Last year, a friend of mine asked me to critique an article she had written about condom use, abstinence and the whole gamut of issues that revolve around HIV prevention ahead of World AIDS Day.
I could not stop laughing as I read it, because the article was so typical of her – it was brash, crude, and blunt to the point of being rude, outrageous and even a little obscene!
And my friend is all of the above (in varying degrees, of course) and those who don’t know her as well as her friends do are often put off by her directness – she has no tact and is quite proud of it.
I am often annoyed when I hear people trying to psychoanalyze her and when they fail they all invariably proffer the nonsensical explanation that my friend was “ruined” by too much education!
I have often been diagnosed as suffering from the same ailment myself and I have been told (rather unkindly) that “too much education” has supposedly ruined me.
I honestly have no idea what that expression means, considering that my level of education is relatively modest in comparison to what I aspire for.
I have since realized that the phrase is used loosely with reference to any intelligent woman who knows her mind and is not afraid to speak it.
Many educated women have been scorned for purportedly failing to keep their marriages intact because their ‘schooling’ gets the better of them and they fail to ‘know their place’ in the home.
I don’t agree with that analysis.
I don’t think my education has anything to do with how I have turned out, it influences my ideas yes, but does not shape my convictions nor does it affect my temperament.
My personality is not a result of my education, neither is it an aftereffect of my upbringing – it is just a peculiar consequence of who I have chosen to become.
I have always been a feminist.
I simply did not know that my feelings of discontent, frustration and animosity towards the ‘status quo’ had a name nor did I know back then, that I was not alone in my dissatisfaction at how women in our society always seemed to be relegated to inferiority.
Now I am told that I am too headstrong to succeed in marriage, told that my insistence on being an equal partner in the marital institution is a folly resulting from ‘too much’ schooling.
Perhaps the emphasis on getting an education has always been premised on the belief that education emancipates women, that it creates for them the opportunities to excel in any career path they chose.
And that their competence as professionals will be rewarded financially and materially ensuring that they always have a choice, they are not under any man’s thumb, less likely to face abuse.
Education translates to knowledge, which translates to skill, which translates to wealth creation either by being gainfully employed or by being an employer – it levels the playing field for both men and women.
Yet the irony is that for all their education, most women are their mothers’ daughters, incapable of breaking free of the deeply ingrained patriarchal values that inform their perception of themselves and color their perception of men.
I have encountered on numerous occasions narratives of highly educated women, with high paying jobs who have been on the receiving end of domestic violence and have failed to break free of the mold despite the fact that they are not economically dependant on their assailants.
There are successful career women, who when they dress to face the world, paste a smile on their faces, conceal the bruises with expertly applied make up and silently live in hell.
Education has not done anything for them – it has merely made them easier targets because they are made feel guilty for excelling in life and are ashamed to seek legal recourse because they have reputations to maintain.
Ever wondered what makes them stay?
They stay because they were conditioned and raised to stay, to put up with it, to suffer and endure it and no amount of degrees can convince them otherwise!
As long as we have mothers raising their daughters to believe that suffering is some badge of honor we will never break the cycle of violence because such misnomers are what enslave, entrap and incapacitate women, making them the perfect victims of gender-based discrimination and violence.
As long as we have fathers raising their sons to believe that beating a woman is an appropriate expression of ‘real’ manhood we will never stem the tide against domestic violence and abuse because these wife bashers are a products of a certain kind of upbringing. The wrong kind of upbringing, I might add.
Finally, gender activism must be premised on the indisputable fact that women are people too and that their womanhood must never obscure their humanity.
If believing in the most rudimentary principles of fairness, equity and social justice is a form of ruination – then may education continue to ‘ruin’ more women, freeing them from the mental toxin of a patriarchal upbringing that would have them believe that they are lesser beings.
Parting shot: Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself. – Gloria Steinem