Perceptors | August 2020
This is a collection of our reflections during Women’s Month. They reflect our diversity of experiences and views and styles (satire, poetry, advocacy), but also share a common grappling with the issues of our time, a need for sense-making, a sensitivity for our context, a curiosity about the experiences of others.
A love letter to the WhatsApp group chat women – Rose Tuyeni Peter
This is a love letter for all of the women of the WhatsApp group chats. It’s a tribute to the ways in which women show up for each other every day in love and solidarity. It’s written from a personal perspective, but I am sure many of you are these women and have these women in your life.
Dear Women of the WhatsApp group chats,
Life has scattered us all over the world. Many of us have not seen each other for years and now, because of Covid and lockdowns, we aren’t entirely sure when we will see each other again. But I wanted to take the time this women’s month to thank you for showing up for each other every single day, despite distance, time zones and insanely busy schedules.
Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for being invested in my happiness and growth as a person. Thank you for your advice, encouragement, humour and support. Thank you for the safe space to ask the weird and stupid questions. Thank you for always being quick to recommend a good financial advisor, therapist, gynaecologist, coach, hairdresser, recruiter or whatever. You are all always so well connected.
Thank you for your humour! Thank you for the memes! Thank you for sending those hilarious tik-tok videos, because I am never downloading the app. Thank you for always finding a way to lift my spirit!
Thank you for always wanting the best for me. Thank you for pointing out those red flags about the people we’re in relationships with. Thank you for asking us those difficult questions that really cut to the core of why we are putting up with what we are putting up with. Thank you for not gaslighting us. Thank you for listening without judgement, while holding us accountable. Thanks for reminding us of who we are and what we deserve.
Thank you for helping us apply for those scholarships and jobs. Thank you for reading the cover letters. Thank you for helping us negotiate those contracts and salaries, and making sure we are getting paid what we deserve.
Thank you for never letting us sell ourselves short or underestimate our ability. Thank you for motivating us to level up!
Thank you for showing me how to define what it means to be a spouse/partner, mother, career woman, and feminist/womanist on your own terms. Thank you for the inspiring way you live your life. Watching you choose yourselves, your dreams and your happiness everyday has given me the courage and permission to do the same.
Thank you for showing up every day in your vulnerability and authenticity.
Your fellow WhatsApp group chat woman (Rose)
The assumption of power – Ursula Torr
My journey has been about authenticity. Given the relatively smooth ride I have enjoyed in my career through exploring and using my authentic talents, it is possible that I developed an insouciance around the idea of feminism. I know gender inequality is real, it’s pervasive… I can even see it in the stats… but I’ve been lucky enough to escape the brunt of it. I turned my achievements into a false assumption that advantage has a natural egalitarian gleam to its core. I have understood that authenticity comes with struggle but saw growth as just reward.
I have lost some of that casualness: I’ve sustained wounds in the swordfight. It’s hardly surprising! Now I wonder why I ever thought it fair to pay a price for authentic expression. And I see that being a woman inescapably carries demands for authenticity.
It should not be so. I have fought the conclusion that power is male, and I fight it still.
What I know is:
I will assume power. I will call empathy, resource, softness, connection and resilience to weigh with me. Fiercely I must protect my own authenticity, and I must bolster others to stand unique.
I am water soft enough – Jodi Wishnia
As 9th of August rolled around again, I braced myself for the barrage of ‘Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ Imbokodo’ social media posts. It’s one of those sayings that sounds so amazing and empowering until you say it again .. slowly… ‘You strike a woman, you strike a rock’: why must we be struck and why must we aspire to be immovable rocks?
I want to be moveable, malleable and soft- I don’t want to be the boulder I or others have to shoulder, and by setting ourselves up as impenetrable rocks, that is the reality we’re dreaming of.
Rupi Kaur says it better than I could:
“i am water
to offer life
to drown it away”
A period should end a sentence not your education – Cara Geduld
I started menstruating at the age of 11. So I’ve had severe cramps, a heavy flow and a disrupted month for more than half my life now.
During the course of my high school career, I constantly found myself in the sick room suffering from these horrible cramps. I was a popular face in the front office at that time of the month because I always had to call my mother to fetch me from school. I’d spend the car ride home on the back seat, crumbled up in foetal position.
