I like to see or think of myself as an out-going, confident and goal-oriented 30 something year old. Many a times, I get that question ‘are you married?’ Better yet, when I say I am putting my career first, I am often showered with advice about how I need to set my priorities right. But by whose standards? And why can’t my choice be acknowledged and we move along to another topic?
Of late, I have encountered quite some pressure on the topic of me saying that I am very comfortable and happy to be single; usually from folks I have only know for a few months. And this is a conversation that has been had with both men and women. I am fortunate that this is not a topic of discussion in my immediate family and friends’ circle, all of whom I am very close to. On the contrary, I get a nudge from time to time to aspire higher, to give back to my community much as I can and to grow constantly.
To me, these are somewhat awkward conversations which I usually have blunt responses for – and they go as such:
Someone: So are you seeing someone?
Me: No, not interested – I have better things to do.
Someone: What? Don’t you ever get lonely?
Me: No. There is so much to do – I can read, go out, take on a new hobby, travel, etc.
Someone: Do you enjoy doing that alone?
Me: Of course! It’s all in the head – if one chooses to make the most out of being by oneself, make the most of it.
Someone: Hmm…but you really need to think about it – how long will you keep this up?
Me: I am in no rush.
Often, the conclusion about my chosen lifestyle alludes to me being selfish and too self-absorbed. But why not? Men do it too, and might I add, they tend to not get these labels. If it is very okay for a man to choose a partner, and for that matter, to be able to wait as long as it takes – why can’t it be seen the same for a woman?
As a female, one will constantly be reminded that a certain clock is ticking and some advice is thrown in about the best child bearing years. Ok, good to know; might it occur though that some women have planned their lives in a different manner are very okay pursuing other aspirations in a given frame of time? Usually the best advice is that which relates this line of thought to being non-African. Further explained as women ‘these days’ watch either too much television and/or are too glued to the internet that it distorts their understanding of cultures they were born in.
Here is another recent story, which amazes me each time I tell it. I recently needed to renew some identification which involved a back and forth to a public service institution.
I had all my papers with me – or at least I thought. So I went into the first office. As the clerk went through my documents, he asked:
Clerk: You need to be very careful as you go about this process. There are those who will try to take advantage of you because you are a woman.
Me: Oh how do you mean?
Clerk: They may keep asking you to go back and forth & not be willing to cooperate.
Me: Okay, thank you for letting me know.
Clerk [can’t resist the urge to add]: You look like a wealthy and very blessed woman, they will take advantage. (Now by ‘blessed’, the man was referring to my clothes and general appearance, I assume.)
Me: [Quite in disbelief] – I will be fine.
It certainly is a pity though, isn’t it? I am asked to go over to another office to meet another clerk.
Clerk #2: What is your name? Where do you live? Date of birth?
Me: You have the papers in your hand, can you look for yourself?
Clerk #2: I cannot accept this medical report, you are wearing eye glasses in your picture – and this report does not mention eye glasses.
Me: Ok, can you start processing my paperwork while I go back to town?
Clerk #2: [Throws my papers on the table] Take these back and bring complete documents. Come back at the end of the week.
I leave. Luckily, the doctor who wrote the report also finds it very weird that the clerk would send me all the way back for one word. He signs and adds ‘with glasses’. Next morning, I go back.
Clerk #2: I thought I said come back towards the end of the week.
Me: I have a job, which means I cannot leave office as I please. Here is the document you requested.
Clerk #2: Reads through. Ok. Take this receipt, pay there and come back.
Clerk #2: Do you have the same phone number or should I update?
Me: I have another number – I spell it out.
Clerk #2: Are you married?
Clerk #2: I see a ring on your finger – is it one of these new engagements?
Me: I don’t understand, but can you please hurry up – I need to be at work.
Clerk #2: Give me passport size photos.
Me: One or two?
Clerk #2: One – but I can keep the second if you allow me to.
Me: No, thank you.
Signs some papers. And tells me I can go. I start walking out. He yells ‘I will call you’. I walk out thinking – what on earth just happened? I find a missed call on my phone which I did not care to respond to. Clerk #2 is married. The irony.
Now, as indicated above, I was raised in a home where I have been allowed a great deal of room to think for myself, and to set my own goals. My successes are celebrated without ‘if only you could now focus on getting married or having children’. I am grateful for this because I believe, we all should be afforded time and paces of our own. In this truth however, it does not necessarily mean that I have to defend myself for ‘not’ conforming to what it means to be a woman to many. And this is another conversation I have had, in fact, not so long ago. A conversation sparked up about women being submissive. I must confess, this is a word I have very little tolerance for. It strikes me as a one-way, one-off pre-determined way of life that a woman should adopt and live up to without asking too many questions. But again, why?
The conversation we were having quickly dwindled to chores and responsibilities in the home. An example came up that more men in West Africa do not mind cooking meals. Kudos for that. Although, I was told, a large number of men will not cook for a woman in the presence of the man’s family as questions will raise about his manhood/masculinity. Oh how convenient right? What difference would it really make? If the culture raises men to be the heads of a household, to be the bread winners, then what part of making a meal which is also a responsibility is any less relevant? The conversation moved on, and the ladies on the table argued that if women are corporate professionals who have to work long hours, why does it become automatic that they need to cook after a long and exhausting day? This went on without a concrete and straight-forward response.
Another shift in the conversation led to a discussion about selecting partners. An idea was set forth – that women can ‘mould men’ to be what they want them to be. Pause. Where is the point in that? Why should it be a woman’s responsibility to shape a man’s character, priorities and all of that stuff? In claiming to be a grown man – why can’t this come as a full package that does not email the usual brand ‘you know, men are like children – handle with care?’ There is something that does not make sense at all to me. If one can be aggressive enough to be a ‘bread winner’ outside, to be ‘the man’ out there, then how does one all of a sudden become a ‘child’ in the home? This to me is taking advantage of a situation. Note that I am not one to contend that women are naturally nurture and care – and in no way does feminism disregard this truth – but why push too far?
The idea here is to ponder more into every day encounters that are let slip due to culture, pressure from society and all that. It is not right and fair that one gender has to deal with, and should take responsibility for what society considers the norm and, in turn, frowns upon when challenged.
As much as some believe that happiness and wholeness for a woman comes from getting married – the reverse is true and there is a growing number of women who are choosing this latter path.
More importantly, women are nowhere near as naïve and vulnerable as they are perceived to be.