An interview by Gigi Lamoral
Anthea Garman is currently Supplements Editor at the Natal Witness in Pietermaritzburg. She is also a freelance writer and a masters-thesis student specialising in Gender Studies.
Gigi: Anthea, thank you for allowing us to put your life under the spotlight for the CWN M2M. I think it is important that our readers know something of your background in order to appreciate where you’re at today, especially your commitment to issues concerning women. Where were you born?
Anthea: I was born in Johannesburg and grew up as an only child.
Gigi: What recollections of your childhood specifically remain with you today?
Well, my parents nurtured me in such a way so that I was never made to feel
that as a girl my only destiny was to marry and have babies. In standard 5
another girl in my class and I jointly shared the maths prize for the best
maths pupils in the school. The boys did not even feature! I went to an all
girls’ high school and was always in the top eight in the class. In my circle
of friends, we studied maths, science, geography, Latin, and most of us did
Although we didn’t know it at the time we were wonderfully right-brain left-brain integrated people. We played sport, we sang in the choir, we went to the ballet and we attended symphony concerts. Some of us had boyfriends and those of us who didn’t (the majority) did not feel that there was something wrong with us. I heard of the movement for women’s liberation, mostly through my mother. I overheard her discussing Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer with a friend, but none of it seemed pertinent to my life. These were no barriers and no glass ceilings that I encountered.
Gigi: At what stage was your life impacted by Jesus Christ?
Anthea: Most of my school friends went on to varsity to become doctors, psychologists, teachers, and – in my case - a journalist. At varsity, I met lively, attractive Christians and began to look again at the faith I had discarded as prohibitive, ancient and granny-comforting. Jesus was made powerfully real and different and challenging, and I made the life-changing decision to follow Him with total abandonment. I must have been about 18.
Gigi: After varsity you landed up on a trainee course at the Rand Daily Mail - a phase you describe as the beginning of your baptism into the reality of South Africa.
Anthea: Yes. On the course with me was a Muslim, a Jew, three political activists, another Christian (but a politically wide awake one) and a very gentle, friendly black man from Soweto. Day after day, I worked with black journalists and was in and out of townships, looking apartheid and its results full in the lace. A lot of my white South African shell started to crack, as did a lot of the snap answers of my faith.
Gigi: The experience clearly altered your life considerably. How did you react?
Anthea: Two very important thoughts began to challenge me as never before: to do something constructive politically and to do something Christ-like.
Gigi: Hence your move to Africa Enterprise in Pietermaritzburg?
Anthea: Yes. I was invited by AE to work for them as an in-house journalist. AE is an inter-denominational, inter-racial organisation. It is most definitely evangelical, but with a deep understanding of the body of Christ as a church of many parts, all complementary. I encountered Christians from all races and shades of belief. It was a wonderfully good experience. But shortly after I arrived in PMB the country was plunged into the states of emergency and all the unity and togetherness became almost impossible to sustain under the onslaught of the P.W.Botha regime. AE came under sustained suspicion with informers being planted and every move being watched. This provoked deep questions about solidarity with those being oppressed. And for me, as the only woman team member at the time, there was an added dimension to my learning about oppression - that of the subjugation of women. I became aware that among church people I was being treated as an honorary man, that certain types of female behaviour (like emotion) was unacceptable. I began to talk to other women about how they felt.
Gigi: What were your discoveries?
Anthea: I found that vast tracts of our experience and our giftedness were going to waste, and that the men in the church would never allow us to be ourselves. This, coupled with my frustration that AE was hamstrung politically, and linked to an added growing frustration that my gift as a creative writer was never going to be taken seriously (I spent most of my time editing other people’s writing), made me take a leap out into the unknown. I resigned and did not have a job to go to.
Gigi: What then?
Anthea: I did some freelance work for a while and then got a job on the Natal Witness as a night sub-editor. Almost at the same time Brian and I stopped going to church.
Gigi: Whoa ... where does Brian fit into the picture?
