There is a lot of non-verbal communication on Zimbabawean streets, giving rise to and reinforcing stereotypes. Non-verbal communication is a unique way we speak volumes without saying a single word. Despite its audioless-ness, it has a roaring noise. It is loud and noisy because it receives more recognition by society than the actual things we say. We are not allowed to caption our actions because our society has standardized captions for almost everything.
In fact, women are captioned more than men. This is not say men are free from this. But the consequences in attitude and social pressure for behavior change are much higher for women. Don’t believe me? Read more about how women’s non-verbal communication reflects in our attitudes towards them.
What We Wear
On my recent visit to Harare, I had a lengthy argument with my Uncle over the recent miniskirt attacks in Zimbabwe. His exact words were, “What are you trying to communicate when you walk in the streets like that?” I responded that I am not sure as to the communication at the heart of a miniskirt as I do not wear them. This is however not because of ‘moral tags,’ but because I have never even felt comfortable in a spaghetti-strap top.
In spite of my lack of understanding of the meaning of wearing a miniskirt, I did think about the meaning of our manner of dress in general. But first, let us talk about the miniskirt.
For Zimbabwean people, if you wear a miniskirt you are communicating that you have ‘cheap standards’, you are morally deficient and you have an undying desire for male attention. This communication is rarely verbalised but it has stuck because we hear it all the time.
Hands up if you feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or overly judgmental walking in the street next to your skimpily dressed friend? This is what fellow pedestrians ‘hear’ from you walking next to an ‘under-dressed’ companion while they stare, “Aaah, she’s not really my friend-you see, we are really different!” or “I will sit her down later and tell her to change her manner of dress!” and maybe even, “We both dress like this at night, can’t you tell?”
Everyone knows you are not allowed to go kumusha in jeans or trousers as a woman. This is because you will be communicating you are now a ‘man’. Meaning you are stubborn, not suitable to be anyone’s wife, cannot work in the fields, cannot cook and simply have ceased to be a woman.
You also have to be extremely careful about the type of dress you wear in the city. Your dress could be telling people nderemubhero, it could make people make assumptions about the church you go to, or it could even inspire assumption about the type of underwear you have on!
What We Do (in a kombi)
If you board a kombi, conductors often literally throw their passengers on a seat. But when YOU do it, when you casually, literally plonk yourself into your seat you are saying to the world, “I am careless”, “I like attention”, or even, “Do not mess with me- I am vicious”.
When the conductor asks for his money, “four-four vabereki” and you ignore the person next to you when you have a R5 rand coin, you should simply buy your own car or make sure it is always fueled up; selfishness is not part of kombi culture.
Still in the kombi, when the person on the seat behind you wants to drop off and your seat is that one that requires you to stand up and bend over so they can pass, the type of bending you do speaks volumes. You see, if you bend in a straight manner, giving all the back benchers a full view of your back, you exude confidence in your ‘behind formation’. Otherwise, you could be called wakafumuka or disrespectable. Until I buy a car, I will bend in a slightly slanted fashion as I aim for respectability (sigh).
What We Drive
If you are a young woman and we see you cruising by in wheels in the city centre, you are definitely telling us things. If it’s a Honda Fit or any of those ex-japanase not-too-expensive cars, people may think you bought it yourself. If you drive a sports car, Rolls Royce, Range Rover, Mercedes etc.and you are a young woman, we like assuming that you will be caught by the real owner’s wife soon enough! We may in a few instances assume that you are among those kids sired by the impolitely elite politicians and business people.
What We Write
Writers of course suffer from ‘saying without saying’. You see, when an author writes fiction, we the audience try to locate the author in the story. So are you the woman who was raped, dumped or are you the one who killed someone? We do not understand how you can be wholly fictitious without being a major part of that fiction.
When you speak out against child marriages and are vocal on social media about Prosecutor General Tomana’s recent consent shocker, we wonder if your parents married you off too at a young age. We do not understand your passion for ‘other’ people’s problems outside your involvement in them.
When you write about sex, you are undoubtedly telling us that you love it – though we do too. You are just crazy because you admitted it. Or are you telling us that you have had too much of it? Then we think that’s wrong.
You communicate many things to people just by living. As long as you do not simply exist and really LIVE, you are making bold statements. Those of us with nothing to do with our time keep hearing your voice, louder and louder. We may dislike you, but maybe its because we are not heard as much as you are.
Vimbai Chinembiri is passionate about education, gender equality, ending child marriage and sexual and reproductive health. She is a hopeless romantic and addicted to books and laughter. Vimbai blogs at vimbaimandiri.wordpress.com
Main image from cliparts.co