When Beyoncé’s fifth self-titled album was released, everyone raged about the song “flawless.” As a lover of music, I couldn’t resist a listen but try as I might, I couldn’t get past the “bow down b*****” part of the song so I left it alone. I figured each to his own. And so it was until my friend asked me if I had listened to Chimamanda’s part in the song. Chimamanda has been near the top of my favourite author list from the time I read her book, “Purple Hibiscus” a couple of years ago. I could not pass up an opportunity to hear what she had to say so I played the whole song for the first time and this is what I heard her say:
“We teach girls to shrink themselves
To make themselves smaller
We say to girls
“You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise, you will threaten the man”
Because I am female
I am expected to aspire to marriage
I am expected to make my life choices
Always keeping in mind that
Marriage is the most important
Now marriage can be a source of
Joy and love and mutual support
But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage
And we don’t teach boys the same?
We raise girls to each other as competitors
Not for jobs or for accomplishments
Which I think can be a good thing
But for the attention of men
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
In the way that boys are
Feminist: the person who believes in the social
Political, and economic equality of the sexes.” ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I sat in silence for a long while after the song was finished. In that silence, I remembered my aunt’s response to my plan to study for a Master’s Degree. “You are going to educate yourself right out of the marriage market,” she said. I remembered my friend’s mother’s response after she listened to my friend and I excitedly plan when we would buy our first apartment… “if you buy a house now, you will scare off men who may want to marry you. They will see that you already have everything and move on.” I thought of the many exceptional women I know who have smashed through the glass ceiling in their fields of expertise who, despite their mammoth success, feel they have failed without marriage. I thought about the society that agrees with them.
I thought of my friend the playboy’s answer to the question “would you marry a woman who has been with as many men as you have been with women?” “Of course not!” He replied. “She would obviously be loose.” How ironic I thought. I thought about the fact that girls in many African countries are expelled from schools when they fall pregnant alone and shamed as though they made that baby alone. I thought about the boys who make those babies with them and then go on with life unscathed by any sort of consequence for it. I thought about the women who raise their children alone and the men who claim the lobola for work they did not do.
I thought about the fact that when a husband cheats on his wife, many will say “he is just being a man. Forgive him. Pray for him. Just make sure he understands that this can not become a habit.” Of course that last part is an optional extra. Some men even give each other the proverbial congratulatory pat on the back when they discover the mistress is very attractive. I thought about the price a woman caught cheating on her husband would have to pay. Divorce and shame would be the minimum price even if he has done the same to her. I thought of the women who endure pain beyond measure to avoid the stigma of being a divorcee: the ones who believe that it is better to endure a regular beating than to endure being a woman alone.
I thought about the fires of sexist bias in my culture that are diligently fanned not just by men, but by women too. I thought about my niece and my nephew and I imagined how I would feel if my niece held herself back from success for the meager price of a husband who can only feel big when she is small or if my nephew or son turns out to be that guy. I thought about how disappointed I would be in our parenting generation if we raise our boys and girls without changing anything. At that moment I confirmed what I have always known: I am a feminist. I believe in social, political and economic equality of the sexes. We should all be feminists.