Assuming nothing; questioning everything

I packed my bags and left

I packed my bags and left
“I packed my bags and left.” That is the opening line of Dambudzo Marechera’s book, House of Hunger, a statement that I find symbolic, and perhaps indicative that this is Dambudzo’s way of preparing to share with his readers about his journey in life.

Journeys are interesting because no matter how much you have, quite often you leave all that behind and take just what you need for a particular journey. I’ve gone on journeys with just a pair of pants, two blouses, a few sets of underwear, a tooth brush and toothpaste, because that is all that I needed for the journey, even though I possess a lot more than that.

As a sojourner of life, I find a lot of symbolism in the statement, “I packed my bags and left”; a statement that makes me reflect on the many things that I’ve had to leave behind or unpack from my bag, as a feminist.

As a feminist, on several occasions I’ve been forced to leave behind a number of things that I held as true and dear in my life, because they were either unnecessary baggage, or they were too painful to carry on the journey. I’ve had to leave behind what hurt and wounded me, more than bring joy, pleasure or healing.

First among the things that I had to leave behind were books and magazines that defined femininity for me, often telling me how to be a woman worthy of love and success. These pieces of literature often told me that my main goal in life was to secure the love of a man, and they promised to give me the tools to secure this man. They taught me how to tighten my vagina, how to be a goddess in bed, and how to use my feminine charms to secure the love of a man, and even get ahead in my career.

I left these behind, as feminism taught me to depend on my brains and personality, rather than my face,smile or body, in both my personal and professional life.

The depiction of beauty in these books and magazines, was often of women who looked less like me; they were often white or fair skinned if they were black, skinny, tall and flawless. They taught me that to look like these women, I had to learn how to put on makeup perfectly, put on 6 inch heels that made me contemplate having my feet amputated at the end of the day, and make my hair as straight as possible.

Through feminism, I was unlearning dominant ideas of beauty, shaped by western ideals and embracing a more robust notion of beauty.

The next thing I had to leave behind were the rules that came with being a woman. Some of them had been instilled through these books and magazines, and others though talking to my peers and older women. The rules often applied to dating, and these included a host of mind games. No matter how much I liked a man, I couldn’t ask him out. If he asked me out, I had to pretend that I wasn’t interested, until he became so desperate, almost getting on his knees.

Whereas I was to expected to play these mind games as a teenager, as a woman in her 20’s and even beyond the 20’s, feminism taught me that I needed to put aside immature behaviour, if I expected to get into a relationship with a mature partner.

Once he ‘got’ me (the prized possession that I was), I had to keep him on his toes, so as to remain valuable to him. This meant that I had to be available and unavailable at the same time. To achieve this, sometimes I had to pretend to have other plans when he asked me out, and suggest that we meet on another day. This was my way of keeping the relationship on my terms, and not his. It was my way of having power, but in a subtle way.

The rules also included how long to wait before having sex, because if I gave in to sex, I would be losing power. I had to maintain power, by taking his power by making him almost, if not get down on his knees for ‘my prized goodies’.

Through feminism, I was unlearning the power play that had been a key feature of my relationships, and learning to not only seek honesty, but to be equally honest in my relationships. I learned to ask for what I wanted, and to stop demanding for the moon and stars as a proof of love. I learned to seek relationships where my true self was loved and respected, and I learned to do the same.

Some of the relationships that I had also had to be left behind, as I carried the things that I needed for the journey. It became painful talking to many of my male friends and some of my privileged female friends. It no longer made sense to champion for equality, and maintain friendships that saw nothing wrong, or even justified inequality.

My most painful relational loss, was losing the relationship I had with God and the Church. I had grown up knowing that God was my friend and my father, and Church as the place where I found God. I had learned to run to God whenever I was happy, angry, sad, or going through any experience or emotion.

But it continued to become more and more difficult to reconcile this image of God, with the fact that he had created me inferior to a man. It became difficult to reconcile this image of a loving God, who would tear down a city because he hated gay people so much.

Being cognisant of how religious notions of gender, race and class have contributed to the subjugation of women, homophobia, racism and slavery, I had to go through the painful process of losing this being that I had known as my friend, father and source of refuge.

As a feminist, I was becoming less accommodating of any form of bigotry, and I lost the capacity to be part of a religion that saw me as a lesser being, or thought of others as lesser beings.

