My teenage years were marked, distinctively, with irritation. Mostly at the older girls in my church.
I couldn’t understand why they were all so desperate to find men. It was all they talked about, all they seemed to care about. Whenever they stood up to testify it was always about a man.
I despised their desperate search, so much. I vowed to be different.
My parents invested a good fortune in my education. They wanted me to amount to something, not aspire to marry a rich good man. If anything, I was under the impression that would upset them. In the 21st century, it saddens me, that most women still feel their highest attainable goal in life is finding a husband to take care of them.
I wasn’t born to learn and master the art of finding a good man.
As a teenager, I decided two things. The first, that I hate gold diggers (and to me, that meant any woman, lazy to work or one simply expecting a man to look after her). Secondly, I was going to make the most of my life. That I wasn’t born to learn and master the art of finding a good man.
I set out on my journey. Swimming upstream. A very lonely path in my community. For the most part.
Making friends was difficult. My tolerance for other women’s ‘weak-mindedness’ slowly died out. Conversation with most girls needed blood, sweat and tears! Attempting to climb Mt. Everest would have been much easier.
Eventually I stopped trying. I kept one best friend, and another close one. Those who also had dreams to amount to something in life, independent of men.
Patsy and I hardly ever talked about boys. I don’t think she even had a boyfriend until she went to university. Which, by then, was a pleasant surprise.
Patsy wasn’t my only friend. Ellena was too. She was a self-driven woman. Determined to prove herself to those who doubted her. She wasn’t like Patsy. She dated.
We disagreed on dating principles, but friends don’t have to agree on everything. Especially if one has so few of them. Her dating stories were always entertaining, though we seldom discussed them.
Most of my high school days swooshed past, almost in a blink of an eye. I didn’t do much. Didn’t go to all the wild parties with my classmates, nor neighbors. I don’t recall actually ever knowing about any parties. I was on a mission to keep my human contact to a minimum. Meeting more people increased my chances of meeting guys and having to deal with them. It was best to avoid it completely.
So, I read a lot. About anything that tickled my fancy. I wrote when I got tired of reading. Kept seven diaries, by the time I graduated from high school. Since I had little variety in my hobbies, I mostly documented my thoughts and ideas about society. The way I thought it ought to be, and things I would like to change about it.
The older women in my church were very tolerant to my unconventional philosophies. They thought me amusing.
I remember once, at a camping conference, I was sent to take food to the elderly men of our congregation. I had been standing by the fire for what felt like an eternity. Starving, my body about to give up on supporting all my weight; which was quite substantial at the time.
I begged the women at the fire to serve me first, because I was very hungry. Besides, I had been waiting there, the longest. One of the women said to me, “We have to feed our fathers, first.”
I turned around to look at the men sitting a few feet away from the fire. They were in deep conversation, laughing at a joke perhaps. I frowned slightly, “They don’t look that hungry. I bet they are not as hungry as I am.”
The woman smiled at me, just take their food to them, I have already served it. Cursing beneath my breath, I obeyed. But but the time I got back, the queue had been rearranged. Girls at the back, and boys at the front. Obviously, I wasn’t going to let this injustice prevail.
“Most of the girls got here first!”
“Yeah, but the girls haven’t done anything since morning. The boys have been up since four am, fetching water for all of us.”
I had tried (the previous night) to fetch some water myself. I knew it was a tedious job. Our campsite was very far from any taps. The sandy pathways made walking harder than it normally is. Imagine walking on a sandy beach carrying a 20 liter container, full of water.
I sank into the nearest chair, miserable. Then burst out, louder than I initially intended, “When I grow up, I want to be a father. They get served first.”
The whole camp burst out in laughter. I returned a weak smile.
I fought against the woman stereotype in my community on two fronts. I fought other girls (those who weren’t on my side) and I fought the guys too.
Puberty came with many unpleasant changes for me. I hated every part of it. Something am starting to feel was indoctrinated in me by society.
