The thing with society is just how easy it is to fall into the way things are done without scrutinizing the reasons and the presidents one sets for their own lives.
It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I even became uncomfortable with gender roles in my society. I belong to a very traditionally Xhosa family and clan. Mostly, as with a majority of African tribes, it is very patriachal, yet it is the wives, the matriarchs from both my mom and dad’s families that outlived their husbands and as such had to continue the task of instilling values in them and the next generation. I will say though that as traditional as my family is – the whole a woman’s place is in the kitchen, women don’t drink, women mind the children, the men earn more than the women, they provide, shelter and protect – when a women speaks, even in the presence of men, in my family, she is heard.
So you can imagine the conflict of being raised by parents (that’s all my parents siblings to whatever degree at whatever distance including my biological parents) trying to navigate a liberal and traditional approach.
I went to an all girls school from when I could engage the thoughts in my own head critically, and that was in my late primary years. Gender in as far as equality and varying treatments was never really jarring in my youth because it was not something I engaged with on a daily basis. I would honestly only ever encounter it at home in as far as my dad and brother behaved and were treated in relation to me and my sisters and mom.
Only in university (even though I further chose to live in an all girls residence) did I encounter the dynamics. And perhaps I shrunk inside and believed the ‘societal norms’ of gender roles. I don’t really remember challenging it within myself until about my honours year – and believe it or not, though I knew what the word feminist meant, I was not really sure even then what it really meant. Had I read this speech or even heard it back then, I think I would have morphed into the woman I am becoming today a whole lot faster. I’ve had a few people, including an ex-boss call me feminist, spitting out the word as though it were vile, to which I always responded with a nod and a smile, perhaps going forward I will add “we should all be feminists”. This is certainly a lesson that I, a single mom of a boy and a girl, will pass on to my children. They should both be feminists and whatever other ists exist that make the world a better place to live in for themselves and their neighbour. Had I known better, I would’ve been braver. But I know now and I have accepted the challenge, first for myself and my family and later to the world’s benefit.
In this short read of her Ted-x speech, Adichie pricks at the things we view as normal in our society and how they affect our view of ourselves and society in general. Snippets of her speech were made famous by Beyonce when she featured them in her song: ‘Girls’. Reading and hearing the speech (which is available on YouTube) were two totally different experiences. Both however provide the muscle for one to rip apart the veil that’s blinding them from the current struggles of the female gender and to ask themselves very deep and honest questions. I had to admit to being both an accomplice and perpetrator to the status quo by simply going through the motions. And in the end I had to admit that I do not dream of this kind of world for my children, where gender stereotypes are so huge and so crippling, where women are not given their just deserts and respect. And because the world we currently live in is as it is, I should be a feminist –if anything is to change.