“Masculinity is a hard, small cage and we put boys in this cage.”
_Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
I want to embrace my womanhood. To thrive in it and let it thrive in me. My liberal womanhood. I really want to soak myself in it’s lustre but I’m as worried as I shouldn’t be.
Woman is defined as an adult human female.
Man is defined as an adult human male.
When my breasts had just begun being sensitive to touch-as they do when you are nine or thirteen, whichever, these two beautiful stubborn mounds of wonder- I noticed that most adult female people preferred the title “lady” to the title “woman”, they’d rather be “girl” for the rest of their lives than be “woman”. I noticed the spite and dissatisfaction with which an adult female person would look at anyone calling them “woman”. At a tender pubescent age I was made by my surroundings to know that the adjective/noun “woman” is to be associated with impurity, promiscuity, obscenity, vulgarity, degradation and old age among many other despicable nouns. I grew up speaking Swahili and some English. The ridicule poured generously on the noun woman is more pronounced in Swahili. Woman in Swahili is Mwanamke and I know it is not a much appreciated noun. Several times I have seen people use it as a derogatory term. To insult and injure. Each of these times I have been hurt and angered. Yet with all this scorn surrounding the term “woman”, there’s all that delight with which it’s antonym “man” is being addressed with. I see boys as young as nine trying hard to be addressed as men. Initiation rites in most parts of the world are mostly all about converting “boys” into “men” with so much glee and dance and food and celebration. It’s usually a season of immense pride for the boy and his parents especially because being referred to as a “man” is so elevating, empowering, so purifying that every male teenager must look forward to. Look forward to being a man, pontifical and noble yet dangerously lascivious. How euphoric! It’s the same in Swahili. The Swahili word for man is Mwanamume and oh hail the Mwanamume! We exalt you! You are a sublime noun that every young male wants. You are infallible! How grand! Just how! I find this subjectivity extremely appalling. Dear beautiful adult female, please allow yourself to be a woman and remember to call me if it hurts. Find me and slap me twice across the face and tell me that it ached to be a woman that it scorched, that it made you filthy. I might withdraw my opinions. I also know that there is a significant number of women(I love using this word. I want to use it. I also want you to not feel tainted by it my love) prefer to be addressed as “MS.”, “Miss…” or as “Mrs….” I choose not to be bothered by your wish to have a preference. You have not much choice I know. We have to choose one if we must have an honorific before our name. However, it does bother me that there was need for having three different titles for the female human being each of which is wholly dependent upon her marital status I won’t pretend that I like being asked to clarify whether I’m a MS., Miss. or Mrs.. I have to choose. Unlike my brother who was a Mr. from birth, unlike my father whose salutation is in no way affected by my mother’s existence. Why? And so we raise boys with all this assumption of masculine superiority and feminine inferiority heaped upon their little backs. We call them lions and tell them to be men, breathing sphinxes. Not that it’s bad to call boys lions, how I adore those big cats with their stunning mane! There is nothing wrong with it, except that we insist, that we remind them that if they fail in life then they have killed their parents. Wow! This is the small cage that we put boys in. We tell their sisters to be pretty and to get some education to be gentle and less noisy, to be sweet and prayerful, to keep quiet when a man speaks, to have a walking style that will attract a “man”, to wake up at 6 o’clock because girls shouldn’t oversleep, then they’ll find a good man who will appreciate their morally permissible selves and take good care of them. How sweet! We don’t realise what we are doing though, do we? When we preach “Mwanamke ni tabia na Mwanamume ni jasho!” This loosely translates to “A woman is defined by her character and morals while a man is defined by his sweat which is in his toil and earnings”, do we realise the mistake we are making? We(gender notwithstanding) Should All Be Feminists doesn’t translate to all of us wearing lip gloss and stiletto heels. It simply means that we, here I mean everybody regardless of gender, should raise both boys and girls with equal enthusiasm. Tell girls to work their best, tell her that decorum is commendable but certainly not the definition of her success as woman. Tell her that she can sleep till 8 o’clock and work till 10 o’clock in the night, tell them that flaunting and trading their bodies for favours and approval is disgusting and in fact degrading. Tell boys that they are not to kill themselves trying to please girls, and that when they grow into men(correct definition of men) they shouldn’t walk on blades to please women(correct definition of women) who want to lazy around and be moral. Damn girl, be pretty and industrious. Teach boys to let themselves own failure if and when it happens, to cry when overwhelmed with emotions because we all have tears, whoever told them that tears were only found in girls’ tear ducts lied to them. Teach them how to say “I love you” and tell them that they are not obligated to muscle up and that being lighter skinned is not emasculating. Tell sons that it’s the duty of all human beings to do house chores in their respective houses regardless of the number of girls and women in that house, tell him that sexualizing girls and women is contemptible, tell him that men should raise their babies as much as women do and that doing so is not an achievement, not a favour to the woman but a duty, an obligation to parenting. Tell men to relax. Please teach girls to be independent, tell them that it is not required of them to be dependent on a man. That she can be a politician or a plumber…it doesn’t matter. That both her and her partner should be equally able to pay for dates. That she can speak out, that she is not bound to letting only her brothers, father or husband make decisions for her. That when she is an adult she will be a beautiful woman. That being a woman is as glorious as being alive.
I strongly think that the definition of “Woman” as a peremptory/offensive form of address to a woman should be scrapped out of existence.
Be comfortable with being a woman you amazing adult human female.
I want to be Ms. Nambuya
Certainly I will raise feminist, egalitarian children.