Assuming nothing; questioning everything

Posts tagged ‘“Good Woman”’

This way of being a woman is not working

how-to-be-a-woman1
Sometime back, I came across a post by a woman sharing about how hooked she was to social media, that on one occasion, her husband hit her because she got into bed with her phone, and she couldn’t put it down.

Interestingly, many women commenting on her post found it ok for her to be hit for not paying attention to her husband, particularly while in bed. There was very little alarm raised over the fact that she had been hit. She seemed more concerned about her addiction to social media, than the violence meted out on her.

Reading the post and the comments that followed, got me thinking about how society has created an image of “the good woman”, and the idea that a woman who fails to fit in that image, should be ready to face male-perpetrated violence.

We learn very early as girls that we need to behave, dress and look a certain way with all men, including our fathers, brothers, male neighbours, spouses and even male strangers, with the threat of male – perpetrated violence if we don’t.

I too, was taught from a very early age to expect physical, emotional or sexual violence from men, if I failed to conform to this idea of being female.

When I was a young girl, I was fond of taking meat from the pan as it was cooking. To discourage me from the habit, our house help often threatened that if I carried the habit into marriage, my husband would one day buy me an entire goat, and demand that I cook it all and eat it all at a go. That apparently would be his way of punishing me for this behaviour that was very unbecoming of a lady.

Our house help was not the only person who threatened me with crazy things that my husband would do to me, if I didn’t fit the “good woman” image. Many times when I overslept, my mother threatened me that no man would entertain such sleepiness. She often told me that one day my husband would return me back to her, because I had overslept, and the children were not bathed or fed, and the house stayed dirty.

In this case, my husband would be returning me to my mother for more training, because if I was not a “good woman”, my mother would be to blame, for not providing adequate training. Never mind that these would be my husband’s children, just as they were mine, or that I was the product of both my mother and father.

We learn to expect violence for not conforming to gendered ways of being female. A lot of people don’t even recognize how they teach girls and women to expect abuse in relationships. I’m sure that was not my mother’s or the house help’s intention. They just wanted me to be a “good woman” who fit in society.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been taught to expect physical, sexual or emotional abuse for failing to conform to certain ways of being female.

Girls that talk too much or question a lot are told to control their mouths, otherwise they will get hit for answering back their husbands. Women are told to teach their daughters not to sit on their fathers’ laps, or to be affectionate towards their fathers, because “men have very little sexual control”, and even a father could rape his daughter. Girls are taught to sit “properly” with their legs closed even in the presence of brothers and uncles, because of this “sexual control issue” that men have.

In a previous blog post I talked about how the lives and bodies of women are dictated and policed. From how to dress, where to be at certain times, and who to be with at those times. Sadly, when women face violence, the first thing society checks is whether they conformed to the standards set for them by society.

The problem with this messaging is that it not only centres the lives of girls and women on fitting into the image of a woman that will find a man to marry her, but it also creates a situation where violence against women is normalized. It also creates a society where women are constantly facing blame or blaming themselves for the violence and the abuse that they face.

It’s high time we cultivated ways of being male or female, that do not create such imbalance between genders; where one gender learns to cater to the other, while the other learns that it is ok to be violent to the other.

It’s high time we abhorred all forms of violence, and discouraged both its perpetration and receipt regardless of gender. No ifs, no buts, because this way of being a woman is not working, and it cannot be sustained.

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I Refuse to Shrink

If I fail to be a “good woman” it is not for lack of training or aspiration. I grew up surrounded by messages of the “submissive” and “virtuous” woman. I wanted to be a “good” woman, because like many girls, I aspired to be happily married, and I had been taught, that successful marriages were made up of “submissive” and “virtuous” femininity. I knew the hourly time schedule of the Proverbs 31 woman, because I aspired to one day, “bring honour to my husband in the towns”.

