I like to think women as bold, remarkably strong and assertive creatures. This is evident with my list of women portraying the aforementioned attributes. They include my mum, my girlfriends, single women, women who act like single women because their prince charming turned to be a douche bag, young girls who succumb to early pregnancy wait, scratch that, women who have carried born and unborn foetus in their wombs, Chimamanda Ngozi (do you have her contact? Tell her I would like to have coffee sometime), Michelle Obama. These are just but a few; you are free to add your bold strong assertive woman in the comment box. Back in my nursery school, our teacher would remind us that we were all the same whether a boy or girl that we had equal capabilities to thrive and the only thing that made us different was our anatomy. But as I grew, this statement sounded invalid.
My little sister is growing to be a beautiful young lady and by looking at her physical appearance I can tell that adolescence is knocking so hard on her door. I remember she would tell me how she did not like how Mark (not his real name) would look at her in class. Years later, here we are, I have to lure her into telling me her boy issues. Her phone heavily secured with an eight digit password that gets to be changed whenever her intuition informs her that one of us checked her phone. Once, amidst our talks, what struck me hard was that she referred menstrual periods as “mashiro”. My elder sister and I would look annoyed yet disappointed and she explained that “mashiro” is a word coined from the Kikuyu language they use so that boys wouldn’t decipher what they were talking about. This reminded me back in my primary years when I soiled my school uniform and had to wait for all students to leave class. I tied a sweater around my waist then went to a friend’s home to clean up. Funny how tying shirts around one’s waist is considered fashionable nowadays, I digress. That evening, I had to explain to my mum why I missed lunch. She told me that I had to be aware that I was growing up and should learn to be responsible. I had a burning desire to tell her that that was not being irresponsible; that it was a mere accident. That I was only human and being the jumpy girl I was, the sanitary towel might have displaced slightly; or may be a boy I liked winked at me and my hormones were absurdly excited and the flow was heavier. I now have to explain to my little sister that menstrual periods are called menstrual periods, catamenia or menses and not that coined word. That menses is something beautiful and experiencing them simply shows that you are healthy and normal and she does not have to be ashamed during her three to four day period. And whenever she is cautious of her appearance and wants to secretly apply my lipstick before she meets up a boy; I have to remind her that we apply makeup so as to look good for our damnselves and not for the men.
I come from a community where they proudly embrace their culture and hold their values and traditions close to the heart. Every time we visit grandma, my dad reminds us to wear and pack dresses only “at least two long dresses or skirts” he’ll say. Great emphasis is made on the adjective long. Maasais find it indecent for ladies and women to don trousers as they claim to be men’s clothes. But I say, don’t blame me, blame civilization. With our society today, you will be told “Don’t put on short skirts and dresses” so as to manage appetites of men; shorts skirts provoke men. First teach men self-control and respect. That they do not have to slaver hungrily at a woman in a short skirt. Some will even go to the extremes of associating short skirts with immorality. What an irrational excuse coming from a society composed of great minds who are capable of making nuclear bombs. Speaking of ability, every time I break home for the holidays and people ask bluntly how school was and the course I am pursuing. They then pose a question which I am now accustomed to “Are you sure you will manage.” And since my mum raised me well, I feign a smile and node my head and try to justify myself that the course is not that hard just a little bit technical. Don’t you think it is high time we focus on ability instead of gender? It is so sad that at this age and time, we still think boys are the only beings who nail it in technical courses. To my fellow girls, if you feel comfortable in short skirts or dresses, six-inched heels, wearing make-up then go ahead and do it. Do it unapologetically. Be proud of your feminity and do not let those male gaze be a shaper of your wardrobe choices!
We are quick to teach girls how to behave, to be likeable, to learn how to do domestic chores but we do not do the same to the boys. We tell them to sit well with legs so tight together, to be sweet that anger is not good for a woman, to learn how to cook. Sadly, some still consider cooking as a prerequisite for marriage. Let me put it the Chimamanda way, “The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a girl’s vagina” I remember during my little sister’s visiting days my mum would wake us all up except my brother and I would bitterly complain and claim that I should be asleep too since I am five years younger. The reason why we woke up early were made to wake up that early was to help with kitchen work. I would argue out that if at all we all woke up and gave a hand, we would get done with the cooking in time. But my brother is male, he cannot involve himself with “women’s work” Cooking and cleaning is an important life skill for both boys and girls and it has nothing to do with making a boy feel less of a man. If you are male reading this and still not in agreement, my soft words to you “Adam, I can see the apple is still stuck on your throat so swallow your pride”
I once had a crush on a young lad who would tell me I was ‘hard-hearted’ and immediately the crush vanished, it probably disappeared in his words. The reason why he thought I was ‘hard-hearted’ was because I was opinionated and would disagree on anything I thought inappropriate as opposed to the other girls in the group. Do not tell me that I should not be angry because I am a woman, say that I shouldn’t be angry because it’s not good for my health. Girls and women are human too; they too have feelings and they need to express them just as the men. That is why we say that not all women are made of sugar, spice and everything nice; some are made of sarcasm, wine and everything fine. That as a girl I have to be sweet and nice; no honey, my blood type is matte black with a hint of gold for a reason. To the girls, you have to learn to speak up; rebuke what you find inappropriate. They might not like you, but that is okay. You cannot please everyone and you do not need to be liked by everyone.
A young girl gets pregnant and the whole village will say how irresponsible she was. The process involved two people of opposite gender; so why are you blaming half side? I find it pointless to link sexuality (which is mere Biology) with shame. Flaunt that baby bump girl, because you are bringing a beautiful being in this World. “We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way boys are.” Because once I let them feed on the cookie jar I am referred to as a whore; yet my opposite sex will sleep around with as many girls as he pleases and be glorified for being a ‘man’. Insinuating that it is okay for a boy to lose his virginity but a big sin for a girl to.
I recently went to town with a male friend and when the conductor came to collect bus fare, he swiftly fished out a note from his pocket and said it was for two. I really felt guilty then had the urge to ask him why he paid my fare but then I realized I was not ready for the am-trying-to-be-a-gentleman ideology. A boy and a girl; both students none of them is working and the boy is expected to pay for her bills in a bid to prove his masculinity. The problem is that we have tied masculinity to materialism. That to make a man feel in control; he has to pay bills, should not be afraid of fear lest he will appear weak. Sadly, we are ‘hardening’ men and shaping them into beings they are not. And thus the need to get rid of the perception “the boy should pay.”
I think it is high time we changed the status quo. Let the girls be. Let the boys be. Give them room to be free. To grow freely without affixing every minor detail to gender. This will actually help them to be more comfortable and truly themselves.
Photo credits: Rbell photography.