Yesterday, in our very miniscule backyard, I read parts of THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK. Had my eyes been laser beams, I would have annihilated the pressed in feeling of the back asbestos fence making my situation spacially more African, but it was not to be. I read Doris Lessing’s writings whilst lying on the grass. I noticed that I preferred the latter part of her writing to the first part of the book. I may be mistaken but I sensed a slight alteration in style, which made the latter, writer’s diary part of the book much more punchy than the first section.
The parts I read depicted the psychologies of men and women in relation to each other. There is such a thing as looking too closely at these kinds of things. Artistically, this is an excellent thing to do, as it educated people. Aesthetically, this is, well, not so delightful. As the characters shifted in mood, they actually became different people. This was unsettling. It was a view of the characters from this insight out, as if on a dissecting tray. These gave the impression of characters disintegrating upon contact with others. The message is that women cannot maintain psychogical integrity under a system where the values are patriarchal.
I’d often wondered what sort of female I might have ended up being, had I stayed on in Zimbabwe, after 1984. I was around 16 when I left. My formative years had been there, but when I arrived in the first world as a new immigrant, I basically had learn everything anew, like learning a new language.
Sometimes I catch the whiff of an impression of how things might have been very different. I received an email from an old school friend, for instance, which questioned me about if I was married and had children. It threw me for an instant, that I might ever have been the kind of person who would give the impression that I had a plan to get married and have children. nonetheless, that this was one of the first things this person asked of me gave me the impression that was probably expected of me. After all, in the conservative’s mindset, gender always trumps character.
To be asked such a question by an old school friend is both unsettling and somehow consolidating and reaffirming of character. It is profoundly unsettling in one instant, because it indicates how far one must have detailed from the expected norm — hence from one’s sense of one’s culture as the bedrock of normalcy. On the other hand, it is reassuring: One isn’t after all a victim of norms, and is better for that. I am able to use this contact from an old friend to get beyond a constant replay of a certain battle — the outcome being what might have been. I might have been forced to adopt a simpering quality, much like that of my father’s sister, filling the gaps like glue in the male dominated system. I could have been resigned, happy to be led, and inclined to view things in the light of pointlessness — if I had lived out my time under the Rhodesian system. I might have taken few things seriously — happily accepting whatever came along.
Surely this would not have gone to the extremes of producing offspring, though? It’s very likely that I would have actively avoided this, leading to immense difficulties, punishment, disownership — all the things which I, in fact, experienced in a much more sophisticated environment, as it happened.
Mitigating factors within the Rhodesian situation would have been that overall the women were much more inclined to stand up to men there, than they are here. Dealing with the subtleties of practical morality was, after all, their role. Secondly, as a white person, the white herd in general would not have liked to see me debased. Efforts would have been made to prevent this, if only to preserve the appearance of racial integrity. That being said, I might have survived.
Still it was in an apparently more sophisticated environment (here) that I experienced the psychologically unmitigated murderous rage of my parents, against my choices in life. I experienced their accumulated rage regarding their loss of the previous society — this loss being the sum of what I represented to them.
Had I been one of Lessing’s women, living in Africa, would I have survived as a whole and not as a broken person; made glue for the social machinery of male dominance? In some ways, I’m sure to have survived, but without insight.