Women are taught a lot. Close your legs. Don’t laugh too loudly. Serve dinner to the men and children. Don’t wear shorts or skirts (exposed skin is after all a sin, oh my). Make yourself smaller for the man, don’t bruise his ego. It’s like we have been indoctrinated into this life long course of ‘Lady 101’. How to behave, what to do, what not to do, what is becoming of a woman or a lady and what we should do to be liked by others, especially men. It’s perpetual and chronic.
This is some of what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘We Should All be Feminists’ discusses. Recently I had a chance to read the essay and I found it evocative and enraging all at once. Evocative of nuanced interactions informed by gender binaries and enraging at the injustices of gender today. Some passages of her essay really struck me and had me itching to write a piece on. If you’d like to feel evoked and enraged (like me), please read on.
Man and money
I was impressed with the particular theatrics of the man who found us a parking spot that evening. And so as we were leaving, I decided to give him a tip. I opened my bag, put my hand inside my bag to get my money, and I gave it to the man. And he, this man who was happy and grateful, took the money from me, and then looked across at Louis and said, ‘Thank you, sah!’
Louis looked at me, surprised, and asked, ‘Why is he thanking me? I didn’t give him the money.’ Then I saw realization dawn on Louis’s face. The man believed that whatever money I had ultimately came from Louis. Because
Louis is a man.
It is unsurprising that I have had similar experiences. I can tell you that I’ve been on dates where waiters automatically hand the check over to my boyfriend, assuming that, of course, the man pays. It’s a gendered assumption that is a product of our society. Money comes from men. It stings when they thank him even when I’m the one who paid the bill. Where is my thanks? Apparently women aren’t privy to such luxuries. How infuriating these little transactions are, the ones that are hardly noticed from the lens of male privilege. I often feel slighted in these dining scenarios and have learned to sweep it under the rug. I really shouldn’t any more. Or at all.
The Angry Woman
Not long ago, I wrote an article about being young and female in Lagos.
And an acquaintance told me that it was an angry article, and I should not
have made it so angry. But I was unapologetic. Of course it was angry.
Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. I am angry. We should all be
…Anger, the tone said, is particularly not good for a woman. If you
are a woman, you are not supposed to express anger, because it is threatening.
Anger, I have often been told by my mother, is not appropriate to show. Though she doesn’t say it aloud, I know it’s because I’m a woman. I doubt she ever told my father his displays of anger were inappropriate (In fact, I always think of my anger as inherited from my father and his side of the family, the ones with fury running in their veins.).
Yes I am an angry woman. I feel comfortable with this emotion. I feel it very strongly and it can consume me. Yet, the societal constraint of women not being able to show their anger can lead to its suppression. And this is dangerous. God forbid we turn it on ourselves. And why should we? I know I do this often, redirect my anger towards myself and apart from it being a defense, it’s also heavily influenced by gender and socialisation. I am tired of it. I would like my anger and rage to be taken as seriously as a man’s. I don’t want to be told to calm down. I want someone to do something about my anger, the way I’ve seen women in my life rushing to do just that for an angry man.
The Sexual Woman
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way boys are. If we
have sons, we don’t mind knowing about their girlfriends. But our daughters’
boyfriends? God forbid. (But we of course expect them to bring home the
perfect man for marriage when the time is right.)
Something that was a struggle within my relationship was this balance of supposed masculinity, feminity, female and male and so on. My boyfriend and I had dichotomised these things so much that we felt we were not what we were supposed to be, he the feminine and myself the masculine. But who said we are either/or? We did. We fell into that trap. But society and culture has laid the trap.
One of my biggest struggles was acknowledging my sexual side and high sexual drive (my partner and I had both agreed mine was higher between the two of us). This meant I initiated and wanted sex more often and traditionally, we see this as a ‘male thing to do’. I felt like the man making the moves. I hated thinking of it that way and have come to terms with being a sexual woman rather than identiying my sexual side as masculine.
Because at the end of the day, women have the same sexual desires as men. The only difference is we are not encouraged or made to feel comfortable showing it, expressing it or wanting it (by society, culture etc.). After all, who wants to be called a whore or a slut for liking sex? No woman.
And what infuriates me further is that we women do this to ourselves. We internalise these rules, the shoulds and should nots and we pass them on, from grandmother to grandaughter, mother to daughter, friend to friend, aunt to niece. Enough now. I don’t see the men teaching each other this crap.
So I refuse to be a student of ‘Lady 101’ from now on.
And yes I am angry as I write this. I will be angry every time these constraints are laid on me or I hear of them being laid on someone else. Because as Chimamanda said, “Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change.”
I hope my anger fuels positive change. It would be a shame for it all to be in vain.