Fast forward a few years to my time at university. While interning, I was responsible for creating a presentation. Of course, for the big day, I made sure to look presentable which meant coming to work in an all-white suit. A few hours before the presentation, I began to feel uncomfortable as all my mothers’ continuous warnings about wearing white blatantly became my reality. I had a red stain on my white pants. Needless to say, I became extremely self-conscious and anxious that everyone would see it. I didn’t know what to do let alone where to go. Should I go home and miss the presentation that I had worked so hard on? Or should I walk around with a jacket wrapped around my waist? Even though I was surrounded by mainly men in a group of 20 people, I decided the best move was to ask for help. This was difficult considering that the only two women in the room were the head and senior actuary. Putting my discomfort aside, I approached the senior actuary sitting behind me who gladly showed me to the nearest disabled bathroom. I spent the next 30+ minutes “washing” my pants with hand sanitizer and water. I then proceeded to dry my pants under the hand dryer that stopped blowing every 30 seconds.
Moving on to the most recent of nightmares: Covid-19 and online learning. I found myself having to explain to a male lecturer that I suffer from severe menstrual cramps. Because of this I had many interruptions while completing an online assignment, which resulted in me missing the deadline by one minute. I needed to substantiate this claim with a letter from my gynaecologist and complete seven extensive questions on the incident with supporting documents.
Now, in spite of the extra hurdles, there remains a few constants in my struggles with menstruation: the support of others including my mother, my colleague and my lecturer; sanitary products and pain-relieving medication as life goes on beyond my period. However, it remains a sad reality that many menstruators in South Africa do not have these aids at their disposal. Where you can, I implore you to make a difference: whether it be donating sanitary products to help reduce period poverty, making the classroom and workplace period friendly or simply just addressing your discomfort with the topic and break the stigma. Menstruation is anything but shameful. We leak, we cramp, we cry, we binge and sometimes we skip it all together. Menstruation is a sign of good health; it must be normalized and it should definitely be celebrated.
My righteous battle with the matriarchy – Dave Strugnell
Letter to the editor
Dear Sir (or probably Madam)
It has not been easy, but just shy of completing my fifth decade in the tough shoes of a man, I am proud of the moderate career success that I have been able to carve out for myself, despite the constant oppression of the matriarchy. Allow me to regale you with a few tales of horror that will make your hair stand on end.
Although things have improved a good deal since, younger readers may be amazed, and will certainly be disturbed, to learn about the horrors of the workplace that prevailed when I started out, back in the early 1990s. These were the good old days when the height of concern for your fellow human beings was to extinguish your cigarette before getting into the elevator with them. At that time, the men in the boardroom, chomping on their cigars and plotting golfing excesses and struggling with the tricky business of concocting collusion deals with equally untrustworthy competitors were inclined, on occasion, to get thirsty and call for coffee, or water, or brandy, or unicorn’s tears in scented rosewater… I never got to find out, you see, what magical liquid was transported into those hallowed halls because, and here is the rub, those bidden to do the transporting were ALL WOMEN! You heard me correctly. Not a single man was favoured with this most important and high-profile of jobs.
If that were all, I suppose you might argue that I was overreacting, but this was but one gender-based injustice among hordes. Perhaps most damning was the pay disparity. Men were customarily and insidiously paid more, for the same job description and level of responsibility, than their female counterparts, a devious ploy by the cunning matriarchy to make men feel more responsible than women, in spite of not carrying any more actual responsibility. Can you even begin to imagine the psychological trauma that this practice has inflicted on generations of men? Well, you don’t need to: it has been painstakingly documented over a twenty-year academic career by leading gender discrimination researcher Dr Fleming McRedpill of the University of Bethal-Standerton, author of such non-bestselling works as Discri-men-ation and Joseph and Josephine: a parable of bias. And what is more, Dr McRedpill has recently published a paper that maintains, based on surreptitious salary data collection, that this antiquated inequity is still practised today!
Similar bigotry has been at work for decades in corporate recruitment. When an equally-qualified man and woman apply for a job, to whom do you think it is usually awarded? Correct! The man, as the women pulling the strings behind the scenes laugh maniacally and wait for his inevitable, embarrassing failure in the position. And don’t get me started on behavioural double standards in the workplace. I won’t mention names, places or identifying features, but I am still scarred by one situation in which my actions were criticised as “displaying leadership”, when a female colleague who had acted in substantially the same manner in a similar situation just a few weeks before was universally praised as having been “aggressive”.
