Are women the cultural custodians?
South Africa is lovingly referred to as “a cultural melting pot”, a country so uniquely diverse and rich in heritage that it is a shame to have just one dedicated day in our calendar, dedicated to celebrating our cultural heritage. September 24th, Heritage Day, a day, just 24 hours that unites South Africans of various ethnic groups; as schools & organisations make an extra effort to educate & embrace that it is our differences that unite us under the “Rainbow Nation” anecdote.
Cross cultural celebrations throughout the country might have been marred this year as protest action throughout the country took center stage however, something that intrigued me this year, was that I had seen more women dressing traditionally during Heritage month.
A question that perplexed me to the point that I had to steer this conversation on-air and so the Kaya Central team raised this as the Team Topic yesterday with startling revelations. According to listeners, men were deemed more culturally inclined than women, as men were viewed to be (in no uncertain terms) “the example that leads a household, his wife and family.” From the on-air responses the consensus was that men were more traditional in their approach to culture and it was not a question of pride, and so it puzzled me that this was the response.
Throughout September, I have seen a number of women wearing the traditional “doek” a stunning piece of head-gear that is draped so simply and yet is so striking. Whilst shopping I saw a young lady wearing intricate hand-made beaded jewellery and this got me thinking that women are more culturally inclined and yet the on-air discussion paled in comparison.
The most controversial point made by Mvangeli was that women “were teachable, like kids and it was the responsibility of the man of the household to instill a sense of culture within his family and share his teachings with his wife.” This raised eyebrows, especially with myself and Sotho as it was perceived as not only sexist but extremely backward in his thinking. The contention lay with Mvangeli being single and therefore according to Sotho & myself, both married, inept at making such biased conclusions on the matter. Mvangeli elaborated further that “this was the reason a woman took on her husband’s surname after marriage.” Another point of contention that didn’t sit well with me, especially because I did not take on my husband’s surname & kept my maiden name. A decision that my husband supported and according to his religion it was not expected of a woman to forgo her maiden name.
The word “culture” derives from a French term, which in turn derives from the Latin “colere,” which means to tend to the earth and grow, or cultivate and nurture. With this in mind, who does the nurturing at home? Who spends time teaching the children from a young age how to speak, walk, talk, what to eat, what to wear, how to greet, how to be polite….etc? Is it not the mother?
I personally have a lot of respect for my mom who instilled in me from a very young age a sense of pride in my cultural upbringing. Something I hope that I can continue with my son who is of Arab & Indian descent, and this will be what defines him. My dad on the other hand was and still is extremely casual about his culture and had it not been for my mom, I doubt my brother and I would have a sense of pride in our heritage.
With differing views from colleagues and friends, the jury is still out as to whether women are the custodians of culture and I will leave it at that. However, I would like to conclude by stressing the importance of preserving our cultural identity, each one as eclectic and unique as the next…it is what makes South Africa beautiful, it is what defines us and it is something we can be proud of for many years to come.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his/her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Kaya FM.