Shana Fife’s ‘Ougat’ is a book women need to talk about
Share this article:
“There’s no room to rationalise abusive behaviour,” says Shana Fife, the author of Ougat: From a hoe into a housewife and then some when I ask her why she decided to write a memoir about her life.
Most will know her for her outspoken and unapologetic blog by the same name (justahoewithbabies). She’s amassed thousands of friends and followers on Facebook because of her authentic, no-holds-barred take on life. At times, she also shared her deepest, most irrational fears, speaking about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-boyfriend.
I didn’t know this when I interviewed her back in 2018. Our conversation barely touched the surface of a woman forever tainted by a man’s anger and violence. One quote that stood out for me was when she said: “In essence, I’m just a mom with three children, trying to find time to brush my hair!”
As women, we all wear different masks, masks that protect us from being “seen” and judged.
Fife, who is also a qualified journalist, has now taken off the mask and revealed herself to the world, raw and unadulterated. It’s refreshing to see a female author of colour write a book that strips away the layers and leaves you with a coming-of-age piece that everyone of us can relate to. Because, believe me, there are moments in the book where you will see your naked self through her eyes.
And her reason for writing the book was as simple as “wanting to give women the whole view so that they could recognise danger.”
In the book, Fife talks about being in an abusive relationship, unpacking it and giving the reader an intimate look into an all too familiar life that some might find triggering. “I think it brought the demons to light but didn’t necessarily slay them. Writing made me face some things I have pushed very deep down,” she says.
“Now, with everything in the light, both for me and everyone who reads Ougat, I have to start doing the work of consciously tackling each demon as it arises. I no longer have the privilege of ignorance towards my own downfalls and demons.”
Even though she speaks about her own personal experiences, her story transcends race and culture. She agrees, saying that she “thinks the cis woman journey is a shared one – even if we are from different parts of the world – things like purity culture, shame, menstruation, masturbation and so on are universal.”
One of the themes she explores is how women place so much emphasis on their worth by looking for affirmations from men, whether it be in romantic relationships or friendships. As a mom of three, Fife is trying not to repeat the cycle with her children.
“We need to start raising girls as independent, free thinkers – and with equal value to boys. It literally needs to be emphasised that our bodies and minds and worth isn’t determined by our chastity or owned by our fathers and brothers.
“We need to let go of tradition and teach body autonomy, sexual freedom, and mutual respect to the new generation. No double standards. We raise equal, free children. We create a generation of free-thinking, equal, empathetic coloured grown-ups,” she adds.
Without giving too much away, her abusive ex Lyle is an integral part of the book. When asked about his family’s reaction when it was published, Fife’s candour doesn’t deflect from the brutality of their relationship.
“His mom has messaged me to congratulate me and give me her support,” she says. But as far as his extended family is concerned, there’s no love lost there.
“I know that blog didn’t sit right with Lyle’s extended family and friends, but he was a monster, and I don’t care. They need to accept that they loved a monster and that loyalty and death doesn’t make someone good.”
Speaking about the name of the book, the word ‘ougat’ is a triggering one, especially for women of colour. We’re conditioned to think it’s something dirty and sexually unacceptable. For Fife, she’s very much aware that words have power, especially when it comes to children.
“I never sugar coat or show that I feel embarrassed about intimate questions - I don’t want to attach shame to normal bodily things,” she says. “My son and I have the same relationship. Teaching boys about proper etiquette around sexual or taboo subjects is very important too.”
One constant in her life has been her father. Speaking of him fondly in her memoir, he passed away before witnessing the fruits of her labour materialising into a published work.
“Before he died, he was always so interested in my book. My father loved that I took something that his generation found skanderlik (scandalous), and now I was writing to help other women.
“He always told me to ‘go for it’ and ‘do my best’. He would have told me not to worry about those who are upset. “Skryf wat jy wil skryf my daaarling.’” (write what you want to write, my darling.”)
An unwanted pregnancy, abortion and rape – these are just some of the traumas experienced by a single mom navigating life on the Cape Flats. Some of the content will make you feel uncomfortable, but it’s not Fife’s job to regale you with fairy tales. If it’s a happy ending you’re after, read the Notebook instead.
Ougat: From a hoe into a housewife and then some is available on loot.co.za and bookstores nationwide.