And yet, despite all of these unequal challenges, here we are. I take immense pride in having survived and in the wounds I carry from my decades-long battle with the matriarchy. And that battle is not over: not while I have breath and continue to be blatantly overpaid for the work that I do, relative to a hundred woman with greater expertise.
Philip O’Satire (Mr.)
When healthy legs matter more than shapely calves – Anja Smith
I recently discovered the series Borgen* on Netflix. While I had been aware of it for a few years, I never had the opportunity to watch it before. Borgen focuses on the life and work of a fictional character, Birgitte Nyborg, a Danish politician who becomes the prime minister of Denmark and later goes on to start her own political party. I was enthralled. Watching Borgen took me back to my experience of living in Sweden (yes, shared Scandi vibes) for six months between January and July 2017. It reminded me of the unknown parts of myself I had found in Sweden. Parts I didn’t know existed.
Before living in Sweden, I never knew how deeply I had been subconsciously influenced by my cultural milieu in terms of women’s roles. Growing up deeply embedded in Afrikaans, Calvinist culture, I subconsciously absorbed ideas about women having to support the men around them, playing a second fiddle, hiding-in-the wings role. I subconsciously accepted that women’s appearances play a critical role in their success and happiness. Unfortunately, this is not only limited to Afrikaans culture but can be found in most countries and cultures in the world. Irrespective the origin, this is a standard that more strongly applies to women in the workplace than to men. There are signals, hidden rules and evidence on this all around us: hide your breasts, show no cleavage at work; too short a skirt…it’s just not going to fly; studies that show women who wear make-up achieve more success at work (okay, as an economist I recognise there may be confounding factors at play in these studies).
In Borgen, it doesn’t matter how toned the two lead female actresses’ arms are, how long their lashes are, how much they pander to the men around them. They live in one of the most gender equal societies in the world. Rather than having to worry about if they shaved their legs or how shapely their calves are, what matters if they are able to peddle to work on their bikes with healthy, strong legs. And once they get to work, how sharp and crisp their arguments and thinking are. Their partners, or once even their ex-partners, share equal childcare burdens. They take turns driving children around, cooking for children, putting children to bed, caring for their own children. And when Birgitte in the first season makes her life-changing speech in a televised political debate, her husband and children are watching and supporting. Of course, they want a wife and mother who is smart, articulate and one of the best political debaters around!
I know I romanticise life in Denmark, life in Borgen. After a harrowing political campaign, long days and nights of life on the road where a quick easy meal is grabbed, Birgitte asks her husband when her suit no longer fits whether she looks okay before she is on her way to an important television appearance. Despite living in Denmark and living a mostly intellectual life, she still cares about how she looks. Maybe this is just being human. And of course there are likely to be subtleties around gender roles at play that I’m likely to miss simply because I’m not embedded in that society. But it’s clear the Birgitte has chances and opportunities girls and women in South Africa do not have. While Birgitte lives in one of the most gender neutral societies in the world, I live in a country where despite having one of the most progressive constitutions and highest percentage of women in parliament in the world, far more women than in other places die at the hands of men simply because they are women.
When I was in high school, my mother worked really hard at finding me examples of strong, successful women in business and government. There were two whose names regularly appeared in the newspapers I read at the time: Santie Botha (a director on various corporate boards) and Maria Ramos (an economist and public servant at the time). There may have been more, but these were the two whose names and lives stuck in my mind.
This Women’s Month, I am dreaming about a context, country and world, where examples of strong, smart, successful women proliferate. Where girls are surrounded, at home, at school, in the media, by visible, tangible examples of what they can become. And where girls are inspired to know what matters is not how long their lashes or shapely their calves are, but whether they truly lived the lives they were supposed to life and became the strong, successful women they have all the potential to become.
This Women’s Month, I’m raising my glass to the idea of a South Africa where women first and foremost are people and are valued and treasured not for their appearance and simply for how they support the men around them, but for their energy, capability, creativity and all characteristics and features that can enable building a stronger, more resilient country. I look around now, read newspapers and magazines and see not only two examples but a multitude of strong, smart, resilient and capable women. Long may this continue.
*On the meaning of Borgen: The Castle”‘, is the informal name of Christiansborg Palace where the three branches of Danish government reside: the Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Supreme Court. It is often used as a figure of speech for the Danish government.
