Anna left a great impression on my heart with her intelligence, amazing perspective on life and her bravery in taking a stance on the LGBTI community in Zambia.I greatly admire her open outlook and fierce determination but most of all how deeply authentic she is.
What do you celebrate about being a woman?
A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to answer this question because at that point in time I wanted to distance myself from women and womanhood. Yes, I was one of those women who said “I’m not part of the sisterhood, thank you very much” and “I don’t have female friends because women are so [insert ignorant generalizations here].” It took me a while to realize that I felt this way because I’d internalized a lot of the negative ideas our society has about women: that they’re superficial, stupid, catty, and obsessed with satisfying men.
Despite the systems, norms, and traditions that devalue, belittle, and subjugate women, we’ve been able to fight back: to assert our worth and strength. I celebrate this.
What do you wish other women knew?
I wish other women understood the value of being a feminist. Being a feminist doesn’t mean you hate men or that you want to prevail over them. Feminism isn’t a doctrine or an organization. Being a feminist means being aware of the social systems that devalue women (and other oppressed groups such as LGBTI populations) and challenging them for the sake of increased social justice.
How do you express yourself creatively?
I write and tell stories. More recently, I’ve found that being involved in social justice activism is a great opportunity for creative expression. I exercise creativity in trying to think of effective ways to alter negative mindsets and mobilizing people to participate in creating a more equal, more accepting world.
How are you making a difference in the world?
I believe that I’m making a difference in the world by being a feminist. Feminism changes the way you engage with people.
Let me give you one example: through feminism, I’ve become aware of how over-preoccupied we are as a society with the appearance of women. Think for a second: what are the first things people remark upon when they are in the presence of a little girl? There’s nothing wrong with complimenting a person’s appearance, but guess what? Young girls internalize this and begin to think that being pretty is the most important thing about them. This can damage self-esteem. This can fuel negative perceptions of body image. This can mess with perceptions of worth.
Think for a second how many women you know who have no issues at all with their appearance. It’s rare. Most women hate or are ashamed of their bodies. Many women are preoccupied with trying to fix or hide “flaws.” Many, like me, have had eating disorders and have suffered deeply because we didn’t live up to expectations.
It frustrates me to think of all the time I’ve wasted over the years scrutinizing my body, dieting, hating myself, crying over my perceived ugliness, and admiring “perfect” bodies. This is time that could have been spent increasing my knowledge, making the people in my life happy, and contributing productively to make the world a better place. Because of feminism, I know not to make the same mistakes others made in focusing on appearance and letting another girl waste years of her life fixating on her looks.
I also believe I’m making a difference through my activism for LGBTI people. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people face a lot of legal and social challenges in Zambia. I’m currently involved in work that tries to help Zambians understand that LGBTI are normal people that deserve the same rights and respect as everyone else. It’s difficult work with little immediate reward, but I believe it will be worth it.
What do you believe is your calling and what are you doing about it?
I am still trying to figure out my calling, but I’m sure it has got something to do either with making art or leaving the world in a better shape than I found it.
How do you celebrate where you come from?
Although not by choice, I grew up alienated from my heritage and local culture. I’m one of those Zambians that does not speak any indigenous languages and is ignorant about traditional culture (shame on me!). Recently, I’ve become very passionate about correcting this: I’m learning Nyanja, Tumbuka, and some Bemba; I probe my grandmother to tell me stories and share her knowledge; and I’m trying to learn as much as possible about traditional education. I’m loving it!
What do you consider to be the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
It’s been a struggle to accept and love myself for who I am. I still find myself hating my body, doubting my abilities, dealing with social anxiety, and being crippled by low self-esteem but I’m in a better place than I’ve ever been because I at last recognize my value as a person and this helps me deal with all of these challenges.
You can read Anna’s blog for more insightful thoughts and clever blog post titles 🙂