As a child, I was … kinda strange. I wasn’t openly rebellious, I was really quiet. Those are the kinda kids you want to watch out for, by the way. The gregarious, rebellious and/or extroverted ones – you already know what they’re capable of, and what they’re thinking, because they’re telling and showing you. But the ones you have to pry information out of? Nobody knows what they’re thinking.
There is one guy (we went to primary school, together) who now says he ‘knew’ back then, that I had a lot more going on in my mind, than I let on. According to him, I’d a sharp tongue, too. Huh? I barely spoke! Then, there was this old woman who told my mum to watch me, because even if I looked quiet (what does this even mean? Who ‘looks quiet’?), I’d be a troublemaker … in the future. Personally, I think she was just peeved that I wouldn’t let her carry me – apparently, I didn’t let strangers carry me, as a baby. I’d just wait for them to extend their hands, then turn up my nose (like a ‘princess-y snob’), and turn away from them. It’s not my fault that I was an intuitive baby – why would I let strangers carry me? They might be crazy, kidnappers, molesters, illegal organ harvesters, or ritualists, fgs. Might as well have started, as I meant to go on. I mean, parents tell their kids, “Don’t go anywhere with strangers”, right? Seriously, if you’re not telling this to your kid …
Anyway, back to the strange kid, who thought more than she spoke. There were many “Why?” questions in my mind. But I never verbalised them. When I was five years old, on a class test, I wrote my name … and my mum’s first name, as my surname. To be fair, I didn’t know her maiden name. The teacher (of the ‘Transition A’ class) was like, “Who’s this?”
And I went, “Me.”
When my parents saw the sheet, they wanted to know, “What is this? This isn’t your surname. Your surname is your father’s name.”
That was when I asked, “Why?” Cos I’m not just my father’s child. I do have a mother, right? OK, I’m starting to see how that old woman may have been onto something, with her, “This one’s going to turn into a troublemaker, in the future.”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wondered why certain opportunities were denied women, because they were women. Why should a man be so privileged (even if he’s not pulling any weight), just because he’s a man? Why should a woman give up her life, because of a man and play only a ‘supporting role’? Why should careers like teaching and nursing, be all that women could/should/must aspire to? I’m not knocking or dissing the teaching and nursing professions – I just didn’t see any sense in barring women from being medical doctors or engineers, especially if they were academically able. Why couldn’t women be priests – I was raised Catholic, and although a really nice priest baptised me and gave me my First Communion, I wondered why the reverend sisters played such background roles.
These questions didn’t happen, because I was Westernised – some of the girls I grew up with, were more than happy to live like they had been told to. Some girls I talked to, didn’t even realise that something was wrong with the fact that “all expectations for you, are summed up in ending up in a man’s house”. I grew up in Nigeria; so, my questions weren’t exactly encouraged by the culture.
I didn’t understand that obsession with marriage, being the be-all and end-all, the ultimate goal – I still don’t. I think that thing about the wedding day, being “the best day of a woman’s life” is a load of crap. Seriously, if that’s the best day of your life, it follows that your best days are behind you, right? Because that’s already done. So, your life can only become worse – because you’ve already had the best. See why your wedding day just cannot be the best day of your life? You might as well die, because if the best is over, what else is there to look forward to?
I grew up, wanting more – wanting to be more, to do more, to be recognised as someone in my own right, not as an appendage of any man – no matter how nice or influential the man. I didn’t understand why I should aim to be the wife of an Ambassador or Governor, instead of being the Ambassador or Governor.
The few times I summoned courage to ask, I was told that there was something wrong with me – by male pastors (I left the Catholic Church, when I was a teenager – loooooooong story. No, it did NOT involve abuse) who called me ‘greedy, rebellious, and covetous’. They said I needed to pray for ‘the spirit of contentment’. They didn’t understand why I couldn’t be satisfied with the status quo.
The status quo consisted of:
– Attend school and progress to the point that a guy can notice you; but make sure you don’t come across as ‘too clever’, cos you’ll threaten him.
– Learn to cook, so that a man will see you as marriageable, because the way to a man’s heart is his stomach. Never mind the fact that not every female chef or restaurateur is married
– Go to his house and cook for him, because you need to prove your ‘wife materialness.’
– Clean and do laundry for his mother and siblings, because you need them to see your ‘humiiiility’.
– Cook and take food to his office, because you want his colleagues to see how much of a caring wife you will be.
– Don’t have sex before you’re married, because he’ll think you’re cheap, so he won’t marry you. He’s just using you for his desires. You have no desires; when you get married, your desire will be to please your husband. Took me a while to twig that the whole of Genesis 3:16 – meaning including the (b) part, relied upon by churches, to subjugate women – is actually a curse …
– Clear out your savings account and pour in his business without any clear indication of how the money will be used, or how you’ll recouping your investment, because “We will marry and it is for both of us”
– Work in his business, without any clear remuneration plan, because “he is my man”
– When he messes up, even inside the marriage, chop sh*t because “even a mad man is better than no man”
I’d then be referred to Proverbs 31.
And I’d be like, “How did a smart, rich woman get involved with such a lazy, parasitic, entitled nincompoop?”
These pastors were men benefiting from the status quo. Propagating it, was in their own interests. Even if it meant making women, feel less. And crazy, for asking questions.
Then, I gained admission into the University of Kent, to study Law. Apart from the fact that it was the first time in my life that I was happy in academia, I learned a new word. Feminism. I learned that I’d actually been a feminist, all my life. My discomfort with the status quo, the questions, the innate sense of gender-biased injustice – was because I was a feminist. I just hadn’t known what it was called. I wasn’t unstable. I was a normal human being – a feminist.
There was nothing wrong with the way I thought. There was no reason for me not to be more. A vagina, uterus, female form and boobs were not … this collective handicap, meant to ‘constantly remind me of my place in life’. Whether I chose to use them in a reproductive sense or not, they had no bearing on my ability to become. And the decision to use them in a reproductive sense, was MINE – not any culture’s, not any religion’s, not any man’s. I had a creative mind + brawn, to manifest what my mind showed me. My place in life was (and remains) where I say it is.
So, when I chose to get involved in extracurricular activities – from Volunteering, to Student Union Government – I knew that my body parts had nothing to do with my success rate. And if I failed, it wouldn’t be because I was a woman.
And when I became one of Africa’s most fearless storytellers, I know I didn’t need to take permission from a man.
Women before me, had benefited from feminism. Feminism is the reason I was allowed to go to school. It’s the reason I can walk into a hospital and ask for a female doctor – and not look ridiculous, because female doctors DO exist. It’s the reason that certain African actresses (including those who are ignorant of the origins of their so-called craft) can get paid.
It’s the reason I can do what I do.
It’s the reason anyone knows my name.
It’s the reason I dare to voice my aspirations.
No organised religion ever offered me, any of that.
This F-word? It gave me back, MY humanity. It changed my life. And it set me free.
All Rights Reserved, Chioma Nnani