I love that I am a woman – Emma Finestone
I love that I care
I love that I cry
I love that I clean
I love that I cook
I love that I am strong
I love that I change my flat tyres myself
I love that I am independent
I love that I formulate my own opinions
I love that I am a woman
Which is why my heart bleeds for those who cannot
The layers of feminist disillusionment – Shivani Ranchod
In Buddhist philosophy, disillusionment is a good thing – it’s the stripping away of illusions and delusions so that we can see things more clearly as they are. My personal feminist journey has felt like a spiral path with more and more illusions being stripped away as time passes. And with each new layer of “seeing” there’s a process: internalising, recalibrating, raging, weeping and then stepping more deeply into my feminine power as I shift my choices and actions.
If you had asked me at the beginning of my career whether I experienced sexism in the workplace I would have said no. Now I see it in its subtle and insidious forms all over the place. It’s there in the client who refers to everyone on the meeting as “okes” even though there are two women present, it’s there in the client who wants to check in that we (an all-female team for that project) are emotionally up for the work, and it’s there in the mansplaining.
Working in a women-dominated environment helps to make the sexism easier to see – there is just such a stark contrast between inside Percept and Alignd, and outside. Over time, I’m sure both teams will balance out from a gender perspective. But for now, it’s helpful to have the pendulum swing in the opposite direction to what we’re all used to, to make it clear what it feels like to have more feminine energy in a work environment.
The latest layer of “seeing” that I’ve experienced has been in relation to the functioning of markets. Capitalism rests on the notion of information-based decision making. But only recently, I’ve been thinking of the skewness of WHO makes the decision. When it comes to equity markets, the reality is that the vast majority of capital allocation decisions are made by male investment managers. No wonder I look at the market and find so little resonance. The same applies to big business leadership and much of global government decision making. Not to mention the biases in the data that are used to inform decision making . Maybe it isn’t capitalism that has so woefully failed us, maybe it’s the male version of capitalism that we think of as capitalism. Who knows what the counterfactual would look like if economic decision making were more inclusive? Would we have a form of capitalism that is less extractive, more equitable, more sustainable?
Working with this insight and the associated anger at just how mind-bogglingly skewed the world we live in is, I find this quote from Sue Monk Kidd immensely useful: “The transfiguration of anger is a movement from rage to outrage. Rage implies an internalized emotion, a tempest within. Rage, or what might be called untransfigured anger, can become a calcified bitterness. What rage wants and needs is to move outward toward positive social purpose, to become a creative force or energy that changes the conditions that created it. It needs to become out-rage. Outrage is love’s wild and unacknowledged sister. She is the one who recognizes feminine injury, stands on the roof, and announces it if she has to, then jumps into the fray to change it.”
 Invisible Women (Caroline Criado Perez) is a must read on the wide array of data biases that shape our world https://www.amazon.com/Invisible-Women-Data-World-Designed/dp/1419729071
On male privilege, allyship and learning and unlearning – Aphiwe Baleni
It is almost exactly a year since Uyinene Mrwetyana was murdered on the 24th of August 2019. The moment garnered a great deal of outcry and we swore as a nation that things would change, however, between then and now we continued to have countless acts of gender-based violence. At work we were recently reflecting on women’s month during an internal meeting where women colleagues expressed moments of not feeling safe in their everyday lives, reminding me of my own male privilege.
Privilege, male privilege in this context, is having the ability to move on from the reoccurring gender-based violence incidents while half of the population continues to live in that fear. The scary part about times like these is that we join movements at the height of these incidents, then drop off as soon as it stops trending and we move on without making any impactful changes. I think part of the issue is that even if we intellectually grasp the problem facing women, we often fall short at having a sense of urgency that is demanded by the moment.
There is a duty and a role that we must play as men who want to ensure that we reach a gender equal world. This has meant educating myself on the issues and engaging with content that helps me understand the role I have to play as a man, some of these books can be found in our company book Instagram account.
The Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities Nkoana-Mashabane launched the current women’s month under the theme of ‘Generation Equality: realising women’s rights for an equal future’ and made a clarion call, “Be a part of the generation that ends gender inequality.” This is a vision I would like to contribute to the realisation of and through learning and unlearning I hope I can be a better ally. Some honest personal reflections make me acutely aware of my own shortcomings and the need to be more ethical than the current norms.
“You are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in.” ― Eliezer Yudkowsky