Assuming nothing; questioning everything

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Like many women, I was given a set of rules and advice for just about everything as I was growing up. One of the most important ones was on education. I was encouraged to study and until there was nothing left to study. The phrase ‘the sky is the limit’ was one that I heard too often as I was encouraged in that direction. Later I was told ‘forget the sky, there is no limit’.

On relationships and love, I was advised to not even focus on that, until I was as highly educated as possible. Children on the other hand, were to come after I had everything in place; a good education, a promising career, and an equally if not more educated man, in a well-paying job.

On money, I was encouraged to study hard, to secure a job that would earn me lots of money. Money would buy me independence. Independence would buy me respect from my husband. The need for independence was exaggerated with the constant reminder that there was no dignity in begging a man for money to buy underwear.

Looking at my life, I think I made a perfect student. I followed this advice almost to the letter. I studied to almost no end, putting aside all barriers to my pursuit for education. There was no sky for me, no limit, and no stopping. My ambition was to soar to no end. Of course that meant that relationships and love often had to take a back seat.

In some cases, as I was soaring to the skies and beyond, I allowed a lovely gentleman to hop into my parachute, only to drop him when I realised that he could be weighing me down, and posing a hindrance to my possibility of reaching beyond the skies.

Still following the advice consistently, I made my own money; not much, but enough to make sure that I was never begging a man for money to buy underwear.

As I gained independence through education and a career, I was applauded at every step of the way, until I got to a point where I was now advised to stop. The language of too much creeped into everyone’s vocabulary. I was becoming too educated, advancing too much in my career, getting too independent, too vocal and too radical. This was confusing to me, and I wondered what happened to there being no limit to my success.

I was advised to stop because men would be intimidated by my education. They would be intimidated if I progressed too much in my career, if I became too political or too vocal. I learned that I would be way ahead of many men in my generation, and I would have an immensely difficult time finding a suitor. The language changed and I now needed to settle.

Ofcourse i am not worried

Women that had been used as role models to encourage me, were now used as examples to discourage me. These women I was told, focussed on their education and their careers, and ended up single or divorced.

From this point on, the advice went downhill. I wondered whether I had reached the sky and beyond. Was this what it looked like beyond the skies? Was it time for me to start coming down? How come no one told me that I would reach a point where I would be required to come down?

When I attend bridal and baby showers, it hits me that it is indeed time for women to come down. It hits me that society did not mean it when it told us to climb as high as we could. In bridal showers, I hear brides to be getting advice on how to play dumb, how to lower their ambitions so that they do not threaten their husbands, not to display too much independence and to be submissive, and to make it her mission in life to please the man.

You can have ambition but not too much

In the middle of all such advice, comes all the paraphernalia that is required to aid this process. From lingerie for every day of the month, to books with sex positions that even a snake would have a hard time contorting, to cook books with dishes from around the world, with ingredients that do not even exist in the dictionary. All these are meant to make a man happy, to keep him faithful and ward him from all distraction. We are told that if we do not do these things, there are many women out there ready to worship the very ground our men walk on.

In one bridal shower that I attended, the bride to be got a flask, and small white neatly folded towels. I thought that the flask was to welcome the man with tea when he got home, but I learnt that the flask was for bedroom use. She was advised to always keep it by her bed-side with water that was just the right temperature; not too hot, or too cold. After sex, she was to use the nice towels to clean him up. She was also advised to make sure that she hand-washes the towels herself, with a disclaimer that ‘these are not the kind of things you give a house-girl to wash’.

At that point, I couldn’t contain my discomfort. I asked who was going to clean her in return. I asked whether the groom to be was likely to be getting advice on how to worship his wife during his stag night. I argued that he was likely to be dancing with a stripper, with his friends urging him to do all kinds of things with her, to ‘enjoy his last days of freedom’. I complained about the imbalance in this equation, where the woman was expected to give and give to no end, and the man receiving to no end.

