A woman once told me that the way I cut my tomatoes will make my future husband boil in fury, hit me, and quite possibly, even leave me! Then she laughed like it was a good joke and I was oh so pissed! And it seems stupid, I know, to get mad at that. A tomato is after all a small small thing.
However, growing up in Mombasa, where such statements are carelessly thrown in at every turn, they eventually begin to take on a significance and exposes a girl to the reality of how each action of yours is placed under the magnifying glass of what a man will think, and whether they’ll approve.
You do well in school and someone will put in what a gem of a wife you’ll make. Your pilau turns out a little less salty and it’s bound to be mentioned how in future, you just might shame your husband in front of guests. You dress appropriately because men don’t respect skimpily dressed women, and for a man’s approval, you’re taught to cook well and talk without cussing and wash yourself preferably twice every day, “ndio usimnukie bwanako” (so you don’t smell at the expense of your husband).
You especially don’t sleep around, never just for your own good but first and most important, for the crucial respect of a man towards you.
I too, might have grown up considering the approval of men, or that of my future husband as something of great importance to me, had it not been for experiences in my relatives’ homes.
I grew up in very close contact with my aunts and uncles- most of whom were married while my mother remained a single mom. And while my mum didn’t include the mere respect of males as a motivation for acquiring skills and virtues, I knew from all over that there were certain ways a woman should act to be considered upright and worthy as a woman and as a useful person in general. “Kizuri chajiuza kibaya chajitembeza” (a good thing sells fast, while a bad one parades itself without much luck) is a popular Swahili proverb that in many cases translated to the woman being a package and the man, a buyer; the package has to please and satisfy the buyer’s needs for it to be acquired and at weddings, it seemed the ultimate show of love and a woman’s worth to be married and “chosen above all others”.
Basically, if you were a homemaker, a good mother and not quarrelsome, your man will be satisfied and will stick to you regardless of how many other beauties paraded themselves in front of him. And a man that strayed I was taught, must have been pushed to do so by the woman not doing a certain number of things.
So it came as an unpleasant surprise to discover that most of the uncles I closely encountered were explicitly unfaithful and disrespectful of wives who were by all standards, what I was taught good women should be; gourmet chefs, superb homemakers, unquarrelsome but firm mothers.
And with years of witnessing this treatment of my aunts by their husbands, I soon learnt that the best of packages don’t satisfy men and that nothing a woman does can keep a man faithful or steadfast; never mind TV ads peddling nonsense about the way to a man’s heart.
The respect of men lost all appeal to me and I frowned upon everyone that taught the seeking of it, including that woman with her tomato quip. If the best of women didn’t get treated with respect by their men, why aim for it at all? Why value what men thought of you, if they didn’t have the sense to appreciate a good thing in the first place?
And because it is in my nature to seek the disapproval of those I’m taught to worship; if only to render them useless in all their might, my angry teenage self wanted to become a slut. I wanted to be rid of my stupid virginity and be such a whore that my family would give up on teaching me how to be keep my hymen intact for a certain man to discover and be in awe of.
And I would currently be a venomous manhater but for two major reasons. One; my mother was a single parent, and persisting in her singlehood, it followed that I had little intimate contact with men. This shielded me from ever directly enduring asshole men (except some of my uncles), gave me the opportunity to study the lot of them from a distance and occasionally managing to pick out the existing good ones.
Secondly, being very close to my elder brother from a young age resulted in my being a tomboy and made it easier for me to be friends with boys than with girls who believed their precious hymens would be raptured by riding bikes like their mothers taught them. I preferred boys because they seemed to have more freedom to do as they pleased and I really wanted that! More than that, as one of them, they couldn’t give two hoots that I couldn’t cook ugali without burning it and I found that so refreshing.
For a long time I thought that openly being my unpolished self warded off any attraction a man may feel to a woman. I was after all, taught exactly what men were attracted to and I was honestly very far from that. This I took without bitterness because I never really considered boyfriends as very important. I was busy enjoying this newfound knowledge that there existed men whose approval I didn’t need to seek contrary to what I was taught. I could use the F word liberally, shave all my hair off or let my armpit hair grow and these men didn’t treat like less of a worthy human the way I was told to expect. I was surprised too in my twenties, when some of my past (and current) guy pals admitted to actually being attracted to me regardless of all my disgusting habits, my enduring untidiness and unladylike manners.
I came to notice too, wives who are not domestic goddesses, in marriages with men that treat them with more respect and affection than I have seen some of my uncles treat their wives. Might I have seen more of such while growing up, I might have acquired a more positive view of marriage than this one here.
As females, we grow up telling each other lies which we then tell the whole world including the men we want to impress. We pass ourselves off as prudes when we’re truly freaks and do things we deeply dislike for the simple aim of keeping a man.
Young girls need to be told the truth; that one does not cut themselves into shape and tailor their person to deserve the respect of others. You seek out the freedoms you desire, package yourself into something you respect first and then demand the same from the world, no matter the things you cannot do well.
If a man leaves on account of your disability to make a mean lasagna, he probably didn’t plan to stay in the first place.
More than that, girls, you need to know too, that by your being a sex goddess or the beauty that wears no makeup, or the one that slices tomatoes to perfection, you do not keep your man; he chooses to stay. Men are people; not dogs to be kept on leashes of good food, football, and blowjobs.