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 to 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 women 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 conversations that I have had on countless occasions with both close friends and acquaintances.
Since my first read of the 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 of 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 realized 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.
This book has had a profound impact on my life in a short period of time in encouraging me to debate issues, unpacking issues, and learning 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 favorite 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 internalized oppression. I still struggle with deep-seated beliefs about gender 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.”
Book Review by Hulisani Khorombi