My short speech was followed by deafening silence, and looks that made me remember a phrase that I commonly used in my primary school compositions; ‘I wished the ground would open up and swallow me alive’. I was given looks that I interpreted to ask the question, ‘who is your mother?’

Look-atew-2

I was admonished for being too educated, which apparently, as I was informed was the problem with today’s woman. Today’s woman, I was told, thinks that her education or money makes her equal to a man. This woman, I was informed, thinks that her education, career and money is grounds for her to go against nature.

At this point, I wanted to add that I grew up being advised to go against nature by soaring beyond the skies; to go against nature by flying, despite the fact that I had no wings. But I did not wish to embarrass the bride to be further, so I asked to be excused.

As I travelled home, I reflected on the whole episode and the shifting nature of advice given to girls and women, and how it is all centred on insecurity. As young girls, we are told to secure ourselves through education, careers and money, so as to earn the respect of men. Once we do that, we are told to stop and begin settling, so as to not make potential suitors insecure about our success. As we get into marriage we are advised to be constantly insecure, to be our guard 24/7, and to act on our insecurities by giving to no end and to center our lives on pleasing our men.

The question that ringed constantly on my mind was when did we hit the sky and start climbing down? I wondered for how long we would continue passing these messages to our daughters, nieces and younger girls. Can we teach them that life is not just about finding, keeping or gaining and maintaining the respect of a man?

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Comments on: "When did we hit the sky and start climbing down?" (19)

  1. Woman after my own heart…we women are going to study and not let anything put us down

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    • Thanks for your comment Kemunto. We should study because we are interested in education, and because education is empowering and eye-opening, and not because it is the only tool we have to earn the respect of men. We should stop pursuing education when we feel we’ve had enough, and not because we are afraid that men will be intimidated. We should use our education to make ourselves and our worlds better. We should not allow ourselves not to live up to our potential for fear of loosing a man. We should not short-change ourselves. You might enjoy reading this too https://ceranjagi.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/i-refuse-to-shrink/

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  2. Ts nt bout the money

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    • Thanks for your comment Karimi. It certainly isn’t about the money, but about the mixed messages that girls and women get with regard to relating with men in intimate relationships. It’s more about questioning why the advice we are given as girls and women, at all stages of life is focused on making intimate relationships with men the central focus of women’s being.

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  3. My thoughts exactly. Someone should be teaching a young boy how to appreciate a strong woman. that is the only hope. because I aint coming down!

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    • Thank you for your comment. We need to question why girls are taught at a young age to center their lives around men, yet the same does not apply to boys. I like one of the comments to this post, which says I’m not coming down, if he wants to get me, he can also climb up.

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  4. there is no limit to me…..I am a woman and I am gonna do exactly what I want …if he feels intimidated by me he can hide his face

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    • Go gal! Don’t settle for the man who is intimidated by your success, but one who continues to inspire your success and / or is inspired by your success. The idea that all men are intimidated by successful women is a fallacy. There are those that see women as equals and are not intimidated.

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  5. Flo Kinyanjuu said:

    Damn.. This is just one the best pieces i have read today. Its all about this “Man”. Who is he? Why do we have to bow to him? Why is everything centered around him. Our parents should know better,there is literal and figurative advice. If he wants to get me,he can can climb up to get me. Am building my own EMPIRE I can be my own Lucious. You wanna be with me you can be my cookie. I can take that.

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    • Thank you Flo. I like your questions. Who is he, and how did life come to center around him? Unfortunately, many of our parents didn’t know better. We now do, so we are the generation to change that. I really love your comment, “if he wants to get me, he can climb up and get me”. We must refuse to come down.

