I write this to all my thirteen-year-old teenage girls figuring their spaces in the world, those slowing falling into the pits of the biases of patriarchy and toxic masculinity, those reduced to doing dishes and after school curfews. Those who look at all the corners of the room but not see their kind…a raised challenging hand in the classroom when her kind gets ridiculed…her kind of eyes and all the emotions they house…her stories and triumphs when she turns on the news. Those molded into bowed heads, forced smiles and conditioned humility. To Those deprived of exploring the world and their wholeness. Those who’ve had to learn and believe that being female- the gender they were born into was a curse.
I write this to my neighbor’s daughter, who was born whole with flesh and bone, with all the greatness and magic she dawned this earth with but ended up a drop-out because she was born female. A reduced being and another living statistic the system has to accommodate. The one we’ll one-day gaze over and send a silent prayer to God that they make it through life. I still remember how she got teary eyed every single time I asked her “Why aren’t you in school?” She looked at me with her perfectly crafted chiseled face and all the innocence her tiny body embodies with crumbling dreams and aspirations we don’t get to see and whispered “My parents cannot afford the fees for my brothers and I so I have to stay home and help mother out since I will be married anyway and take care of my husband and kids”. I recall her choking mid-way through this response, sending a silent wish back to her God with the hope that HE listens and turns her pages back.
I write this to my childhood friend who was forced into the arms of a man she never wanted. Who watched the very people she trusted her life with empty her pocket full of dreams and handed her a life she was never prepared for…a life of brooms and soaps…manipulations and threats…of taking care of a big baby and then making little ones thereon…to late night pleasures and early morning weeping. This one hit so hard because I was there when she spoke to her stars. I listened all through and I heard it all when she spoke of all she wanted and everything she despised. I was there too at the wedding when she came running towards us and threw her arms around my sister, pulling her into a hug that said “save me my dear friend!” That day, I watched a young innocent girl that needed saving walk into the plot society had built for her…just because she was born female.
I write to the young girl, whose rape story made the news, who earned all the unwelcomed reviews and comments into her life…only this time her version was omitted. I read the comments on twitter, I logged into all the sites that wrote about the news with my struggling data hoping that at least one of them will spin the story and get the right perspective that brings the “a child was raped by her father” version out. I slowly found myself drifting into the spaces of Facebook and the disgust privileged men and clueless women spew at this headline, how all of them just ran with part of the puzzle as thou it was the truth. In the heat of the moment I caught my mind going back to Chimamanda Ngozi’s danger of a single-story analogy and then and there, I figured what it really meant to live by it. It’s interesting how for a 6-year-old girl, the narrative changed. This scenario didn’t fit the usual “what was she wearing” perspective, the “what was she doing at a man’s house that late” card and all the “she asked for it” analogy, for a 6 year old, they were soft on her…a little too kind if you ask me. But they went for her mother…dragging her “irresponsibility” on their feeds and how she was not pleasuring her husband enough forcing him into the bed of his daughter because a man has to eat. Yet again, a man walked out of a mess boldly at the expense of a young girl that trusted him with her life.
I write this to myself and all my sisters around the continent that stumble on these stories every day and drift back into the cocoon of what they can do. When these stories itch your throats begging for freedom but you find words failing you, write them down and make all the noise in the pages of your diaries, your blogs and all the word documents on your laptop…just this time, don’t close that book or the tab, set them free.
Follow the story of your neighbor’s daughter and tell the world about her strength and all her wins. Tell them your childhood friend made it through all her setbacks and how the 6 year old dawned a new narrative for herself. And if the stories you stumble upon don’t cut the happily ever narrative, tell your version…the “she” version. As a gender and people, we will penetrate the injustice we are faced with if we own the narratives and tell our stories through our lenses. Even if we don’t change the present, we will path the way for all the thirteen-year-old teenage girl figuring their spaces in the world a chance to better days and refined narratives.