“We teach girls shame: Close your legs; cover yourself. We make them feel as though by being born female, they’re already guilty of something. As so, girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. They grow up to be women who have to silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think….And they grow up to be women who have turned pretense into an art form.” – Chimamanda Adichie
No woman’s experience is universal yet the world somehow manages to teach women universal lessons. The world teaches women how to pretend. I have done it many times. I have done it when I have wanted to say something but decided that it would be too “unladylike” or too aggressive or too something or the other to come from my mouth as a female. And so I have let many things go, and have kept quiet because I didn’t want to make it a big deal and because I wanted to let peace reign. Only to later agonize about the incident and realize that I perpetuated the cycle of women being seen and not heard.
The world teaches women to define themselves by their bodies. I love bodies; I really do, and I find the societal discourse around them fascinating. I think that women’s bodies are very beautifully created. But I also think there is a collective practice of disciplining women’s bodies. We do it every time we refer to women by “slut,” “whore,” and other names that we have constructed to chastise women. Even when I have not said these things about other women, I have thought them; knowing full-well that those words have also been used on me. And it’s very difficult to change. It’s very easy to pretend that those words do not participate in constructing women’s bodies as the property of society.
The world teaches women to be everything men want them to be. Men are the end-game. Men are the ones to be catered to. And a good man is the ultimate prize for any woman. I am tired of thinking about men, and thinking about what they think about me. Sure, I can dress for myself and put on make-up for myself, and tell myself that I am good, great, and wonderful. I can have other women tell me this too. But when a man says these things; when you have a man’s attention – why is it so much more gratifying?
The world teaches women to see themselves through the eyes of men. If you’re too loud, the world says no man will put up with that. If you’re too quiet, the world says men will be bored. Women can’t be too intelligent or men shall supposedly be apprehensive of them. Women can’t be too much of anything. But they can’t be lacking in anything either. While men just have to strive to be decent, the world expects women to strive to be perfect.
The world teaches women to be afraid of themselves. And so every day when we’re getting ready to step out into the world, we can’t just think about us or the people who love us. We have to think about the rest of society too. Even when we are not conscious of it, we internalize all our socializations about who we’re supposed to be as women. No matter what religion or creed, nationality or culture, I have never met a woman who doesn’t in some shape or form, live for the world.
And women, we judge each other so much more harshly than men. Sometimes I think we even judge each other more than men judge us. And perhaps we do not need some kind of comprehensive solidarity to simply learn to see each other as human first. But we need to stop perpetuating the negative lessons that the world has taught us about each other. I don’t know about you, but in my short time on earth, I’m already tired of pretending. I’m tired of constantly apologizing for being a woman; for being too much of something, and not enough of something else.
I am a woman and I love it. And when I don’t think about it too much, I don’t feel oppressed by it at all. Sometimes, I even feel rewarded because of it. But every time I take a moment and question anything about womanhood, I realize how tiresome it can be. I realize that sometimes even when I claim how much fun it is to be a woman, and how much power women can have, I have to stop and make sure that I am not just pretending. Because in the lives of women, the line between pretense and reality is a very blurry line.