The Men Never said it!
By: N. Amma Twum-Baah
Matter of fact I quite remember … it was the women; they were the ones who said it. They said it all the time - morning, noon and night. They said it so loud I could hear it in my sleep and in my dreams. I still hear it sometimes even when I’m wide awake.
The men always said I could be anything I wanted to be. They admired my spunk, my rebellion and my restless spirit. The women said it was unladylike and would not serve me well among my menfolk when it came time to parade the streets for a husband. The men said a woman should have an opinion and should be able to express that opinion if and when she felt like it. The women said a woman needed to learn to hold her tongue if she wants to be favored by men. It is the power to tame the tongue that holds the ultimate power over men. The tongue is to utter sweet nothings in a man’s ears – and a woman needs to know when to play the charm card.
The men said a woman should be able to someday hold her own. They were confident that they had equipped me with the skills I needed to survive in this competitive world. They were confident that I would be all right no matter what life would throw my way. They saw it in my fighting spirit and in my short-tempered fuse that tolerates no nonsense.
Uncle Christopher was the one who was intrigued by my obsession with novels. He teased me of being a “book worm.” Auntie Esi was the one who wore a sneer on her face and said I needed to put the books down and go into the kitchen to learn to cook! She was more concerned with my perfected skills of chopping onions into perfect little dices. She said if I kept it up, I would have no problem some day keeping my man at home. “He will not have the stomach to eat another woman’s rice and gravy” is what she said.
When I questioned her logic, auntie Esi was the one who said I would bring heartbreak to my mother because my husband would someday send me packing back to my father’s house for burning his dinner. I remember wondering why my husband was going to send me packing when he was going to be living in “my house.” The house I would build because I was a smart woman who was not going to depend on a man for anything but love, support and protection. After all, the men weren’t raising no dependent fool!
The men were the ones who encouraged me to stay away from the boys and to concentrate on my studies. They always said the world would be a much better place for me if I got educated, because education was my passport to knowledge and freedom. That sounded like a plan to me because I love the concept of freedom – always have. The women were the ones who said too much book will not get me a man, and that knowledge and freedom were not the ones going to wed me.
When I graduated from college, the men flew miles across the Atlantic, with the women, to see me walk down the aisle to get that first degree. The men always dreamed of me walking down this aisle. The women also dreamed of me walking down an aisle – just not this aisle.
The men had waited so long for that moment, and they weren’t going to miss it for the world. They were the first ones up that morning. They didn’t want me to be late. They had traveled too far and waited too long not to see me crowned in all my academic glory. To them, it was my first feat of many to come, and they had every reason to be proud. The men were the ones who hugged me and whispered in my ear how proud they were to witness that day.
When the ceremony was over, the men were the ones who asked: “what next? Did you already apply to law school?” The women gave them stern looks and said: “are you crazy? One degree is enough! It’s time for her to settle down and have some babies. She’s a woman. Time is not on her side!” I was 24 years-old and I had heard that my eggs would not start shriveling until at least another ten years. The women were ten years ahead of me. I would say their worry was premature.
That night, the men stood proudly to the side as they watched me celebrate with my friends what they considered one of my biggest accomplishments. “The best was yet to come,” I’m sure they thought. They were more than willing to throw me a party worth remembering. The women also stood to the side, I believe, dreaming of what an even bigger celebration it would be with me in a white gown, surrounded by my friends, and arm-hooked with the man who would take over dictating the rest of my life; as I looked forward to a life filled with automatic chores and boring days. They couldn’t wait for that accomplishment now that the one in the black gown was over.
When all was said and done, it was the women in my church who got together and presented me with a gift from the heart. Not to undermine their good intentions, but I was not expecting an 8-piece Conningware baking set. The men presented me with a gift from the heart too. It was a specialty-pen set complete with a note pad for my “lawyer’s office,” and a frame in which to hang and display my degree. Somehow, they all believed I would make it to law school. They must all be very disappointed!
It was the men in the church who asked me what was next for my academic and professional future. Their statements went from “we can’t wait to see you make it big,” to “remember me when you’re a hot-shot attorney.” The women were also there giving me their best wishes. They wanted to know if Kwamina had proposed. Their statements went from “When’s the wedding? You better remember to invite me,” to “girl, you need to hurry up and start working on getting pregnant. The sooner you start, the sooner you get it over with.”
I was confused. We always said it was the men who were holding us back! Was I dreaming? I must have heard it all wrong for this couldn’t be so.
I would later more and more come to admit, as the truth became increasingly crystal clear, that the men never said it! I would come to question why I always felt it was the men who said it when in fact they never really did. Was it some sort of mind game we women were playing on each other?
All the voices that have prodded me along my professional journey have been voices laden with deep basses coming from throats with Adam’s apples no bigger than real apples. So why have I always heard their voices telling me I couldn’t do it? Why have I always heard their voices telling me that my place is in the kitchen and not in the boardroom? Why have I always heard their voices telling me I am not their equal when, in fact, the voice that first uttered those very words came from the leader of the mbaa kuo (women’s fellowship) at church?
I was hearing women’s voices telling me what I couldn’t achieve! It was women’s voices steering me towards the kitchen and babies. It was the men’s voices steering me towards professional success.
Remember that one time when a member of your family got in trouble and you really wanted to believe they didn’t do it even though you knew without a doubt that they did it? You were conflicted because they’re family, and family always sticks together. Well, that’s how I have always felt with my womenfolk. I wanted to believe they didn’t say it! And that even if they did say it, it was because the men made them say it! So, if the men made them say it, then the men might as well have said it and were just as guilty of having said it! So then, the men had basically said it! Whew!
I cast my mind back to all that the men have ever said to me and I can think of nothing but encouraging words; and nothing that said I couldn’t do it. As I continue on my professional journey, I continually hear their voices cheering me on. Those deep voices never ask me when I’m having my first child or remind me that I’m getting old and useless. Those deep voices don’t enter my home and wonder out loud why I’m eating a pizza instead of home-cooked fetsirdekyi. They have never questioned why I choose to spend my weekends reading and writing instead of cleaning and doing Kofi’s laundry.
So tell me, did the men really say it, or did we just say they said it because someone had to have said it and it couldn’t be us – for how could we have said it and still felt good about ourselves?
(N. Amma Twum-Baah is the Publisher/Editor of Afrikan Goddess Online. She is currently working on her first novel to be released later this year, and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)