My name is …, this is my story. It may seem very elaborate but I am here to break it down using simple sentences, proven facts and true stories.
My name is …, I came to be as a result of a heated ‘grasshopper fight’ between a man and woman, I was knit together with bones, blood vessels and cells and with a singular command “push”, I arrived into the world screaming and kicking.
My name is … and from the moment I was born, I was different – and I don’t mean by skin color, religion or culture. Though my creation and arrival was just like every other child, but I was different; some would say I was born ‘less than another’. “Why” you ask? Well, that’s the same question I have been seeking an answer to ever since I discovered I had this ‘problem’.
My name is … and as I grew up every day, I was reminded of my future place in the world. “You must know how to clean, cook, …. so you can be a good wife”. For in these actions would be all I needed to shape my very existence. Whether I enjoyed them or not didn’t matter, I was told I needed them, I convinced myself I did and I obeyed.
From a very young age I was placed inside this perfect vase that didn’t quite fit me perfectly. Though I tried to move around and readjust myself I knew that something wasn’t quite right. “Don’t worry you’ll understand when you grow older”, “don’t worry its normal, the feeling will pass”, so I buried my words. Not because I believed I was too young to speak up for myself but because I was made to believe that this was how it was meant to be. There my lesson of silence began.
My name is … and every time I stepped onto the playground I was immediately directed towards swings, dolls and merry-go-rounds – even though football seemed interesting. “You’re a girl, football is for boys” so I turned away and played along. Did I also mention that when a gift was shared it was immediately assumed that I would prefer the color pink? It was almost as if every other color wasn’t made for me, “don’t worry just use it, it’s the thought that counts”. Once again, I swallowed my words, accepted my fate and continued my lesson on the path of silence.
My name is … and it’s time for school. I am so excited! Maybe this time I can express myself, maybe this time I can actually do the things I like. But then I heard, “there is no more money, let your daughter stay at home, after all, someone will come and marry her. Why am I the one to train her in school?”. My heart broke into a thousand pieces and once again I was stuck doing the same things everyday, preparing for a future that I had not even chosen for myself. But I was resilient; I desired to change the path I was on. I needed to know how to read and write stories, I wanted people to applaud me and buy me new things because I did well at school too. I wanted to wear the uniforms and carry big school bags that held books and fancy mathematical sets. So, even if the free schools didn’t have chairs or desks and I didn’t get to carry fancy textbooks, I needed to know what education had in store for me. So I went.
My name is … and one day on way back home, swinging my bag and remembering everything I was taught in school so I could also be a part of the playground conversation, it happened. It was sudden, I didn’t even know when it started. He grabbed me from behind, he whispered in my ear not to shout or scream, promising to buy me gifts and biscuits. He said to me “don’t worry, it will only hurt a little”.
I screamed yet no one heard me, I cried but there was no one there to wipe my tears, I bled but there was no one to clean my wounds. When the horror was over I ran home and told my guardians all about it because I knew they would protect me. I stood there as they came to a conclusion, “there is no need to involve anyone, this is a family issue”. Mama pulled me closer to change my clothes, she whispered softly to me, “don’t say anything to anyone so the they don’t look down on you like they do the others”.
So this was an “unoriginal horror story”, there were others. I wondered if they too lay awake at night crying silently, I wondered if they shook in fear every time someone grabbed them from behind, I wondered if they moved about with the shadow of guilt and felt that everyone could see they weren’t perfect anymore.
My name is …., and I have a job. I had worked so hard to get here and I knew that I would rise to the top as long as I stay dedicated, which I did. Year after year, I was congratulated on my hard work and commitment every day but it never reflected as everyone else seemed to rise but me. One day I took a stand, against all the teachings of being perfect and silent. I decided to speak up.
I wasn’t going to take it this time; not anymore. I marched to the office of the decision maker, I expressed myself and he replied so casually, “you know you are a woman, this position requires time, what if you get pregnant? Who will cover for you when you are away? Try and understand”. I got home that day and I did try to understand, but it made no sense to me. How does having a child which is seen as a blessing hinder me from doing my job effectively? How does being a woman stop me from dedicating the required time to my work? I gave it another go, but this time he spoke very firmly “if you are not happy here anymore you can leave, there is a long line of people waiting to replace you”. With no one to support me and fear of losing all I had at an independent life, I resolved to following my routine. I remained silent.
