Expanding Your "Publicness"

Updated: Aug 10, 2020


Inspired by Charlotte Maxeke

"The very idea of politically-involved women is premised on a particular kind of publicness”.

Athambile Masola (2019)

People tend to promote and pay those who possess a particular level of public exposure. As a woman seeking to lead, you must somehow become known, gain credibility and attain a certain level of "publicness" (delicious word – thanks Athambile) - even if this is not something you desire or are comfortable with. Gaining this kind of influence is a challenging process, which does not always come naturally to women. Historically the odds were stacked against us. Whether intentionally or not, men had the podiums and they often actively or passively kept or pushed us off them.

Having said that, the reasons that women have not found their way into the spotlight to the same extent as men are complex and multi-dimensional. Some of these reasons vest in men and some of them vest in us:

  • Lack of clarity, boldness and cohesion of our vision and voice

  • Beliefs we have held

  • Choices we have made

  • Norms that we have individually and collectively accepted, tolerated and even celebrated

  • Insecurities and fears we have nurtured

  • Obstacles and limits to which we have yielded

  • Failures which we have allowed to intimidate us

  • Problems we have failed to solve

  • Comfort we have treasured

  • Opportunities we did not dare to tackle

  • Pain, discomfort, humiliation or embarrassment we were not willing to endure

  • Our focus on the resources we lack

Charlotte Maxeke was not born into a situation which would have predisposed her to public accolade. Although her father was the son of a tribal Headman, he worked as a roads foreman and her mother was a teacher. Tradition dictated that she should be restricted to her home and village and as a black South African woman, she was not considered “worthy of citizenship” (Masola, 2019).

Charlotte had one fundamental opportunity, the chance to be educated – an opportunity which she embraced with vigour, excelling in languages, mathematics and music. Even as a primary school learner she made personal sacrifices to tutor her peers, choosing to influence and encourage others, no doubt being considered a leader by her school friends and educators. Charlotte perpetuated her academic successes in high school achieving outstanding results in record time and continuing to develop her extraordinary musical talents. Honing her linguistic and singing skills opened two important doors for her. Firstly, she was able to earn money as a music and language tutor. Secondly her beautiful voice earned her a place in the African Jubilee choir and international "publicness" which included a performance at Queen Victoria’s jubilee.