10 August, 2010

A Woman's Arsenal

One of my high school teachers once told me, "there are two things that a woman must have in this world; education and a driver's license." I was bemused, and mulled over her words, particularly the necessity of a driver's license. Despite my confusion, I dutifully labelled her statement IMPORTANT and filed it away in the cabinet of my mind.
This teacher - a woman I admired and respected - intended or realized the lasting impression those words would have on me. They soon became etched into my subconscious, released to the roiling caverns of my mind where, for years they have been buffeted about as by a restless wind; appearing suddenly in my memory and then vanishing again.

The statement deserves careful scrutiny for it makes a bold claim, stating that a woman must posses two particular things in order to be a success. Many would argue against equating a license with something as valuable as eduction; possessing an education in this day and age is invaluable for obvious (and much talked of) reasons. It provides job security and advancement, the chance for self-sufficiency, to be released from reliance on a husband as sole or primary provider. Besides the economic and social opportunities, education furnishes the woman with a mind (See Martha Nussbaum's Woman and Human Development for more more on this) - with the intellectual capacity to make her own decisions, to question the status-quo, to strive for change. Much has been said on the subject of education and women and I will not add to the volumes of information and opinion.
The driver's license however, is much more of an oddity and requires further puzzling. What would make it a necessity? What does it offer to a woman that other assets (such as education, wealth/land, political independence etc) do not?

I have had a hard time getting my license. My brother and I got our provisionals (i.e. permits) at the same time and he was far more confident, competent and eager in driving. I had a general fear of driving and was quite happy to let him commandeer the practice time. Furthermore, what with my father's sabbatical and my  own move to college, the past half decade has not been the most 'settled' time. Add to this the fact that Zimbabwe changed its license-obtaining laws (adding several more steps and making it even more difficult and terrifying) and you have a world of giant fiends all bent on keeping me unlicensed.
Last December however, after five years of battle, I finally triumphed, conquering the opposing forces and claimed the prize! I cannot tell you the thrill, the wonderful happiness, the feeling of immense accomplishment and pride. I felt like the imprisoned captive who, having been beaten down and humiliated, assailed by doubts, fears and failure, at last climbs the wall, faces the monster and wins her freedom! The glow of pride still sits in my heart.

On the day I got my license my teacher's words - naming my prized license as one of the two essential assets of a woman's arsenal - came back to me with new meaning and power. What began as simple acceptance of and agreement with a respected teacher had gradually became belief. I had come to adopt her words as absolute fact, as Truth and thus felt it imperative that I achieve them. Anything less would be failure.

And what have I gained? How has obtaining the license empowered me, and why did I strive so hard to get it?
The bronze disk (Zimbabwean licenses are cast in bronze metal) has bestowed on me a new status, making me equal with my brother and increasing my value in the eyes of employers, friends and family, for now I can be called on to perform a valuable service.
The license has given me wings; the freedom and independence to fly away when the need arises, the mobility to escape or even pursue, to provide for myself without having to continually rely on others. I have a new limb - I was crippled with immobility and had to be carried around by others, but now I am the one doing the carrying, I am armed with a new power and strength.
More personally however, my driver's license has given me identity. At long last I have a legal, recognized document to counter the bias which denies that a white girl can be African. My claims to home have been recognized, my sense of belonging has been validated and proved.

So my teacher was right, though she did not realise the effect her words would have on my life. As a white African woman, my recently obtained drivers license is just as important an asset as my education. In fact, in one instance it is even more important, for it offers power, freedom and identity that my education could never give.

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