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Shrinking Women

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Shrinking Women
I recently read a post about the plight of being a female in Nigeria and to say the expectations of women are archaic and misogynistic would be putting it mildly. One only has to look at the recent comments of Nigeria’s President Buhari, remedy suggesting his wife’s place is in the kitchen as an example. Being of Nigerian descent I have seen this attitude reflected in relatives and acquaintances alike and unfortunately this outlook is more common that it should be in this day and age.
One of the most popular sentiments expressed is that you have to be married by your mid 20’s. Being a woman of Nigerian descent means that you may have a successful business by that age but it is immaterial if you are not yet married. You are expected to go to school and do well. Failure isn’t an option. Getting a C means you aren’t working hard enough. But once you reach the age of 25, ed the excellence and drive drilled into you becomes a thing of the past. The question becomes when you are getting married and having children. Work isn’t important and ambition is a hindrance to the hunt for a husband. The money your parents poured into that sound education was so that your bride price could be higher I have numerous friends and acquaintances who disclosed that having a certain level of education such as a Masters or PhD increased their worth on the marriage market. Nigerian culture should be past the era where women are considered nothing more than chattel and economic pawns.
aisha-buhari-at-the-presidents-inauguration

President Buhari’s inauguration

As a woman of Nigerian descent the more docile and timid you appear the more respectful you are considered. Having a different opinion means you are a know it all, or that your mouth will get you in trouble one day. Nigerian men are always initially intrigued by your intelligence but as the relationship develops, their ingrained misogyny demands you dim your light, smarts and opinions to cater to the male ego. The expectation after finding a partner is to become a shadow of your former self. Even when there are things you disagree with, the expectation is for you to accept them because that’s just the way it is. Responses to a Nigerian woman wanting to do more than be married and raise children are met with raised eyebrows and murmurs. Sentiments like ‘you can’t dress ‘anyhow’ are also commonplace. An impeccable appearance is needed to catch the eye but once married, the wardrobe comes under scrutiny and is policed for its appropriateness. Despite the progress made worldwide in the world of feminism, its prevalence in Nigerian culture is limited.
silence
The bottom line is you are expected to make your husband or partner bask in his masculinity at the expense of your soul. This notion is even more apparent when it comes to fidelity. There is a term called ‘Yoruba demon’ which is used as a blanket term for Nigerian men who are famed for being serial cheats. I have witnessed many friends and acquaintances be cheated on only to stay because cheating is what men do. Infidelity in a relationship is expected and counted as part of the ups and downs of the relationship. An engagement ring is the prize you get if you manage to stay by his side. When you hear ‘she’s been here for me through it all’ it’s code for I cheated over the years and she stayed ‘She smart, she loyal. Major Key alert’. How is it that now more than ever when women have more choices there is still a section of society that limits them?
Women of Nigerian descent are forever trying to please their families so they won’t be considered problematic. Character seems to be a by-product and how good you are a woman is judged by whether you can cook clean and do laundry. Not all women of Nigerian descent’s lives are dictated by these edicts but I hope that in time, those that do, are able to break free and forge their way in this modern age that we live in. There is a choice and I hope these women chose and live for themselves.
Written by Ami Lore
I recently read a post about the plight of being a female in Nigeria and to say the expectations of women are archaic and misogynistic would be putting it mildly. One only has to look at the recent comments of Nigeria’s President Buhari, more about suggesting his wife’s place is in the kitchen as an example. Being of Nigerian descent I have seen this attitude reflected in relatives and acquaintances alike and unfortunately this outlook is more common that it should be in this day and age.
One of the most popular sentiments expressed is that you have to be married by your mid 20’s. Being a woman of Nigerian descent means that you may have a successful business by that age but it is immaterial if you are not yet married. You are expected to go to school and do well. Failure isn’t an option. Getting a C means you aren’t working hard enough. But once you reach the age of 25, sickness the excellence and drive drilled into you becomes a thing of the past. The question becomes when you are getting married and having children. Work isn’t important and ambition is a hindrance to the hunt for a husband. The money your parents poured into that sound education was so that your bride price could be higher I have numerous friends and acquaintances who disclosed that having a certain level of education such as a Masters or PhD increased their worth on the marriage market. Nigerian culture should be past the era where women are considered nothing more than chattel and economic pawns.
aisha-buhari-at-the-presidents-inauguration

