The Power of One
I shook my head as I reviewed Ope’s first draft for the series. Her prose though beautiful did not resonate with me. This piece lacks heart I thought. It did not. The problem was me. I could not conceive that a girl would have insecurities about her height. That others brought them on was beside the point. How could she not see how lucky she is? Someone said that privilege is invisible to those who have it. I am the petite girl with graces, how could I know?
Aware of my bias, I reread Ope’s piece, processing her ideas and connecting them to my experiences.
Tall girls seem to be the norm where I live. I have watched little girls grow up to be gorgeous tall women and none has expressed any reservations about her height. But once when I asked one why she enjoys watching the TV series, Suits, she replied, “Because I look like Gina Torres, and she’s badass!” Was she looking for a role model to validate her six-foot frame? By questioning the premise of her height–end apologies, I see how Ope has become a lighthouse for tall girls and short boys too.
Stories are a way to share our humanity and reading stories is both a conscious and unconscious search for validation.
When Abi submitted her article, she mentioned that every sentence of her rant was factual and she had exceeded the set word count. In fact, every contributor to the series burst through the imposed word count to set their stories free and I, wielding the editor’s scissors, could find little to trim.
Abi’s article stemmed in part from people’s inability to see the pervasive misogyny in her society. Just as I could not connect with Ope’s story at first, they could find no basis for the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s quotes, which Abi shared, tagging them mischievous.
Adichie says that gender is a difficult conversation to have and as Sheryl Sandberg notes, the subject itself presents a paradox, forcing us to acknowledge differences while trying to achieve the goal of being treated same. It seems Abi wanted to make gender visible to men and women.
Some dismissively brand articles like Abi’s feminist. Have you ever been in conversation where a word popped up that made you stop listening and start churning points in your mind to deconstruct what the other person is saying? Anything that reeks of feminism arouses this impulse in some. So, when Abi signed off as a feminist in her bio, I was tempted to remove it.
There are two jars of honey in my cupboard. One label says the honey is from wild flowers and the label on the second jar says the honey is from honeydew. Humans are too complex to categorize into neat labels like honey. This explains why feminism has many definitions and connotations as well as branches—socialist feminism, African feminism, free-the-nipple feminism, and so on.
Those who take this as a sign of confusion should remember all the other philosophies that are similarly ‘confused’: democrat, conservative democrat, republican, liberal republican, catholic, catholic charismatic, Christian, evangelical Christian—are you laughing yet? Wherever human agency exists, there will be divisions, sub-divisions, and further divisions of the sub-divisions. The challenge then is not to merely dismiss ideologies because of labels but to listen in spite of them.
When a woman shares her story, it should cause us to remember our own challenges. At the very least, it should broaden our understanding of our world and our place in it.
After I pitched the idea of the series to Ekpos, she replied, “My own issue is different; people are always saying sorry to me!” Other challenges like physical disability eclipse gender, but only partially. Ekpos relates an incident at the airport where a porter looked at her and exclaimed, “Kai, fine girl like you; wetin happen to ya leg?”
She notes that wit is often the bridge through awkward situations. We need to laugh at ourselves more and get the world to laugh and then see with us. Amy Schumer uses comedy to good effect in her I’m Sorry sketch. According to Schumer, her show has been likened to putting shaved carrots into brownies. Emancipation is a journey, smile you’re on camera!
Ekpos makes the distinction between things she could and could not control. Disability and gender were thrust upon her. The will to overcome these perceived limitations was hers to invoke. The external factors, which make women hardwired for sorry, will not change overnight. But women can take charge of themselves by rejecting the messages they have internalized.
Bel takes this approach in her article. Although she was invited to the table, as were the women in Schumer’s sketch, she tottered at the edge, self-doubt hampering her stride. Many women are echoing songs their parents and grandparents taught them, songs that romanticized a woman’s lowly place in society. They are unconsciously complicit in their disempowerment. Bel noticed that the same self-doubt that tortured her was also present in the minds of some very fine, intelligent women in her company.
By looking inwards with a view to understanding herself, she finally gave herself permission to stand. In her words, “Fortified with this knowledge, I set out to change my story . . . I have begun to tell myself, first, that I am bigger on the inside than I am on the outside.”
Amy Schumer’s sketch isn’t about semantics, in my view. Sorry is still a useful word. However, the characters in the sketch were really using sorry to: diminish their accomplishments so they could be likable, temper their requests for their entitlements with ‘humility’, register their opinion as though it isn’t worth hearing, take nurturing to the nth degree by assuming responsibility for things beyond their scope, and mask impostor’s syndrome.
If you, man or woman, are concerned about the external and internal factors that predispose women to shrinking themselves, then you need to answer this question: what change or sacrifice do I make to ensure women are unapologetic about taking up space in the world? One thing. Then follow through. Ripples will occur. This is the power of one.
I can’t thank you enough for writing, reading, liking, sharing, and joining the conversation.
©Timi Yeseibo 2015
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