by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 24 August 2007)
I have always been intrigued at the socialisation process that expects women to defer to men. Then the other day I was in a conversation with a man who challenged something I said and I responded with a news piece to prove my position. The man dogmatically stood his ground and I decided it was not worth the fight – over dinner no less.
In retrospect, I know I should have continued the dispute, but I did not want to bruise this man’s ego. In other words, I had acted just as I had been socialised to act. I might as well have said, “Of course, you must be right, after all you are a man and I am just a woman.”
It occurred to me that when a woman is trained to defer to a man, she is actually being trained to protect his ego. I have a difficult time believing men have such fragile egos. Moreover, one cannot help but wonder why very few have ever given so much as passing thought to the female ego.
It would seem the female ego carries no more value in many cultures than the female intellect, the female aspirations – or in some cases, even the female herself. In some drastic cases, a woman can be killed if she bruises her husband’s ego too much by having an affair.
Yet that same husband can carry on with whomever he wishes and her ego should never feel the sting. She is to defer to him in this case and all others until death (or murder) do them part.
In my case, I merely allowed a man to feel he had bested me. I rationalised that it was dinner and why would I cause a stir at such a peaceable time? Of course, he obviously had no problem with a stir, but the others at the table might have not enjoyed it as much. I also reasoned to myself that the point at odds was nothing more than a piece of information, which was not as important as a relationship.
It is amazing the hoops an intelligent woman will jump through to justify a wilful act to submit to the stereotypical female role. I was simply acting according to societal expectations. What could possibly be wrong with that? As I type that question I have a million answers to it.
The first and foremost question is why on earth would I pretend to be less intelligent than the male sitting next to me just so his ego could be stroked? The next important question is why society expects me to swallow my pride so that a male can walk around with his feathers cocked?
This is not the first time I have deferred to a man for the sake of societal propriety. When I think of the times I have stepped aside to allow a man to do a job in which I could have done much better, it makes me sick. On numerous occasions I have held my tongue and pretended to be uninformed or uneducated about a matter just so a man could feel more important.
I cannot count the number of times I have consciously stopped at a door and adjusted my countenance to portray a less confident and more submissive representation of myself. This is nothing but a lie to the world though, because my footsteps are not light and my confidence is not shaky.
I would wager an entire year’s salary that every single woman reading this column has deferred to male when it was unnecessary. It is a sad indictment on society that it forces women to lower themselves to such a despicable position just so men can feel as if they are on a higher plane.
I have promised myself time and again that I would not act like someone less intelligent or less capable just to appease a male ego, yet here I find myself feeling guilty for knowing I am at equal but acting like I am less just because society demands it.
Unguarded moments, like the one I had at dinner, are the most treacherous for me because they steal my resolve and force me to behave in a manner that I would never willingly act. It is at these times that my knee jerk reaction is to revert to my conservative upbringing that demands female submission.
I write this very personal essay for one reason and that is to show other women that regardless of the number of times we mindlessly fall in line with patriarchal socialisations, we must not give up.
It is more important than ever to continue to allow our real selves shine through – the intelligent, strong and confident women. Otherwise, our daughters will spend their lives pretending to be lackeys instead of leaders too - and the world simply cannot wait much longer for women to take their rightful place of leadership.