President Buhari’s inauguration

As a woman of Nigerian descent the more docile and timid you appear the more respectful you are considered. Having a different opinion means you are a know it all, or that your mouth will get you in trouble one day. Nigerian men are always initially intrigued by your intelligence but as the relationship develops, their ingrained misogyny demands you dim your light, smarts and opinions to cater to the male ego. The expectation after finding a partner is to become a shadow of your former self. Even when there are things you disagree with, the expectation is for you to accept them because that’s just the way it is. Responses to a Nigerian woman wanting to do more than be married and raise children are met with raised eyebrows and murmurs. Sentiments like ‘you can’t dress ‘anyhow’ are also commonplace. An impeccable appearance is needed to catch the eye but once married, the wardrobe comes under scrutiny and is policed for its appropriateness. Despite the progress made worldwide in the world of feminism, its prevalence in Nigerian culture is limited.
silence
The bottom line is you are expected to make your husband or partner bask in his masculinity at the expense of your soul. This notion is even more apparent when it comes to fidelity. There is a term called ‘Yoruba demon’ which is used as a blanket term for Nigerian men who are famed for being serial cheats. I have witnessed many friends and acquaintances be cheated on only to stay because cheating is what men do. Infidelity in a relationship is expected and counted as part of the ups and downs of the relationship. An engagement ring is the prize you get if you manage to stay by his side. When you hear ‘she’s been here for me through it all’ it’s code for I cheated over the years and she stayed ‘She smart, she loyal. Major Key alert’. How is it that now more than ever when women have more choices there is still a section of society that limits them?
Women of Nigerian descent are forever trying to please their families so they won’t be considered problematic. Character seems to be a by-product and how good you are a woman is judged by whether you can cook clean and do laundry. Not all women of Nigerian descent’s lives are dictated by these edicts but I hope that in time, those that do, are able to break free and forge their way in this modern age that we live in. There is a choice and I hope these women chose and live for themselves.
Written by Ami Lore

Perhaps I am late to the party, medications but a few weeks ago I watched Vanesse Kisuule’s spoken word poem entitled ‘Take Up Space’ for the first time. In it, she discussed exactly that – this concept of taking up ‘space’, calling on women to stop shrinking themselves, to be unapologetic in doing the things they love. She celebrates the difference in the women she knows, quite a different tone to that of Lily Myer’s poem ‘Shrinking Women’ where she talks about the discomfort that comes with the feeling of occupying too much ‘space’, the ways she has learnt it from the women in her family and the means through which she is constantly apologising for doing so.

It was interesting for me, because this idea of taking up ‘space’ as a woman was something I was always aware of, but never really knew how to articulate; through the poems I came to the realisation that a lot of my life has been spent trying to occupy less space, both physically and verbally.

Illustration by Mariel NO (mno-illustrate.tumblr.com)

Illustration by Mariel NO (mno-illustrate.tumblr.com)

But what do I mean by ‘space’? I mean the social, verbal, physical and cultural mediums through which we express ourselves, and the ways it is policed through patriarchy.

I can give you a handful of personal examples:

  • Being tall and wishing I was shorter, that I didn’t stick out as much and could be the same height as other girls.
  • Constantly feeling the need to lose weight, be slimmer, one size smaller
  • Fearing voicing my opinions – I spent a lot of my adolescence not knowing how to articulate myself because I never tried. I was reluctant to speak out.

You may argue that these are all just personal insecurities, which may be right to an extent, but you also have to understand that the nature of these ‘insecurities’ is to do with the way women are socialised. As a sociology student I am always reading about the different ways females and males are taught to understand the world, and often women’s is in relation to accommodating to men. It’s just the way patriarchy works.  

We are fed myths of what it means to be a ‘good woman’ through mediums such a movies all the way through to everyday discourses  You don’t realise it, but the ways in which bodies and ideas of gender are constructed have very real implications on our everyday interactions. The way we take up space speaks a lot to power dynamics; for example, consider gendered body practices. How many times have you seen a woman sit on the tube with her legs sprawled open in the same manner guys tend to?

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Ailsa Fineron Photography

The politics of taking up space becomes more complicated when ideas of ‘race’ and ethnicity enter the equation too. Women of colour are taught to occupy spaces differently to white women, which could be explained by the lack of representation we face. It’s no secret that there is a lack of representation, everywhere you look – from runways to boardrooms – you realise white is normative. Hence, it becomes additionally difficult for women of colour to take up space because we have little blueprint of how to do so. I often wonder if this is why I experienced social anxiety as a teen, because I didn’t know how to fully exist in social, political, physical and cultural mediums.

This is why it is important we forcibly carve out spaces for ourselves, and I am so glad mediums such as LAPP and gal-dem exist, because it is for women by women. Safe spaces like these are empowering and provide networks of understanding and support. By creating platforms we are giving ourselves validity on our own terms, instead of bowing to pressures of excelling in order to be recognised. It is a means through which we can unlearn the multiple ways we have learnt to shrink ourselves, snatch back control of our own damn narratives and unapologetically be ourselves.

Written by Simran Randhawa

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, @simisear_

The post Shrinking Women appeared first on LAPP..


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