On Saturday, 6th December, AJANI Handmade in collaboration with AM Café, hosted the second of our three part series: “Women: How self image affects our interactions in social and economic spaces”. We had a few returning participants from the first session but were also joined by a few new ladies.
Taking from the last time we met, we asked our guests to complete an at-home activity from the first part of the series to gain some continuity in the second session. You can take part in the activity by reading up on part one of the series and fill in the blanks. The activity consisted of filling in the following tables:
We went through reconciling differences between the above two tables. Do they look similar? Are you okay with the tables being different? Do you want them to look similar? If so, why is this? We went through discussing the things that we want for ourselves and the things that others want or expect from us and the possibility that a conflict may or may not be a problem for us.
“Good enough for a friend but not a wife”
One of our participants, Audrey, gave us some insight on how her self perception and the perception others have of her conflicted. She described how in having a conversation with a group of male friends, they described her as an Alpha female, good enough to make a great friend but not a wife. When she asked what exactly it is they meant when they said so, they described her character as “aggressive”.
We then came to discuss how at times, as women, the terms used to describe a woman who did not conform to the traditional ideas of submission placed on women, terms such as “aggressive” and similar negative connotations are used to describe women that are vocal, placing the problem on the individual (woman) rather than the skewed social notion that women’s characters (despite belonging to a range of individuals) should be one dimensional ideas drawn out by patriarchal systems.
It was at this point that Nyokabi, pointed out that despite there being a conflict with her self- perception and how others perceived her, her principalities kept her in line and focused so that others, or the voices and opinions of others, outside herself, did not have the capability to sway or misdirect her.
It was at this point in the discussion that we delved into the issue of self awareness.
A short activity that got us into thinking about just how self- aware we were, we went round answering the simple question: “Who are you?”
“WHO ARE YOU?”
Your answer should not be your name, your place of birth, your age or the other circumstantially definitive aspects of your life, but should be answers that describe the core of what we are if all those things were to be stripped away, who we are should be descriptive aspects of our characters, in both their weaknesses and their strengths. So have a think, who are you?
Alice, pitched in through her example of how to pin point self-awareness. She described that in our journeys through life, where you are in the present, at the moment, keeps changing, and when our situation changes, different facets of ourselves begin to emerge. Our different experiences elicit different facets of your awareness of self.
To make it a little easier, think about whatever experience you might have gone through in the past or might be going through at the present moment, what part of your character has this experience brought out? This is self awareness, being aware of what aspect of you is coming out or being affected by whatever is going on around you.
The Diagram below was drawn up to give us a visual representation of how our awareness of self should be structured holistically. Constant awareness of all aspects that make up the self should flow continuously, focusing on one at a time should not derive focus from another aspect.
Audrey, our guest facilitator then took us through an activity that got us thinking about self esteem. She took a KSh 1000/= note and asked which of us in the group would like it. Naturally, most of us had our hands up, telling what our intentions for the money were. She went ahead and crumpled the note, and asked which one of us were still interested in the money. Same hands went up. She then stepped on the crumpled note, telling us how dirty the bottom of her shoes were, all the places that she walked through to get there that day and went ahead asked which of us would still be interested in taking the money. The same hands went up, the logic was that the value of the money had not changed whatsoever, and the intent for the money would still be fulfilled no matter how damaged the note was. One guest even stated that even if it was ripped apart, a little tape would patch it back together and the patched up note would still be in circulation like many others alike in Kenya.
Finally Audrey asked…if something as fleeting as money had the capability of retaining its value after all that, why then are we sometimes so hard on ourselves after we go through a few challenges? She reiterated that like the note, the high value we place on ourselves by ourselves should be unchanging. This is one way to look at self esteem.from am introspective point of view.
Towards the end of the session, in pinpointing our self image, how self awareness helped us understand its ability to change circumstantially, we got to the topic of Positive deviance, deviating against the norm and going against the grain of what others might think or expect of you given your circumstances, in ways that add positive values to firstly yourself, and then to those around you. There is a website that talks a little more about the concept, you can find more information on their website: www.positivedeviance.org
Nyokabi founder of Impacting Youth Trust: www.impactingyouthtrust.org gave us a brief testimonial of how she used her self image and its conflict with the perception others had of her, for positive deviance. Deviating from others’ and societal expectations of herself to founding (at 29 years old) an authentically youth driven organization that helps the youth in Mathare, where she hails, to help the youth solve their own problems.
From her experiences growing up and observing the situation in Mathare, Nyokabi details the main challenges that Impacting Youth Trust face to be re-instilling the idea of hope that has been lost in the youth of Mathare due to the negative immediate spheres of influence. Through using nook donation and using mentors to sensitize the youth on positivity and empowering them through realizing their capabilities, Nyokabi and her team have become responsible and active for effecting social change within their communities. By going against the grain of all that was expected of her, being a wife of taking up formal employment . Check out the Impacting youth Trust page for more information on what their work is about and their Story Yangu programmes that use arts and music to empower their youth.
We also had a lovely light in the form of a lady, Mary Shiro. Shiro’s energy was so magnetic, she had a warm confidence about her, but it was the self- assurance that she had in her self, her being and her purpose. She gave us a brief story of her life’s experiences from surviving the streets of Mathare, to turning around her negative circumstance by effecting changes in the prison sleeping conditions in Langata women’s prisons in Nairobi, to building a catering company from almost nothing and running what is now a successful business with high profile clients in its profile. Shiro swore that it is her determination, her resilience and her ability to see light through darkness that gives her clarity in the goals that she is very sure to reach.
It is so important for us to be able to open spaces where stories of women from all kinds of backgrounds and experiences could be shared. It was refreshing, uplifting and encouraging to know that no matter what someone has been through and where someone comes from, that thing that determines whether you can or will get through adversity is that confidence in self, that belief in a purpose. This self- belief cuts across any social and economic divide, and it is up to us to make sure that we keep coming together within and beyond our communities to culture this self- confidence in each other and in those that will come after us, if we have any hope in making changes within our society.
As a take away, we all took home some homework, you can take this in with you after reading this post, it is in all our hopes that this was helpful to more people beyond those that happened to be there that day:
Practice the above self- awareness activities in the small simple everyday instances if your life. In that, make a list of what it is you would like to reconcile, in terms of your self image, the situations in your social and professional spaces, and write down the things that you would have to do internally, to positively effect change in your actions to change them. In your self- awareness practices, begin effecting these changes, and monitor your progress in time.
Look out for the final part of our collaborative dialogue series.
The delicious food was provided by AM Cafe. Have a look at their website and support a small business making big differences in its community.