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  6. Interesting article and observation. I find this unbalanced state of affairs quite puzzling as well…My thoughts though is it does boil down to power and how power works in society and in relationships. The place where women are told to “aim high but not too high” comes from a place where patriarchy rears its ugly head and is trying to maintain the status quo..I also feel that men are as much victims to patriarchy as women because they are also raised up with an undue amount of pressure to ‘be real men’ (whatever that means) and this statement comes from a very narrow thinking that does not give them room to seek healthy and balanced relationships with women; it gives them the false impression that they have to ‘take care of everything’ … I think it also sets up many men for failure…so if for instance you are not financially successful, “the man has failed”…if your family goes hungry ” the man has failed” ..or crazy statements like “how can you call yourself a man and xxxx” rather than putting heads together as a team (men and women) to fix the multiplicity of problems we face….

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    • Thank you for your comment Melissa. I agree with you that gender norms and expectations are burdening to both men and women. These norms have also failed to evolve with changes in cultures and current ways of living. The providing role is in many cases placed strictly on men, not remembering that providing required hunting and killing of animals, a role that was most suited for men given their biological make up. As communities changed from hunting to gathering, and even agrarian, women began to be more involved in providing. Presently, things have changed and women now go out to earn a living and provide. However, in some instances, you find that the woman has taken up the role to provide, just like the man, and yet is she also almost wholly responsible for the caring and domestic work. The division of labour in the domestic domain remains unbalanced and largely unfavourable to women. Someone said that today’s working woman works two shifts, one in the office, and the next one at home.

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  7. ‘Can we teach them that life is not just about
    finding, keeping or gaining and maintaining
    the respect of a man?’…enough said!

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    • Thank you Ciku. We can and we should teach girls and women that life is not just about finding, keeping, or gaining and maintaining the respect of a man. There is more to life.

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  8. Reblogged this on esieopiyothoughtsrevealed and commented:
    Powerful thoughts here… I would want to publish this but she just spoke throug me.

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  9. Genesis 3.16 “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you”-its the curse.
    As much as we disclaim this old book, sometimes it explains a lot.
    It is our mothers and aunties and sisters-and not men, who advise us to hold back and “act dumb”-but they do that because they want you to be happy and they know that deep down, after all your degrees and accolades, your desire will still be for ‘your husband’, and it is in the nature of man to want to rule over you. You can’t have both, either desire a man and let him rule over you, or don’t desire a man.
    Otherwise dont waste your time waiting for a man who will climb up to get you, or who’ll be willing to the cookie to your luscious-you’ll be waiting awhile, its not in their nature.

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    • Thank you for reading Rhoda, and for the very interesting comment. I will share with you one of my favourite proverbs, which says ‘until the lions have their own historians, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter’. The Old Book, as you call it, in my opinion happens to be one of those, A book with 66 books in it, and not a single one written by a woman, explains why the position of women is as it is.

      Women are socialised in a patriarchal system, and often end up becoming the drivers of patriarchy. My friend told me the story of how a man in his community had refused to have his daughters circumcised, only to find that his wife and her aunts had taken the girl for circumcision. It is not that these women do not know, having experienced the detriments of circumcision themselves, but they also know the dangers of failing to conform to social norms. The same case applies here, it is not that our mothers and aunts believe that living below what we are capable of will make us happy, but they aim to protect us from being social misfits in a world that has created a box for women. They want us to get into that box to fit in.

      We need to do two things, one is for women to become historians too, which is what I aim to do with my writing. We need to tell our stories as women in ways that reflect not only the agony and the travail but also our bravery and triumph in refusing to conform and living lives that reflect our true spirit and identity.

      Secondly, we need to save our daughters, nieces, cousins and other girls and women from the agony of living in ways that make them not true to themselves. We must tell them that they don’t have to come down for a man, he too can climb up or choose to love her in her position as she is, without demanding her to climb down. There must be room for women, whether single or in a relationship, to be true to themselves and not fashion their lives based on the insecurities of finding, keeping, gaining and maintaining the respect of a man.

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  10. […] A Kenyan blogger I recently discovered puts this discussion better than I can when she asks, ““When did we hit the sky and start climbing down”? This question refers to the culture where we encourage girls to work hard and get an education up […]

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