I have always found irony in the fact that mothers are the primary agents through which we are socialized and in every generation we reproduce the same stereotypical notions of and roles pertaining to womanhood and manhood.
Ideally both parents should play a part in the upbringing of their children but in patriarchal Africa, that is rarely the case. The raising of children is left solely to mothers.
This daunting role has one advantage – it gives mothers considerable influence over their offspring; influence I suspect they have undermined.
In growing up people tend to internalize social conventions and norms so well that they become second nature to them and mothers are the primary sources of information.
Our understanding of the role and place we should occupy in society is shaped in those formative years listening to our mothers.
A mother often leaves an indelible mark on her daughter. There is power in reinforcement, the constant repetition of something that eventually leads to the creation of a certain self-image.
Such is the power of a mother’s voice. We carry it in our heads long after we have grown. We cannot shake off the words they have spoken concerning who we are or who we should be; how we are or how we should be.
As we grow up our mothers inform our worldview, and our perception of self. To many of us, our mother is an authority – not to be doubted or disputed.
Her words is our reality; unshakable and irrevocable. The world is what our mother says it is and we are what she says we are. It is the mother who convinces her daughter that cooking, cleaning, washing and all household chores are her core responsibility.
But our mothers wrong.
Our mothers were wrong when they tried to convince us that it was normal and natural for us to play a subordinate role to our male counterparts.
They were wrong when they ingrained in us the belief that we were inferior to our brothers, lesser than every man and subject to the whims of every male.
A mother’s life is like the template a daughter uses to define herself.
We always assume that the choices our mothers made were the right ones, that they were the best ones and that the path they walked is the only one available to us.
But our mothers were wrong when they failed to challenge the status quo. Would not stand up for themselves, would not lift their voices in protest against the myriad social injustices that they suffered.
Our mothers were wrong when they set before us so narrow a path, so limited a scope of choice and bestowed upon us so silent a voice that we could not speak and be heard.
Yes they failed us when they led us to believe that we could be nothing more than someone’s wife.
They were wrong when they equipped us with no other skill except the abilities to carry out chores and passed on to us the flawed belief that suffering in silence was an act of virtue and not cowardice.
They were wrong when they instilled in us the culture of conformity, the culture of being docile, spineless, meek and long-suffering.
For in the years that were to follow we were to learn that we could be more than someone’s mother and we could be better than just someone’s wife. We were to learn that our identity did not lie solely in those two occupations – being a mother and being a wife.
We were to learn that the domestic sphere was our prison and not our paradise.
Our vast talents lay dormant while we pursued the endless drudgery and monotony of household chores.
So we learned that our mothers had been wrong, when they taught us to aspire to be nothing more than a mother and nothing better than a wife.
We soon learned that when we aspired to be wives and mothers – we had not set our aspirations high enough.
We learned soon enough that we had sold ourselves short; that we had underestimated ourselves and were painfully unaware of our true worth.
Yet in our deep sense of disillusionment we felt compassion for these women who had given us life, for we remembered that they too, were once someone’s daughters and that their mothers too had been wrong.
To us the tragedy was the realization that our mothers had been women were a generation of women who had not only failed to fly but had never even dared to dream of it.
And because they had no other role except that which they had inherited from their own mothers, they sought to reproduce characteristics in us that they felt would make us proper and ‘acceptable’ women.
When we refused to have our wings clipped and clung to our dreams, our mothers were outraged and hurt. They felt betrayed by our absolute refusal to become their replicas and live our lives the way they had.
Our mothers were right about other things but they were wrong about these things. We cannot live to gloat at what we may perceive to be the error of their ways; we can only strive to chart a different course for our lives.
For now we know that marriage to women, as to men, must be a luxury – not a necessity; an incident of life; not all of it.