Reclaiming My Voice – Yours Truly, A Muslim Girl
I admire people who can talk about the things that matter to them. People who are unafraid to say what they mean and face the consequences. The Chrissy Teigens and Simis of this world. I also want to be the person who is not afraid to speak up, but it hasn’t been so easy for me.
The other day, Ohotu asked me to send in a few words on what “Each for Equal” means to me, in celebration of international women’s day. Seems easy to talk about what matters to you, right? I didn’t find it so. Immediately I read her message, I had a lot of words jumbling about in my head, so I quickly typed them out. But just before I pressed send, I had second thoughts and cleared what I had written. I wrote something else, something more “toned down” and then I cleared it again.
This happened about 5 times before I was able to come up with something I felt would be acceptable.
Why did I find it so hard? Each time I reviewed what I had written, I thought to myself “Kaos, you are being too explicit here. Kaos, people will judge you for saying this. Kaos, what would your fellow Muslims think?” On and on I went, second-guessing and harshly criticizing myself.
This self-doubt has been my narrative for a while now. I have a few articles I wrote last year, sitting pretty in my laptop and remaining unpublished because I am scared, very scared, of what people would say. I’m scared of how they would judge me and tear me apart because of the words they’d read. And I’m scared I won’t be able to handle it.
Fear is a good thing. Running away from it is not.
– Kate Winslet
I grew up in an environment where speaking out was usually considered rude and inappropriate, especially when an adult is involved. And may God help you if you are a girl/lady, you’d get the standard chastisement: “Is this how you’ll act in your husband’s house?” As a child, I heard this a lot; too many times in fact.
I remember vividly an aunt’s visit when I was 13. She heard me narrating to my mum about how a neighbour was rude to me because I refused to run an errand for her. My aunt immediately chipped in and said in Yoruba “aanu e se mi, ma ko ise. Ti o ba de ile oko, ti awon eeyan oko e ba ran e ni ise, ko ma dahun, ibe ni won aa ti ko e logbon, abi o ti gbagbe pe obinrin nie”. (I feel sorry for you, keep refusing to run errands. When you go to your husband’s house and your in-laws send you on errands, refuse and watch them knock sense into you. Or you have forgotten that you are a girl?”).
That was the problem. I was a girl. My gender was the problem. Not that a neighbour wanted to use me unfairly or had been rude to me. No, I was a girl so I ought to have taken it because that’s what I’m supposed to do in my house, and in my “future husband’s house”.
Incidences like this and worse happened repeatedly for years and after constantly being shut up, I lost my voice. When I got into the university to study law I thought it was time for me to start speaking up again, reclaim my voice. But no. What I heard then and keep hearing now, as a lawyer, is “Is it because you read law? You won’t be the first woman to be a lawyer. If you don’t stop all these, you will have marital issues.”
Does it never end? Am I going to be told to shut up and take whatever treatments people hand out to me because I am a woman and I don’t want marital issues? Will I ever have the chance to speak up and have someone hear and understand me? Is everything I say forever going to be tied to a man, a marriage, or children?
A few months ago, I confided in a guy who wanted to date me my future plans, including that I want a Ph.D. He was quick to say, “a Ph.D.? You want to get a doctorate? Ha, Kao, not in my house.”
I liked this guy! And he obviously had serious intentions for me. What was I supposed to do? A friend’s reaction to this was (and I quote), “Husbands have the right to choose the career path of their wives in Islam.”
No kidding. And we wonder why people say women are subjugated in Islam when it is nearly the same story everywhere.
After this episode, I remembered that this is not the first time I’ve heard people in my space complain about women getting doctorate degrees. My cousin is about to start her doctorate study and she’ s barely 25 years old. Rather than be proud, everyone is worried because she is unmarried. A family friend told her mum that the goal now is to get her married, not to send her for further studies because men get easily intimidated when a woman is well-read.
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Why? Why should a man be intimidated by a woman’s academic excellence or the kind of dreams she has? Why should we be worried about ‘men’ that are intimidated by women’s successes?
I cannot count the number of times I have had conversations with my mum on how house chores should be handled by a couple. My position has always been that we share the workload or we outsource/employ maids as needed. And every time, the comeback is the maid is going to snatch my husband. Or that what I want to do makes me a bad wife. Sigh.
What I think is this: parents need to stop acting like marriage is the ultimate price for women. Parents need to stop PUSHING their daughters into marriages. Parents need to train their children –irrespective of gender- to do house chores including cooking and cleaning. We need to stop constantly prepping girls for their “husband’s house”. What happened to prepping her to become the best in any field she wants? What happened to training her to shatter boundaries? What happened to moulding her to be a trailblazer?
Some men were raised in homes where they were treated as superior to their sisters. These men grow up as chauvinists and misogynists, believing themselves lord and master over all women. They went ahead to get married (most times to women brought up thinking they are lesser than men) and so they raise their kids the same way, and so continues the unending cycle of misogyny.
It has to end. And we have to be the ones to break the cycle of oppression. We must stop forcing girls to see themselves as lesser beings- we must stop bringing up girls in preparation for servitude in the name of marriage. We must stop teaching boys to act as lord and master over women.
We must stop telling women that they have to choose between excelling in their careers and having happy marriages. We must stop choosing men who want to tone us down, men who don’t want us to get PhDs.
We must stop seeing men as superior to women because of their gender and vice versa. One does not have to be a genius before one believes in gender equality – it’s common sense, really.
What made me write this? What made me take back my voice? I read Ohotu’s article this evening and to a large extent, she took the words right out of my mouth, and I regret not speaking my mind from the onset.
Our foremothers did not fight for their voices to be heard, some losing their lives in the process, only for our generation to be more backward than they were.
As Austin Kleon says, “The only way to find your voice is to use it.”
I’m going to use my voice.
This guest article was written by Khaosarah Adeyemi, as a part of CA’s International Women’s Day Series. In case you missed the series, please visit our Instagram or Twitter to read.