Earlier this year, I listened to a panel on “Women Leadership in Africa.” The first speaker opened up the floor by boasting about all her board memberships, then said;
“I’m a mother, I’m a wife and I am a business woman and I’m winning on all three fronts.
You have no choice but to do so…”
We had to win on all fronts so people would not think we were unable to fulfill our other duties. But little did the lady know that some of us were not interested in all three fronts. Yes, I could work on all fronts…
…But is it okay if I don’t want to?
Back when I was younger, no one told me I had a choice to choose who I was going to be. I mean my parents said I could choose whatever career I wanted, but their list of expectations for my womanhood proved contradictory. So, I spoke to the Washington Post about how it feels growing up while trying to be everything that’s socially pleasing. As Olivia Iloetenma said,
“Nobody cares what the girl child wants. This is a society in which women are valued only in positions when they can be controlled.”
After a great 40 minute interview with Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post, she wrote a story on my opinions of the difficulties of being a Nigerian girl and being educated. I do not doubt that some people may disagree. Indeed, I too disagree with some of the generalizations in the piece. Unfortunately, some thoughts get lost while bridging the words of the speaker and the interpretation of the writer. Yet, Ms Strauss was not far off from closing that divide because I do think the Nigerian culture I have experienced from homes, schools and generally everywhere is based on expectations I deem sexist.
My teachers did not actually make me choose humanities; it was simply much easier for me to be just that because I knew I could be comfortable. Often, people would say that history was “chicken change” when compared to a subject like chemistry. On some days, I would argue; on the rest, I would not. Regardless of my mood swings, I truly believed chemistry was much harder and I knew never to touch it. I actually visualized history as the wife of chemistry- the man who wore the helium pants. For that reason, I thought the girls who were great at it were extraordinary and I also thought the girls who did horribly were out of their league…as women. Unfortunately, no one really told me it had nothing to do with that. And what’s worse is that I had enough information to think my hypothesis was the only correct one.
You should know I loved history-nobody forced me to love it. But, no one told me chemistry could make me a better artist and physics, a better musician. So, It was not just the teachers: The life I had lived, and the people that had defined what my role should be expected me to settle for comfortable. So, I did. I did it because I was scared to feed my long list of failures including lack of pretty and lack of “sexy.”
Today, I’d rather learn to be a great person than hope to be a good student. I want to spend my life reading Foucault then dancing after. I want to learn chemistry to create new tampons; I also want to learn the physics of wave movement to analyze Fela’s “Afrobeat!” Also, on this wonderful day, I remember how I took a biology class in my freshman year at Amherst College to learn about mating fish because I did not care if I would fail. I made that decision only because I had learned my failure came from an unrealistic comparison with the ideal female with a certain body and certain interests.
I think it’s time we stopped dreaming of someone who does not exist. More importantly, we have to stop working so hard to make our girls embody our flawed “perfection.” It was not a path created for their good. We are not a pair of shoes that anyone is supposed to wear out. When I pressed the “PLAY” button for my life to begin, I had to admit that my usefulness does not start with what I am supposed to do; I had to define it by what I WANT to do.
Isn’t it time we stopped comparing real life princesses to graphic images of a Bella or Ariel?
To the real-world princesses who work hard and love strong, you don’t need to win on all fronts, you deserve to be happy! The pain of being empty is not worth the rounds of applause you get from a company you despise or a husband you know you don’t love. This means you must take charge of all your fronts: Nobody can tell you which fronts or how many define your happiness. EmoART wants you to be happy with yourself. Kendrick Lamar said; “What’s love got to do with it when you don’t love yourself.” If you’re unhappy, you have nothing to share and the world needs the full capacity of your big heart. During my interview I said:
“This may be a generalization but people everywhere rate women on things that have no significance to their lives and then make these physical attributes their whole essence,” she said. “We’ve put a price on these girls’ heads. Boko Haram knows what the price is…. Everyone is saying girls should get an education but there is a difference between a girl in school and a boy in school. Girls will wake up and not want to go to class because last night someone called her ugly or laughed at her for being flat-chested. It’s all these crazy things that break down your morale. So when you are in a class with a male you are not learning the same things. You are checking your body every second…”