I grew up in Africa, in the Western parts of it, Nigeria to be precise. To be honest, it is really a beautiful place to grow up in. The warm, nice beautiful sun always cuddling up to your tan, chocolate creamy skin with the beautiful coarse hair. During the rainy (Fall) seasons, the way the rain elegantly falls from the skies is so beautiful and a nice sight to behold too. A land flowing with milk and honey that is more diverse than any country one can think of with over 250 ethnic groups. Each of these ethnic groups has its own diverse languages. Nigeria is one of the largest countries in Africa with a population estimated to be around 173 million. This is a sneak peek of where I grew up. I have friends who gush about how pretty Nigerian is and Africa and will really want to pay a visit at least once in their life. You know as they say do not judge a book by its cover. Nigerian is a very young country which just got its independent in 1960 has undergone a lot of development in all areas but has refused to develop in the areas of gender discrimination.
As a young child growing up in Nigeria ( I am going to base on Nigeria since it might be different in some places, to avoid saying things that I am not sure of) I noticed the different treatment given to children based on their gender. You have different expectations from society if you are a girl and different expectations if you are a boy. I observed all these things as a little girl, all these stereotypes as a girl. As children, the girls were already told and taught the house chores while the boys are taught to be in power, they are told not to cry. They are taught masculinity while the girls were taught quietness, nurture and being homely. I grew up with two boys which means I am the only girl which is another problem on its own. I was expected to be the perfect girl according to the Nigerian stereotypes knowing how to do domestic chores, look attractive and homely to attract good suitors when I reach the marriage age.
This is the life of a typical Nigerian girl growing up. From birth, girls are seen as tender and fragile beings. Even when we start learning how to crawl, more attention is given to us than to boys. They talk to us and play with us more than they do with boys. On approaching the age of five to six (5-6) years old, we are taught to do the dishes and how to the laundry. We are taught to fold our clothes while the boys are excused with he is too playful or he does not listen. We are bought only pink dresses with a few pants (trousers) to make us more feminine. Our toys are mostly sets of cooking items or teddy bears. We are taught how to lean on people for help. Going to School, when the class prefects (people who help the teacher take care of the class when the teacher is not around) are chosen, boys are chosen and considered more eligible than girls. Teachers believe that boys have more power and wield more authority. HAHAHA! Remind me again why there has not been any female president in Nigeria. Our teachers contributed a whole lot to it, they are one of the sole reasons why there is none today. They make girls quiet and tell them to be.
We are told to dress decently to avoid rape which when it happens we take the blame for being raped. We take the blames when raped when we dress well but not the said Stereotypical-decent way.
We take blames for some males who could not control what is in between their legs. We are taught not to shout or argue with boys in schools. We are taught to respect boys and their opinions whether they are wrong or right. When we happen to argue and get hit by the boys who have been taught masculinity and supremacy we are being blamed for it. I was wondering if we could take blames for boys when they die too.
We are told to sit down with our legs crossed, as that shows that we are well trained while it does not really matter for boys. We are taught not to be heard but seen. Let me take you to my high school days in Nigeria. I lived in a boarding school. I can remember my school matron always told us whenever she sees us (girls) discussing and laughing our hearts out that we are not acting "girlish". According to her, girlish means being seen not heard, it means always seen not talking too much but cleaning your surroundings while the boys can be excused for their loudness building up their masculinity. She said girls should be nurturing. This is the kind of society we live in. This is how they made being a girl so miserable. Girls are taught not to be hot-tempered or angered quickly as it won't tell good of them especially in the ears of their suitors when they are ripe for marriage. Boys were allowed to be angry and express it. We are taught to shrink ourselves as Girls, we are taught not to occupy the whole space as that will make us girlish. We are being reminded every single day the importance of cooking in order to have a good husband. I watched a Nigerian video on YouTube where the guys were interviewed on whether they would marry a wife they love or a wife that is homely; ninety-five percent of the guys said the homely wife. This will influence or increase the rate by which girls are expected to learn how to cook and do more of a domestic chore because maybe the boys are handicapped which is why they cannot take care of their selves and feed themselves.
We are taught to be smart but not too smart as boys will not like us again. We are taught that we can be self- made ladies and be successful but not too successful not to drive men that are supposed to marry us away. We will make them feel intimidated by our success. I can remember when I was in first grade (primary one) in Nigeria. In Nigeria, we do this calculation of average and the person with the highest average in the class takes the first position. In my first grade, I took first two times in a row- the first and second terms ( first and second quarter), my teacher called me and told me that she knows that I am a very smart girl but shouldn't I allow other people to take home the first position this term. The names of people she called that will be suitable for the first positions were all boys. I was not a feminist then, maybe too young but one thing I knew was I was never going to allow a boy to do better than me. Maybe, if she had called a girl's name it might worth me leaving the first position for her. But, no she called all boys and my little ego will not allow that, and I am glad today that I did not. We are taught that we should depend on boys, and we should wait for them to pay our bills on our date for the food that we both ate. We are taught to help build their masculinity. We were taught that they were our source of income.
