Hardwired For Sorry [5]

apology

My Height-ened Apology

My uncles, aunts, the traders at Iwaya market, and the sales person at Wranglers boutique conspired to spit accusations at me. I burrowed the ground with my eyes and hid my lanky arms behind my back. They made me regard my elongating form with shame.

Ahan Ope, do you want to grow as tall as iroko?” People questioned me without expecting answers.

I wanted to die and on the days that I did not want to die, I wished God would shrink my height—who would marry me? They said I was tall for a girl and at the rate at which I was growing, it would be impossible to find a man taller than I was. Even when I pretended not to care, fury spread its wings on my face and at night, I buried my face in my pillow while crying away the pain.

And so, I learned to apologize. I apologized to the inconvenienced sales person who searched and searched for the right size of shoes for me. I apologized to the world, boys in particular, by slouching a little so that the measure of my stature did not intimidate. I apologized to petite girls, who would never have a problem when it came to marriage, by silencing my brewing envy and playing nice. I apologized to my older siblings by giving up my right to speak in their presence because I was told that I had stolen their right to be taller than me.

Like the women in Amy Schumer’s sketch, I say sorry when I do not need to. After I hit my head on the roof of a campus shuttle bus as I got off, my auto-response to the driver’s remark, “All these tall people eh,” was sorry. It was my defense for distracting the other passengers, by making them concerned about me. It was embarrassment for being five feet ten inches tall. It was martyrdom without the halo.

In the last scene of Schumer’s sketch, the male moderator inadvertently pours hot coffee on the third panelist’s legs. She falls down in pain, screaming, “Sorry!” Exaggerated for comic effect, her legs melt off and in agony, she moves with her splintered legs to the chorus of sorry from sympathizers. Her dramatic exit ends with these words, “I’m sorry, I’m dying, I’ve ruined everything. It’s all my fault.”

The moderator never says sorry. He says, “Oops!”

 

Until recently, I believed apologizing for my height was the polite thing to do. I have not unlearned this, but I have become more conscious of it and begun to question the premise of my apology.

Why should anyone have to apologize for the genes they received? Do I apologize for my father and mother too? Why should I be ‘conditioned’ for marriage as if it is the highest purpose I could aspire to? And is a woman who is taller than her husband an anomaly really? Really? Does my height mean I am likely to be more domineering than petite women with graces are? Can flat shoes and a small car truly alter my outcomes in life?

The message from my society is subtly clear: make yourself smaller so men can feel bigger, taller, and more powerful. My height is but a metaphor, which affronts obstinate traditional ideas about gender.

stand out where I come from. Perhaps I’m not supposed to fit in; I am to own and celebrate my uniqueness and be a lighthouse for tall girls and ‘short’ boys too.

This hardwiring for sorry cuts across cultures. My apology revolves around my height; what does yours spin around?

 

Ope Adedeji is a fourth year law student at the University of Lagos. She dreams about bridging the gender equality gap and working with the United Nations. Ope writes occasionally at artsandafrica.com and talesbycecile.wordpress.com.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Advertisements

Hardwired For Sorry [4]

sorry scream

If I Hear Another Sorry, I Will Scream!

I was confused after listening to the high-achieving female innovators in Amy Schumer’s video string a melody with the word sorry. What did their sorry mean? In my part of the world, sorry is usually used to convey pity and sympathy. It is a word I am intimately familiar with.

I remember being a rambunctious kid, playful and energetic. Then my world flipped and went in a direction my young mind could never have imagined. At age seven, I contracted polio and had to learn to walk again, albeit with a limp. Then, just before my sixteenth birthday, I had a freak accident and sustained a fracture to my left femur.  After a couple of surgeries, I was confined to a pair of crutches. I have used them for twenty-eight years. People say sorry to me all the time even though I’m not in any kind of pain.

Because my physical disability attracted pitiful stares and sorrys, I became obsessed with trying to prove that I wasn’t as helpless and disabled as I looked. I focused my energies on education and worked hard to find a footing where the brilliant students stood. Intellectual development became my foremost life goal: if you can’t walk or run, by all means think.

My worldview changed after I read about Helen Keller’s achievements despite contracting an illness in childhood, which left her blind and mute. I also read about Franklin Roosevelt, who contracted polio at thirty-nine, but went on to become president of the United States and was re-elected three times. I believed America was the only place for my dream of a normal life. I dreamed about studying and possibly living in The States. When I finally had the opportunity to pursue an MBA in America, I was refused a study visa twice.

I was crushed by disappointment but by this time, had become a possibility thinker. I ended up in England, where I received my MBA and DBA degrees. Seven years in England, and I never heard the kind of sorry or endured the stares that made me want to hide back home.

