The experience of being female has changed drastically throughout history, or so the modern woman is led to believe. History has regarded females unfairly, and there are few instances in history when the female is mentioned by name. Even religious scripts have considered the female as inferior to the male species. Some of the notions that have been perpetrated for decades is that the place for the woman is in the kitchen, and rearing children. Even when notable researchers like Marie Curie have made significant strides in promoting the efforts of humankind, their efforts have been shadowed by their male counterparts. In many cultures and religions, females had no rights and were seen as the property of their husbands; tools to be utilized for the benefit of man. How society views women can be said to have changed, thanks to the enactment of laws, but is this change real, or does reality state otherwise?
Faith, my interview partner, is a 23-year-old female from South Africa, who immigrated to our nation three years ago to pursue a course in economics. She was born and raised in her native South Africa and was among the first selection of voters not to have witnessed the full blunt of apartheid. An avid reader and one of the smartest persons I know, I met her at an art exhibition where she was too busy staring at some Von Gough to realize that I had greeted her. Faith is also a jovial woman who albeit being fun to be around with and a party animal, is also one of the most conservative people I know. She is smart enough to lead a happy life while ensuring that she is not caught up in popular culture, and lately I came to realize that she is also deeply religious, having been brought up in a Catholic family and education system. She is a liberated self-empowered woman, which is why it was interesting talking to her about something she holds dear to heart, the emancipation of the girl child. My interview with her was more like a dialogue which arose while we were watching some news items on transgenderism and the stigma that many of these transgender faced, and the dialogue evolved to identity.
The debate evolves to the issue of current female dress. I ask Faith, a decent dresser but who can wear skimpily when going out, what she felt about the whole dressing issue. She states that she feels women should be free to choose what to wear, as it is a free world, but she feels that women are misusing their power. A majority of women, she says, think that portraying their bodies shows how sexy they are, and gives them a plus over men. This is because the men are attracted to them, but it is up to the ladies to decide whether to give the men any attention or not. She calls this sluttish and demeaning to the ladies themselves. How is this so, if you have all the control? Faith laughs and says that any self-respecting woman should be able to get the attention of any man without having to show off her wares. The man should get to know who she is because he respects her, and not because she dresses in a way to suggest that she is willing to go to bed with her.
Faith then states that having lived with men all her life; she has four brothers; she knows that a man will play with any lady who does not respect herself, use her as a toy, but will never have respect for her. She looks at the current crop of young campus girls walking around the city seeking the attention of men and asks how many self-respecting men will take such a lady home to their mothers. In the African culture which is more conventional and traditional, such a lady would be a shame in the village, an example by mothers to their daughters on what not to become. But hasn’t this trend caught on in Africa? I ask. She laughs and says that the world has become a global village, especially with the coming of age of digital media, so popular culture is copied everywhere, which brings us to another topic.
What has the media done to promote female identity? According to Faith, the media is to be blamed for most of the world’s problems. When it comes to female identity, the media has done more in destroying the female than in empowering them. She refers to the current crop of Hollywood movies, watched and emulated everywhere, that show who the ideal woman is, and how she should dress. All the cool girls in the movies are the ones who dress skimpily and are considered sexy, and even have a certain appearance and way of talking (Pollet and Hurwitz). She says that most of this media are for male consumption, hence the need for skimpiness. Males then start unconsciously start demanding that their females dress in a certain way, behave in a certain way, and have a certain look. She says that here she is considered the ideal female having the ideal figure, but back at her home place, her mother asks her why she is emaciated.
What is the ideal female figure and look then? Faith states that the female look has been a subject of debate for centuries, from the time when English maidens were required to have waists the size of wasps, to the new generation where having a big booty shows fertility. The Hip-hop and Instagram age, she laments, have led many women to question their looks and take up surgical procedures to enhance these looks (Davis). Take a look at booty and hip enhancements, she says, and you will see why the world is doomed. Even the modern educated woman is affected by this craze, and these ultra-modern women with money to spend are the target of cosmetic companies which has become a multi-billion dollar business. The media today is filled with photos of light-skinned girls with big booties, and every woman wants to become so. Going to the gym has also become a common phenomenon, something she laughingly says affects men as well.
She looks like she has had enough of the topic, so I skip to another issue, gender roles. I ask her what she thinks of the role of the woman today, to which she says that a lot has changed. Traditionally, the place for the woman has been in the kitchen, but presently there is an upsurge in women going into employment and business. Many women now occupy high statuses in society and have even managed to get some men to stay at home and babysit, a big coup for women. Isn’t this a bad thing, seeing that man is listed in the Bible as the provider? Faith takes a minute to answer, and I can see that she is torn between her religious past and her liberated self. Finally, she says that the thing that drove women into formal employment was the injustices being committed against them. In her African village, for example, the man controls everything in the house, because she has the money. A woman with money can be able to dictate part of her life, and it is a cushion for her and her children in case the man decides to divorce her, a constant trend presently.
Isn’t the high divorce rate a consequence of conflicting gender roles, I enquire? Sadly, Faith states, most women develop an ‘attitude’ when they get money, but states that the high divorce rates are a result of other issues such as a lack of communication or jealousy. She, however, does realize that men have an ego as they have been raised to be providers, which is why many cannot take a woman earning more than they do, but she opines that good communication can resolve this. So what do you feel about stay-at-home dads, Faith? Faith states that even as a liberated woman, she has always been raised to believe that the man is the head of the household, and hence the provider. She says that she would like to work, but that her husband should provide for the financial needs of the family, so she would not get married to a man without a job. What if the man lost his job, I ask of her. She looks at me, and she must think that I am an idiot, but says that given such a circumstance, she would support her husband, but would not expect her to stay at home. A man has to provide for his family; she says, something that most men have not been doing lately, she regrettably adds.
I have always been intrigued by the African culture, and I enquire as to what makes the African female different from the Western female. Faith states that women everywhere are the same, faced with the same difficulties, and having the same emotions. There is no major difference then, just that the Western female has been accorded more freedom to choose their destiny. Faith then goes ahead to speak of how some African parents will not let their daughters go to school, as the female is there to be wed and provide a dowry. She speaks of female genital mutilation, lack of inheritance rights, wife beating, early marriages, and the lack of legal redress for most of these females. While the Western female also has access to things like sanitary pads and guidance and counseling, some girls in the African continent have to learn about their bodies through hard experiences, as there is no support from any circle.
My last question for the day is on whether Faith feels that there is now equality between the sexes, to which her answer is a big no. She says that many women delude themselves that they are empowered, and they can do whatever they want, but she states that men still rule the earth. In the course of empowerment, many women antagonize themselves from men or pose such a threat that they scare of any men. In the end, females are meant to be motherly and loving, but the course that women empowerment has taken distances the woman from her maternal and emotional side. She states that many female scholars are not even married, or have trouble keeping relationships, and how she would willingly give up her ‘financial freedom‘ to raise a happy family quietly.
Davis, Kathy. “‘A Dubious Equality’: Men, Women and Cosmetic Surgery.” Body & Society (2002): 1-18. Document.
Pollet, Alison and Page Hurwitz. “Strip Till You Drop.” Society 12 January 2004: 1-17. Document.