Today, I was scrolling past my twitter timeline when I came across the unfortunate but unsurprising news that a Nigerian man had murdered his wife.
This makes it at least the 4th time that I would come across that kind of headline this year and like the other times, I said a short prayer for the dead woman and continued scrolling.
Female oppression exists in many ways and typically, we are more aware of some than the others. On a regular day, if you ask me to give examples of female oppression, I would easily recall the in-your-face examples of oppression that never escapes me even during an absent minded scroll through twitter.
I would give examples of women who have been murdered by their partners, women who have been sexually assaulted, young girls who are subject to female genital mutilation, women who are victims of the glass ceiling in their places of work and so on.
On a regular day, I might fail to recognize other forms of oppression that we face not because they do not exist, but because they are so deeply embedded in our culture that we simply overlook them when identifying our oppression. However, the patriarchy relies on this – it relies on women being unaware and consequently accepting of their oppression.
So in the spirit of dismantling the patriarchy, here are 5 ways that women are oppressed without even knowing it.
- Womanhood as a virtue
Women are their worst enemies is a statement that is only popular because women are expected to be sweet little dolls who never get into any disagreement with other women rather that humans with flaws just like everyone else.
This oppression also plays out in politics (where women are still underrepresented) when a female politician performs badly or below expectations and we see comments like “this is why I don’t vote for women” (No Peter. You are a bigot, that’s why).
More so, when a woman sucks up to the patriarchy and does something damaging to other women, we hear comments like women are their own problems. We most certainly are not. The patriarchy is the problem because it has taught you that womanhood is a virtue; that a woman only deserves rights if she is ‘good’ or meets certain criteria; that all the problems women face is somehow because we behaved badly. That, is the problem.
Shame is a very powerful tool of the patriarchy. Women are fed shame for breakfast, lunch and dinner from cradle to grave. Shame on you for having boobs. Shame on you for menstruating. Shame on you for being attractive. Shame on you for not being attractive. Shame on you for having sex. Shame on you for not having sex. Shame on you for having an abortion. Shame on you for having an unfaithful partner. Shame on you for letting him abuse you. Shame on you for not feeling ashamed. Shame on you for living. Shame on you for dying. Shame, shame, shame!
This is a word that I have coined to mean ridiculous expectations placed on people, especially women, when it comes to sex. They range from the expectation that you should enjoy sex to the expectation that you should not enjoy sex too much, else you would be labelled a slut.
There is the expectation that a sexually active woman should be on birth control or at the very least always be armed with a condom.
Also, if you are a woman, be sure to keep your virginity for your husband and on your wedding night, show up with the experience of a sex worker and the skills of a porn star.
- The emotional gender
The age long sentiment that men are ‘logical’ while women are ‘emotional’ has been debunked. It has also been proven that logic and emotion are not mutually exclusive. Putting ancient lies aside, why is expressing any kind of emotion seen as a weakness and a ‘woman’s thing’ such that when a man shows even the tiniest bit of emotion, he is said to be ‘acting like a girl’? Women being called the emotional gender in an attempt to invalidate our contributions and even deny us positions of influence is the subtle oppression I was talking about.
- The Hebrew Woman Syndrome
This is rooted in Christianity and is the pressure that is put on pregnant Christian women to deliver their baby naturally regardless of their medical situation just like the biblical Hebrew women. Read more about it here.
Whether in bold or subtle ways, oppression is oppression. These subtle forms of oppression that women face are just as harmful and must be included in our conversations. We must continue to fight for a world where women are not killed by their lovers but also for a world where I am not labelled the emotional gender for having human reactions to different situations.
Chisom Anastasia Nwaezuoke is a physiotherapist, writer, public speaker and yogi. She is also a sexual health and reproductive rights advocate and volunteers for HandsOff Initiative.