Gender based social expectations are a funny thing, inasmuch as they reveal a lot about the people who defend and perpetuate them. Growing up in a traditional Christian and West Indian home, I’ve become all too familiar with gender expectations. As a teenager, I grew up resenting the idea of me having to learn how to cook and clean, not because I was lazy or incapable of doing those things, but because of the reasons people offered to convince me I needed to learn to do them. In high school I barely understood what it meant to be a feminist or a womanist, but deep down inside I always felt a disconnect and a slight rebellion to the gender traditions of which my family and church continue to hold on. My argument has always been to teach me how to function, and survive as a woman who needs to learn to take care of herself first. I was never interested in anyone teaching me to cook and properly clean, simply because one day I was to become some man’s wife. Because first of all, where is he? Last time I checked I’m still single (and have been for quite some time now), so why was I being burdened with the responsibility of learning to care for a man during my adolescence, when at 23 he is still no where to be found? I’m not sure if my mother and aunts constantly telling me, “cooking and cleaning will keep a man.” was supposed to be some sort of incentive for me to learn, but at sixteen that intangible prize of a future husband did not suffice. To this very day I resent the idea of me being nurtured into a role I’m not even 100% sure I will be privileged enough to have. While I do hope and pray to become a loving, nurturing, responsible wife and mother some day; I refuse to make day to day decisions constantly contemplating an unseen man and my unborn child(ren). I am single, and childless and I believe that now is the appropriate time for me to enjoy learning, living, and doing just for me (and God of course).
Despite my frustrations with, and resentment for these gender expectations; I must admit that I often times find it hard to completely dismiss them. It’s as if the more I resist these expectations, the more people reinforce them to me, and attempt to force them on me. However, if I try hard enough to forget the literature I read, dismiss my formal education, and force myself into humility; I am able to conform to these roles (tis a very tedious task). During these humble moments I often think of the disconnect between my generation of women, and those of previous generations, who tend to naturally assume roles and feed into the expectations that my generation has become more and more courageous to question, and even bold enough to resist. In these moments of contemplation, I also find myself frightened by the many assumptions people make about my future because of my gender. Recently, a woman who use to take care of me as a child called to congratulate me for completing undergrad. She took me for a long, slow stroll down memory lane, then eventually told me how proud of me she was. She then went on to make the request for me to continue to hold my head high and make her proud so that, (wait for it…) the next time she calls she will be able to receive even more great news- the announcement of my wedding. Unfortunately for very single me, more great news to her is not me receiving a MD, a Ph.D, Psy.D, JD, or MS, but my marriage certificate. When I scratch my head and screw my face at those types of comments, I wonder if I’m being irrational, and snobbish for taking offense. However, I highly doubt young men receive congratulatory calls from loved ones on their graduation day with mentions of marriage. In fact, they’re probably getting just the opposite, seeing as they’re young, educated men with a plethora of options that they’re naturally inclined to explore, right? Yet, my next pursuit should be to find a man, and get him to propose to me. (I don’t know what to do first, roll my eyes or clasp my hands and beg God to send me my man ASAP.)
These gender expectations frustrate me, mainly because they make it difficult to want the things you want, when and how you actually want them. Yes, I want to learn to make gourmet meals, but I want to learn so I can have fancy dinner parties with my girlfriends and colleagues, and to be able to contribute something tasty to the office pot-luck. Do I want to learn how to properly do laundry? Why of course! So that I can preserve the brightness of my colors, and not shrink my favorite maxi-dress. And yes, I definitely want to get married, but not because it’s on the checklist of things I must do before I turn 30, and especially not right after undergrad. I really would love for people to realize that just because they expect me to want something, doesn’t mean I’m obligated to want it when they expect me to, how they expect me to, or any at all for that matter. I am an individual who has set expectations for myself, which were framed with MY benefit in mind. I’m still learning myself, my wants, my needs, and MY expectations for myself, and for those I allow into my life. I don’t need, nor do I want to be burdened with the expectations tradition has picked out for me, but don’t always quite seem to fit my current ideals. As a woman I would appreciate people appreciating me and what I want, above the roles they see fit for me. Yes, I am a woman, but that identity means way more to me than what others expect it to mean. Call me crazy, but I’d like to believe that I define my womanhood, and I refuse to allow its social connotations to define me.
By: A. Wisdom
Originally published on: UrbanCusp.com