I returned to my country after my studies hoping that because I now had Dr. before my name, sympathy would morph to admiration and sorry would drown in the applause of praise. Not so. People still stared with pitiful eyes and they still tell me sorry.

However, pity that makes me feel inadequate isn’t the only narrative. Once as I stood at Port Harcourt International Airport waiting for my luggage, a porter walked up to assist me. As we made our way out of the airport, he looked at me again and exclaimed, “Kai, fine girl like you; wetin happen to ya leg?” I was speechless for a second. Then I asked him if bad things were the preserve of ugly girls. He laughed out loud, and I joined him. Often wit is the bridge through an awkward situation.

In addition to the old mind-sets I contend with daily, I try not to sound too intelligent on purpose. I even overthink the act of posting my thoughts on social networks. I used to be disability conscious, now I am overly conscious about my intellectual achievements. After striving to be extraordinary and do extraordinarily well in my endeavours, I find myself trying to be ordinary to make everyone around me comfortable.

I have spent a good chunk of my life trying to prove a point and trying to change perceptions. So, maybe a part of me understands why the four leading female innovators in Schumer’s video are chorusing sorry. They seem to be apologising for being women at the top of their game.

We have no control over our gender. I had no control over my physical challenges. I controlled what I could. I overcame the limitations of my disability and developed myself in the ways that mattered most.

I am a woman. I have a physical disability. But then, I also have a doctorate degree. There is nothing to be sorry about. If I hear another sorry, I will scream!

 

Ekpos Waritimi is a management consultant, researcher, and speaker. She currently lives in Port Harcourt.

 

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Hardwired For Sorry [3]

Apology

An Apology For Womanhood

I posted quotes by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, on my Facebook Timeline earlier today. All day, the quotes rolled through my mind like a refrain to a sad love song. And as I navigated thick traffic in Abuja, Nigeria’s equivalent of Washington, it hung like a wet blanket alongside my cranky baby’s cries. Hunger and exhaustion made me extra tense. I turned the radio on just in time to hear the anchor dispense advice to a caller who was seeking help for a floundering marriage and periodic punches from her husband.

“You know men have egos. You just have to stoop to conquer. Avoid behaviours that anger him. If he tells you to stop serving dinner late, you too, get home earlier!”

‘Softening,’ he concluded by recommending she watch her tone and find opportune moments to discuss issues with her husband.

 

We raise girls to cater to the fragile egos of men. 

 

Seconds later, my car rocked from the impact of a danfo bus running into the passenger-side door where my baby was seated. The driver had been trying to shunt the traffic queue. Rage propelled me out of my car. He sauntered out of his bus muttering, “Na woman sef.”

My fury grew as he unrepentantly argued with me and as he spat, “Hey! Mistake na mistake. I get your type for house! Don’t talk to me anyhow! Na so you dey talk to your husband for house?”

Bystanders advised me to calm down. “Shebi you know he is a man,” one of them counseled.

 

We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. 

 

When we finally made it home, the water heater failed. I needed the electrician, Mr. Kehinde, to repair it. However, I couldn’t call him because he has issues taking instructions from women. So I rang my husband who was 800km away to call the electrician who was 4km away, and tell him to fix the heater.

Later, a friend called me to lament her experience at the police station where she had gone to bail a neighbour. The officer in charge had laughed in her face and told her that because she is a woman, she was not qualified to bail anyone. My friend, a medical doctor, then had to get her driver who has a secondary school-leaving certificate, to post bail. She was bitter and vented for a long time.

 

Each time they ignore me, I feel invisible. I feel upset. I want to tell them that I am just as human as the man, that I am just as worthy of acknowledgement. These are little things but sometimes it’s the little things that sting the most. 

 

Earlier in the evening, I listened to my aunt counsel my cousin whose husband is cheating on her and doling money he wouldn’t spend on his family, on his mistress.

“Just keep your home. That’s what I know. You will not be the first woman. Men stray, they return. Just ensure he continues to eat your food and don’t deny him sex. Don’t let silly girls who have not suffered with him snatch him from you.”

 

We teach females, that in relationships, ‘compromise’ is what women do. We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs, or for accomplishments — which I think can be a good thing — but for the attention of men. 

 

And then she turned to me, “I hear you are applying for PhD again. . . come, what are you looking for? You just want to compete with your husband ehn! The poor man does not have a Masters, now you are ready to lord PhD over him abi? Continue! That’s your cousin struggling right there. You don’t have problems; you want to create some for yourself with your own hands. Already, don’t you earn more than him? My dear . . . ”

 

We say to girls, “You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you would threaten the man. 