Packing and unpacking is a continuous process in the feminist journey, and one that never seems to end. At the moment, I am thinking of leaving behind WhatsApp groups that drain my feminist energy with sexist jokes and discussions.

I don’t know what else I will be leaving behind, but I now know that loss for a feminist is inevitable. Some loss is joyful while some is painful, and that I must be ready to embrace.

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Comments on: "I packed my bags and left" (19)

  1. That is one good piece of writing 😏

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  2. This speaks to me on so many levels.

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  3. Very interesting. As someone who has spent the last few years studying process of adult development (moral development, faith development, meaning making), I am fascinated by how you are making meaning of your life experiences. When you have time could let me know what you think of this article? http://thepowerpath.com/articles-by-jose-stevens/new-article-by-jose-stevens-commandments-false-gods-and-free-will/

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    • Thank you Maribei for your comments for sharing the article. I really like it, because it talks about religion in a way that most people are shy to. I too think that this is often due to the fear ingrained in society about questioning religion. In my opinion, and as the article indicates, this is a way of controlling society.

      I also like the idea he raises that questioning authority is frowned upon because of the fear that this will create more chaos. Would society be more chaotic if people questioned authority more? I think if society became more questioning, the people that would be thrown into a chaos are those that control society, who are obviously a minority in terms of numbers. The idea that society will be chaotic if people become more questioning is also another way of controlling society.

      Society is constantly evolving, and as such, it is not only normal but healthy for human beings to evolve in their beliefs as well. It is unrealistic for any aspect of society to remain static, be it religious, political, or economic. As the author says, our beliefs change in accordance with our experiences until we find what brings joy, harmony, happiness, beauty, and wisdom.

      You might also want to look up Bishop John Shelby Spong, who is also open to questioning religion, and an evolving idea of religion. This is one of my favourite videos of his sermons, and there are many more on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87rokCqk0Po

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  4. Great piece. I can relate, every stage you’ve mentioned I have and still am going through. Good work.

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  5. Glad to know that someone else is a part of this journey. It is hard to self care alone in this process of unlearning where we focus so much on the things we are loosing rather than the things we are gaining. Stay true Kenyan Feminist ❤

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  6. i loved this so much! it is very spot on in a way that I cannot even explain. I have not left God yet but the Bible for me no longer is the only precept to follow. I believe in a God who created me to be just as superior as a man, to not be second in my relationships, friendships, future marriage, etc. And so I believe in that God and not the one the Bible stipulates created me to be a helper and not a main person. I just love this article so much!

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    • Thank you for reading and for the compliment. I’m always excited when I hear people question any aspect of society be they economic, social, political or religious structures, beliefs and norms. I think it’s very healthy for people to question what they know and believe, and find out what works for them, and challenge what doesn’t work for society.

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  7. My best read in a long time. And real too….can relate with every single bit….

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  8. I have loved this article.As a feminist myself i can identify with most of the issues raised.I, also,stopped believing in a God that sees me as inferior to men.The main question i have been asking myself is: can there be a god without religion?Can we separate the two?because i think the issue that feminism has is on religion and not necessarily on God.It is religion that ascribes certain attributes to God and defines women as inferior to men while all-the-while claiming that that definition comes from God Himself.Overtime i have come to define my own God.A God who sees me as an equal to all others.

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    • Thank you Diana. I remember asking some of those questions as well at some point. Although I was critical and realized that I didn’t really need God, the Church or religion to do the right thing, I came to appreciate that God and religion have their place in society, and are certainly beneficial for many people.

      The unfortunate thing is when religion shapes and defines God in ways that undermine some groups of people, or in ways that are detrimental to the well-being of some. I think it’s time religion was redefined, and I think that if religion can define God for people, I think people can also define God for themselves, and I’m glad you have done that for yourself.

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  9. I am not an active feminist per say but this post touched on so many topics that I can relate to ans after today I will be looking at things with a different set of eyes. This was a thought provoking piece and defintely well written. Thank you for sharing.

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    • Thank you makupsy. I’m glad to hear that the post has made you see things differently. I consider it very important to question and think critically about everything, even what seems normal or is considered the norm. Even what is considered “true” should be questioned.

      One of my favourite quotes on critical thinking is by Nobel laureate, Shirin Ebadi, which says “a key characteristic of feminism is to think twice about what you know”.

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