We couldn’t talk about the changes taking place in my body. It was a taboo in my family, and to be honest, I was uncomfortable discussing such things with my mother. I was hoping to find a stranger willing to talk. But there was no one, even the girls at church didn’t want to talk about it.
The physical changes bothered me the most. They meant, I couldn’t run around topless anymore. My dad stopped bathing me (the only silver lining in my puberty’s dark cloud). But it also meant I couldn’t bath with my brothers anymore. They couldn’t escort me to the loo, and guard me while I pee. It meant, every time I was in the toilet alone, the monster that eats children could finally get me! All alone.
That was a tough time for me. It also unveiled things about men I had known nothing about. The fact that men stare. They stare at women’s chests, bums and face. Anything they fancy really.
There is nothing wrong with staring, one might argue.
But of course there is something wrong with staring! It is rude. We are taught not to stare when growing up. But somehow when we are older, men can stare. Make you feel uncomfortable and you, being the woman, do the descent thing of looking away.
God blessed me with a voluptuous body. I know it now. I know it now because I have embraced my femininity. I have learnt to love myself. Back then, I didn’t know it.
I wore mostly long dresses, baggy tops and covered my legs and cleavage. But men still stared.
Most people make think that men stare at women because of their dressing. Take it from me, a teenage girl who had no sense of fashion. Most elders considered me a well brought up child, who dressed well. Well meaning descent…
Regardless of what a woman wears, there is always a man who will stare.
At one of our youth meetings in church, we had a debate about dressing. The idea of women wearing pants was just starting to creep into Zimbabwe. Some girls among us had started wearing them, already. But perhaps felt guilty about doing so without the church’s approval. So they came to seek approval.
Shockingly no one, in our meeting on that particular day, was for the idea. It would tempt men, and lead them into temptation.
Can you believe that!? And most people against the idea, surprisingly, were women, not men.
“You can’t wear something like that!” one of the most active girls in the church argued. Her name was Yolandi. I despised her very much, and was always out to argue with her, “Those jeans shape your body-”
“So is the skirt you’re wearing!” I interjected.
“It’s not the same!” She defended herself.
“Yes, it is, ” I stood up, “The question shouldn’t be about what type of clothes you wear. But how you look in them. Sure there are people who prefer tight jeans, but that doesn’t mean you can’t wear loose ones. And why should I care if I lead a brother into temptation? It takes two… Our brothers have been checking us out in long baggy black skirts and t-shirts!”
A round of applause, and I curtsied.
“Primrose, do you own any of those jeans?” Yolandi demanded.
I had to respond very carefully, on this one. This was war. But I decided to go with the truth. We were in church. I was certain Christ would not be pleased with me, lying in His father’s house.
I shook my head, ” No. I don’t.”
” See, she is leading all of you astray. Pushing you to do things she’s not doing!”
“Oh, puh-leeeze! Yolandi, is that your best shot?! You should know, my mother doesn’t approve. And so she won’t buy me any. But when I am older and I can buy myself anything I want, I will practically stop wearing dresses and skirts.”
And I did keep my word. A few years later, I left home for university. I didn’t wear a skirt or dress for six years!
In my effort to be the weirdest girl I can be, both to other girls and other women- I cared little about my physical looks.
It’s something I learnt earlier in life. Even when I was still an innocent girl, my mom playing dolls with my wardrobe. Girls were meant to be pretty. Am not sure what boys were, when I was dolled up in itchy socks and dresses. The only thing (boyish about my look was my hair). My mother didn’t approve of doing babies’ hair. So mine was short and cut as often as possible. Still not sure how I feel about that. It’s both a blessing and a curse, I suppose.
I thank God I never had a sister. One of us wouldn’t have made it past 10. I hate being compared to other people, you see. Sisters, especially, are destined to hate each other, in my opinion. Because people compare them all the time. There is always the prettier one. And people love the prettier one, and being pretty for a girl… is a good thing.
I wondered what would happen, if a girl chose not to be pretty? Could society see me for something else? Perhaps we could learn to appreciate that there can be more to a girl, than a pretty face.
To be continued…