My mother raised me a feminist

Posted August 9, 2016 from Zimbabwe

I am a feminist who grew up a feminist, unknowingly, in a small and poor rural village about 120km west of Harare in Zimbabwe. Everyone knew each other and traditional cultural norms and values were practised the same way for decades as if rehearsed.

I am the fourth child in a family of four boys and two girls. I come after my late brother, aircraft engineer Simbarashe Masanga who was a genius academically. He was hardworking and smart but so was I.

People would greet him as 'Dr Masanga' (most smart boys were always expected to go on and become medical doctors) but they would greet me as muroora 'daughter-in-law'. It was clear from the start that I was being groomed for marriage and him for the professional world. Not by anyone in particular but by the system.

I was never noticed for my academic prowess, rather, I was picked on for my body.I had big boobs but my parents could not afford a bra for me so I never wore one all my adolescence and the boobs began to sag a little when I was 15. Women of the village gave me a hard time about that. They remarked I was now a slut (generally, sexual activity by single women or underage girls is defined as sluttiness, not as sex or rape respectively). So they would say, oh, she is now a slut because the boobs are sagging, someone must be sleeping on top of her too often. No one thought about my lack of a bra. (I hate bras to this day)

As poor rural dwellers, our livelihood depended on peasant farming. My parents were always working alone in the fields it puzzled people in my village. Girls were expected to help in the fields while boys were out herding cattle, but I never set foot into the fields. I was indoors with my books most of the time.

People in my village could not understand it, they complained so much to my mother that she was raising a lazy girl.

''Who will marry her when she cannot even cook or do housework? they would say.

Often, my mother's chattingwith other village women was about defending me; 'my laziness'. Little did they know, my mother was encouraging me to pursue education and financial independence rather than marriage.

''Marriage is not a goal, it is a choice but financial independence is your life,'' said my mother all the time. She did not mince her words, she told me that I needed money to live life, not housework skills.

''To cook, you have to have the food to cook,'' she said.

Surprisingly enough, my brother, the genius, did not take part in any household chores and he was never criticised but rather, he was praised for that. No one complained that he would turn out badly in life because of 'laziness' - maybe because the system was raising 'housegirls' for him.

There were double expectations for me to be both bright and a good houseworker. I was bright, but I was never recognised for the brightness only criticised for the 'laziness'.

I was supposed to be beautiful and keep my breasts firm albeit without a bra. I was supposed to preserve my image as a decent girl, one who is good marriage material. I was supposed to be groomed well for men in a men's world.

I would cry when old women pinched my breasts to check if they were getting softer (that being evidence of men lying on top of me too often) but my mother, an unknowing feminist, would console me and remind me that it was better to not be a virgin but a professional woman with her own car. I had not indulged in sex, however, but I did not know how to defend myself, my breasts were just bulking under their own weight.

I could not defend my body from the standards that had been set centuries before me. I could not defend my hunger for education - in a world where girls were to grow up and be good wives. I could not defend my inability to work in the fields during time off from school.

One thing was clear, the girls were being groomed to be maids, wives and the boys to be masters of the house, doctors, engineers, and other science-based professions.

I must say, my brother noticed it; the criticism, the shaming, the judging that I went through every day. He began to defend me. He began to ask people to notice me, to value me.

When village women came to our house and criticised me for being lazy and praised him for being a genius, he would say, but I am not better than Eddie. They would then notice but they would still shame me.(I hope that my brother is resting in love and peace)

Despite him defending my being bright academically, that was not good enough. I had to be a good prospective wife for a man. So the banter went from ''she is lazy'' to, ''we hope she will find a husband who can entertain the idea of a wife who goes to work.''

Ah, so now I could be allowed to be good academically but not have ambition. Everything I wanted to do I had to consider men's needs first. I had to know that men were supposed to be the centre of my world. My decisions, my body, had to please menif not then I was a failure.

My mum, the unknowing feminist, would always chide the village women in their absence and say, well they are well mannered and hard working but what do they have of their own. Do you want to be like them; have ten children walking barefoot, and work in the fields your whole life?

She would also add jokingly,'' With your light complexion, let's see how that will work out, (working in the fields under a hot African sun). You, you must sit in an office all day, that is what suits you.''

My mother's words opened my eyes. They inspired me to want more in life. To know that what was around me; girls dropping out of school to become maids, to get married and have many children at a tender age; wasn't all there was to life. Her words made me realise that what people accept as normal and label as good is not always the right thing.

Every day, my mother whispered words of women's empowerment to me. Little did she know she was raising me as a feminist, that she herself was a feminist.She was the mother that every girl needs, she still is. She supported me and helped me to want more. I did not waste my mother's teachings.

I came top of my high school class even though I missed school more than othersdue to lack of fees. I managed to leave the village to become a successful female journalist and women's rights advocate in Zimbabwe. I went from barefoot, panty-less, hungry to,ah well, very well fed. I emphasise food because the most traumatic memories of my childhood are of going to bed hungry. But in that hunger and painmemory, there is also my mother's voice urging me to be strong. To be a feminist.

I live in Sweden now, in the free world, with the best of the world's development at my fingertips.

I look back everyday and feel privileged to be here. ''Here'' the level of my empowerment, not the place. To have a voice. To have a life. To have a future. But I am not blind to the fact that all this happened because my mother whispered words of independence and empowerment to me.

Her constant reminders that if I did not achieve financial independence I would have to depend on a man all my life, that I would have cooking and cleaning skills but with no food to cook or house to clean shaped my life.

Her voice took me to the top - ''the top'' being subjective, because, in my case, having four walls, electricity, food, clothes, panties and building my parents a house in an urban township is the very top that I dreamed of while in my mother's leaking mud house.

All because my mother, the unknowing feminist, raised me to believe in myself and to be myself. She raised me as a feminist.

This story was submitted in response to Share On Any Topic.

Comments 6

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Aug 09, 2016
Aug 09, 2016

Edinah, you are a powerful writer and your story of growing up in rural Zimbabwe will stay with me for a long time. Your post, and your life, shows all of us how the power of words can lift you up or tear you down. Your mother and brother sound so amazing and strong, but clearly, so are you. You turned away from the labels your community used to describe you to focus on your true self, a strong women who is empowered and independent. Those are words I use to remind myself of my true self in moments when I feel small and uncertain. Thank you for sharing your story. You have made my day!

Aug 09, 2016
Aug 09, 2016
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
Aug 13, 2016
Aug 13, 2016

Thank you! I am inspired, humbled and empowered.

Enmita Marin
Aug 11, 2016
Aug 11, 2016

''Marriage is not a goal, it is a choice but financial independence is your life,'' such a wonderful phrase. Your mother is now one of my heroes. 

Thanks for sharing this story. 

Aug 13, 2016
Aug 13, 2016

Many thanks and I am inspired and empowered by the support.

Aug 26, 2016
Aug 26, 2016

Hi Edinah,

          What an amazing story. You know, such practices still prevail in much of rural Africa?  We can only come out of such despicable/ vile practices through education of our villagers. You are fortunate that your dad/brother were also very supportive unlike other men who will go with the flow.

You can start an NGO for her to use her success story to educate the other villagers.

Thanks for sharing,