Proverbs 31 woman 3

That was not my only dream though; I also aspired to travel the world, be highly educated, have my own money, and significantly influence society. These two dreams were a source of great conflict for most of my adult life. I struggled with what society expected of me as a woman, who I was, and who I wanted to be. Although it was clear in my head that I wanted to be treated as an equal, I also understood that “men could not handle a strong woman” and I therefore had to compromise, and shrink myself. I didn’t want to shrink myself though, and every time I did, I sensed that I had lost something, that I could never recover.

It was frustrating to hear men who were my equals in many respects, imagine that their gender was an automatic ticket to domination in a relationship. I shared my dilemmas with people that were close to me, and I got all sorts of advice; all given with my best interests at heart.

An older woman, whom I confided in, was surprised at the content of my conversations with “potentials”. She advised me to be less intense, and to be “smart”, which I interpreted as manipulative. The strategy was, to make myself sound “normal”, which I interpreted as less smart, with the ability to “submit” and be a “good wife”. Once I was married, I would “slowly unleash my true colours”. I can only imagine the warfare that would ensue, if he also had true colours to unleash.

warfare

When I confided in a male friend of mine that it felt like I had to choose between a successful life in the public domain and a happy marital life, he encouraged me that I could pursue both to the fullest. He gave me the example of a woman who was a highly accomplished professor, married to a man who was less accomplished academically, and financially. Although she owned most of the property in their marriage, her secret to a happy marriage though, was to claim ownership of her property by her husband. My friend hailed her for remaining a “good woman” even when her success had potential to “corrupt” her.

I shared with a close friend of mine, about the frustration of finding men who believed in gender equality. I argued that perhaps the best thing would be to find someone that had potential to be nurtured into believing in gender equality. My friend rubbished my thinking and argued that if I strongly believed in equality, I should find someone who believed in equality as well. She warned me against the idea of thinking that I could change a person’s view of life. I must say, that was the most profound and empowering piece of advice I ever got on dating: find someone who believes in the same things that you do, and with the same intensity.

My newly empowered self, got back into the dating game, this time, unapologetic about what I believed in. I met fun, intelligent, widely travelled, and well-read, men. Their messages remained clear and consistent: “I will love you, I will do my best to ensure that we have a good life together, I will provide, but you have to be smaller than me; I have to be the man, the leader; your role is to support and help me”. Some got biblical, “God created woman from man’s rib, and not the other way round”. In some cases I went through short courses on human anatomy, “there is no body with two heads; any functional body has one head, and a neck to support it”. In other cases I learned a thing or two about leadership and how to run organisations; “any successful organisation has one leader and followers”. Dating was turning out to be school in itself.

I didn't come from your rib

My newly – empowered response, also got consistent. Determined to stand for what I believed in, I got a new mantra, “My dreams are too big, my view of life too broad, my passions too many, my interests too varied, my imagination too wild. I refuse to shrink”. I determined not to entertain any demands to shrink myself to fit the size of any man’s ego.

I noticed something peculiar with my male friends. Their language shifted significantly when they become fathers to daughters. I now realise how having a daughter can transform a man into a feminist, when I see my young father friends, make posts about their daughters on social media.

Daddys girl 1

These young fathers speak with such pride and sometimes exaggeration about their daughters’ achievements and ambitions. They have such big dreams and wild imaginations of what their daughters can become. They see their daughters as CEOs, great artists and musicians, and even presidents. I haven’t come across any one describing their daughter as submissive, future helper, or future neck to a great man. It is clear that the daughters of these young fathers are their own products, and not the products of the rib of another man. I imagine that they would be outraged at the thought of their daughters’ potential being shrunk to fit the size of the ego of the man they love. The irony of needing a smaller spouse to raise a great daughter, remains baffling.

Today is International Women’s Day, and the theme this year is Make it Happen. We need to raise sons whose masculinities are not threatened by strong women. We need to raise our daughters to refuse to shrink. We can make it happen.

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