Humans are social creatures and need the approval of their friends, family, colleagues, and community at large. That’s why peer pressure and social/cultural pressure work. That’s why we struggle to conform; we want to be accepted.
What I’m trying to say is that it takes more than good law (I’m tempted to write ‘good laws’ in quotes), slogans, equal opportunities and good schools to make the girl child and the woman bloom in whatever dimension.
Have you noticed how both conscious and unconscious feminists, especially women, are shamed and made to explain themselves over and over? I’ve seen people who have waved the women’s rights banners and stuff not because they believed in the philosophy but only because it was important to sound politically correct. Like the senator in the 1997 movie “G.I. Jane”, they support you in public and pray for you to fail in private and can even throw obstacles on your path to keep you grounded.
I’ve had my fair share of shaming and if not for my poker face, I would have lost it by now. I have what some people call a strong will and what others have called pride, stubbornness and a complex. I’m already used to being the odd person in a group. It’s not like I don’t want to fit in or I’m comfortable with being different or odd. The thing is, I don’t know how to give up what I believe or think is right just for the sake of being liked/accepted or for the sake of fitting in. Over the years, I’ve learned to cope with shaming because I was aware of it very early in my life.
Let me take you back to my primary school days. When we reached class four, two new subjects were introduced: Domestic Science (DS) and Rural Science (RS). The girls were asked to go to the domestic science centre which was about 200m from the school and the boys stayed back, cleaned the classroom and then attended RS. The girls were taught Needlework, House Craft, Mother and Child Care, and Cookery. The only thing I was interested in was Needlework and my least favourite was Cookery class. At the time I was in Class Five, my sister was in Class Seven and my father had advised her to drop DS for RS a year before. When we asked why, he said the latter was going to serve as an introduction to Biology, a secondary school subject.
There on, I had one mission and that mission was to drop DS once I got to class six. The plan was simple: two years for DS and two years for RS. Then the time came to say goodbye to DS. About 10 other girls had had enough of DS and we stayed back with the boys. 5 other girls had ditched DS the year before so there were over 15 girls in the RS class. 30 minutes into the RS class, one of the DS teachers appeared at the door asking for her students. She had come to reclaim us and the RS teacher didn’t even fight to retain us. This was probably because it was not “normal” for girls to attend a boy’s subject.
I thank God for my generous tears. I cried a river that day. After all attempts to calm me and reason with me failed, I was asked to go and continue with RS. What baffled me was the reactions of the DS teachers. They didn’t understand why a girl would choose RS over DS. My tears were read as hysteria. I wasn’t the only one who cried. A friend of mine, Blessing, sobbed but she was less dramatic and wasn’t spotted by the teachers. As I packed my bag, she told me “you get your lucky.“
RS girls were baptised tomboys by DS girls, though they didn’t use this exact expression. When they had cooking sessions, they made sure they talked about the food the whole day. I don’t know if their aim was to make us salivate and go running back to their centre or it was to tell us that we knew nothing about cooking or both. They had a slogan and they repeated it to shame RS girls and sometimes with the complicity of the main teacher (who was also our RS teacher) who cheered them up with his evil smile. Each time I heard “domestic science is good,” I knew one of us was in trouble.
There was one shaming incident that disturbed me for a very long time. One of the RS girls, Honorine, was on her period. She was restless in class and changed positions while applying pressure on her belly to ease the pain. She tried her best to be discreet as possible but the cramps seemed to intensify every minute. While this poor girl was struggling in silence, the leaders of the DM crew were smiling and repeating their slogan “domestic science is good” each time they had a chance to, especially during those interludes when the teacher stopped talking because he was either writing on the board or checking a student’s book.
For about 45 minutes, she was left to suffer in silence. I say “left” because the teacher was aware of her distress. He was unusually gay and each time he faced the class and the slogan was said, he flashed his teeth in one of his evil smiles. Realising that she was on her own, she mounted courage and walked up to the teacher and asked for permission to go home. When she packed her bag and walked to the door, the teacher’s evil smile broadened as the DS girls repeated their slogan.
It felt like they were telling us (the RS girls aka tomboys) that we could dream all we wanted and we could even pretend to be boys by studying boy’s stuff — What was the use when at the end of the day we were going to be nothing more than wives, mothers, and women who had to be good at nothing but mother and child care, house craft, needlework, and cookery. What happened to equal opportunities?
Aha! That reminds me of the opening scene of Charlie’s Angels (2019) where Sabina (Kristen Stewart) tells the Asian guy “A girl like me? I mean, I want all my options available so I can decide for myself…. There’s nothing wrong with being a housewife. Just not my choice.”
There was Blessing, forced to do DS because it was a “natural” choice and automatically expected to be a “domestic science is good” cheerleader. It didn’t matter what she thought. If she wanted to save herself from the “shame” of being a tomboy, she had to stand with the crowd. They say we are individuals with the power to shape our destinies because we have free will. Ah, free will! Never underestimate the power of peer and social pressure, though. I wonder what has become of Honorine, Blessing and Judith, the captain of the DS girls.