‘It’s okay to prioritise yourself’

Posted on August 31, 2020

Consumer and Food Sciences lecturer Dr Nadene Marx-Pienaar tells Tukkievaria about curbing waste, promoting sustainability and championing women.

As a leader in consumer science, Dr Nadene Marx-Pienaar, a lecturer in the Department of Consumer and Food Sciences at UP, believes “waste not, want not” are words to live by. “I believe my goal is to nudge passive consumers towards reverting to being more active, caring citizens,” she says. “I was raised with the saying ‘waste not, want not’, which inspired my PhD and is still the inspiration behind my research projects on food waste.”

During her classes, Dr Marx-Pienaar encourages students to contribute to society as critical thinkers and problem-solvers. “I often use real-life exposure and industry problems in my teaching to challenge students to hone their skills and abilities,” she says. “In terms of my own personal research, my agenda is to present findings that can be implemented in society with the aim of securing a sustainable future for South African consumers.

Knowing that her findings can have an impact on society is what keeps her motivated. “I am also greatly motivated by the fact that students really enjoy my classes, which is evident in my year-on-year positive feedback reports from students,” she says. A highlight this year was an emotional letter written by the final-year Retail group, which thanked her for her guidance in making the move from face-to-face lecturing to online teaching fun and effortless.

In terms of achieving a work-life balance, Dr Marx-Pienaar notes that this can be challenging. Her responsibilities as an academic are multifaceted and often become overwhelming. In order to cope, she has learnt the importance of proper time management and that there is a trick to “juggling the proverbial balls”, noting that some are glass and some are rubber, and that “it is okay at times to drop a rubber ball”.

With a father who lectured in Family and Emergency Medicine at UP and a mother who “raised two daughters while studying and specialising in Ophthalmology” (a field dominated by men at the time), Dr Marx-Pienaar says she had great examples by which to challenge mainstream ideas and stereotypes.

She makes salient points about the barriers that women face when it comes to assuming leadership roles in the workplace. “Finding the right opportunity, then finding the time and energy to commit” is one such obstacle she points out. “We need to break free from the emotional toll and guilt we feel every day for not being Wonder Women. In South Africa, I think most women still take the role of ‘mom, wife, grocery shopper, taxi driver, cheerleader, cook and bottle washer’ very seriously. Couple this with a full-time job where we are expected to deliver outputs on the same level as men and it is a recipe for disaster, a ticking time bomb. We have to break free from traditional gender role stereotypes.”

Some of the other barriers, she says, include women being less respected, viewed as being less committed because of their concern for their families, or being avoided because they are seen as being too career driven, and often labelled as “too ambitious” or “lacking in empathy”. “It’s a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario.”

How does she think gender-based violence can be eradicated? “This is a difficult question. I feel that a ‘one size fits all’ solution might not be the way to go. I am trying to instil values in my son and daughter that they need to respect each other. I’m a firm believer in equality between genders, and I appreciate my husband for supporting me in this. We need to address the teaching of traditional gender stereotypes: we can start by stop telling our daughters to get a husband. We should move away from the idea that one gender is dependent on the other, and rather encourage or set the goal towards interdependence, where ambitions are mutually held and couples realise they can get much further by working together. To quote Kahlil Gibran: ‘…the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.’”

Her advice to other women is the same advice she tries to live by: “Remember to consider dignity and self-respect before anything; learn to say no and draw boundaries – it’s okay to prioritise yourself. Lastly, be yourself, because all the others are already taken.”

- Author Primarashni Gower

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