What is wrong with our cultures?
I remember from my childhood when we were having a family dinner and I was helping my mom to wash the dishes and table afterwards. I remember my father wasn’t taking a plate to help her. Even when my bother attempted to do so, my mom would say to him to leave it. Why didn’t I leave it? Or more importantly, why should he have left it?
I did not have the awareness that I have today, I didn’t need to. I was annoyed, I was angry. I couldn’t exactly respond to the question of why. Once I thought aloud during dinner: “if everyone took their own plate, the table would be less messy, and it is the least we could do for mom.” My dad looked at me as if I was speaking an alien language all of a sudden. My brother did not understand what I meant. What was more striking was that my mom looked at me scoldingly, as if I told something very rude. Hey, mom, you know I’m speaking for you? Anyway, I did not tell anything.
A few evenings later, I saw my brother taking dishes with him while getting up from dinner. I was happy, I managed to do something, and it wasn’t something small. No, indeed I knew it would lead to something greater in his personal development. Funny though, my mom looked at me as if she was asking, “can you see what you’ve done?”
My family wasn’t a strict patriarchal one. Indeed, I learned mutual love, respect and caring for others from them. My mom wasn’t forcing me to help her, it was every children’s responsibility to do so. Neither my dad wasn’t expecting us to obey him and stay silent. Indeed, he is the person to advise me to listen to my heart and follow my personal aspirations. But it was something inherent in our culture, it has nothing to do with my parents’ personality. But I wasn’t aware of this fact then. So, I was both angry with my dad and was encouraged by the small change I caused in my brother. Thus, I decided to change something in a 38-year-old man as a 16-year-old girl, which was unthinkable in our society because daughters had no right to say anything to their fathers whether they were right or not. That’s why, my “mischievousness” was impertinent for my mother, it wasn’t the way she grew up. I mean, they even used to call my grandfather as literally “patriarch” to emphasize his authority. I totally respect her upbringing.
Anyway, to make my father listen to me, I pushed my brother more. I was sorry for him and still am. But I thought if I had spoken by referring to my brother, my father would have understood. So, each evening I said to my brother “take your plate, please” even though I knew he would. You know, tea culture is so important for us and we drink several cups of tea every evening. No kidding. But someone has to pour tea each time we finish our cups. Whenever my mom wanted me to pour tea for my father, I asked why my brother couldn’t do it, or my dad himself. I wanted my father to realise it. And he did. After some days, I saw my father was taking the plates with him. He wasn’t helping my mom not because he didn’t want to, or didn’t care about her. Indeed, my parents didn’t establish gender norms at our home or whatsoever. As I said, the problem was their upbringing, the problem was our culture. Even though my parents weren’t closed-minded, they were also victimised by our social surroundings, consciously or unconsciously.
But, when did all begin? When was the first time someone said “yes, we do not know the reasons but women should be inferior”, “it is unfortunate that we’ll have a baby girl”? When was the first time a single, adult female was called “spinster”? When was our freedom to choose the person whom we’ll marry taken away from us? How did girls start to grow up with only marriage aspirations?
I cannot respond to these questions. But what I can answer is that in my culture, I’m regarded as less human. I’m not greeted in some restaurants if I have a male companion. I’m not expected to wear, talk and laugh as I wish. Most women are seen as products of their fathers who see in themselves a right to own, oppress and beat their daughters. The father-daughter relationship can be considered as ownership starting in the father’s house and extending to the husband’s sphere.
We encourage girls to dream of their marriage and Prince Charming. We buy them Barbie dolls, miniature houses. We teach them how to cook, how to serve, how to dress, how to talk, how to sit, how to stand up, how to walk and so on and we call them as good manners. Everything sounds reasonable. Then, why do we teach boys the reverse? Why is masculinity associated with power, violence and authority? Imagine a boy beats his friend at the school and comes home. Isn’t he either praised or treated softly in a mocking way? “Eh, he’s just a child, that happens, he becomes a man”. When has being a man become a justification for a fight or rape? Biologically, violence has nothing to do with being a man. Imagine the opposite scenario. Probably a girl fighting would also be beaten for her “mischievousness” by her parents.
“Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage.”
While dating, we expect boys to pay for the girl. What does paying have to do with being a man? Why do we grow up boys in a constant race to prove their masculinity?
We’ve created a society where the success of a woman threatens her male partner, we’ve come to a point where we can’t enjoy each other’s achievements. We’ve placed the issues of money, patriarchal masculinity, female oppression/diminution to the forefront of love, happiness and mutual respect.
We grow up boys and encourage them to have sex at a certain age. We encourage them to be experienced, we pat them on their back. Whereas, we turn female virginity into something holy and sublime. We’ve created this culture, the culture in which women cannot have a claim to speak for their own bodies. So much so that, several females were murdered by their patriarchal family members as they had sex before. They were blamed to harm the family’s decency (namus), they were destroyed in the name of traditional customs (töre). Now tell me, why does a female body have to do anything with a family’s decency? Why don’t we question the degree of decency this family has? How can they search for this virtue if they are able to kill their own daughters for something that only belongs to one individual? More importantly, why haven’t we treated both genders equally while we suppress female sexuality? Why have we treated women unfairly as if they weren’t human beings and they had no voice of their own while praising men?
Gender is a problem. Gender inequality has always become turbulent. The inequalities haven’t been led by biological differences. They are all social constructs. We’ve created this inequality and we continue to praise it, we feel proud of it. No, this is so wrong. It was our fault to bring these children to the world and internalise them with disgusting norms. It is now our responsibility to cleanse them. We have to teach them, folks. I have to teach my brother not to resemble my father. I have to teach him to feel proud of his female/male partner’s success, to love himself as who he is and his partners for who they are. He should not think of taking plates after dinners with his husband/wife. He should know cooking is nobody’s duty, everyone living on earth should have the ability to feed themselves. He has to respect, he has to love. He has to be true to himself. It is not about labelling it as feminism. It is about humanity, it is about who we are. It is about respecting individuals no matter what their gender, background, race and religion are. It is about the equal treatment of both genders.
“Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.”
We’ve been taught for centuries how we should be and act. Now we have to recognise who we are. I can play with cars, I can wear blue, I can have my bodily freedom. I can have relationships with whomever I desire. My brother can be emotional, he is not here to be pressured with fake masculinity. He can wear pink, he can cook and he can cry. I didn’t answer to my mother then, but yes mom, I can see what I’ve done and I’m so damn happy.
Folks, we can do what the hell we want to do. No toxic society can harm us.
*All of the quotes are taken from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists