From a young age, I realised that there was something different about being a girl. Though I couldn’t have explained what set genders apart at my age, it was clear to me that not only were we different, being female was the less glamorous of the two genders.
What gave me that idea you may wonder?
Maybe it was the fact that every time I mentioned in conversations that I had three sisters and no brothers, the look on the other party’s face usually changed from that of mild curiosity to something closely resembling pity. At first I did not understand why not having brothers was such a big deal. Then one day when I was in primary 6, Nnenna our class loudmouth casually asked what she must have heard from an adult. She said
“Who would carry on your family’s name seeing as you don’t have a brother and who is going to protect you when your parents are old?”
I cannot remember exactly how I replied Nnenna all those years ago, but it was something along the lines of: I do not intend to change my surname thank you very much and I am sure I can take care of myself too.
Even though I had proudly and properly shut up ‘little Miss neni, I began to describe my sisters with adjectives, every time someone asked about my siblings. Beautiful, intelligent, very smart, amazing. But as you probably guessed, those words did not change the reality, nor the reaction I got, and soon afterwards I got a brother. A gorgeous, gentle, baby brother; so I too was able to give a satisfactory answer when asked about my siblings.
As the years went by and I grew older I continued to notice how differently boys and girls were treated. It was everywhere around me. It was there in the little subtleties and even big ones. It was there in the way people asked straight away the gender of a newborn baby and proceeded to celebrate loudly if it was a boy and a bit quieter if it was a girl.
I saw it in the way my teachers at school always chose a boy as class captain and a girl as his assistant even though the best ten pupils in my class were females and the boys were left to trail behind us.
On one very vivid occasion, my class teacher flogged all the boys in my class for letting the girls do better than them. In his opinion, boys had to be smarter, more intelligent and essentially better at their studies than us girls because they would in future have to provide for their families. He went on to explain how we girls would grow up, get married and have children.
What he did not say, which I heard anyway was that, it was okay for girls to be at school, it was okay for us to listen attentively in class and apply ourselves to our studies. It was even okay for us to be intelligent and smash our examinations. In fact, education was okay as long as:
a) we were not more intelligent than the boys in our class
b) we understood that no matter how brilliant we were, we were only going to end up being wives and mothers
c) While it was expected that the boys go on to greater heights, make a living, slay some dragons, run the world. There was no real expectation for the girls save (b) above.
I have thought of that talk many times later especially when I was old enough to hear stories of wives who were thrown out of their homes by their in-laws for failing to have male children or men who had had affairs in the hopes of getting a male child with their mistress. It was a theme I heard so often that the righteous anger I felt every time I heard such incidents was slowly watered down to plain pity.
I felt pity for the women who lost their homes, husbands, and security in one go by no real fault of theirs and I felt pity for the children – girls who by the acts of their father or relatives were told that they were not good enough and most times were swept out into the streets along with their mothers.
I remembered my teacher’s words and I knew deep inside me that our society was very quick to write off female children because they did not expect them to amount to much. They did not expect them to be too intelligent nor did they expect them to become presidents or ministers or ambassadors or pilots or great leaders or lead surgeons, great writers or anybody significant.
It is almost funny sometimes that the women who have against the odds risen to high positions in our society seldom get the accolade they deserve for their expertise. Instead you’ll hear some silly people attributing their success to their husband, father, brother or any man they can pin it on.
Alas! You would think that by now we would hold our children – both boys and girls to high standards. We would expect them to be the best version of themselves and pursue their dreams with equal vigour but it seems that many ethnicities are yet to get the memo that irrespective of biological programming, both genders are equal. Giving birth does not fry your brain after all.
Recently too, I have had an epiphany of sorts. I now have a clear understanding that while many women have experienced a pre-programming that tried to teach them that being female is being second class, we all have the power to shake off those teachings and decide to shape positive futures for ourselves and daughters. It may not be easy but we have to try. Come out of the shadows knowing that you have something to contribute to the world.
Though I would very much love to smack that my daft teacher for his stupid impartation that day, I am aware that time travel is still impossible, so I have decided to settle for writing this and hoping that even one female out there who has been cowed by society will see this and make a new year resolution to chase her dreams and believe in herself even if no one else does.
Merry Christmas and happy New Year in advance.
Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Sam74100