Women Who Look Like Nobody's wives A digital story.

This is a digital story about my grandmothers and how their presence in my life shaped me into the person I am today.

Growing up, I didn't have any grandfathers.

Well, obviously they were there at some point, otherwise my parents wouldn't be here. But by the time I came along, they were gone.

My paternal (left) and maternal (right) grandfathers.

This, I would later come to realize, had a significant impact on my life; more specifically, my perception of women and their autonomy and agency. Because I did not have any grandfathers growing up, the two de facto heads of both the paternal and maternal sides of my family were autonomous women. So some of my most accessible images of femininity and womanhood were these two women whose lives and identities were defined solely by themselves.

The concept of an autonomous woman is probably unremarkable to most. However, in Zimbabwe, the country I grew up in, womanhood is a very complicated thing indeed. Little girls are brought up with different expectations thrust upon them than on their male counterparts.

Standards of behaviour and virtue are imposed on girls, who are in turn raised to view marriage, and this culturally designed template of what a woman should be, as two of the most important things for them to aspire towards.

There exists an implicit idea that if a girl isn't married by a certain stage of her life, then she is somehow defective, or maybe isn't good enough of a woman to be so. Essentially, the way the society is set up is such that a woman eventually has her worth defined by a man. When they're eventually married, Zimbabwean women are identified in terms of their husbands, virtually erasing their autonomy. They become "the wife of", or "the mother of" and are no longer really seen as self-determining, stand-alone individuals.

This is why my two grandmothers' status as women who belonged to no one was so pivotal to my perception of what my role as a female in Zimbabwean society was. It's not to say that if my grandfathers were around I would've grown up to be all skirts, flowers and domesticity, because as I mention in the video below, various factors in my environment have made me the person I am. However, my two grandfathers' absence ensured that I grew up with these two very visible and accessible images of womanhood that challenged the sexist ideas that my society upheld. For the 23 years that I've been alive, my grandmothers have shown me, just by being, that a woman without a man is as valuable as any other. A woman is self-determining. A woman is capable. They are women who were and are independent, resilient, providers, and authority figures. They do what they wish and they answer to no one. They are women who look like nobody's wives.

So this is a video I made about them; the women who helped shape me into the woman I am.

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