I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and a sword in my hands.
― Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
Sometimes I get angry, I mean really angry, but I mostly keep it to myself. I get angry at the abuse, objectification and degradation of women. I keep it to myself because at times my emotions cloud my thinking, and I may not find the right words to explain this anger, this grief, this thing that hangs around my neck like an albatross forever weighing me down.
Even as I write, I am aware a lot of women are living out their hearts’ desires, be it in corporate, at home, in the armed forces, or some hybrid. In many of these cases, men are cheering them on, being wonderful partners, husbands, brothers, friends and lovers. It is the others that are on my heart!
No one is quite sure when it happened. But it did happen! We woke up one day and being a woman became synonymous with wife or mother. Men can grow up to be presidents, doctors, astronauts, anything they want to be, but a woman was given two roles. Sure, they are noble, and many have executed them exceptionally well. But what happens to the woman that cannot find her place among these two, or wants to add something else?
Most of my life, I have lived in cultures, and influenced by norms, attitudes and institutions that know exactly what a woman needs, where her place is, and what her role should be. Tread outside those lines and you are scorned, chastised, rejected, beaten, and even killed.
A woman is first and foremost a wife and mother, I sometimes hear. In some places she can be an educator, just as long as it is of her children. In her role as mother she should produce sons, because daughters are just not as valuable. Sons grow up to be leaders, fighting men, patriarchs, men who carry on the family name. Daughters marry and change their names. As wife, she should serve her husband dutifully, catering to all his needs, and she should not be a complainer.
Women must be upstanding and virtuous. They must not bring shame to the family; family usually means men. If she does, men can carry out “honor killings,” as in the recent case in India where a brother delivers his sister’s head to a police station, having killed her for having an affair. On her sexuality, she should remain a virgin until she is sold by one man, and bought by another. And in some cultures she will have a hymen examination on her wedding night. Should it be discovered that she is not a virgin, the punishment ranges from dismissal by her husband, to death at the hands of her brothers, father and uncles.
No such examination is necessary for a man. In fact, men are lauded in some cultures for the many women they have; this does not label them as promiscuous, and they do not dishonor the family. Men can – in certain places – have several wives, allowing them to take turns each night, less they be bored by the very idea of monogamy. And if multiple wives are not allowed, they take mistresses, prostitutes, and secretaries. To add insult to injury, in many cases they bring home unpleasant odors, infections, and deadly diseases.
When the worth and virtue of a woman is discussed, it is usually in the context of being a good cook, help-meet, and caretaker of home affairs. A woman must stand ready to serve, and be generous to visitors and strangers. And she can never tire, as her tasks are too numerous and important.
Even if she would harbor personal dreams, she dare not share them as she cannot be selfish. She must be available to bear children, satisfy her man’s sexual desire, but not necessarily enjoy the moment. To remove any uncertainty, her clitoris can be removed under the guise of cultural norms; to keep her subjugated, she is neutered with less precision and care than the surgeries we perform on our dogs and cats. And she must not complain!
For those women fortunate or rebellious enough to escape and take a different path, we witness the concern, condemnation, and platitudes re her chosen vocation. She has entered a man’s world, can she have it all, and who wears the pants at home, are some of the oft asked questions? How will the kids fare with a mom working outside the home? And the more subtle one of, how she is supporting her partner? You know, the one born with limitless possibilities, and whose career is almost always helped by marriage.
So, why am I angry?
I am angry because women are being exploited, gang raped, sex trafficked, beaten, beheaded, trampled underfoot while we sit idly by, and discuss whether they are fulfilling the roles society has given them. I am angry because too many of our young girls are pregnant, too many are single moms, too many have HIV or have succumbed to AIDS, are in brothels, sex films, and unequal marriages. I am angry because to make us dependent, we are kept illiterate, denied economic independence, kept in poverty and bondage.
I am angry because of double standards. Double standards that rule out girls from participating in the Olympics, unless they are covered from head to toe, while the men making the rules stay home and watch movies with scantily clad women, or flip their Playboy magazines. I am grieved because some of my sisters cannot travel, or drive, or go to school, but their male counterparts can come west, indulge themselves in its excesses and hedonistic lifestyles while preaching a life of subservience for women.
I am angry because even in places we call liberated, women can only earn 77 cents of every dollar – for the same work. And corporations would rather hire damn fools to run them, than promote a woman. I am angry that we need to have women’s rights.
