Martha Obike
May 7, 2018 · 4 min read

CULTURE OF SHAME: As Experienced By A Nigerian Lady In Her Early Twenties

Okay, I feel I should start with two things about myself. One, I’m a Nigerian Lady who transitioned into the twenties a few months ago and I study in a college in the south south part of Nigeria. Two, if there's anything like being allergic to sweat or heat, then my theory is true. If you do know me well enough, you would know that having to sweat or walk under the sun irks me a lot. Nigeria is a tropical country, and having sunny days is pretty normal, so when I do need to go to school, I opt for lighter clothes with darker colors, because of the terribly hot weather. I have an allergic reaction to staying under the sun or sweating, it leaves rashes on my arms, my neck and sometimes my chest.

So today is a Monday, I have a class and the morning sun is dreadfully hot already. And as soon as I'm done dressing up for school in a short sleeve jersey like top tucked into high waisted trousers, a neighbor who was in my room then commented on how I was dressed inappropriately for school, how my arms were exposed for a girl and how he wouldn't act like he knew me if he saw me in school. The conversation that ensued afterward was basically this :

Him: How can you go to school like this?

Me: I hope you do know your opinion doesn't matter but you are still entitled to your opinion too.

Him: I'm telling you this as a friend.

Me: No, you are being judgmental. I don't have friends who judge me.

Him: I'm not judging you, I'm telling you the truth.

Me: Well, I don't want your truth.

Fast forward to school and my class is over. I decide to go to the school’s library to apply for my library card for the semester. When I entered the library, one of the librarians, a woman called me and our conversation went this way:

Her: Are you a new student?

Me: No.

Her: So you are an old student. What did you come to do?

Me: To apply for a library card.

Her: OK, have you ever come into the library dressed this way?

Me: No

Her: We don't allow it. Next time, don't come into the library wearing clothes that expose your arms.

Me: Okay.

While this was a totally awkward conversation, on my way home I tried as much as I could to connect the dots to how whatever I was putting on was even related to the business of educating our minds with the old books on the tall shelves, which my forefathers probably read in school too. What’s the actual connection? Am I committing an abomination, desecrating the books, distracting the next person from reading with a view of my arms? This is still absurd to me.

I try to imagine what this would do psychologically to a girl fresh out of secondary school who is still trying to handle the complexity of college life. How it automatically makes her feel like she's not good enough because of the way she's dressed. Let's not forget I was fully clothed, without showing any boobs or nothing. And wearing a jersey like top which by the way most guys do wear, means I'm dressed inappropriately and I am exposing my arms. We don't even think if the girl would die of heat stroke as long as her arms aren't covered. This is a pile of bullcrap I know. We shame women and girls every day, judging them for how they choose to appear. There's a culture of shame in Nigeria we instill into young girls, from telling them to close their legs when they sit, to pull down their skirt, it's too short, to not express their sexuality, talk about sex, or shame them for not being woman enough because they don't like cooking or couldn't “keep” a man. These are all choices a human can make which should never be forced.

There are a lot of Nigerian girls and women going through self-esteem issues, who don't think they are good enough because of a series of shame which they have experienced all through their lives. Well, that has to stop now. We need to stop putting so many expectations and pressure on women and young girls to be perfect.


“I think that you don't need to exist in a world that expects you to be perfect.”

Martha Obike

Written by

Content Developer. Obsessed with reading "good" books and photography. Ice cream junkie. I empower women too.