Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with a group of 17-21 year olds on the topic of how to use social media as an effective tool in communicating a powerful message. I’m always eager to speak to young people so when the Gen 50 + team got in touch with me, I could not say no.
Here is an excerpt of what I spoke about:
My name is Tessy and I write. I write because I enjoy it. I write because I’m good at it. And I write because my voice is important.
I was asked to host this masterclass on how to use social media as an effective tool in communicating a powerful message. But you know what? I’m not going to take you through how and why you should use social media. You know all that already. Your entire generation was born into the internet age. Most of you probably knew how to use Facebook before you learnt to count.
Today I want you to leave this masterclass with an understanding of why your voice is important. Because that’s what scares most people about starting a blog or using any other online medium to communicate a message. You ask yourself- what will people think? And it can terrify you to the point of paralysis.
I started my blog in my first year of university abroad. My blog was a lifeline in many respects. I started it to help me cope with living away from my family. But most importantly I wanted to document my journey. Sharing is a powerful thing. It brings people together; it highlights commonalities and also celebrates differences.
Over the years I have realized that what makes a blog successful is a writer’s ability to sustain an audience through consistent content. But more importantly, to me at least, a successful blog is one that is authentically and unapologetically you. People connect to a blog when they can feel the personality of a person shine through.
As I’ve grown, so has the content on my blog. I look back at some of the posts I used to write and feel embarrassed. Thank God for the glow up!
For a long time I was a very safe writer. I wrote about what I thought people wanted to read. I filtered a lot of my thoughts, packaged them gently and posted them with caution. I was also a shallow writer. Glossing over issues; saying without really saying.
That changed when I joined student politics in my former university in 2014. I found myself in the thrust of a politically charged, socially conscious team of elected representatives. They opened my mind, exposed me to new concepts but most importantly- they taught me to speak up.
I’m very much an afterthought kinda girl. I need time to reflect on a discussion before I can share a viewpoint. Discussions on politics and social issues with my team were always very intense and I found it challenging to articulate my thoughts immediately. Which is why my blog worked so well for me- I could reflect on an issue, gather my thoughts and share them in my own time.
My students’ union colleagues were by and large much more knowledgeable than I was on politics and social issues. They were involved in campaigns, joined political parties and knew feminism like the back of their hand. Then there was me- 20 years old, never been involved in politics and having a shallow understanding of world issues.
It didn’t take long before their passion and fearlessness rubbed off on me- I started sharing my thoughts- or as my friends called them, mini-rants- on my snapchat story anytime I felt strongly about something. One day I downloaded one of my videos and shared it on my blog page- the response was overwhelming. I had 3000+ organic views in just a few days.
But I also want you to know something- as I’ve made videos over time, some of them have had a really poor response rate. Can you imagine being welcomed so nicely with 3000+ views and then that reducing dramatically to like 200 views?! I almost stopped at some point because I felt shortchanged I couldn’t be baring my soul like this and only getting only a few hundred views- No way!
These days I find myself watching my videos and reading my posts several times before I upload them. It’s scary to be honest and vulnerable. But whether I get 100 or 1000 views, it’s my voice and it’s important. It’s my responsibility to share my experiences. Especially when it comes to gender-issues.
Equality is what we’re trying to achieve. And I believe feminism is the vehicle that gets us there. Feminism has two important tenets: firstly, understanding we live in a patriarchal society and secondly, a belief that there must be a women-led liberation.
Saying that this liberation must be women-led is not to say that it’s exclusively a woman’s job to fight for equality. Men must be involved, but should acknowledge the power that women have to lift themselves up from the jaws of the dreaded patriarchy.
You don’t need to look far to see the patriarchy manifest:
Catcalling – how many of you have experienced catcalling in the recent past?
Forced early marriage– Many girls in African communities face this today. This is different from an arranged marriage.
Rape culture – the idea that men are entitled to women’s bodies and that no somehow sometimes means yes.
