Written By Igazeuma Okoroba from Medium
It took years for me to
My husband called me ‘strong woman’, fellow women that aspired to achieve what I had did too. Even the strongest woman I have ever personally known called me ‘strong girl’! My Mom. She had to be right. Generations of patrilineal demands upon the African woman makes women like me strive to meet society’s expectations as a working woman who does not compromise her traditional roles in their pursuit of career in a contemporary world. Being acknowledged as a strong woman becomes an indicator that a woman has succeeded in finding this balance. It is a kind of badge of honour that encourages women to bend over backwards to give much more than they can sometimes physically or psychologically afford. For many women, it validates them. Men are proud when neighbours make passing comments about the aroma from their wife’s cooking that fills the neighbourhood or the beauty of their garden tended by a career woman. There seems to be a sense of pride that domestic accomplishments of a working woman gives her man that is different from her career achievements.
When a woman’s multi-tasking skills
I started becoming uncomfortable with being called a strong woman when I realised that there were many other things about a woman that impressed my husband besides my resourcefulness and efforts towards work-life balance. No matter how much ‘strength’ I demonstrated in our marriage, those typical masculine likeness for femininity would never leave. My conservative devotion to the traditional African wife roles did not make him less attracted to femininity. The more feminine women were more dependent on their men and paid attention to pleasing them. Their well-manicured and polished nails, straightened weaves or ever-shiny braids were maintained with as many hours of salon time as time spent scrubbing pots and keeping my home clean. A typical African man would encourage his wife to breast-feed their baby in the first months of life. It becomes a challenge for nursing mothers like me whose priority was their nursing duties to appear flawlessly feminine with a baby whose hunger pangs gives you no time to gain freedom from that tight-fitting dress your man loves you wearing, in order to give them a feed.
When my second child was barely three months old, my son was one year, six months old. I resumed work after maternity leave to experience motherhood in a different dimension because my toddler was still very clingy and demanding. Even though I had a young live-in domestic assistant, there was a lot that only I could do to satisfy them_ and their father
Wearing make-up was also not an instinctive part of my fashion but when I met my husband, I made an effort to use loose powder on my face, gloss my lips and use an eye pencil. It only took seconds to get that basic make-up on but to my bewilderment, I couldn’t even find those free seconds with a toddler, a baby, a full time job and my domestic to-do-list. I would hop into the car with my make-up purse in hand for a rushed facial touch-up every morning on our drive to work in the morning. My husband understood I was doing my best to make the children comfortable and keep the home as a dutiful wife should. He didn’t complain that I was paying less attention to the feminine things he valued as much as my being a dutiful wife. He couldn’t have complained because it was difficult to see that the feminine woman he hoped for was mutually exclusive to the super-human wife he was proud of.
This can be dangerous.
Conformity to the strong woman image has its consequences. Women find it difficult to admit they are stressed and seek help when they believe they are super human and can fix problems by themselves. Many strong women do not express their frustrations because we are generally nice people, suffering inwardly and smiling outwardly. The greatest danger of keeping up the appearance is that the strong woman continues to stretch herself until she goes beyond her elastic limit. This can lead to depression, disability and even suicide.
Those who cheer women to become these super human strong women will be disappointed to know that in reality, no matter how resilient and feminine, no woman will be able to meet their expectations. Keeping impeccable nails while also keeping impeccably clean housewares; making your favourite dish for dinner while supervising the childrens’ homework before 8pm; working over-time to earn that promotion while being that great fun gal pal at your friend’s party, is only sustainable in fiction. Without knowing it we could be endangering the strong women in our lives by our expectations.
Make no mistake that I don’t believe in strong women. I just don’t believe they fit into a
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