Where did all the "bad women" go?

Musasa-JASS Wellbeing Circle in Zimbabwe.

What makes a “bad woman”? Does she laugh too loudly or speak out of turn, drink too hard or dance all the time, have too much sex or no sex at all or have the “wrong” kind of sex? Does she cry when she’s sad and break things when she’s angry? Does she wear an impossibly bright smile and laugh so the whole room can hear?

Here at the Musasa-JASS wellbeing circle, just outside of Harare in a lodge that might be as close to heaven as I’ll get, amongst a wildly diverse group of women, from the 20-year old trailblazing activist from rural Chiweshe who is working in severely marginalised mining communities in rural Zimbabwe to a talented, visionary artist from Matabeleland who happens to be gay and proud to the incisive, brave sex worker with her peacock-blue eye shadow and caustic wit—I’m meeting “bad women” of all shapes and sizes, creeds and colours.

It surprises me how far we can travel over three short days. How many tales women have to tell, how many battle scars they’re carrying, how all of us (in different ways) have chosen to fight against a system of patriarchy that’s inscribed on nearly every inch of our bodies and proscribes the choices we have. How we experience power over in our marriages and relationships, in our jobs and organisations, in our churches and village homes.

But there’s no doubt that being here in one place, with all the difference and diversity we inhabit is no small thing. It’s radical. It’s rebellion. It’s in this catalytic space that sparks awaken, resonances sound as we share our knowledge, and real change ignites.

On our first day, we sat together and told our stories. The depth of honesty that women allowed in that space was magical. There’s a reason why women gathering together and finding power within the collective are deemed “witches”—because there is an energy in it that is electrifying.

As we all know, with transgression come not just liberation but also backlash, insecurity, loneliness, and violence. And it’s clear just from being here that the answer to all of that is bound in collectives of powerful women who are passionate about building real and sustainable alternatives.

And if we build a house for “bad women” while we’re at it, you won’t hear us complaining.