Being girl. What does that even mean? Could it be making sure every crease in your shirt is ironed out before making an appearance? Or having to absolutely, without question, know how to cook at least five local dishes by the time you’re eighteen? How about not only going to school and making those grades, but also ensuring that your social reputation is in tip-top shape? And no! Don’t even think about talking to that boy in public. What about being woman? Does having a university and graduate degree cut it for advancing a few levels up the corporate ladder? How about you keep that gorgeous figure looking tight a decade down the line after you have your twins? Oh, here’s a thought: what about getting hitched before your biological timer runs down? Hey, here’s an even better idea – how about doing it all?! These days, I don’t even know what being girl or being woman means.
I remember the days when the topic on our lips was either “Are you getting the latest color of jelly shoes?”, “What are you wearing to so-so and sos party?” or “Ei, so you like him. If he asks you out will you say yes? ” For us teenage girls back then, those were the earth-shattering questions of tremendous proportions. Today, we have another plethora of questions to crack our brains over. “Where do you work? What are you studying? Do you have a man?” And the queen of questions: “When are you (do you want to) getting (get) married?” Goodness, can a sister catch her breath for a moment? We all looked forward to chilling in the 20s lounge, but if I knew it would come with all this, I probably would have lingered with the teens for a while longer. But here we are. Facing the realities of young adulthood and all that comes with it.
Believe me, this note is not intended to set you on a path of self-questioning and evaluation (again!), but anyway, I’m sure you’re already on your way. Today is International Women’s Day and I can’t help but wonder about what it means to be a woman today, or specifically, an African woman. The theme for this year’s IWD is “Equal Access to Education, Training, Science and Technology: Path to Decent Work for Women.” You have to admit that both our lives have changed tremendously thanks to education. By now you would be married with like five kids and a sixth on the way. But instead here you are, pursuing your graduate degree in Civil Engineering all the way in Germany. And here I am, with news just in that I got into a top tier university that I’ve been dreaming to get into for the past 5 years! So you koraa, when are you getting married? Okay, okay, I’ll lay off on adding to the marriage pressure you’re probably already getting from your parents, uncles, aunts, grand parents, co-workers, friends, boyfriend, December wedding attendees, the waakye seller down the street, siblings, and/or others. Oh, and let’s not forget your biggest critique: yourself. Nah, I figure you deserve a break from all that. Although, you really gotta wonder. Why the pressure? What is it about the twenties that seems to grant a free pass to everyone and their mother to question your motives, your plans, your very existence? Sure the proverbial biological clock might be ticking – and let’s admit it, it grows louder with each passing day – but does that warrant a full-out investigation into one’s entire life? Hmm, as Auntie Dee likes to say, “Being woman- eny3 easy.” (D’etre femme, c’est pas facile/Being woman is not easy).
I mean, when we were busy getting our education, they told us about the fact that we would learn about things, places and people we’d never heard of. But did they say anything about the fact that venturing into those unchartered waters would ignite a desire for more in us and lead us miles away from Mummy’s bosom? They said education was a good thing for us because it would prepare us to secure the best jobs in the corporate world. I didn’t hear anything about coming home dead tired and having to make hubby’s favorite meal – which, let’s not forget, takes no less than 3 hours to prepare – while making sure Elorm does her homework, did you? Oh, and remember what Teacher L said about education ensuring that we could compete effectively at the global level? How come she never mentioned being caught between traditions and modernity? Continuously switching between the mask of a woman who takes care of her man and family on all counts, and that of a woman who sludges through inches of snow in order to deliver mail and help hubby put food on the table for the kids? Sure, education has brought with it many opportunities, but has anyone ever really “educated” us on the attendant challenges? That Adwoa would have to choose between living with her ailing mother and working all the way in Cameroun in order to purchase the medicines the old lady so needs? What about all the risks that Christelle is taking in pursuing a long-distance relationship with a guy she sees two, three, in a good year, four times – and racking up phone bills, I must add – while she tries to secure her university degree in wet, dreary London? If you ask me, me thinks someone forgot to mention all this between the pages of “girl meets boy” and “happily ever after”.
So, I was talking with the girls the other night, and this question popped up – Brace yourself, it’s another elephant – You’re engaged to be married and you’ve just got the job of your dreams. Everything’s perfect. The only thing is dream job requires you to be in another country/state and hubby-to-be is not willing to move. Do you keep the job or the man? My answer? Ideally, I’d have both -Ha! You didn’t think I’d forget the ideally did you? How else would I compensate if my grand plans fall through? – but considering it’s an engagement and not just a “serious” relationship, I’d stick with my man. There’ll always be another job. Surprisingly, another debate arose about the scenario of a “serious relationship” and an engagement. Some of the girls said they’d go with the job if it was “just” a serious relationship, an engagement ring showed a certain level of commitment from Mr. Man. In both cases though, they were realistic enough to admit there are no guarantees. There never is. It’s crazy to think that we even have to deal with these questions, isn’t it? Our great grandmothers probably had to decide on which wax print to wear for the wedding, and here we are wondering whether hubby should come join me in Europe, me join him in America, or we both move back to L’Afrique. Guess globalization did quite a number on us. Anyway, what would you do in such a situation? You know me, I’m just curious, as always :)
Honestly though, I’m just happy mummy and daddy haven’t started on the “when are you getting married” tip. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to – I might not have my wedding day planned to a tee or even daydreamed about it yet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about “settling down” – it just means the moment isn’t yet right. But is it ever? Right I mean? Is there such thing as a right man, right woman, right time, right situation? Anyway, just like you’d like to build a home with a significant other and have a couple of little yous running around, so would I. And yes, maybe you won’t admit it for fear of losing your reputation as tough cookie, and having employers think twice about employing “an overly emotional woman who will probably run off and have numerous babies before her contract is halfway through.” Come to think of it, have you ever really been asked or given the opportunity to say what it is you really want? If you ask me – and yes, I’m gonna go ahead and answer even if you don’t ask – I think it ultimately comes down to wanting to belong. I’d like to belong. Only thing is I’m not gonna jump the broom because the clock strikes 12 midnight. If I remember correctly, the clock strikes midnight at different times in different parts of the world. Likewise, it’s quite possible we’ll be kicking that big grey elephant out of the room at different points in our life. So for now, I’d like to belong in my exploration of worlds untold, in my passion, in friendships, and maybe even in the possibilities of having things to look forward to. It should be O.K, too. Shouldn’t it?
Hmm, guess we’ll find out eventually. Anyway, no more questions. I’ll let you get back to what you were doing.
With much love now and always,
P.S. Final question (I promise!): What did you do for Ghana’s 54th Independence Day? We’ve come a long way, don’t you think? As Nkrumah would put it, “Forward Ever, Backward Never” Let’s keep working towards a brighter future for our children and their children’s children. Oops, my bad. No pressure. LOL. Toodles!
Photo Source: http://www.fagunwasociety.org/images/african-women-art.jpg
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.