Feminism needs to be intersectional. This means we acknowledge that gender can intersect with other identities such as race, sexuality and class. The issues faced by an upper class woman from Lavington will not be the same as the issues faced by a young girl from Samburu. Let’s stop applying Western feminist ideals to ourselves.
Too many people out there are trying to define and control the narrative of what it means to be African, Kenyan, Woman- if you’re not African, you don’t know what it means to be African. If you’re not a woman, you don’t know what it means to be a woman. Stop trying to speak for us. For those who define, use the internet to tell your story.
Social media allows us to share the African/ Kenyan story. We can’t all be interviewed on NTV or CNN or Al Jazeera, but we can create our own platforms via the internet. No one needs to invite you! Invite yourself and have something powerful to say.
You’ll hear those people who say “OMG, everyone is a blogger these days!” Guess what? No-one owns the internet. If you have something to say and want to say it consistently, do the damn thing! Don’t let anyone shame you into thinking the Internet is some kind of exclusive club.
With that said, have something to say. Read, watch, listen and learn. There’s already a plethora of vacuous content on the internet- please, don’t add to it. We need to hear intelligent, well thought out perspectives from young people.
Your voice is important. Your voice is so important. Don’t be a closet believer. When people are sharing sexist memes on Facebook, call them out. If you have friends shaming women for wearing ‘skimpy’ clothes, speak up. It takes courage to put yourself out there- but do it.
When you are afraid remember these words, “It’s not the critic who counts. Not the person who points out where the strong person stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person actually in the arena.” The credit belongs to the person actually in the arena.
It doesn’t end on social media. Social media activism is powerful but it does Not. End. There. Grassroots action is so important. Use social media to inspire, galvanise and mobilise people into doing things on the ground. Have a protest on the streets. Write a petition. Speak to the authorities, whoever they may be- but do things on the ground.
Things are looking up. Even if just one of you leaves here today and does something to challenge status quo, Gen 50 + has done it’s job. Thank you.
After I spoke, the questions came in thick and fast. If I thought, for any second, that they were going to just nod and accept what I shared, I was wrong. They challenged, critiqued and questioned.
What do you mean when you say men shouldn’t speak for women? The best example I can think of to explain this is the diaspora saviour complex- the idea that people who have studied abroad are more capable of contributing to their respective countries than local people. Those who have studied abroad have had the privilege of exposure and can often be blinded to think that this makes them the answer to all their nation’s challenges; without an understanding that the people on the ground can often be equally as capable as they are. Similarly, when men speak up for women, there’s a danger in that being interpreted or understood as them using their superior status in society to save women from the oppression they face. This doesn’t sound bad at first glance, but where there’s a power dynamic, there’s a danger that this could continue to be enforced when the more privileged take up the role of ‘saviour’. The people who are oppressed should take a lead role in liberating themselves. But that’s not to say men shouldn’t speak up for women at all- so Iet me correct myself- men, speak up for women, but just be conscious of what you say and how you say it.
What do you mean by gender equality? Someone from the audience made a really interesting point. He explained gender equality as this:
10 = 10
7 + 3 = 6 + 4
2 + 4 + 4 = 3 + 1 + 6
His point was that when we speak about gender equality, we do so without acknowledging that men and women are different. And that gender equality can be achieved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll have a 10 = 10 situation.
Okay, I really like how he explained this. And I agree. But think we should note that some times, the differences in women are socially constructed to keep women in their place. For example, someone once wrote to me asking me how rape can be eradicated when women are (often) physically weaker than men.
Having strength is not inherently a bad thing. It’s how you’re taught to use that strength. And men are often taught that their masculinity is defined by how they exercise that physical strength- through media, sometimes family and even friends. This has contributed to the rape culture mentality- if she says no, I can still use my strength to get what I want.
So we should be careful when we say that men and women are different- yes, it is true, in many respects. But how these differences are spoken about is often a social contruct designed to uphold a power dynamic.
Gen 50 + was eye-opening. It’s great to be challenged because it helps you reflect on what you believe and why you believe it.
© Tessy Maritim