The Necessity of Learning From Other Women’s Sexist Experiences

One of my favourite novels of all time definitely is Americanah by the Nigerian writer and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. 

It is a novel that explores a myriad of topics like sisterhood, race and the importance of financial independence.

Without giving too many spoilers, through the character of Aunty Uju, we see how devastating it is for a woman to hand over her ability to have access and financial access to a man.

What interests me about Aunty Uju’s character is that much later in the novel, the main character Ifemelu, was using Aunty Uju’s story as a reference for another friend of hers called Ranyinudo in a similar position.

She was trying to get her friend Ranyinudo to understand that living in a house whose rent her salary could not pay and could only be paid by the married man she was dating was a dangerous thing to do.

It was a scene filled with mixed emotions for me because the main character was called judgemental. This was even as her friend continually called her to complain about the married man she was seeing who refused to give her things as he used to.

Now, I often think of Aunty Uju’s character and Ranyinudo’s story whenever I see often younger women online shame the older women who speak on the importance of financial independence and not giving your ability to have access to men.

Some of these older women talking are divorced ex traditional wives and instead of being heralded as brave and wise for encouraging younger women to not fall prey to men who are looking to control, these women are instead called bitter.

Away from even financial independence, why is it that some women hear the sexist stories of other women but still choose to toe the same path that those women are warning them against?

Why is it that some women can see and even know that their fiances have raped someone before and instead of fleeing from those sorts of men, they rationalise foolishly that “he has changed” and “it was so long ago”. 

These are the same women who may go on to have kids and may not be comfortable leaving their children with him because even as they ignored other women’s warning signs, deep down, they know not to trust their husbands with the safety of their children.

But is that a way to live? What many women don’t realise is that we should be grateful to the women who are brave enough to share their experiences. Whether in the workplace, on social media or even in hair salons…when a woman shares what she has encountered in the hands of men and sexist systems, it is a warning not to toe that same path because consequences are sure.

When a woman comes online to share how she found the courage to leave a man who beat her and denied her the ability to see her children, is it not the height of foolishness if two years later, another woman posts an engagement picture of the same man? 

Why do some women have the mentality that they are special and with the right amount of bending and twisting will be able to stop a man from showing that indeed he is a man?

To further understand the necessity of learning from other women’s sexist experiences, I spoke to two women.

Raheemat, a writer and feminist who says learning from other women has helped her life.

In her words: “I think it’s very necessary to learn from the experiences of other women in various aspects of life. This enables you to avoid some things and navigate life a bit better. 

I won’t say there’s been a particular time, but everything I hear from other women, from their experiences on different issues, I learn one or two from it. I know when to pack my slippers on my end and run when I smell any bullshit. How to navigate careers and jobs better. Even other life scenarios.

I don’t think other women should shame women who talk about their experiences. Women go through so much in silence you might never know who is or has gone through something you are also going through if other women don’t talk about it. And those women who think they are too special or above being hurt, nothing can save them from whatever wants to happen, they are neither better nor above the other women they shame. They’ll either learn gently from other women or learn the hard way.”

For Gladys, she believes it is important to learn so “you can avoid certain situations”.

To quote her: “Learn so you’ll know how a woman handled it for different reasons; so you can improve on it, so you can avoid certain situations, so you can be better. We learn so much already that we don’t give credit for, but yes, people learn from listening and imitating and we keep learning too.”

She went on to say: “We learn how to avoid the effects of toxic relationships. We learn how to be confident winners at work from the women who have gone that road and shared their stories.

We learn how to be better mothers from women who share their different experiences and insights on childbearing, parenting and family life. It is necessary because only when you learn so, can you be better.

Learn from the success stories, learn from the mistakes.”

The honest truth is that to navigate the world better as a woman, other women’s stories have the ability to anchor us to better pathways.

Women’s stories on social media and even fictional women in novels can teach us to dream beyond what is in our immediate environment.

It is imperative that women take time out to learn from the good, bad and ugly experiences of other women as those stories play the role of a lighthouse towards a more hopeful destination.

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