On Monday the 13th of March, MTV Staying Alive will hold a conversation with Leona Lewis, Mallah Tabot and Georgia Arnold about their experiences of being a woman in 2017. The event will be hosted by Laura Whitmore and can be followed live on Facebook. In the lead-up to the event, former MTV Staying Alive grantee Mallah Tabot is sharing some of her views with us online.
A few months ago, I took my 5 year old brother to the supermarket to get him toys. He’s always playing with friends and needed new gadgets to make their games more fun. As we strolled through the alleys, I asked him to look out for anything he wanted. He eventually found something; a surprise box that kids get to take home and discover what’s inside. It was pink. We took it to the counter to pay and upon noticing what the little boy had gone for, the cashier in a very disturbed yet polite tone said to him: “Boy, can you keep this and go get the blue one? This one is for girls”. What happened subsequently is a whole other discussion, but this experience opened my eyes to the realities of gender and the role nurture plays in the lives of individuals from a very young age. He was just a little boy going for what he loves.
And this is what Gender does. It uses our biological characteristics as reference points for socially constructed expectations and responsibilities in an individual’s public or private life. It’s a verb; something we perform rather than what we are; a process rather than a thing restricted to two categories of man and woman. And rather than gender being prescribed at birth or even pre-birth, it is developed and performed through socialization, thereby reinforcing the need to stick to the binary. As the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi notes, when it comes to gender roles, females are expected to aspire to marry, making their life choices while always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. They are supposed to be the caring ones, the breeders, the givers and the homely ones who receive their husbands with a warm smile after work. But God forbid they are the sexual ones.
Yet we don’t teach boys the same. They have to be “the man”, the head, the bread-winner, the decision-maker and they should show less emotion. They have to wear the “Manly” colours and, heck!, should never appear “soft” and feminine. Feminists have long fought to buttress such arguments by not only dispelling this argument but also revealing quite the contrary. Must we conform?
No one should be born into this world just to be stifled by gender roles, which more often than not have a tremendously negative impact on both the individual and society. Why should you grow up to believe that your vagina was created to pop out endless babies or that you will never inherit any property in your lifetime, or that you are bound to provide for a family whether or not you have the means? Or that you have been ordained a special mandate to rule the world because you own a penis?
Just like the cashier at the supermarket with my little brother, or the government policy that restricts women’s access to land or intruding into their wombs, or the career limitations set on people based on gender, we all are affected by gender in one way or another. Challenging gender roles and stereotypes begins with naming the problem and its source. Equality begins with acknowledging that the patriarchy exists and that we need to dismantle it at all levels. But most importantly, it begins with examining our own selves, recognizing the different kinds of privileges that we enjoy at different levels and opening ourselves up to a debate about how we should be collectively addressing these issues as a society.
Come and join the conversation live on Monday 13 March at 12:15! Ask a question @LeonaLewis @MallahTabot @theWhitmore and @MTVStayingAlive, using the hashtag #SAFWomen.