Girls, women, females.

“Women are each other’s worst enemies.”

Oh how I hate this statement.

We women are always being told that other women are out to get us, that it is impossible to have real friendships with other women because “women are each other’s worst enemies.”

When two women fight, people are quick to blame it on the fact that they are women; never mind that men fight all the time and can be just as petty. If two female rappers do not get along, everyone will go on and on about how women are so childish and how we need to stick together and stop being so petty. Never mind that “beef” is one of the pillars of rap and that male rappers have silly arguments  and fall out with each other all the time.

I guess this is one of the perks of being a “minority” group; that the actions of one is reflected on the entire group. The success and failure of one is the success and failure of the group. If a woman attains an enviable height and fails, the world uses this as a justification to bar other women from achieving the same height. Clearly the failure of this one woman has shown that women are inept.

The first female president of a country is celebrated by all women. Her achievement is an inspiration to us all and in a way we are living through her. If this female president fails to live up to expectations, the criticism she would receive would be much harsher than if she was male. “Look what happens when you allow a woman to be president.” “She has let down women everywhere.” Never mind that the country has had tens of inept male presidents, none of whom has been accused of “letting men down”

When women around the world come together to table our problems and experiences, it is interesting to note how similar they are. One good way of noticing this is through twitter hashtags. The hashtag for Muslim women could easily be the hashtag for Indian women or for Nigerian women. It is interesting and strangely exciting to see that people from other parts of the world experience the same challenges that we do. Some women have it way worse than others, but on average we go through the same things.

Today’s hashtag was “Being Female in Nigeria”. Nigerian women used this hashtag to vent about their (our) negative experiences and the pressures we face for being born female in Nigeria. The hashtag was therapeutic for many, as they vented and poured out their frustrations. Women of other nationalities commented on how they go through the same thing.

As expected, some boys were feeling left out and decided to start a “Being Male in Nigeria” hashtag. That was not surprising in the slightest. This is no different from when certain people were annoyed by #BlackLivesMatter and insisted it be changed to #AllLivesMatter. People in a position of privilege sometimes do not realise how fortunate they are. They are blinded to their privilege and to the hardship of others. As far as they are concerned, those complaining are just whining; after all life is hard for everyone. When those who get the short end of the stick complain, the privileged feel a sort of irritation and they get quite defensive. The #BeingFemaleinNigeria tag was not an attack on men, it was simply a way for women to share our experiences. Yet a lot of men felt attacked by the hashtag, even though majority of the tweets did not directly mention men.  To what do we owe this unnecessary defensiveness?  A guilty conscience perhaps? Or just plain blindness to the issues others face?

The only thing more annoying than the men trying to hijack the #BeingFemaleinNigeria hashtag, has to be the women who are against the hashtag. Yes some women do think that Nigerian women do not have any problems and should therefore stop making noise. I have seen tweets to the effect of “well I haven’t experienced this so all the complaints are null and void.” “Life is good for me therefore life is pretty good for all Nigerian women.”

One would think the discomfort that comes with being oppressed will be enough to motivate the oppressed to break free rather than help the oppression. But that is not the case. People who have been raised in a system will find ways to justify the system. The inequality and evil in the system will be normal to them and they will see nothing wrong in promoting it. How do you free people who do not know they are oppressed? It is for this reason that a woman will participate in the subjugation of other women because she does not know any better. This is why a mother will treat her female children more harshly, not because she is evil, but because that is how she has been raised and it is the only way she knows.

The easiest way to carry out an oppressive system is to let the oppressed carry out the oppression. Let the oppressed believe in their oppression. Let women believe that they belong in the kitchen and that their main purpose in life is marriage and babies. Let women believe that they have to limit their dreams. Let women believe that they have to dim their lights so as not to intimidate potential spouses. Let the women believe that suffering is a woman’s burden to bear in life.Then sit back and watch the system flourish. Watch the women sneer at those who tell them they can be as great as men. Watch them cry out in despair when you suggest that they send their daughters to school. Watch them look at you with venom in their eyes when you tell them their 9 year old daughter should be in school rather than married off to a 50 year old man. Watch them disdainfully declare as feminists those who suggest that the husband make dinner once in a while.

This could also be one of the reasons why education is denied to girls and women in many places. Educating the oppressed, in this case women, will endow them with the confidence, knowledge and strength to recognise their oppression and attempt to break free. People in places where education is the norm may take it for granted and see it just as a means to employment. They may not realise its importance and the horrors that are perpetuated due to a lack of education.

Sadly, though education is important, it is sometimes not enough. It is not enough for a person to simply go to school, the person has to learn how to think critically; how to question things; how not to swallow culture without question. Critical thinking is a skill that is so useful and yet so sorely lacking in a lot of people, even those who are educated. So many people have their minds firmly closed. The way things have been done is how things will continue to be done. Anyone who proposes a change is mocked and accused of being “modern”.

So as much as I hate the statement “Women are each other’s worst enemies”, there is some truth in it. However most of these women are products of their upbringing. Parts of the culture need to be changed or we will continue to churn out men and women who believe in the subordination of women. These bad men and women were once little innocent tabula rasa babies, until someone filled their heads with prejudice and discrimination.

I truly believe that this process starts with us as women.  As the saying goes “It is the person who wears the shoe that knows where it hurts.” Of course we need the support of men but ultimately this is our battle to fight. Change can be painful and difficult, but there comes a point where it is even more painful and more difficult to remain in a position. We need to get to that breaking point. How can we convince the world that we want equality when there are women shouting “I don’t need equality because I want to cook for my husband!” As we battle the patriarchy, we also battle the women who are so offended by the thought of women getting our just rights. There will always be people who try to stall the momentum of a movement but they are quite insignificant in the long run.

Imagine a world where women all over realise that we do not have to endure the things that we do. Imagine if women all over the world were empowered and educated. Imagine if we women realised our own value. Imagine if we looked forward to getting married but did not aspire to it. Imagine if women raised their children to eschew culture inflicted gender burdens. Imagine if women around the world did not favour their sons at the expense of their daughters. Imagine if every woman around the world was against child marriage. Imagine if women knew that success is not a male term. Imagine if women did not vilify other women for having sexual desires. Imagine if women did not think a girl deserved to be raped because of her mini skirt. Imagine if women refused to let their daughters get circumcised. Imagine if women refused to carry out the circumcision. Imagine if women realised that only in unity can we make it out of this struggle.

We women are powerful beyond measure, beyond our wildest dreams. We can achieve worldwide equality and respect if we work hard, change our thinking, recognise and demand our rights. It will be difficult. How does one begin to unlearn all that she has been taught from infancy? How does one begin to understand that some things are wrong when she has been raised in that way? How do we make her see that the fact that her mother did it and her mother’s mother did it does not make it okay?

The first step is admitting we have a problem.

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