This post is written by Leah Eryenyu
The other day, my colleague Becky made a case for calling powerful Ugandan women anything but “Iron Lady.” Here, I argue why the term is important to me.
For starters. My twitter handle is “ironladey,” so it almost felt like she was addressing me. I do not support Margaret Thatcher’s politics but I admire her and a host of other women for beating paths less trodden by women. I don’t consider the term “Western” at all as Becky does. For me, it represents a strong woman, African or not, deviating from the norm. A woman, perhaps like Thatcher, leading parliament, commandeering wars and slapping conventionalism in the face. A woman to contend with. We have many such contemporaries from Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Dilma Rousseff, Okonjo Iweala and Cecile Kyenge (who has suffered intense racial abuse as the first black cabinet minister in Italy), to our very own homegrown Jennifer Musisi, Miria Matembe and Irene Ovonji-Odida to name a few.
Women have to fight harder, work harder than the other sex to be at par, even if they were more talented or more qualified. It’s exhausting juggling the full-time job of motherhood with the demands of a full time position as a top executive. We have to be tough as nails to succeed. There is no time to cry over “mischaracterizations” that barely create a dent. We’ve been called worse.
My family calls me Jennifer Musisi. I’d like to think I have her gumption and no nonsense attitude. I am that woman for whom my family is curious about the man I’ll marry. They wonder what kind of man will “manage” a woman with ideals as alien (I think them progressive) as mine.
It is the same tired and tried expectations about women. A woman remarked to me how surprised she was at how curvaceous Jennifer Musisi was. She could not reconcile her extremely feminine features with her domineering personality and outspoken nature. It was easier for her to accept Miria Matembe with her short hair and deep voice. She already looks masculine, that her attitude should toe the same line is no surprise.
I also try to surprise people when I meet them for the first time. When I shake their hand, it’s not a half-hearted effort. I give them a firm grip. A “manly” handshake. They are always surprised and they remark on it. It forces them to reassess me. If they underestimated me before, I suddenly look stronger. But it wasn’t always like this. I used to give limp lifeless handshakes until a colleague for whom it was a great peeve said he didn’t take people with tepid handshakes as seriously.Now it’s out of force of habit. Don’t expect me to give you my hand as if I expect you to kiss it. It’s the same reason I love towering heels, à la economist, Dambisa Moyo. They make me feel powerful. I walk into a room and an adversary is cut down to size.
Becky argues that a woman does not need that validation. She is already powerful in her own right. I agree that a woman is powerful but I think that affirmation is also important. The recognition of that unbending resolve is essential for advancement. Hillary Clinton can’t afford to cry on the campaign trail. That’s construed as weakness.
We need more unconventional women to be iron ladies and to be regarded as such. So please call me Iron Lady. For me, it’s a compliment! I’ll keep using it until such a time as it is no longer of consequence; when women can be as loud and aggressive in their work as men are, and it makes no news.