe the intrinsic part of human nature has altered all that much. We were born to be with someone who fits us; this is why so many people are unhappy being single. Why can we not allow that Successful Singleton Suzy is also just another human being craving that connection but finding it incredibly difficult because she also happens to have achieved a measure of wealth and independence at a young age? These are the same women, who in their late thirties begin to bemoan never having children.

The Guardian’s Ellie Mae O’Hagan is one such Successful Singleton who feels much aggrieved by the stereotypical image of a successful young woman and says there seems to be “still the cultural belief that single women beyond a certain age are faulty somehow.” In her article, “Scrap that single woman stereotype”, O’Hagan claims to have spoken to a multitude of single women who were more than happy with their single lifestyle and feel that have no reason to be married or procreate.

I spoke to my own multitude, admittedly it was mostly women on my Twitter feed, Facebook profile, (which as a Successful Singleton I will have you know I have in spades) and the resounding opinion on this was similar to mine; we as single women need to pretend to be happy being single because if we say anything else then we are admitting the stereotype, or we are exhibiting the same selfishness that has led to our success, wanting fingers in all pies. The women I spoke to largely felt that it is natural and acceptable to want to be married; they did not claim that it was unnatural to not want those things a Successful Singletons claim they are being viewed. My multitude felt society frowned more upon women who felt they could straddle both family and career as comfortably as one would a gentle gelding.

What is galling is that those who purport to be happy being single have been representing themselves as the spokespeople for the Successful Singletons; so much so that we women who feel as I do are now the ones who start to feel like social pariahs who do not know what they really want out of life. It now seems as if every woman must choose between being a housewife or a Successful Singleton, as if the very fabric of our society is not testament to the fact that women can be both!

Furthermore, women such as me are very clear about what we want, we’d like to keep the whizz-banging career, possibly improving on it beyond our wildest imagination AND we also want 2.5 kids with a husband who loves to jog and is an extreme hunk. Yeah we would like this guy to be marginally successfully, but it is not a hard fast rule that they pursue the same corporate ladder I’m on (it would be totally idiotic to want a mate you couldn’t grow with). The only problem now is that we aren’t allowed to say all this out loud, or lord forbid, in the presence of other Successful Singletons! How dare we let the team down like this by kowtowing to basic human instinct and being so selfish as to want it all?

Among my favourite Suffragists is Emily Stowe, who incidentally was married and had children. She was also the first Canadian woman to become a medical doctor; a quintessential woman if ever there was one; one who pursued her ambitions without giving up the joys of being a woman that each female is born with. I take comfort from this quotation of another pioneer of the women’s rights movement, Susan Anthony; “The older I get, the greater the power I seem to have to help the world; I am like a snow-ball, the further I am rolled the more I gain.” In those simple words I am absolved of the guilt I would have otherwise shouldered for daring to get older than my later 20s and allow my dreams to shift beyond making a great career.