Is a woman synonymous with one who decreases so everyone else increases? Can she be the breadwinner without controversy? Why is her success immediately tagged with concerns about whether she will earn more than her man, or emasculate him? Is she ever allowed to shine without having to bear the burden of someone else?
God, when will you create a woman who will be fulfilled in herself, a full human being, not anybody’s appendage? she prayed desperately. — Buchi Emecheta, The Joys of Motherhood _______________________________________________________________________
I am angry because women must struggle, she must bear children, train them, and nurture them. She must ensure everyone is happy before she can even think about whether it is okay to be too. And all of her decisions must be viewed in the context of how her man will feel. If she protests she is a feminist, a troublemaker, unsubmissive, one who upsets her home, and sets a bad example for her children. Women love their children and are invested in them, but children are not the whole of us. Am I not a woman even if I have no spouse or kids?
So, why am I angry?
I am angry because we cannot trust our men. Men who leave their wives at home doing everything she knows how to do, to keep a home together, to love and cherish the kids, to be the chauffeur, baker, head cook and bottle washer, while he goes to work, lives out his full potential, and yet does not value her, or her role.
I am angry because instead of partners, we have liars and cheaters. We have men lacking in self-control who can turn any mention of the Oval Office into snickers and hysterics, men who any flattery or boosting of the ego is taken as permission to start an affair. I am angry because we are being cheated upon with excuses made about men’s inability to be faithful, about how God did not create men to have just one woman, or to suppress his desires.
I am angry because integrity is now a dirty word. We should be able to deal with cancer and give birth, and not worry about partners being unfaithful. I am angry because we have men whose eyes don’t make it all the way up to our heads to value our brains. As long as our asses and boobs are fine, they are too. I am angry because men can publicly pray about smoking hot wives, but then leave you, if they think you are losing your figure. I am angry because women are traded in for newer models – as if we are cars -whose job is to look pretty, be eye candy, and the envy of friends.
Why am I angry?
I am angry because women are being blamed for the indiscretions and sins of men who refuse to put boundaries around their relationships. I am angry because we as women are sometimes participants in the pain and heartbreak of our sisters.
“Look lak she been livin’ through uh hundred years in January without one day of spring.” – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes were watching God
I am angry because we are oppressed; our spirits are crushed, our hearts are aching, our dreams shattered, and our bones are breaking. I am angry because we have been silenced. We can be the servers, greeters and caretakers, but never teachers or preachers. We must forever learn, but can never share. We are forever being educated to be in silence. We are voiceless!
I am angry because it is a heavy load, and we are tired. We are beaten and broken; we are dying; I am angry because we have dreams that cannot be fulfilled; we have desires to be leaders, and equals, but we never get to shine.
She often spoke to falling seeds and said, “Ah hope you fall on soft ground,” because she had heard seeds saying that to each other as they passed. “The familiar people and things had failed her so she hung over the gate and looked up the road towards way off. She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman.” – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes were watching God
Because of this grief and anger, sometimes I wish we would fight – against being told we must marry men we do not love, against having sex with men who do not care for us. I wish we would fight to be more than someone’s other woman, one who is kept in secret. I wish we would fight so we get to go to school. I wish we would fight being covered-up from head to toe, unless we want to, about not having a career and other fulfillment.
I wish we would fight when all decisions are being made for us about contraceptives, and the killing of our female babies, and the destruction of our clitoris. I wish we would fight so that we too could enjoy the pleasure, feel the release, have the explosion, and indulge in the fantasies that men are guaranteed from birth. Yes, I wish we would fight for orgasms!
Maybe if we advocate for change, if we fought, someone would know we are equals, we are smart, we should have a place at the table. Just maybe someone would take stock, someone would listen, and someone might even say, if only we knew. Because, how can anyone know if we do not tell them?
So, why am I angry?
I am angry because I have been silent too long, and I must be brave and strong. Maybe if I speak out someone will hear, will know there is hope, and will know that someone cares. Someone will know to hold on just a little bit longer, and know a dream deferred does not mean denied. But, I have to stop being angry and do something. Will you join me?
….I am the mother. Hey, you there,
Come the neighbors
Come the community
Come the church
Come the cultural institutions
Come the politicians
Come the law enforcers
Let’s join hands,
Speak out, educate, create awareness,
Fight against domestic violence on women, And together we do it, Success is ours…..
Excerpt from poem on African Woman. Compiled by: Joy Kemirembe