DukeEngage was one of the primary reasons I applied to Duke. I participated in a similar program in high school and to this day I remember it as one of the best experiences of my life.
I am not the girl I was in high school. My interests now are so much more complex, more extreme, more pressing. It’s an itch. My dreams are non-negotiable.
My perception of the role of women in society was shattered when I came to Duke. My parents taught me that there was no limit to what I could do. I never thought of my gender as an obstacle. I didn’t care about feminism for two reasons — I didn’t understand it and frankly I didn’t know why it was needed. If I could do anything, why couldn’t any woman? It scares me how I could ever be so naïve.
My ignorance was truly bliss. Slowly but surely I started to understand that my life at Duke was overwhelmed by male-dominated spaces. In the classroom, it was the male students who would monopolize the conversation. Outside of the classroom, it was even worse. Men dominate the social scene at Duke. At every social gathering within the Greek system, it is the men who organize the parties and it’s the women who are expected to “repay them.” I was struck by how such an elite institution could support such an inherently patriarchal system that perpetuates the “give and take” tradeoff that emerges between men and women in these scenarios. Perhaps even worse was the fact that female Greek organizations are bound by an extremely archaic and misogynistic rulebook written by men to prevent women from creating female-dominated spaces to socialize amongst themselves.
I was angry and disgusted, so I started Illyria with two of my friends — Duke’s first all female SLG. Frankly, I’m proud to be able to say that, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Illyria awakened one of my life passions — to empower women and to teach them the lessons my mom taught me — which I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life.
I applied to this program to turn my goal of empowering women into an actionable goal. I wanted to work in spaces designed by women and for women. Yet, due to an issue with my internship credit from last summer, I was put on a different path — one that led me to District Six.
So why am I here? I’m not doing the internship I applied to this program for and I’m not working to empower women directly. While I’m super happy with my internship and have absolutely loved getting to know the ex-residents of District Six, part of me still wonders if I’m doing what I came here for.
I wanted to be at District Six because I love storytelling and uncovering untold narratives. History is written by the victors, which means it is more important now than ever to unmask the narratives of the oppressed. The idea of giving voice to the once voiceless is extremely meaningful to me and I definitely see the value in it, but it’s not why I came to South Africa. I came here for women. I’m hearing really cool stories, but mostly from men. In the next few weeks I’m hoping to change that and bridge the gap between my love for interviewing and my passion for women’s issues. I hope to uncover what it was like to be a woman in district six and what role gender played in the community.
My hope is that by relaying an untold narrative and focusing on the forgotten population of District Six I can combine both of my interests — empowering women by bringing female voices to the forefront and using interviews to shed light on apartheid’s human toll. However, this hope is tied to the assumption that these stories are accessible and in the psyche of a female ex-resident. Were gender issues and inequalities ever discussed by the women of District Six? How did gender play a role in District Six and the eventual removal of its non-white residents? More importantly, did anyone ever think to ask?