Women Artists Need Economic Independence Now!

Womanhood | By Patience Tawengwa, Director | 31 October 2014

In Ecclesiastes 3:7 King Solomon tells us that there is a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak. I believe the time we are living in demands that we tear instead of mend and that we speak instead of simply staying silent if we are going to change the status quo in our industry.

As you read this article I challenge you to recall just three arts organizations in Zimbabwe and after you have named the most prolific and popular ones just stop to think how many of those are founded or actively run by women. Many deny that the industry is a so called ‘boys club’ and argue that there is equality amongst all of us, from my experience this is simply not true and whether we like it or not men are into the business of making sure they also economically empower other men.

We live in a very patriarchal society where women are expected to be subservient objects to be taken care of but never to be financially empowered lest they get too wayward without a man’s guidance. A trip through any rural area or even in our towns will reveal businesses with names such as “Mushandirapamwe & Sons Supermarket”. I am yet to see a sign that says “Mushandirapamwe & Daughters Supermarket”, that to me just indicates the male dominated mindset that is prevalent in our country. We have organizations in Zimbabwe which receive funding supposedly for the betterment of women in the arts except they are run by men and the funds which come earmarked to improve the lot of women are arbitrarily doled out.
I don’t believe that it is a lack of  innovative ideas that prevents women from being very prominent and running their own show but rather a lack of financial support that sees most women driven ideas stillborn and eternally condemned to suffer a death sentence of a vision without provision. It is heartbreaking to witness how the women who were the trailblazers in our local arts industry are going along without much recognition and some of them personally suffering to a very great degree without anything material to show for years of their hard work
and contribution.

One can’t help but to wonder if that inevitably will be one’s fate if things are not seriously shaken up in our time. I have also witnessed how those women with the courage to stand up for themselves and their colleagues are soon relegated to the proverbial kitchen corner and written off as too bossy, too troublesome, too opinionated. It reminds me of a famous saying by the American actress Bette Davis “When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.” Needless to say as long as women and young girls who are coming up in the industry are not economically empowered it leaves most of them extremely vulnerable to some unscrupulous men who use their positions of power to use young girls for sex in exchange for empty promises of access to opportunities in
the industry.

I would like to throw out a challenge to women who are well to do in other spheres of life outside of the arts, to say we have seen well to do men in business go out of their way to bestow finances, cars and gifts upon outstanding male artists to help elevate them and allow them to have a certain dignity which comes with financial stability and success inevitably begets more success. I await the day we see one of our prominent business women come out of the woodwork to honour and truly support one of the many unsung heroines in the arts industry beyond just uttering empty and flowery platitudes in praise of women artists. Nobody can bank a speech of praise, a certificate of recognition nor a glowing editorial. Neither do landlords nor bill collectors. It doesn’t matter if your profile is as long as the Nile River or your accolades can fill up a 30 ton truck if at the end of the day you are still a broke and starving artist. Becoming financially autonomous is the best and only way for us as women to ultimately control our own destinies without compromise. Lastly, I also believe that as women we have a duty and an obligation to make sure we are doing all we can to support other young women and to help give them a space safe to grow and flourish.