Day 2 of the blogging challenge; it feels like the topics get challenging and more exciting as the days go by, yes I know I said challenging and yes I also know it’s only day 2. However, for someone that posted only once in 2016, this is an actual challenge *insert game face*. For my top 10 African Home Rules I decided to focus more on the house rules that apply to girls only and typically not to boys. As much as the rules are there to be kept (some say rules are made to be broken), I take a look at how these home rules may affect girls as they grow up. Some of these rules are unwritten but somehow we know them and they silently apply to the majority. Below my top10 list I go a bit deeper on some of the points, but just a bit.
- Sit like a lady
- Talk like a lady.
- Play like a girl.
- Do not look adults or strangers straight in the eye.
- Stay in and help with home chores.
- Be home before dark.
- The floor is your friend, and not the bench.
- Women cook, men eat first.
- Be seen but not heard.
- Boys do not cry.
At one point I found myself telling my niece to sit like a girl. Sit like a girl? What does that even mean right? But we all know what that means and to an extent we expect the younger girls to automatically know what that means without having to explain to them. I wondered what my response would have been if she had asked me why I have never told my nephew to sit like a boy. I found it necessary to explain to her why she rather needed to watch how she was seated especially when or if she was wearing a skirt or a dress. According to ClassyModernGirl.com, sit like a lady means legs together, knees in, ankles crossed. I did not know about that particular reference when we had the brief talk, but I kind of already knew what that meant anyways. At this point I was now feeling as if this talk was more for me than her because my brief talk with my niece further had me wondering if the way she should sit only matters when she is in a dress or skirt, meaning it really does not matter how she was seated if she was wearing shorts or trousers…thoughts?
You already know that girls should talk different to how boys talk. A lady does not shout, a lady is polite, a lady is soft spoken. These are qualities that women grow up with, which ultimately enhances their superpowers. But are there any disadvantages to this? I recently took a self-defense class. As part of the training, women are advised to use their voices as a form of self-defense. For most women in this class, finding that voice to scream and to shout during the “simulation training” proved to be difficult because this is not exactly how we have been socialized. A myth about rape is that a woman who was truly being raped would offer utmost physical resistance but there are several reasons why many victims do not resist. According to Schafran in Understanding and Countering Rape Myths many victims do not resist at the start of an assault because they are afraid of embarrassing themselves or the assailant. Women and girls are socialized from birth to be polite, to smile, not to offend and not to say “no” because it may hurt someone’s feelings. By the time these women realize how much danger they are in, it is too late to resist.
I can constantly hear voices of parents to their little girls. The instructions not to climb that tree, not to get her dress dirty, not to go into the jumping castle with the boys that will likely be rough with her. But not many parents are instructing their young boys the same as they are often encouraged to be wild and adventurous, to be explorers and wonderers. Some studies have shown that this initial socialization affects career choices and life decisions taken by girls…thoughts?
Growing up I knew I shouldn’t look adults straight in the face, better yet strangers (usatarise vanhu vakuru kumeso) because it is considered rude. And of course I did not want to be labelled the unmannered child (kamwana kakangwarisa kasina hunhu), mainly for the sake of my parents. But fast forward to the Communications lecture at college and they were telling me that when attending an interview it is important to maintain eye contact with the interviewee. All of a sudden what I regarded a sign of respect was now being considered to be a sign of untruthfulness. It kind of reminded me of how in a Zimbabwean household the parents of a young girl do not want to see her with a boy or even to hear that she has a boyfriend, but suddenly the aunties are asking if there is a problem once you reach 25 and you are not married. The family hasn’t been wanting you to be dating, but once you hit a certain age you should be in a relationship steady enough for marriage (See what I did there? Another house rule that isn’t on the list, lol) I have often heard that most women cannot identify their rapists because they actually never looked at their faces. When women walk past strangers they are likely to look away or down, as opposed to looking at someone straight in the face. When attacked from behind after someone passes them by, they cannot as much as identify their attacker because they never looked at them when they walked past. Could the way that girls are socialized be of any connection to any of this?
For many of us that have been kumusha (the rural home) you know where the girls sit and in some automatic way the boys and the men know they belong on the bench. I cannot remember how we actually knew this, if it was taught verbally or if we learnt from watching the adults. Growing up I never really enjoyed sitting on the floor (I still don’t) so being the last born and also being my grandmother’s look alike had its perks, often my dad would have me sit next to him on the bench when we visited kumusha. I always felt like sticking my tongue out at my siblings because in that moment I was #boss, but of course I would suffer the consequences of those actions once we had arrived back in Harare. But now as a fully grown woman, I am constantly on the floor especially in this ‘traditional wedding ceremony’ season of my life. I have often in my mind visualized the faces of the in-laws if I would on the first day suddenly remove the cloth we have covering us and head straight to sit on the sofa or the bench (may this not make my friends choose not to take me with them to their ceremonies [kuperekwa] fearing I will do this, I promise it is just a thought).
I remember over hearing a relative of mine advising the women who were cooking on the fire at a funeral to eat first then feed people after because they would likely be the ones to go hungry after food ran out. Generally women do the cooking but they do not eat first. Some studies have shown that most women suffer in silence from various illnesses related to malnutrition because even though they are doing the cooking they are likely to go without eating. Who has heard stories or witnessed their mothers or grandmothers saying they were not hungry yet it was because the food had run out (idyai henyu, handina nzara)? Was she really not hungry or was it because the food cooked was just not enough yet that is all the family had. Or mothers who offer their food to someone who says they needed a second serving as they had not had enough (Idya hako changu, ini ndaguta). Had she really had enough? This remains the super power for women, or rather mothers, loving and caring. The authenticity in their love and selflessness has nurtured generations but it has also silently killed them.
Yes, I went there. Number 10, boys don’t cry. Where did that rule even come from? I feel like the effects that this rule has on boys in the long run is emotionally damaging. It not only leads to men not having the ability to express their emotions but also to mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety (To be discussed in another blog).
Although some of these rules may not have necessarily applied in my private sphere as an individual, but through different interactions with other young women and girls it was no surprise that these came out as the top 10 house rules for most Zimbabwean girls. Are there any other you may want to add that applied in your household?
I am looking forward to the challenge for tomorrow and the days that follow in this #30DayAfriBlogger challenge. Until tomorrow, keep reading.
- Definition of house rule. : a rule (as in a game) that applies only among a certain group or in a certain place.