I first read Miss Behave in 2017 when I was 27 and was running a book club with some friends. At the time I had been calling myself a feminist for years and finding it increasingly difficult to marry my spiritual life that often-dictated patriarchy as the one true way while holding on to gender norms for dear life.
The book starts with the Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s quote, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” This is the premise of the whole book. The book follows instances of Malebo Sephodi’s life where she had to “behave badly”.
On my first read in 2017 I related with almost every single aspect that she wrote about. Reading it now after a few years has left me feeling as if though I am reading about a past life. I no longer struggle with certain concepts that were raised in the book whereas on my first read I was sending screenshots of almost every line to my friends and professing how much I related and felt seen by someone that I had never even met.
The most joyous moment that I had with this book years ago was having our book club meeting and Malebo graciously joined us. The discussion was robust and engaging and I wanted to live in her pocket so that I could at the very least have some of the crumbs of her knowledge fall into my being. This desire was only seconded in joy by the fact that my closest friend who had vehemently apposed being called a feminist finally seceded to the notion that being called a feminist, an African feminist was not a bad thing.
The book goes between many different stories and parts of Malebo’s life and each chapter is just as engaging as the last. At times you may find yourself slightly lost but I think that there is beauty in that too. The way that she draws you in and gives you these misbehaving stories are vivid. Malebo talks about being in the biker community where black woman are not necessarily supposed to be in and take up space. There is talk about certain issues of being the black women in corporate South Africa or in white spaces where you are considered the “better black” or a black woman who isn’t like other black people. These are conversation that I have had on countless occasions with both close friends and acquaintances.
Since my first read of that book I have grown into some parts of my feminism that I never knew that I could. Speaking about intersectionality and not being afraid to outrightly reject “white feminism” is one if the biggest differences that I have seen. The most important thing that I have learned since reading this book that I can now reflect on is that I no longer wait for knowledge to fall into my being. I actively work towards social justice issues and do the necessary readings to fully grasp concepts. I have also realised that lived experiences, although highly important, cannot be the hill that we die on. With lived experiences comes a need to ground ourselves and see the reality that surrounds our experiences.
Midway through the book there is a conversation surrounding black bodies and one that I particularly resonate with is Malebo’s experience with her “saggy breasts”. In a world which prizes perkiness her navigation through acceptance is one that will resonate with many readers. She takes us through the #RUReferenceList where political protests within universities were pivoted through an old school form of protest of going topless in order to protest.
Towards the end of the book self-care takes a centre stage in the book. Malebo highlights the importance of taking care of yourself as a form of misbehaviour. She says, “this means rejecting all notions that keep us afraid of being our true selves.” There are a few points she makes with regards to self care which, if you never read the book I feel that you should note down. The following in particular:
- Take care of your health
- Meditate more often
- Occasionally log out of social media
- Support local art
- Read books that you want to read and
- Manage your finances
This book has had a profound impact on my life in a short period of time in encouraging me to debate issues, unpack and learn more. I am excited to pick it up in 5 years’ time and again reflect on how my views have changed and possibly being sharpened more.
I want to share an extract from you that was one of my favourite parts and leave you with the final word that you should definitely pick this book up.
“I am flawed and not perfect and get the theory incorrect because I am still unlearning internalised oppression. I still struggle with deep-seated beliefs about ender norms and have to constantly check myself. I don’t get it rights all that time but I am walking in the right direction. I used to be hard on myself because I desperately wanted my feminism to be accepted by other feminists. This is when I learned the importance of the different threads that run through different strands of feminism. Sometimes I don’t feminist up to the standards of others but I continue to identify as an African Feminist. It is important that we offer critique among one another though – so we may continually check our blind spots.”
This Book review originally appeared in http://kcsbookclub.co.za/2020/08/24/book-review-miss-behave-by-malebo-sephodi/