The way African women handle themselves in public is always policed by those who deem themselves fit to be law enforcement agencies in other people’s lives. I have realized that African women don’t have the same liberty that men have in terms of being themselves during social gatherings. For their behavior to be regarded as socially acceptable, they’re expected to dress, work, eat, dance and move in a way that will not embrass their families especially their husbands.
These are some of the social expectations women are supposed to meet at social gatherings:
To be of great service
Don’t get me wrong, being educated or having “rich aunt vibes” will not always exempt you from being expected to cook, clean, fetch water and babysit grown men. I have heard experiences of sisters and friends who have been belittled and tagged as lazy because of failing to avail their human resources at gatherings. All this stuff is usually done to prove that women are great homemakers. It also goes to show how women are expected to always work for men.
I’m glad that some families are warming up to the idea of hiring catering and cleaning services at family functions be it family meetings, parties or funerals. This is quite important in ensuring that women also get to dress up, show up and be present with their cute selves at social gatherings.
To look happy
There is a common proverb that says, “Mukadzi mukuru haafuguri hapwa, anofanirwa kuita hana”. This means that grown women should conceal or hide family matters from the public. Women are usually expected to keep family affairs and secrets under lock and key. Nomatter how much we might be hurting and falling apart we are always expected to look happy at family functions. This is usually an expectation for married women to keep and maintain their husband and family’s honour. For as long as you live you have to pretend as if you’ve everything under control. For decades this has been one of the reasons why people get shocked when African women finally sink deep into depression in their old age. African social gatherings creates an unhealthy and unsafe space for women to be intouch with their reality.
To interact with people
The fact that you’re an introvert or close off person can easily be mistaken or misunderstood for being full of oneself. Moreso, if you’re viewed as someone who is progressing academically, professionally and financially. Women are always expected to be sociable and interact with everyone. You are always expected to also engage in “female conversations” especially during food preparation. I find this quite demanding and selfish too because it’s not everyone who is extroverted in nature. On that same note, it’s not every topic or discussion that you would feel comfortable to engage in.
To be voiceless
Though l will will talk about the culture of silence in detail on Stories of Awareness, it is important to note how voicelessness is glorified in our African culture. If you have ever got an opportunity to be part of lobola negotiations or general family meetings you would agree with me on this one. Women’s ideas, opinions and advices are not tolerated as men are the ones who lead the deliberations and make decisions. Voicing your opinions or making complaints can easily be considered as being big headed. I remember there is a time when my aunt was was silenced by my uncle during a family meeting. He silenced her by stating that women should never speak when men are talking. He dismissed her contributions because he regarded her as a talkative person.
I believe these are some of the social expectations that are considered in an African context to control the social behavior of women at social gatherings. You can add also add the ones that are left in the comment section.