Brenda Fassie: Not A Bad Girl (But A Bad Bitch)

Society has this obsession with policing women’s bodies and actions. A set of rules is set for us by men who are not our fathers and if we do not abide by it- we are labelled, among a long list of worse words,”bad girls”. Women and girls are not meant to be complex beings who have autonomy over themselves, for if we are; we are bad girls and we are shunned. A ‘good’ girl is,to list a few standards that I’ve noticed, a woman who fits neatly into the standards that patriarchy sets up for women. A woman who does not tempt men with her clothes, a woman who does not smoke or drink, a woman who does not own her sexuality before marriage (perhaps even within marriage). Being a “good girl” has less to do with how you treat other people and more to do with what society projects unto you. The late Brenda Fassie did not meet the requirements for being “a good girl” but she maintained that she was not a bad girl. Perhaps she had come to understand that morality has been constructed in a way that disadvantages black women and she had set her own standards for “bad” and “good”.

I remember watching Brenda Fassie’s “I Am Not A Bad Girl” documentary as a little girl and I remember cringing throughout. If it was not the crass language, it was the smoking…There was just always something that said that as great a musician as the woman was, she was just not respectable. Now that I’m older, I obviously view these things differently. For the longest time, women have been denigrated for deviating from the rules set for them. Among the many behavioral  patterns expected of us is submission. Complacency. Often times, if a woman does not submit either directly to a man or to the laws set for her by men- then she is a bitch. Today , because of the ever-increasing global dominance of hip-hop music, many women have decided to reclaim the term and “bad bitch” is used to assert independence, individuality and autonomy over themselves. And as you well know, there are many reasons why I would call Brenda Fassie a bad bitch.

It takes heart to run away from home at only thirteen years old to chase one’s dreams. So of course Brenda Fassie did it. After her mother had refused a few offers to make her a star as she was too young, she decided to take her fate into her own hands and she traveled to Johannesburg. One of the offers that her mother refused was one from the late Gibson ‘Bra Gib’ Kente, an esteemed playwright from Soweto who is known to many as The Father of Black Theatre.  In a documentary released by ShayaFm, we see her interviewed by Dali Tambo and in the interview, she relays the story of her getting a lift from truck drivers who dropped her off in Soweto. When she arrived in Soweto, she went to find Bra Gib and ended up performing in a few of his plays and in no time, she performed temporarily for JOY as she filled in for the late Anneline Malebo who was on maternity leave. It became clear that she was destined for greatness as she rose to prominence and eventually became the icon that she is today- releasing one of her biggest hits, “Weekend Special”, at just 19 years old.

In  1991 , Mabrrr released the song “I Am Not A Bad Girl” (from the album titled in the same name). The first line “I try so hard to please everybody” immediately indicates a woman who was tiring of the expectations placed upon her. There was a lot to be said about Mabrr, from how she conducted herself to her drug abuse. Brenda Fassie was an anti-Apartheid activist through her music, a beacon of hope for many and just by being a lesbian- a representation for a marginalised LGBTIQ+ community. However, the press and the general public was still more concerned about her personal life.  I Am Not A Bad Girl was her expression of her frustration with the judgement which was constantly placed on her. She expressed this agitation more explicitly in an interview as she stated “they think ‘she’s rude or whatever. She’s not expected to do these things’. No way, I’m not going to start justifying my character. My character is my character…You know, if I wanna do anything, any time, anywhere with anybody, that’s nobody’s business. [The fact that I’m Brenda Fassie does not mean] I can’t fight if somebody says ‘voetsek’ to me or maybe someone swears at me more, you know? and then I don’t react because ‘oh what are people going to say if I-‘ forget it. Ngik’thatha nou.” This attitude is one of the many things that I have come to admire about MaBrrr. Her ownership of her body and her narrative was truly iconic. Fighting for her right to be respected in a world that did not view her behaviour as respectable.

As if she could not get any more badass than she already was, when she was asked what she thought of Madonna writing an erotic novel, she remarked “Madonna is Madonna, she does what she wants to do. And why should people check Madonna’s life?” ( Click on this link for an excerpt from Bongani Madondo’s book “Not Your Weekend Special” which I will review at a later stage My kind of feminism has less to do with whether one identifies as a feminist and more to do with one’s attitude towards patriarchy. Her understanding of the fact that she had no business trying to police Madonna’s actions is one of the many reasons why I will forever find myself searching for every Brenda Fassie documentary I haven’t seen, every book about Brenda Fassie that I have not read, every Brenda Fassie song I’ve never heard. Although I would never label Brenda Fassie as “feminist” for she passed away never having identified as such, she is one of the first names I mention when I am asked who inspires my feminism. Maybe “feminist” is a fancy tag for people who have sought equality and asserted their individuality long before me anyway. Maybe feminist is Brenda Fassie understanding that Madonna is a grown woman who can do as she pleases with her body and no moral police have any business imposing their ideas of morality on her. Maybe feminist is the ambition and confidence she had in herself at all times. Brenda Fassie was not a bad girl- she was a bad bitch.







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