Assuming nothing; questioning everything

When I was 16, I began to write a novel about Wambui, a girl who was born with a rebellious spirit. In my story, I depicted Wambui as a girl who constantly questioned and defied gender norms. Her grandmother was constantly lamenting that Wambui had inherited the rebellious spirit of her grandfather, and often wished that her younger brother, Kiarie had inherited it instead. She worried that a girl with a rebellious spirit would never find a man to marry her.

One of the highlights of the novel, was when at the age of 15, Wambui was required to help prepare for Kiarie’s circumcision party. Consumed with anger, Wambui got into a heated argument with her grandmother after refusing to participate in preparing or even attend the celebration. She reasoned that it was not fair that Kiarie’s manhood got to be celebrated, yet her womanhood was not. While her grandmother tried to explain that it was only natural to hold a party when a boy grows into man, Wambui contended that she too had grown into a woman, and deserved a party. She asked her grandmother, why the growth of her breasts and hips, as markers of growing into a woman were not celebrated. “I too, want the beauty of my womanhood to be celebrated.” she demanded.

Celebrating women

The novel was my reflection then of how female sexuality was handled differently compared to male sexuality. I was expressing my dissatisfaction and outrage with these differences. I had attended a few of these ceremonies where a small, timid looking 13 year old boy who had just undergone circumcision would be ushered into manhood. The speeches given in such ceremonies aimed at empowering the boy to take on the challenges and responsibilities of being a man. Every sentence of the speeches began with the phrase “now that you are a man” and this was followed with words that instilled courage, pride and authority. I contrasted with with my “now that you are a woman” speech, with was followed with words that instilled fear, embarrassment and domesticity.

While these 13 year old men would be showered with gifts and words of wisdom, I had never seen a similar event to usher a girl into womanhood. The passage to womanhood was a private affair, addressed in hushed and not so pleasant conversation often between a girl and an older woman. The passage to manhood on the other hand was a public affair, with pomp, colour and ululation. I hated the invisibility of being a woman; unworthy of notice or acknowledgment.

I hated the fact that the transition to being a man came with freedom, liberation and with mandate to take authority, yet for girls, the transition was the exact opposite. Being a woman came with extra policing, caution and ignominy. The growing bodies of girls were deemed evil, with the ability to “tempt men”, who were “naturally weak”. It is no wonder, many girls walked with a stoop to hide their growing breasts, or tied sweaters around their hips to conceal their growing hips.

My novel was my 16 year old way of saying that there is something wrong with the cultural valuation of girls and boys. It was was my way of saying that something is amiss with the way society handles the sexuality of boys and that of girls, and the messages that come with each. It was my way of questioning the undue pressure that these gendered messaged place on women and men. The pressure on women to be “proper”, to be care givers and to shoulder the heavier portion of domestic responsibilities. The pressure on men to be “macho”, unfeeling and in many cases to shoulder the heavier portion of financial responsibilities.

Weighed down

My novel was and is still my way of saying that we need liberation from the shackles and burdens imposed by society; burdens and shackles that keep men and women chained and weighed down; chained and weighed down by the yoke and pressures of gender roles and expectations.

As Nancy Smith says in her poem:

For every woman who is tired of acting weak

When she knows that she is strong

There is a man who is tired of appearing strong When he feels vulnerable

For every woman who is tired of being called ‘an emotional female’

There is a man who is denied the right to weep and be gentle

For every woman who feels ‘tied down’ by her children

There is a man who is denied the full pleasure of parenthood

For every woman who takes a step towards her own liberation

There is a man who finds that the way to freedom has been made a little easier.

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Comments on: "Why was my womanhood not celebrated?" (7)

  1. Cera thank you for bringing my attention the absence of the celebration of women from a young age. You’re absolutely right! For every man who is celebrated for being a ‘man’, there’s a woman who is punished in various ways for being a woman.

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    • Thank you Varyanne. It’s true that for every celebrated man, there is a woman who suffers for being woman. But I also think that the celebration of men comes with a lot of pressure. I wish we would both be celebrated in equal measure, and none of us would be unfairly burdened in any way.

      Like

  2. I like your empowerment and how you present it. I enjoy your writing style as well
    It’s slightly reminiscent of mine. I support black women with agency. Check it out as well. https://blackgirlprovoked.wordpress.com/2015/02/06/reasons-i-cant-keep-up-with-being-a-woman-1/

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    • Thank you! I like your writing as well. It’s really amazing. I love that there are so many of us writing about gender, what it means to be a woman, and challenging gender norms. It just spurs the idea to begin a feminist movement.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. […] reclaim my voice has been and continues to be a long one, with many starts and halts. In a recent blog, I shared about a novel that I began writing in my teenage. The novel was my voice, my way of […]

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  4. I thought I had commented earlier but I see that my comment didn’t go through but I can’t help but keep going to this blog post. I completely wholeheartedly agree with this post, that it is quite unfair that manhood is largely celebrated as opposed to womanhood. I also love the last poem ❤ It's quite true, that for every woman that is going through oppression, that another man is suffering as well and vise versa 🙂
    Your blog is my goal 🙂
    Keep it up, I told my friends all about it, your one of my favorite blogs!!!!

    Like

    • Thank you for reading and sharing about it with your friends! I hope your friends will be equally inspired. I like that you are so vocal about these kind of issues.

      I like the poem too because it gives a more balanced perspective of gender inequality. I like that it speaks to the fact that gender inequality does not only affect women only, but men as well. We need to think critically about the ways in which we value or fail to value either sex, and how that potentially creates more equality or inequality.

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