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.
I 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
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