My Semi feminist father.
I grew up among 4 sisters and even though society was generally obsessed with male children, that didn’t seem to matter to my father. He lived in his own world, he saw children worth loving and sacrificing for when he looked at us and there was no agitation about having male children.
Any family member who voiced this concern was cut off like an infected un salvageable limb. My father was gender blind. He just didn’t care; he had children and that was enough. I didn’t know that the world made such a fuss about bearing male children and when I came to this realisation, I didn’t understand why. There was never a conversation about the gender of my father’s children. In fact, his friends called him “Baba awon girls” I was proud to be one of his girls.
There were things my father taught me without using words, for example, food was not a right and not one day did I hear him demand for some type of food. He ate what he was made and that included days he showed up with his bottle of ground nut ready to devour some garri. Every meal was thanks giving, an homage to my mother who probably had nothing to do with the cooking process.
My father raised a feminist even though I think he didn’t know. He would always remind you that you have a choice in whatever matter, that you have a voice and that voice must be used. He entrenched the principle of equality of the sexes as much as he could. But, you know like every woke African parent, he didn’t know the implications of his teachings until I became an adult. He suddenly seemed to believe I had to shrink myself to accommodate a potential husband’s ego, to fit into society. Parents fail to understand that they must pick a lane, you cannot raise a lion and then wish for a duck. Parents must understand that they gave us the tools to navigate life as females but now, it’s too late to succumb to societal pressure.
The dinner table.
Everyone was equal at the dinner table. At least, we were as equal as possible. You had the same right as anyone and we would have frank, honest conversations. The good thing however was that you were never reprimanded for whatever was said at the dinner table. So, I walked around my childhood home free and happy, free to think, create and express myself. I do not like to eat at the dining table any longer because I have grown into some type of a loner who likes to eat by herself and finds company a little cumbersome, but most importantly, the dining table feels like truth serum. It puts me under pressure to share my deepest thoughts and feelings and these are not things I do not want to talk about. Over the years, I have built walls and fences and I am not in a hurry to bring those down.
I remember clearly my first awakening to misogyny. I had just joined my last secondary school, (a mixed school) and I suddenly realised that my voice was too loud, and I was obnoxious amongst other things, this was a rude awakening. The boys complained about the volume of my voice, how I walked and the fact that I was not “girly enough”. The girls found me too confrontational and generally too serious so I was unpopular amongst the kids but popular with the faculty. I wanted to fit in, fit in with the kids.
During one of our conversations during the holidays, I complained about how I was too loud and how I needed to be meek. I had internalised the harmful ideas presented to me about what a girl should be like, act like and talk like. He squeezed my shoulder and said, “you’re not loud, you have a voice, you are different and there’s nothing wrong with having a natural loud speaker.” When I returned to school, I had purged myself of the thirst for meekness. I decided to put my natural loud speakers to good use by commanding the assembly. I became the first girl to become the assembly commander in my secondary school. I would call about 600 students to order without climbing the podium! Boy! Was I powerful.
For a long time, people called me confrontational because I didn’t believe in cowering. My Semi feminist father taught me that if you have something to say, you say it. “You are not a second-class citizen” he would say. My mother was revered because in most cases her word was final. There were several rumours that my father was being controlled by voodoo because he “obeys his wife.” They were partners running a ship and no one felt the need to exercise superiority. This is the atmosphere I grew up in, the competent person got the job done and there were no weird bible quotes establishing the superiority of one gender just because of the presence of a penis.
My father would say; hard work must be rewarded without the consideration of gender and I learned early in life that being a girl is not a disability.
I cannot say I grew up in a traditional African home sans the presence of corporal punishment, shouting, my mum throwing whatever she could find at you, canning, five-hour prayer sessions and the fact that a university education was compulsory.
Who am I kidding? It’s a traditional African home in every sense. I grew up in a traditional African home with a Semi feminist father who taught me that my voice was loud, but that’s ok.