Between women in a ‘man’s world’
It’s a Thursday evening at 8pm and I’m looking at a couple of mugs on a panel trying to make out what the little logo on them says. My mind is a trap for details. It bites and hangs on, and then when the elements have filtered through and settled in my grey matter, I am able to move on and see past the porcelain cups which I assume is filled with coffee. (Oh, the logo, by the way, says VK. Which stands for Vannie Kaap - an apparel store started by an ou from Mannenberg that is fast becoming a token representation of the importance and popularity of coloured Cape Town culture).
Beyond the mugs and more significantly, of course, is an all-female panel of four women hosting a new talk show called Tussen Ons (Between Us) on Kyk Net en Kie – part of the Afrikaans M-Net bouquet, targeted specifically at a brown audience. Awe ma se kind!
Hosts Kay Karriem (editor of Kuier magazine), Tracey Lange (radio personality and host of Dancing with the Stars), Ingrid Jones (business women and executive director of Mikateko Media), Zelda le Grange (President Mandela’s private secretary) and Success Lekabe (another prominent radio personality) are ready to tackle the norms of beauty for women.
There’s an appeal to the show that speaks to a different kind of feminism - the quiet, non-militant kind that is often frowned upon by the more vocal Twitterati. The kind that lives in the strength of our mothers, grandmothers and aunts. The kind that were too busy instilling power in their daughters to ask themselves questions like: Why is it important that my hair be straight, who made these rules? There’s a different kind of appeal in the way the panel tackles issues in a conversational manner rather than one of debate. That’s not to say that each personality doesn't bring a unique sampling of who they are to the table.
I sat next to my wife Rebecca Davis enthralled. She, less so. In her view, there was a simplification to the conversation that she could not quite wrap her head around, but I found myself explaining this dynamic and importance of the approach by using the argument I described in the previous paragraph. Ingrid and Kaye confirm the justification during a conversation, where they explain that you cannot always get through to people by screaming politics. You have to engage and send them home with takeaways. Food for thought that the average woman can revisit in the comfort of her own time and her own home. And this recipe works perfectly, the proof is in the ingredient of Kaye and Ingrid’s personalities which simmer through me as we chat.
I am drawn into the warmth of them and the coziness of the rest of the panel who aren’t present at our coffee date, the way brown children who come of age are drawn into the hearts and minds of aunties (and that’s not to say that they are aunties) and other family members around a tea table after Sunday lunch.
They are funny and slightly off-kilter relatives who visit in the evening, stay for an hour and then make their way home. In them, we have the media matriarch of sorts that is Zelda who presides with a cocktail of affection and bemusement. In Success, we have the somewhat quiet conservative who challenges the injections of the more outspoken Ingrid with a sweetness and respect similar to that of a younger cousin. Tracey, it goes without saying, is the daughter that exudes an intellectual interrogation, and in Kaye, we have the authenticism and sincerity of a woman who is wise, possibly far beyond her years and just… real - a true carrier of culture, and language. In her own words, “Sy is daai goose”.
The show's structure is not an unfamiliar one. We’ve seen it in popular American female talk shows like The View and The Real. And many South Africans might rear their heads in their all-time favourite criticism: Why do we always have to try and copy what everyone else is doing? But here’s the intellectual answer: The talk show landscape is revealing in its masculinity, and masculinity is the thing of preference in the media. It’s a variable that speaks beyond just the sex of the host. It affects who gets attention, which issues get attention, what messaging is perpetuated and, more than that, it is a direct influence on when those messages are delivered and that is the heart of the evening or at night, when men are back from work and women need not worry.
Tussen Ons is taped in front of a live audience, and unlike shows such as Oprah, for example, where the crowd used to be predominantly female, the males are heavy in representation as well. They’re privy to the lives brown women are living, they’re privy to the information that match the lives of women, they’re privy to content that pushes women forward. And why shouldn’t they be?
To the untrained eye and, it begs saying, the untrained mind, a female-led talk show in what is known as 'man’s slot' may be an unpolished and clumsy decision. It would be fair to say that Tussen Ons does possess some of these qualities in perhaps a new and unchallenged chemistry between both hosts and guests. But the learning curve doesn’t cut into the quality of its themes or conversation, for that matter, and it’s not dissimilar to the rocky topics that may crop up around those very tea tables, which need addressing before they’re smoothed out, challenged and resurface as more polished and evolutionary ideologies.
Tussen Ons breaks the mould and cracks on with the evolution of the female-led talk show that appeals and takes into consideration the working woman. It bypasses archaic 'laws' that state pop culture is ruled by men and women-focused shows be relegated to the wasteland that is daytime television. It’s a show that has caught up with the times. Women are out in the world, part of the workforce and with a show like this, men are somewhat forced to engage with the content as well so that in the morning, when they too arrive at their offices, many conversations they wouldn’t have had before are for once discussed around the watering hole.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.