Society Teaches Women not to be Competitive

In my society, I believe that men have a tendency to feel threatened by the competitiveness of women. This is mainly because in Zimbabwe, men are traditionally regarded as the head of the family. Boys are awarded better education opportunities than girls are as a way to expand their horizons and increase their ability to take care of their own families in future. Tradition stipulates that girls are supposed to get married at a certain age, and therefore much time is spent grooming them to become ‘better’ wives – which in reality means more submissive wives. Of course, this means that they won’t be able to discover the endless possibilities that the world has to offer.

The tendency for some men to feel threatened by the competitiveness of women is supported by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie. In her essay ‘We Should All Be Feminists‘, she talks about “the insecurity triggered by how boys are brought up, how their sense of self-worth is diminished if they are not ‘naturally’ in charge as men”.

I have used Adichie’s words to help me think about how Zimbabwean society in particular teaches women not to be competitive.

Traditionally, my society teaches females from a tender age that if they want to get married, they should be loyal and they should not try to exercise power because men hate competition – especially from their wives. This generalization means that women end up sacrificing a lot for fear of rejection or punishment. Socialization plays a key role in determining the competitiveness of women and girls, and so it’s important to empower girls with knowledge in the early stages of their lives through awareness campaigns and education, so that they are not limited by outdated social beliefs in their futures.

Religion also plays a role in sabotaging women’s efforts to empower themselves. Christianity teaches women to learn things quietly, never to argue and to be submissive. In the Christian Bible, Timothy 2:11-12, it says, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, rather, she is to remain quiet”.

The tradition amongst Zezuru/Shona people in Zimbabwe is that women and girls must kneel down when greeting or serving food to their husbands or elders as a sign of showing respect. This tradition glorifies men and renders women and girls inferior and weak. I believe that religion and tradition are being used by society as an opium to make women docile  and less competitive. Each time a woman wants to be more assertive, she is reminded that by doing so she’ll be breaking both religious and traditional laws.

To illustrate further, lineage descends through the males and not the females, which is why families rejoice more upon the birth of a male child compared to a female. A male child guarantees the continuity of the lineage, whereas girls move to the household of their husbands when they marry and change their surnames. This contributes to stifling female ambition as some husbands and in-laws won’t allow a woman to continue with her career after marriage, regardless of how educated or driven she is.

From my perspective as a young woman here in Zimbabwe, it’s clear to me that our societal traditions and norms play such a crucial role in making women and girls less competitive and less ambitious than they might otherwise be. Society must therefore be the primary agent of change by enabling and encouraging girls and women to be more independent. Boys and girls are all born competitive, but social constructs favor men over women and make us believe that these are ‘natural’ differences between males and females.

Día de Muertos: Remembering the Unborn

Día de Muertos, or ‘Day of the Dead’, is one of Mexico’s greatest traditions. Starting on the last day of October and ending on 2 November, the Day of the Dead stands as an ancient tradition to celebrate death and the return of the dead – which our ancestors understood to be part of the duality of life. When the Spaniards colonized our lands, existing celebrations of death fused with Catholisism and created what we know today as Día de Muertos.

We celebrate those who have left this world, but, somehow, still feel as if they are here with us. We honor them with an altar, at which we place photographs of our beloved ones who have passed away along with things they used to enjoy in life. From their favorite drink, to their hobbies, food or music of choice; we celebrate their life and share a night of fun with them in both the world of the living and the world of the dead.

Less well-known is the process to set the altar in line with indigenous traditions. The dates vary from region to region, but from October 28th, specific days are set to honor:

  • Those who died in an accident or very suddenly
  • The drowned
  • The forgotten souls – those without family to remember them
  • Those who were never born or were never baptized
  • Children
  • Adults

On October 31st, my group of friends and I gathered as we do every Tuesday. However, this time it was with the purpose of sharing energies at the end of one month, welcoming the new one, and setting the altar for our dead.

In my family’s history there have been several miscarriages, so I don’t have pictures or anything to set in front of the altar. No favorite food, no favorite music, no favorite blanket. My family and I never knew the babies, but we remind them with love that we count them as part of the family. Without consciously knowing, I dedicated my altar to them, and the next day I found out that October 31st was the day for ‘the ones who were never born’. I felt a chill run down my spine.

I told my friends about this, and we shared stories of women who have had miscarriages or abortions. We talked about how often miscarriages and abortions happen and yet how little we talk about the women affected and their processes for dealing with it. We acknowledged the many different forms the process might take; some women don’t want to share their story, some carry sorrow, some see it as a part of nature, some seek support groups to cope, to name just a few.

One of our friends is an anthropologist, and she always has incredible stories about women from different contexts and cultures. She told us one that I want to share:

The Nahua people – indigenous people from the central region of Mexico – have a vision of the human being as part of the cosmos. They believe that pain, suffering, death and sickness are all consequences of the cosmos. They have different gods, and one of them is Apanchaneh or Chalchiuhtlicue – ‘Woman of the Water’ or ‘Mermaid’ (Sirena in Spanish). Nahua women who have miscarried or decided to ‘secretly’ end their pregnancy throw their foetuses into the river, believing them to become ‘mermaid children’ – sons and daughters of the Mermaid who wanted them for herself. With this belief, Nahua women’s understanding of miscarriage or abortion is different to those of other cultures. Nahua woman know that what happened wasn’t their fault, or their bodies’ fault: it was the Woman of the Water who asked for those children.

These past few days have been magical for me. My friends and I have created rituals to reconnect with ourselves and everything that surround us: the dead and the living. We shared stories, music and new traditions. We have taught each other things that have helped each other grow. Our sorority has become stronger during the festivities as we have shared in knowledge and love.