By Henry Mutebe
It’s been a while since I last put my mind to interrogating social phenomena. However, the comments made by Sylvia Owori about Barbie Kyagulanyi’s success have powerfully but sadly, ballooned above the social space, irresistibly inviting my attention to the conversation.
A lot has already been said about the morality, or the lack thereof, of her comments. To that, I have nothing useful to add. My attempt in this piece, therefore, is to map her comments within the larger social health of our society, critically reflecting on her words as tools of power and violence.
In our everyday experiences, the thought of violence often conjures images of raw and chilling direct violence. We often think of physical fights, assault, blood, men, boys, confrontation among other ‘visible’ and or direct forms and agents of violence.
Often unimaginable and invisible to us, is the enormous depth of raw violence that creeps below and beyond our lines of sight; passing as subtle and indirect violence, often exercised in subtle yet unbelievably vicious ways, by the most unexpected social agents – women. Imagine what the intention of Sylvia Owori was when she wrote those words. It was to inflict pain, hurt and violence against another woman using indirect aggression/violence.
In almost all societies, violence has often been baptized to men. However, once in a blue moon, a woman draws a dagger at another, in such chilling ways that everyone of us is reminded of the reality of the different forms and agents of violence that often go unnoticed.
The comments made by Sylvia Owori are a shining example of this often unseen violence often meted by women, against women. Her comments bring alive the problem of female bullies and the fast growing social disease called envy, jealous and negative competition amongst women.
First, I want to say that Sylvia Owori has a right to express her opinion or say what is on her mind about Barbie Kyagulanyi and her successes or failures. This, in itself, is not a crime. However, out of courtesy and decorum, a person of Sylvia Owori’s status ought to have immunized herself against churning out words that reflect her insecurities and sense of entitlement.
The conference at which Barbie was invited to be a panelist was open to all, including Sylvia Owori. The organisers, using their own matrix, found it fit to invite Barbie as a panelist. In their view, Barbie is an inspirational and influential woman who deserved to be on the table. It did not matter how anyone in the world felt about that. How Sylvia Owori, despite her personal success found small achievement to be a problem, is something I have failed to fathom.
Reading her comment, you clearly see a person who feels irritably entitled. She seems to think that it is her who knows, or must declare, which woman in Uganda is qualified enough to be inspirational and influential to merit a seat on the panel. Her words are raw with envy and annoying sense of entitlement. Its as if she is the one who was supposed to decide who should be declared inspirational or inspiring!
The comments were movingly confrontational, laced with cold envy, anger, uninvited judgement, and calculated to saw seeds of doubt and insecurity in Barbie. Thankfully, in her reply, Barbie smartly and humbly teaches her how to become a panelist in the next conference, if she wished to do so.
But Sylvia Owori’s comments while disturbing, are not entirely surprising. Our society is sadly infested with thousands of women who have mastered the art of bullying other women. While you would think that the conditions of our society, that largely advantage men, would be good motivation for women to be each other’s keeper, and have sisterhood, some have chosen to make the world of other women even harder and they do it with a passion.
I do not want to generalize, or use this one shouting example to generalize and paint all women with one brush, but clearly, our society has a problem when it comes to women supporting one another. It seems as though one has to dim the light of another, in order to shine. Its as if one’s success is another woman’s failure.
You would think that these women- Barbie and Sylvia, who in some ways, have broken into the upper social order of society, would be supportive of one another, even if they are soldiers on different Flintstones of development. Instead, Sylvia finds it comforting to question Barbie’s success, and chillingly tries to pour water on her little celebration of a simple success. Many women, find it easier to shine by muting the confidence and success of others. I find this totally disgusting and unproductive.
If anyone should attack Barbie, it should not be Sylvia Owori or anyone within that segment of the social order. Sylvia is someone, you would imagine, who has understood the fibre of our society and what it means to be a woman growing up in a society designed, largely by and for men.
Instead of giving her a hug or hand to lift other women who are still below, Sylvia draws a sharp dagger at a woman doing her thing and working for her success. Sylvia feels, mistakenly, that she has a right to determine who is an influencer.