Anthea: At the age of 26 I got married to Brian who is a plant pathologist and who lectures and does research at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg. We’ve been married now for 6 years and have a 2-year-old daughter called Gemma. Brian and I had spent about 3 years at a Methodist church where we had been part of the worship group and played and sang for both services every Sunday for years. We had also led a Bible study for AE interns for 3 years.
Gigi: Why the break then from the church?
Anthea: Well, we had asked to be allowed some space and we never taken seriously. After going on a marriage encounter we realised our relationship was not going to survive the pressure. The only way to get any one to take this seriously was to leave the church.
Gigi: In the last M2M Carolyn Gird focused on the anger and hurt of some Christians who have felt their lives inhibited and stifled by the church and who thereby have been tempted to give up going to church altogether. Can you relate to this?
Anthea: Very strongly! And it is not just my experience. Many of my close friends who have walked similar paths have found themselves in the same agonising predicament. The huge dilemmas of marrying spirituality and political involvement; relatedness to non-Christians and bonds with Christians. As well as some of the bogeyman questions the 20th century throws at you! I think I no longer carry the anger and hurt and my reasons for staying out of the church at the moment are because I learn so much more on the outside at present. Also I make sure I am strongly connected to other people with whom I have close, accountable relationships. A friend and I have recently started a women’s group in PMB of people like us who share these struggles.
Gigi: What was one of the biggest issues for you in the church?
Anthea: In brief, the place of women. I had questions to ask and consequently started studying theology.
Gigi: And then you undertook the Gender Studies honours course in PMB?
Anthea: Yes, for me the course was life-changing. It gave me access to the kind of analysis I needed to start understanding what had happened to me, especially when I became pregnant and found myself stereotyped as a mother.
Gigi: What were some of the subjects you studied?
Anthea: Sex and gender, Ideology and philosophy, gender and religion, gender psychology, women and history. The natural consequence of this course was to follow it up wilt a masters through the theology department in feminist hermeneutics.
Gigi: Studying has clearly been a liberating factor in your life, providing you with that enrichment and confirmation of who you are which you have not found in the church.
Anthea: It has become the means of working out the realty of who I am and how I should be behaving - it is no luxury to me, bit impacts everything I do. It is my women-church. In the absence of a church community that treats me as human and valuable these women writers from all over the world encourage me, validate my experience and push me towards further discovery.
Gigi: As I speak to you, my presuppositions are those of an evangelical Christian, yet I am aware that you seemingly abandoned this position when you left the church. What is your position now?
Anthea: When I made the decision to follow Jesus with total abandonment in l978 I also made a very deep decision to walk a new path, to keep on going forward and never to turn back again. Again and again I have reaffirmed a commitment to learn and learn and learn, to never allow myself the comfort of having fixed answers. The pilgrimage has taken me into territory I find quite frightening, where I find myself being both strong and weak, where I see clearly and I don’t see at all, and where I cannot function without the support of a husband, a child and many friends.
Gigi: What do you feel is vitally important if you and I are to contribute positively to our immediate environment?
Anthea: I believe that women like you and I must remain connected to ore another ... whether evangelical, catholic, quaker, ‘post-Christian’... we need each other and must hold on to each other. We must dialogue with one another. We must not allow the traditional barriers to separate us, we have so much to learn from
Gigi: What do you think of the M2M as a means of dialoguing?
Anthea: I must admit that so far I have found it hard to feel included in the dialogue. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that most people actively involved are reformed evangelical Christians, but also the dialogue seems very much to revolve around the Cape Town-Bloemfontein axis. I was also rather disillusioned to see no response in the latest edition to my book review on Women Hold Up Half the Sky.
Gigi: One last question, Anthea... What about any ambitions outside the area of theology and gender studies?
Anthea: Well, I must confess that I am a closet decor nut - I do have an unfulfilled dream to be an interior decorator…! There’s also a novel somewhere buried inside of me!
Many to Many Issue 3 February 1993