5 Expectations that Shaped my Role as a Woman
Did you know?
- A gender role is the role or behaviour that is learned by an individual as appropriate to their gender.
- This usually takes place within their culture and is dictated by traditions.
- It’s how we are expected to behave, for example, how to act, speak, dress, groom, and conduct ourselves based upon our assigned sex.
- An example is that girls and women are generally expected to dress in typically feminine ways and be polite, accommodating, and nurturing.
- Different societies, ethnic groups and cultures may have different gender roles. These roles may change in the same society over time.
These are the 5 tasks I was duty bound to carry out according to the gender roles that were imposed on me by the culture and tradition in which I grew up:
- Get married
- Stay at home
- Raise children
- Serve my husband
Expectation No 1 – Cook
- My mother was happy to set me to work in her kitchen. Not only did I learn something, but I made her life somewhat easier, well that was after all the yelling and smacks across my head, until I got it right. I was the salad apprentice, and, once I got the hang of it, making salad became my permanent job. To this day, my stomach churns when I see iceberg lettuce. After rinsing the sand, bugs, and the occasional worm from the lettuce leaves, I had no desire to eat the salad. Today’s salad leaves are interesting and come washed and ready to eat. After all those memories, I cannot eat iceberg lettuce. It haunts me.
- Lessons in cutting and chopping followed and I was trained in the fine art of cuisine. I made the softest rotis and incredible marinades for the lamb chops my father would put on the braai.
- The directive of cooking to serve your husband the best food, was that you had to be a better cook than his mother. If you weren’t, the danger was that you would spend a lifetime listening to your husband complain about your food and being nagged about what an amazing cook his mother is.
Expectation No 2 – Get Married
- Marrying me off was not easy. I had always been trouble and defiantly struggled against conforming. My father didn’t want my grandmother to ‘fix me up’ with an eligible bachelor. After my father turned down her efforts my grandmother stopped her matchmaking. I have no idea why my father said no to these possible unions.
- I got married to the only man who would marry me. Because I was neither beautiful, nor from a good family, no one wanted me as a daughter-in-law.
- Status mattered. The one boy who fell in love with me at high school was shipped off to another town to break off the involvement. He was from a wealthy family with a prominent status in the community. My family was far below that.
- When the first man proposed for me, my father married me off. It was, after all, expected of me to be someone’s wife.
Expectation No 3 – Raise Children
- I was so excited to become a mother. I was finally going to have my own children to love and care for in a way that my parents failed me.
- But motherhood, for me, didn’t look like the cover of a magazine. I was ragged in appearance and couldn’t cope with the smallest things.
- I found it extremely difficult to put three fresh meals on the table daily and care for my young children.
- While juggling motherhood, a husband and extended family, my already fragile mental health slipped further out of my reach.
- I felt lost, alone and incompetent.
Expectation No 4 – Stay at Home
- In the beginning, I didn’t stay at home because I was studying. It was fortunate that my father wanted to show off to the rest of the family that his children would be educated and therefore better than the rest of the children in the family.
- There were so many aspects of my life I couldn’t deal with, especially coping with wifely duties in addition to studying for a degree.
- With the demands from my husband, and pressure from my family, I ended up dropping out of university because I couldn’t cope physically or emotionally. I plunged full time into my domestic duties. Dropping out of university hadn’t made my life any easier.
Expectation No 5 – Serve my Husband
- To serve her husband was the requirement of every married woman I knew in the community I was raised in. We were expected to do everything for our husbands to make their life easy. To spare them the bother of domestic chores.
- The house had to be clean, clothes had to be neatly ironed, and food had to be spectacularly delicious. Regardless of what time the husband arrived home, dinner had to be hot, fresh, and ready to be served.
- My married life was no different. I had to obey my husband no matter how impossible his demands were.
- When I lived with my strict parents, I thought I had no freedom. It was only when I got married that I realised what it meant to have no freedom at all because I had to put my husband’s needs and desires before mine.
What did this Mean for Me?
Although domestication was not what I wanted from life, my opinion or my feelings didn’t matter because I was a woman. No one cared what I wanted. My road and journey had been mapped out for me the moment the midwife who delivered me announced that I was a girl.
Dare I be Ambitious?
My gender was a burden to me. No book or magazine on motherhood prepared me for the life I found myself in. The models smiled and looked happy. In real life, I didn’t get enough sleep and the dark circles under my eyes grew deeper and darker. My shoulders slumped with the weight of my duties and unhappiness. My smile was to show the world I was happy because I couldn’t admit that I wasn’t. That would have been embarrassing because everyone else seemed to be in control of their lives. My traditions and culture dictated the expectations, but I had something completely different in mind for the way I wanted my life to be. But did I have the courage to do something about it?
Proudly South African
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Planned Parenthood Gender Identity & Roles | Feminine Traits & Stereotypes (plannedparenthood.org)