My name is …, and I finally said “I do”. It was the day everyone had been waiting for, finally the life I had been preparing and aspiring for had come. Maybe this phase would be different, maybe this time everything would change. He promised to fight my battles and keep me safe, ‘my knight in shining armor’, some teased. Time passed and it seemed the only thing he was interested in fighting was me. If he had a bad day, if the food wasn’t hot enough or if I wasn’t feeling very romantic at night, it was a fight and sure enough, I always lost. When I ran home, everyone always seemed to ask “what did you do to provoke him? He can’t just wake up one day and start to beat you”. They would bring me back and after much deliberations and apologies say to me, “don’t worry he will change, he is still your husband”. Even at our religious place of worship, the people placed to be the mouth piece of God would quickly remind me how I was to constantly remain submissive to my husband. “Never try to take the place of a man in the home, remember, he is the head of the family”.
I woke up one day and I saw myself getting used to this life, I was afraid to stay but I was afraid to leave, I didn’t want to be the one who brought shame and disgrace to her family. “Divorce is a thing for western world! In Africa we stay no matter what”, so I stayed living in silence.
Until I decided “NO MORE!”.
No more pretending that everything was perfect, I took myself out of that perfect vase I was placed and smashed it to pieces. I decided from then to “feel the fear but take action anyway”.
My name is …., and I am YOU. As you read this I want you to know that you have a voice, you do not need to go through it alone. I say this to you knowing fully well that if you speak up they will call you names. They will say you brought shame to yourself and your family, a disgrace, some will even say it is your fault. But just like your transgressors said, “it will only hurt a little” however, this time it will pass.
My name is …. and I am YOU. You can choose to allow this injustice end with you. You can choose to believe because your dreams are valid. Choose to fight because one day you too will heed to the command of “push!” and bring another into this world, most probably to face the same fate. I want you to speak up so you can see that even your sweet, soft, tender voice can be loud enough for the world to listen to your truth.
I want you to know that you are not defined only by the curves on your body but by the workings of your hands and mind, so demand today for your right to be educated and enlightened. Yes, it is your right to learn dictionary words, mathematical calculations and Isaac Newton Theories so that you too can one day build homes, change laws and travel to the stars, if you so choose.
Yes, you have a choice, so choose to realize education opens your eyes to the endless possibilities the world has to offer such as financial stability. Choose to no longer boxed-in by fear or ideologies of perfection because being perfect is not a human quality. Even machines are not perfect. So yes, it is ok not to be perfect. It is ok not to always get it right as long as you try again.
My name is girl, female, woman and I understand that my life is my journey to take. I may listen to advice along the way, take on companions if I choose, because I admit: I do not know it all but all final decisions will be mine to make. I choose not only to learn how to be a better wife but learn how to be a better me. To speak up and never remain silent again.
My name is girl, female, woman and I choose to be brave. Never to see asking for help as a sign of weakness but to realize the strength in allowing others help you in your time of need. To surround myself with intellectuals and professionals so that I too can learn and teach others how to stand for is right. To seek justice for me and others without fear of retribution. I choose to see my scars not as a definition of who I am but as signs to show where I have been not where I am going. I see now that true love doesn’t cause you pain and I am not obligated to stay through everything. My loyalty is not defined by how much I can put up with, but to know when to say ‘enough is enough’.
My name is … and I choose me above everyone else and yes, that is ok too.
About the author
Lateefa Musah finished her tertiary education from Coventry University, United Kingdom for BSc Civil Engineering and had her masters in Structural Engineering from University of Surrey, United Kingdom. She has a passion for improving education especially in the public sector, she is also interested in the welfare of woman and children. She wrote from Port Harcourt, with data from VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls). Find her on Twitter, @musahlateefa
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author not of NDLink