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The age of the queen bee


Since I read August is celebrated in South Africa as women’s month, and it is not unusual for Zimbabwe and the surrounding countries to piggyback on those celebrations, taking the opportunity to honour women and celebrate their achievements.

Opinion: Thembe Khumalo

Thembe Khumalo
Thembe Khumalo

This August has been unusual though, because there have been a number of astonishing episodes involving high profile women.

So astonishing, in fact, that we almost forgot that it was a women’s month and became completely distracted by the conversations raging across our social media feeds.
A former South African ambassador once said Zimbabwe and South Africa were Siamese twins.

I don’t know if he was wrong or right, but I would hazard a guess that, based on the events which have unfolded over the last month, the twins would have had to be female ones.

Probably the most prominent of events was the extension

cord-incident involving our First Lady Grace Mugabe, a young model Gabriella Engels and a mother’s desire to express displeasure, disapproval and/or discipline.

While we were still unravelling the complexities of diplomatic immunity and wondering whether we should suggest anger management therapy and of course in true Zimbabwean fashion, turning the entire incident into a harvest of hilarious memes, the subject of our social media satire quietly returned home and was honoured with a “solidarity march”.

As if this was not already enough excitement and confusion for one season, the organisers of the country’s Harare International Carnival were treated to an outburst in the form of a letter written by South African-based actress, Anne Nhira to a government official suggesting that South African socialite popularly known as Zodwa Wabantu should not perform at the carnival.

Sure enough, a letter purportedly written by the acting Tourism minister was duly circulated on social media saying Zodwa would not be permitted to perform at the carnival.

Well Zimbabwean folk did not take kindly to this news and Facebook was alight with all manner of insults and insinuations thrown at Nhira.

No later than 24 hours after the news of the ban hit the streets, we were informed that the organisers had given in to public pressure and Zodwa would be performing after all!

Let me not forget that in this same month, another South African socialite, Bonang Matheba (widely known as Queen B) was forced to withdraw her autobiography from the shelves of bookstore chain Exclusive Books, after social media went wild mocking all the errors and inaccuracies in it.

The most sound criticism came from the high-handed and unapologetic manner in which Bonang dealt with readers’ comments.

Having looked at some of the excerpts, one has to wonder whether she or her publishers in fact read the book at any point.

But I digress; the point isn’t to do with her command of the English Language.

The point is that social media has enabled us to participate, either as spectators or as commentators in the epic fail of an otherwise popular woman of influence.

A familiar thread in these conversations has been the issue of women being “against” other women.

Now I am no proponent of the “pull her down myth”, as my experience is that women in general do support one another.

But I also do not buy into the idea of condoning bad behaviour, poor judgment or substandard work just because a woman is the one doing it.

Instead of supporting the argument for the empowerment of women, this position actually weakens and disempowers women by dropping the standard for what is acceptable and unacceptable from them.

In ancient mythology the Queen Bee goddess persona (often referred to as Melissa), was a popular female leader, who protected and represented all women.

She surrounded herself with a small circle of friends, who were fiercely loyal.

The Queen Bee’s popularity came from a combination of her beauty and her power and she inspired great love and allegiance.

In the entertainment world, the best known Queen Bee character is probably multiple award-winning singer and entertainer, Beyoncé Knowles (aka Mrs Carter).

Known as much for her outrageous costumes, original ideas and powerful on-stage persona as for her down-to-earth off-stage presence and clear-headed business acumen, Beyoncé is the poster child for female success in showbiz.

Unlike the mythical Queen Bee goddess though, the Beyoncés of this world find themselves with many enemies.

Detractors come in both male and female form, and though this does not seem to be the case with Beyoncé, the naysayers are very often right in their judgment of the alpha female.

You may have watched The Devil Wears Prada some time ago: a popular comedy-drama in which Meryl Streep plays the cold and highly demanding editor of a high-end fashion magazine and Anne Hathaway plays her longsuffering assistant.

The story traces the change that the assistant undergoes in her quest to fit in and to please her powerful woman boss.

In the end, the assistant realises that she would rather forsake the glamour (and tyranny) of her job and reclaim her life, family and friends.

In real life, many who have worked with powerful women such as Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart and Arianna Huffington have their own war stories to tell.

One gossip blog says of working with Oprah Winfrey: “Working at Harpo doesn’t sound like much fun. It seems to involve a lot of caffeine and nicotine, and very little sleep.”

The New York Times wrote a scathing piece about Martha Stewart’s excessive compensation with the caption: “At Martha Stewart Living, Martha may be the Problem.”

Advertising industry magazine Adweek, describes Arianna Huffington’s empire as “a terrible place to work”. It says: “Others who have worked closely with Huffington have found it a bruising experience, saying that she is perpetually on the lookout for signs of disloyalty, to a degree that bespeaks paranoia or, at the very least, pettiness.”

Surely no woman really sets out to be the person that leaves other women licking wounds in her wake.

In which case, we must ask ourselves how it is that women can move from the beloved fantasy of the goddess, to the tyrannical position of Queen Bee that we seem to come across today.

Perhaps, we the audiences, have a part to play in the creation of the monster.

Perhaps too much adulation and too much scrutiny really does produce too much drama?

Thembe Khumalo is a brand-builder, storyteller and social entrepreneur. Find out more on www.thembekhumalo.com or follow her social media accounts @thembekhumalo

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