Socialization is the process by which children and adults alike learn from others. We begin learning from others during the early days of life and in most cases, people continue to do so all through their lives.
My sociology class taught me that to defer from the expected way of life is termed as ‘deviancy’. Any man or woman who behaves outside of ‘normal’ conduct is deviant. It is widely acknowledged that socially constructed roles in Zimbabwe or in African society confine women into a box. Breaking that barrier as a woman means you risk labeling yourself as deviant.
Gender constructed roles since time immemorial have set barriers preventing the average woman from thriving. From day one, as boys learn to hold in their emotions as a sign of manhood, girls are molded into docility. The family -which is the first learning institution- has also created many gender stereotypes which are further cultivated as children start school. These are strengthened by television, peer influence and what is happening around them.
Do Women Take Advantage of Opportunities?
Some may have had the chance to utilise the free facilities at the United States Public Affairs Section (USPAS). Although it offers free internet, books to read, and even free discussions on several interesting topics in a quiet environment, you rarely see women in these spaces. The library usually has a 3:1 ratio of men to women which makes you wonder: do women not also need these services? Or is it a case of not knowing about them? Or are they downright not interested?
The simple answer is that is it a case of invisible barriers. A glass ceiling suspended above us. It lets us see opportunities, but we are not able to obtain or achieve them. There have been times when I have attended an event where a heated debate lights up and goes on for hours. Often, I’m there sitting and thinking to myself this is very deep, and the MC will ask, “Are there any ladies in the house? Ladies, why aren’t you saying anything?” I find myself looking around automatically scanning the room to check out the women present. I always feel let down if none respond. Then I tell myself that I didn’t respond as well! I come to the conclusion that as much as I would like to contribute, there are times when you are just clueless about the subject matter, and I feel to say anything would be like adding a twig to a bonfire.
I know too many women who have faced similar cases of low self-esteem and no confidence when it comes to expressing themselves in unfamiliar territory. But there are also other women who are very vocal and speak a whole lot of nothing. These spend time deliberating on irrelevant issues which makes one wonder if they are missing the point. They end up getting attention for the wrong reasons and end up labeling every other woman as shallow, discouraging those who are eager, but shy about expressing their opinions.
The Difference Between Men and Women
Experts disagree on whether differences between men and women are as a result of innate, biological differences or from differences in the ways that boys and girls are socialized. In other words, experts disagree on whether differences between males and females are due to nature, nurture or some combination of both. Because socialisation starts at an early age, we in turn socialise our children in the same way. In the case of gender socialization, most of it is done with a person not actually being aware of it.
Women have been described as ‘cautious’ when it comes to taking risk. Such stereotypes extend to insurance companies who tend to insure a woman-driven car for much less than a male-driven one, with the argument that women rarely drive fast and are less prone to accidents. Such sentiments have led women to do as expected of them. Only a few break the invisible glass barrier to self-actualise themselves.
It is not only women from the older generation who are limited by social norms. Even as new cultural ideas emerge, there are areas where women just fail to evolve and explore new ventures. The Youth Fund was disbursed by the Zimbabwe Youth Council (ZYC) some time last year. Having been part of the dialogue meeting held to sensitize people about the fund, it quickly hit me that very few women were in attendance, though it was open for all.
Commenting on the poor turnout of female youths, Deputy Minister Mathias Tongofa highlighted that women are more cautious when it comes to taking loans and engaging in businesses than their male counterparts. “Women lack interest and few applications are put through. They need to organise themselves and form viable projects.” Further commenting on the poor attendance by young women, he said such timidity leaves women uneducated.
However, it is also important to note that there had been reports of sexual harassment by young women who try to access these loans. Many find that they are asked to offer something in return if their applications are to be considered. However, testimonies from some beneficiaries who passed through ZYC and accessed these funds suggest that women can also benefit if they pursue their ambitions with determination.
The few projects presented by young women ranged from poultry (the majority), crafts, catering services and farming and required money ranging from $1,000 to $3,500 from the $20 million fund. These proposals are a clear example of women failing to break the ‘domestic duties’ mentality created by gender-constructed roles. When asked to think out of the box and not be confined to being a mother who takes care of the children, often the resulting grand idea emerges: to form a crèche of her own and take care of children on a larger scale and be paid for it. With that she is content. As much as it is exasperating, you realise some things take time to release as they have become so much a part of you that you do not consider it odd.
The Role of Culture and Religion
Culture and religion are seemingly intertwined. Some women when pushed to take a lead role will immediately start to quote scripture off the top of their head on what the bible says about who should be dominant and who should be submissive in a family environment. Society silently teaches us that it’s not for women to negotiate for safer sex. In fact, when it comes to sex, women have no say at all and are not expected to enjoy it or want to have it for that matter. Blogging about the hypocrisy of patriarchy, Girl Child rights activist and founder of Tag a Life International, Nyaradzo Mashayamombe wrote:
This society taught its sons that you need not worry about satisfying your women; they can do with little sex if at all. The biggest mistake my society made is that they told their boys that they can have sex with whoever they want whenever they want… go home and forget to satisfy their wives. Women have had to live with that kind of suffering for a very long time…. When a woman sees a wrongly and provocatively dressed man she is moved, but she looks aside. When you move around with your chest bare and your shorts too tight as a man, know that you are offending some women somewhere. Just that they were taught to pretend it’s not happening. Just as much as you are moved by a wrongly dressed woman or a provocatively dressed one, women actually do feel things…The same way you do. Just that our fathers taught our mothers to teach us to look aside.
When all is said and done, we cannot argue with the fact that despite many hurdles and barriers deterring women’s breakthrough, there are a lot of high profile women who are making waves. But it does not stop there. No matter how hard you have worked to get to the top, in order for society to finally decide to bestow on you the coveted prize of respect, there is still the question of the ring on the finger. As much as you might a drive a fancy car and give to the poor, if you do not have the dignity of a husband to add to your list of accomplishments, you might as well still be at the bottom. I spoke to a woman in her thirties who said her family members always smile in her face for favours and turn around behind her back and say, “Ndivoka maBeijing” referring to the unattached career woman who seem to be more interested in women right’s than making babies.
Societal norms runs deep. In order to break them and this mind-set, one needs to cultivate self-assurance on a personal level. Double standards are the order of the day and this means we do not expect the same of men. As a woman in this day and age, one has to learn to traverse timidity, gender insensitivity and reality in order to break free from social norms and find success.
Main image from www.analyticalfreedom.com