I have always been a feminist. I have not always known it.
I was a “spirited child’’ in fact the exact words used by my brother were “problem child’’. Of course this tag hit hard. Of my father’s six children at the time I was the only one who was sent to boarding school at the primary level. Of course there were other circumstances surrounding my move to boarding school but I was made to feel that I needed to be “set straight’’ and that boarding school would do that for me.
Boarding school was hard on me. The nun-in-charge made it clear that she was raising “African girls’’. In addition to school work, we were taught how to light a log fire, we regularly went to the river and for some reason every Sunday we were expected to scrub our bathroom slippers clean among other activities. Everything we did was watched closely. The minute we stepped out of line we were brought back quickly and efficiently with the aid of a stick.
Lest I sound like a whiny child who felt unfairly treated, let me say that it was, by and large, a great experience that I would not trade for anything. However, I must point out that there are a lot of things that were put in place to break our spirit. Although it was not voiced, there was a lot of respect for the patriarchy and the need to stay in line and be on the right side of the norm was stressed. An example being: our math teacher once told us that if the whole class got a problem wrong and you got it right, then you would be punished. His logic? How did you get it right? I came out of there a respectful little girl but my will was not broken. I guess I just got really good at blending into the background. A fact that a teacher once pointed out to my parents.
I remember my mother telling me: “girls are meant to be seen and not heard’’. I chose to be both. I was labelled all kinds of things throughout my life for this. A friend once took me aside and told me that “men don’t like women who know stuff. You have to be a little dumb’’. Well, I did not want to be with men of that kind or any kind really, but that is beside the point. The fact that she is probably walking around with information like that and she will impart it to her children is just bad enough.
All my life I have felt like a square peg in a round hole and I thought for the longest time that if I just pretended to be round then the other pegs will leave me be. Yet, rumblings within me still yearned to shout out about my ‘squareness’. I realise now, that this was my inner feminist begging me to shout out against the inequities. This is what we have to deal with day in and day out. People around you, including women will want you to fit in and be quiet. You must fight this. You must fight it hard.