As a young lady, I was surrounded by women who affirmed me. However, many of them were also caught up in the culture that largely prescribed how women are supposed to behave. In my experience, this meant that I was good enough if I did nothing to jeopardise my chances of getting married. I was considered worthy if a man showed serious interests towards me. So I learned how to comport myself and be domesticated enough for prospective suitors. The kind women who often affirmed me made sure I fit into this frame, leaving me confused and more than a little bit rebellious. By the time I started dating, it seemed as if I had unconsciously lost the battle for my self-worth and independence.
If I could go back in time, there are the three things I would have loved the women from my childhood to have taught me,
Your Voice is Valuable
I have always been perceived to be strong. And with my strong sense of justice, I also had a tendency to use my voice loudly in situations I considered unjust. Yet, I sometimes found myself holding back in certain situations because I feared my behaviour was not publicly acceptable for women. Society believes that ‘as women’, we have to fight differently for what we want, either by being subtly subversive or overtly massaging the necessary male egos around, or submitting and accepting the status quo.
I would like to have been taught that I could speak as a person whose identity wasn’t validated by proximity to any man. That I could use my voice boldly, speaking directly on any issue of debate. That I could raise serious issues without having to justify my right to do so as a woman. That my voice was and is valuable. Because this is the truth for all women. Our voice is valuable simply because we exist!
Your Dreams are Valid
I was told to be the best that I could be. But there was a clause, often unspoken, but always communicated. It was that my dreams had to include the right man and children. And they ultimately had to be linked to their benefit. Anything that wasn’t compatible with traditional family life had to be shelved. Or worse, compensated for by an extra degree of submission and ‘humility’. I was also molded to try not to achieve too much before getting married.
I thought this was problematic then, and I still do now. Women should be the best they can be because you owe they owe it to themselves. We should pursue our dreams for our own personal fulfillment, whether or not marriage and kids are on the cards. If you do choose to get married and raise kids, you should find someone who is going in your direction. And while you’re living your best life, your joy and fulfillment will be your greatest gift to your spouse and kids. Your dreams, whatever they are, are valid all on their own.
Your Body is Perfect
I was told this constantly, but it backfired because I had a body that seemed to meet popular standards. Secondly, I had a problem with a system that subtly or overtly told me my body was perfect. Especially when it was as long as I had a flat stomach, a pair of perky boobs, and a small waist. I wanted a world where my body could be considered perfect without conditions.
Till today, my perception of the unjust margins for women by society has been further strengthened. Picking up scars that have made my body ‘less perfect’ has given me greater conviction about shunning so-called standards of beauty. Learning about how the standards of beauty have changed so much over decades and centuries has contributed to this conviction. I am seeing that what matters is to take the best possible care of the body you were given. Your body is perfect for you just as it is.
Bearing these in mind, you should go out into the world and live your very best life. And you should always try to remember that you are enough just as you are!