In Kenya, the rhetoric of “please act like a lady” arrives at a girl’s doorstep almost fully made. It is baked, fried, escalloped, grilled and served flaming to a typical 2 year old girl. The moment you can open your mouth to say “mama” the flaming rhetoric is shoved into your little mouth. Act like a lady. When you tattle around your house wreaking havoc in your wake and embarrassing mommy before her guests you’ll be told to act like a lady. (Never mind that you are a two year old and wreaking havoc is your forte) When that rowdy boy from next door kicks your minute shins and you kick him right back and he begins to wail attracting the attention of house helps manifested by the opening of windows and the thrusting of round heads out those windows, you are asked what you did to induce the boy’s kick and cries. “Please be a girl next time and don’t fight” That is the day’s gabfest.
At that point when you are two years old you barely understand this incessant wordage. You endeavor to submit to it despite not understanding it. You bit by bit withdraw into a shell that when one day you look back on, was undoubtedly invented specially for ladies. You shrink yourself to be a lady. You shrink yourself so that the men in your environment germinate and bloom like fresh daisies while you wither away, fragile and starved of unexplored conviction because your mission of being a lady has to be fulfilled. Swearing like a sailor for a lady is unthinkable. Sleeping around is unthinkable. You must hedge yourself from getting a baby in your early teens. You agonize remarkably about what Mrs. Otieno, your friend’s mom would say if you got pregnant young.
Your anxiety is forever along the lines of what people would think. If I wear a short dress, what will people think of me? If I go to the chemist to buy birth control pills, what will people say?
The first time you say “fuck” you hold a hand over your mouth.
The first time meet a woman openly sleeping around you call her a “hoe” in your head because you can’t for the life of you speak it out loud. You judge her silently because you know you are better. You fuck. Just not openly.
Before you know it, you are masterfully telling an epic story of virtuous women and morality. You have your morality in a sure grasp. You are not letting it go for anyone, perhaps just for that man you have freaky nights with. For him, you’d let go of anything.
You legitimately don’t get women who speak out about oppression. What is oppression even. Women just need to know their place and everything will be right with the world. You avoid such people. They will lead you astray. They are too loud. Too expressive. Too much of everything. Something you truly cannot relate with, after years of shrinking yourself.
Sometimes when you have to cook or clean for the man you have freaky nights with and you really don’t feel like it, you admire those loud women. Do they say no to their men? Do they have men? Probably not. No man would want a loud smart mouth hanging around him. Sometimes you even think of just walking away from this man you have freaky nights with but you can’t. Saying no is not your thing. It’s never been your thing. You are a respectable lady. Men are the ultimate truth whisperers. Men are everything.
Except on days when the “hi baby I like your ass” monologues are particularly high on the streets, you really are okay. You don’t think you have faced any instances of overt sexism except on the streets. This one time you think you are okay the man you have freaky nights with shows up and hits you-a resounding smack with the back of his uncommonly turbulent hand because you got home late and forgot to cook.
A little light bulb goes off in your head. An abrupt realization. This man really isn’t all that. Men really aren’t all that. You smile, pint-sized ,almost a smirk that lifts the corner of your mouth and in that moment vocalize your “fuck it all.”