(For maximum emotional effect, play music video while reading)
My Keeks, as I write this your father is desperately attempting to put you to bed. I'm sitting in the lounge with a glass of wine, listening to him belly-laughing as you babble about - he cannot contain his absolute love for you. It swells my heart to hear you make him laugh, and to be able to share those moments with both of you - even if from another room.
I probably won't be the first to tell you this, but that experience is one of love - complex and indulgent, painful and liberating, soothing and wrecking. Love.
Love is so hard. One thing I have learned and continue to learn laboriously is that the substance of love does not come easy to me, with all of the hurt that I carry from the past. I am at once stubborn, unforgiving and overly certain. Within a moment, love in its purest form (without all of the window dressing) ruins me - brings me to my most basic childhood tendencies and forces me to relent into the entirety of my interrelatedness.
The love from your father, your grandmother, your grandfather, your (biological and adopted) aunts, and you do all of these things for me, and despite hating the parts of love that are grating - I would be 100% id without it, responding to my most basic instincts for survival.
I want you to know that when I speak of being strong, I do not speak about carrying it all on your own or having all of the answers. Trust me when I say, those who know it all do not know humanity and its complexities. Rather, in holding yourself gently and humbly, I want you to realize your humanity, your ability to be wrong, your ability to be weak, and your ability to need support - love. I emphasize ability here because it is a choice that you have the power to make - a choice you have to give love, and also to receive it.
The narrative of the strong black woman bearing the brunt of humanities evil is overrated for its inability to recognize that no one should have to carry the obligation to epitomize love & selfnessness without making that choice. It is a choice to love, but you will find that as a woman (especially a black one), it will be easier to give love than to receive it. And for this I implore you to open your heart - into the mess that is human love, the condition of mxn in its purest form.
I implore you not because I have the answers or because I believe it to be easy, but I do believe true love has the power to hold and heal you - because it is for better and for worse. It is a decision you make to give, but also to receive: the gift of acceptance with all of your beautiful scars (some which will be inflicted by the people who love you the most in this world, like your dad and I).
As you hold others gently in this world, giving grace and love to others - also remember that we, too, are here with a choir of lovers, holding you up and holding you high with our love. Always.
For this post, there were a number of catchy titles that roamed through my head. Some included
'On pulling up your clan' or 'On the type of woman you should be' (too prescriptive). What I want to capture for you, during 'Women's Month' in South Africa* is that you have options on who you can be, and I have dreams of who I'd like you to choose to be - regardless of whether there is a month in a year to celebrate that. You did not choose your genitalia, and even if I try hard to moderate it, you may not choose your gender straight away - but in the interim, I'd like to share with you a woman's manifesto - a set of principles and aspirational reflections that I hope will counter the Cosmo narrative that is headlined by things such as '30 Things All Women Should Do/Stop Doing/Have Tried/Must Know by 30'. It is A Woman's Manifesto, because it is my manifesto and not anyone else's, it is meant to be a guide and not a biblical text and I hope it presents to you options of the woman you can be, if you so choose. And if you do not choose this, then all that matters to me is that you have choice.
A WOMAN'S MANIFESTO
To venture boldly and unashamedly into all of the different parts of self,
including mind, body, soul, spirit, and sexuality.
To be at peace with all of the tensions, contradictions and syntheses that make one whole.
To choose to whom one must reveal themselves, unafraid to be bare when it feels safe.
To choose from whom to hide oneself, recognizing that all eyes see, but not all eyes see truthfully.
To say yes, when yes is meant.
To say no, even when it disappoints.
To be selfish with your self-preservation, recognizing that the world prioritizes the preservation of some - and that sometimes you must fight just to be.
To choose the channels you switch to, aware that watching comedy series on TV and drinking wine can be as important for your truth as fighting on the front lines for liberation.
To be angry when you are angry.
To be sad when you are sad.
To be delirious with joy bellowing from the deep crevices of your lower belly, unapologetically happy.
To not make yourself small for love because true love will allow you to be the fullest version of yourself.
To hold your heart gently as you do those of others.
To defy the mantle of 'strong womanhood', choosing instead just to be - woman.
To choose and have the power to exercise that choice.
To nurture the earth as it nurtures you.
To stand for justice, even at the price of calm.
To recognize that calm & peace are different, and peace can be disruptive when it is based on your truth.
To be humble where it is informed by your truth.
To be heard as much as you hear.
And, to rest - recognizing that you too are just flesh & bones: human.
*It's bizarre that there is only a month for women, black history and just real people. The canon is dangerous this way, it gives away 'special times' for garnering recognition of the crises at hand, without drastically changing the nature of violence people experience in the other 11 months of the year. Be weary of this. Inasmuch as it is important, it is window dressing for larger structures that need dismantling. This can only be done by those of us experiencing violence saying enough.