Slvia Owori’s comments are very interesting though. Interesting in the sense that they reflect a social disease that has eaten so deep into our society that even the educated and ‘finest’ in the society are not free from it. Envy and or jealous eats us all, in equal measure. We can’t afford to see another person succeed at something. We can’t put up with seeing another person shine.
We always feel that when another person shines, our own light goes dim; so we mute their voice, remove their ladder or pull them down. Our society is riddled with people who will do anything, however cold it is, just to put down others. In my view, Sylvia Owori, by saying what was in the comment, is a shining example of many people in our society.
I do not know what it is about some women, but they just can’t realize their fights help to reinforce the conditions that slave them. You would think that with a thriving career in fashion, a job or gig with wealth creation, Sylvia Awori would be content with herself, confident about her success, and not be bothered or threatened by the small successes and victories of other women like Barbie but alas!
Even the little things like someone attending a conference as a panelist and posting pictures to tell her friends about it, gave sleepless nights to Sylvia Owori.. It seems the pain was so deep that she couldn’t take it any more; she has to pour out, to feel at peace with herself! This is how sick our society is. You can imagine the envy and anger of many others who do not have the privileges or successes Sylvia has.
On the other hand, I am glad Sylvia Owori made those remarks: we now know she is not this all confident and successful woman who has no time for catty behavior. She also has her own insecurities as a person and perhaps …sometimes, she feels threatened by the success of other women. In many ways, you could sympathize with her. The Berbie family is an enviable family. Barbie is raising a wonderful family and is making many strides in whatever she is doing. it is visible and it can be hard to take in especially for those who feel they are her peers. She seems to be sky-rocketing in success at a rate that threatens others.
However, this should not scare Sylvia. Everyday society, as a constant, brings forth new talents, new beauties, new luck, births and deaths. It is always unsettling to watch someone you probably once under looked rise, shine and eclipse your own success right in front of your eyes. However, when you accept that everyone has their own destination in life, you start to appreciate that the success of others does not necessarily reflect failure on your side. We all have our own destinations.
I think Sylvia Owori has risen, shone, matured and achieved much of what she wanted in her field. She should not, in my view, be threatened by the success of Barbie. The confrontation was totally surprising and uncalled for. Shakespeare once wrote that some people are born great, others achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them. You are not going to question people’s success because only God chooses who to bestow favour and grace.
Sylvia Owori may also have people who were smarter than her, more beautiful than her, but God in his/her own wisdom decided that it should be her to occupy the status and position she is in today. So the very hands that gave you favour can as well give favour to others in equal or even greater measure. In all, thank God that you even have a place to talk about in society. Why would you forget such an elementary lesson about success and nature?
Time, luck and circumstances produce their own heroes. If it is time for Barbie to shine, let her enjoy her time and simple victories. In all fairness, the attack on Barbie is an attack on all of us. People should learn to let others shine without feeling threatened. This social disease, called envy is very dangerous and cripples our society. Sylvia Owori should be forgiven for being the point of symptoms of our sick society.
The remarks of Sylvia Owori reflect the use of power in the hands of a powerful woman trying to inflict violence on another woman. If those words had been said by some unknown person, few would have been surprised or even responded, but the fact that a seemingly sober member of society exhibits such behavior shows the gravity of the disease.
While women tend to fear direct violence, they often engage in indirect aggression in the manner that Sylvia did. They may not fight directly, but they project their power and violence against others by making hurting comments or using examining and envious eyes to communicate and inject self-doubt and insecurity in others. Women should learn to live with each other without being overly and irritably judgemental about other women.
In the final analysis, it speaks volumes about their own insecurities, envy and failures. No genuinely successful and confident woman has time to even start feeling bad that another woman attended a conference as a panelist or even question it. They would instead celebrate their fellow women and together use their high heels to bang and break the so called glass ceiling against women.
The world is big enough for all of you to succeed without muting each other’s successes. Sylvia Owori should know that the hands that made her success are capable of making another person, even greater than herself. God gives their favour to anyone no matter who loves or hates them…and that includes Sylvia Owori. Madeleine Albright once said; “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” This world is already too cruel and harshly judgmental on women, dont make it worse.