 

Just before I turned in for the night, I visited Facebook. Four angry rants filled the comment section under my post. Their lowest common denominator? Women were marginalized in Nigerian society but that narrative has since changed. Citing a few trailblazers, they maintained that today’s women are just as empowered as men are. So quotes like Adichie’s only promote mischief.

I shook my head sadly. I didn’t respond. No. I shut down and kept my angst to myself. As I drifted off, I wondered why my society would showcase exceptions as the norm while women remain second-class citizens in the pecking order. Why, in spite of clear opportunities to change the status quo, do we continue to look the other way? A society that is blind to the lived experience of roughly half its population is a sorry excuse, an apology for woman empowerment.

We’ve got a long way to go baby. But maybe, just maybe, tomorrow will bring us a new song if we open our eyes.

 

Abiodun Baiyewu is a lawyer, human rights activist, and feminist with a strong interest in medical jurisprudence and reproductive health.

Watch Amy Schumer’s video which inspired the series.

 

 

Photo credit: Unsplash/ https://pixabay.com/en/girl-sad-crying-raining-rain-drops-690327/

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Hardwired For Sorry [2]

Permission to Stand

 

Permission to Stand

I still remember my first board meeting. It was three weeks after my promotion took effect. After only one year in middle management, I had been promoted to executive board level in the publishing company where I worked.

For sure, I had done very well. My promotion was speedy, and, many people agreed, extremely well deserved. In addition, it was the first time in the history of the company that a foreigner (and a woman, at that), had been appointed to the board. My co-directors and their predecessors were all cut from the same cloth: Dutch men in their fifties, same lifestyle, same background, same jokes.

And so I was the proverbial breath of fresh air. Or so the CEO said as I took my seat at the table. I wasn’t quite sure what they were expecting from me. They looked kind enough, they asked my opinion, and they deferred to me on matters within my area of expertise.

Yet, I was largely quiet. For the first few months or so, I said very little. That could of course be due mainly to my introverted nature—scanning the world, observing life and its interactions, and formulating my views before expressing them.

I would never have dared utter a word unless I was sure of my premise, my arguments, and, vitally, my conclusion. I watched in admiration as my co-directors did the opposite. Especially Max, the commercial director. He would begin with a statement, firm, emphatic, sure. He would wind down various alleys of logic and counter logic, never once wavering in his sense of conviction, and then he would end his monologue, having arrived at a conclusion antithetical to the premise with which he had opened.

I would have been mortified had my thought processes been so exposed to the world, but by his manner (born of an assurance that I never before knew existed), I knew he had no such reservations.

However, my introversion was not the only reason for my reserve. In fact, it was a convenient label I put on myself, a comfort blanket which, protected me from the sharp gusts of truth: that, in a world seemingly governed by others, I was unsure of myself, earnestly seeking permission to stand.

I could not fathom why I felt that way. My technical experience and leadership skills had carried me to the place that I now occupied. Having accepted my appointment, I had every right to play my role. Everyone treated me as my new role demanded. Every voice spoke to me with much respect, save for the voice in my head.

I remember now with mirth a business trip I took to New York during those days. As I stood waiting for a taxi at JFK airport, I saw one of our most influential shareholders at the airport. He was carrying his bags and looking for a taxi. I had this crazy impulse to dash up to him and offer to carry his bags. Now I can only thank God for the steadfastness wherewith He glued my feet to the hot tarmac.

It took me a while before I realised my self-doubt was from within. That, somehow, it was bound up with being a woman. I don’t know when I came to that realization. Maybe it was when I discovered that some of the men around me were brimful with confidence but with not much ability. Maybe it was when I saw  junior male employees swaggering around with an arrogance that could be explained not by talent, and certainly not by achievement. Maybe it was when I noticed that the same self-doubt that tortured me was also present in the minds of some very fine, intelligent women in our company.

Fortified with this knowledge, I set out to change my story. No, not the perception of me that others might have had, but rather the story of me that I told myself. However, in order to do that, I had first to look at myself, come to terms with what I saw, and then begin purposefully to change that vision.

And so I did that. I have begun to tell myself, first, that I am bigger on the inside than I am on the outside. It is true that I am slightly built, soft spoken, and often given to quiet introspection. However, these are all remarkable qualities, and they add something special to whatever table I may grace. They are not weaknesses to be excused away. They are strengths, because they bring empathy and perspicacity to those with whom I have to do. I also know that I am bold, principled, and strong.

I was all the while seeking permission to stand. Now I have granted myself that precious right.

 

Bel Andrew-Amies makes her home in Amsterdam. When she’s not immersed in the world of international business law, she works on her short story collection.

Watch Amy Schumer’s video which inspired the series.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.