Girls are taught to keep their virginity while the boys are told to enjoy life when they are young. We are praised for our virginity but boys are not praised. I was talking with a group of my friends in my high school, a boy asked a question; "Will you marry a girl if she happens not to be a virgin?" Only a few of the boys answered; "It depends" while the rest all answered, "Of course No." I asked them in return; "But she is allowed to marry you even with all your flirtations and although you are not even a virgin." I got back an answer I was expecting; "Well, we are boys and we can do whatever we like but girls are girls and are not allowed to do anything they fell like doing.” A girl's virginity is questioned even by her husband who is not a virgin. We care so much about a girl's virginity than boys. No one questions a boy's virginity, or are they not supposed to be virgins too. Oh yes! I forgot boys’ virginity is never questioned because no one questions boys but girls are the fragile one and can be questioned. Girls are told that they cannot be seen with boys, talk more of being in a relationship with boys but are expected to present a husband before the age of twenty-four. We are told it does not represents well of us to be seen around boys but no one tells boys that.
I had a similar experience recently. I was talking with one of my church members who apparently happened to be a guy. The church service was already over; my aunt was discussing with her friend who was a Nigerian lady. I was discussing one of my blog post with this guy; he was telling me about how he disagreed with what I was writing and telling people about. After a series of dialog, he understood the message behind what I was writing and telling people. Two days later, my aunt called me and told me that her friend who she was discussing with that fateful day told her that I talk with boys often. Africans will understand how people who do not know you are always the ones to give quick advice and say things about that they are not sure about. My aunt told me that she understands that it is being social ( NB: this is going to get really funny but this is what growing up a girl in Nigeria means.) but I should not be seen talking to boys often as that will affect me when I want to get married in the future. I smiled very broadly, I already know what she meant, and the stereotypes that as a girl I should not be seen talking to boys while boys no one cares about them and what they do. She told me that girls are known to be quiet and that is how I should be seen. She went further to give an example of a man who might be interested in looking for a wife and the mom might be helping. When the mom sees that I talk to boys a lot it will disqualify me from being considered the man's future bride. (Allow me to SIGH again.) I allowed her to finish saying everything and replied okay. I asked her a question, what if I do not want to get married, this is because all of my life I have been reminded that all I have to do in this life is to live my life for marriage as soon as possible. She flared up immediately like I had asked an abominable question like I just confessed to belonging to ISIS. Well, I expected it, but not to that extent. This is because we have taught that we live our lives for marriage, questioning it now seems like one is insane.
Girls are expected and taught to crave for marriage, not only that but that failure to get married at a certain age should be seen as a very big problem. They make us feel like a disappointment to both ourselves, family and the society when we do not get married at a certain age rank. The boys are excused in many ways like; "Well, maybe he is not ready yet, or maybe he has not found the right person or ummh, he is not that old yet so he can still get married anytime. What will happen if we were excused like that too or may be considered as not being ready yet? Girls are taught that their life can never be achieved unless they end it with marriage. We are taught to dream of marriage and make it our desire. We are taught that after everything we need to crown it with marriage. We are taught from our little ages that marriage is a very compulsory thing for us. We are told, yes! You are a princess and a queen but one that must need a king to complete her life. We are told that we cannot do without our kings. We are being pressured into marriage causing most of us to make mistakes we regret. We are taught to respect not just our spouses but the marriage itself. We are taught to endure abuse in marriage because a husband is like a father to us. We are taught that it is a crime to end up or quit an abusive marriage, that an abusive marriage is better than quitting it. We are taught that it is our job to make a marriage work alone by enduring everything, even if it means being handicapped in marriage or miscarrying a baby. We are taught that it is our job only to pray for our marriage, that it is our job to change our wayward husband who has made up his mind not to change. We are told that when we are doing better financially than our husband that we should not let people know that we are doing better financially. This is what being a girl in Nigeria means in summary. They made us see being a girl as a big burden, as a big crime.
I hated being a girl so much like I hate men who are sexists. I wanted so much not to be looked down on because I was a girl. So, to avoid that feeling of being dismissed when I am talking because of my gender, I became a Tom-boy. I loved this my new identity. I can talk to any gender without fear of males exercising their masculinity on me. My new identity, of course, had its consequences, but it had more benefits to me than the consequences for me to care about it. Whatever consequences it had, I really enjoyed it, and it was worth it, I had thought. One of my friends and then room-mates, Precious once told me; "Ada, you know your mum thinks she has a daughter and two sons but the truth is that she has three sons and no daughter." I laugh each time I remember this. Of course, none of my parents knew, or maybe they knew but did not want to talk to me about it which I seriously doubt. I kept it a secret from them which is now no more a secret, yes why not? No African parents want their daughter to be a Tom-boy. My immediate younger brother had a clue about it. After I left high school for college, I started thinking to myself, why would I change who I am? Nothing worth it. I decided to be the real me, A female, A Girl. That is who I am. I cannot change it for nothing. I decided not to run away from being a girl because I do not want boys to intimidate me with their male masculinity and supremacy. I went to a boarding school in Nigeria where a boy hits a girl for nothing, he is excused with; “He is hot-tempered." I hated that so much, but instead of running away; I have decided to a female and speak up against it, against gender discrimination. I am still in the process of being a girl because sometimes I forget, I have started with the make-up ( it took me a year to know how to do my eyebrows in the arc form, ladies know what I mean. it is still not perfect) but I still love my baggy pants(trousers). I am Sandra from Nigeria and this is what growing up as a girl in Nigeria looks like.