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Ucheoma Onwutebe: Dear Mama, There’s More to Your Daughter than Meets the Male Gaze



Dear Mama
Behind the facade of our daily tiffs, beneath the moments we do not see eye to eye, and though I pretend sometimes not to get your points, I have come to recognize your noble intentions: to raise good daughters of stellar character. And in this I shall liken you to a gardener tending her plants with fevered care, turning the rich loam, plucking out weeds and watering the soil.
You toil away with furrowed brows, with an attention that does not waver in rain and in shine. A dutiful gardener glories in the flourishing of her plants; she stands aside with pride and observes the lush greenery and says to herself, look what my hands have made; my labour of love was not in vain.

This also holds true for every woman who has donned the garb of motherhood; just as a gardener, she is judged harshly or kindly by how well the fruits of her womb fare in a world so contrary. But you need not fear, for even when we leave your presence, your words keep tending us. It is your voice we hear behind our ears urging us to pull ourselves up when the weight of the world has toppled our weary frame. It is your words that steer our feet away from that which would mar eventually, though it entices for a moment.

Yesterday I overheard my neighbour rebuke her teenage daughter after she, the daughter, had broken the nth tumbler in a week. What would I do with you? She said. Is this how you will break all the things in your husband’s house? Though I chuckled at the familiarity of those words, it stirred a debate in my mind. My neighbour’s rebuke sounded like your favourite maxim: Men want assets not liabilities. You said this to me by way of correction when I showed slackness in my ways or moments when I wanted to eschew work and get things done through a shorter route. Men want assets not liabilities, you’d say tugging at your earlobe. You are not the only one I hear this from. I hear it from the preachers’ pulpit at the delivery of an impassioned sermon, I hear it from the motivational speakers’ podium when an audience is urged to up its ante, I hear it from kitchen gossips of aunties, I hear it when I am at play with my friends. It is also there in the movies, when the wealthy prince picks the industrious banana hawker over the slay queen with acrylic nails, and some passersby on their way to the stream, deliver the didactic punchline: men want assets not liabilities.

All maxims such as this hold an underlying truth, but only with a side eye squint do you see how flawed and tilted its notion is. Have you noticed that most rebuke and chastisement given to daughters end with how the mishap would augur ill with men? “Do not do that; no man wants it. Do not be untidy, make your bed; men do not like scruffy women. Learn to cook better; men like good cooks. Go to school get a job; men like educated, hardworking women.” And in this way a daughter is raised with a chorus of what men like, what men want, what men prefer. It’s similar to what Margaret Atwood called fulfilling the male fantasy.

Wouldn’t it be better you showed me how my decision would better me or negate me without constantly holding it up under the light of male approval? I too, as much as you dream, want to be an asset. I want to contribute meaningfully to life, to say this thing became better because I was involved, to look at someone and know that a decision or an action of mine would light the path for him. But when my actions are viewed through the lens of the male gaze, I am raised to forget that there is no one else to give account for than myself; I am raised to hinge my life on societal approval, a thing too ephemeral and shaky to build one’s life on.

In your days men preferred the fleshy woman to the slim woman. That explained the existence of fattening rooms. Girls went into those rooms skinny and came out plump. No one wanted a bonga fish for a wife. Fast forward to 2001 when Agbani Darego became most beautiful girl in the world and a preference for slimmer women became de rigueur, somewhat ending the reign of the fleshy woman. There was also a time housewives were preferred to working women; men wanted women who minded the home solely without the encumbrances of a day job. But since the recent economic crunch, a working woman is much more eligible than one who holds no job. Gainfully employed women would augment and aid in financial responsibilities at home.

But with each revised preference, what have your daughters become? clowns miming to the whims of society under the guise of living up to the male gaze? objects constantly adjusting their positions to fit into the vision of society? Wouldn’t it be better if we went to school because education gave us the advantage? worked good jobs because we ought to make a living? What if we were raised to exist fully without the constant ring of living up to a man’s gaze?

Every wise person is drawn to assets, people who would add value to their ventures. Every employer wants a remarkable employee who would bring something of worth to the table. This is a given. Even the loafer is not left out; he wants an asset in a woman form. Stories abound of industrious women shagging it up with very prodigal men. All of the world hungers for valuable people.

But I’d rather I live the highest version of myself with nobler intentions beyond eligibility, without bothering to lower my value or become who I am not just because I seek to sit well with men, society, anyone.

Your daughter.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime


  1. Omolola

    December 1, 2017 at 10:25 am

    well said. the task is up to we future mothers to change the status quo and let our girls live up to their full potential.

  2. Jummy

    December 1, 2017 at 11:44 am

    So succinct. This us everything and more.

    I wouldn’t want a man who sees me only as a reflection of he wants me to be, not who I am.

    Sadly, a lot of women don’t know themselves. Heck, most men and women don’t know themselves. Most Nigerian men and women, including myself just go along with the motions. Self Awareness does not exist in their dictionary.

    The difference, is that I’m aware that I don’t know myself, and I’m on a journey to discovering who I am, before ever thinking of settling down with a point.

    Women AND men, know thyself.

  3. cheeksi

    December 1, 2017 at 6:08 pm

    Good writing skills!!

  4. mr.smith

    December 2, 2017 at 7:30 am

    I’ll start by saying the reign of fleshy girls aren’t over cos I still don’t refer a bonga fish.
    it’s funny how ladies say all these things and still raise their daughters in the same way, and the answer is simple every mother wants a daughter that’s appealing to a man, a daughter that would catch the attention of a decent man and not a douchebag, and marrying him is the ultimate goal.
    Lastly irrespective of change in physical or social preference men have always wanted a woman who would be bring value to his home, raise the children right and stay true to him always.

  5. Uju

    December 2, 2017 at 7:39 am

    Nice one dear #youkeepmakingmeproud

  6. Wendy

    December 26, 2017 at 4:08 am

    This piece is a form of societal brain wash for a young girl or a women, thumbs up girl.

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