By Arese Sylvester.
It is powerful to see Nigerian women exist loudly and comfortably in a society that teaches them to shrink themselves. It means that they have reached the peak of awareness needed to break away from archaic, patriarchal, and societal standards. In Nigeria, it is no news that misogynoir is heavily normalized and even excused. Ignorance has always been a powerful tool used by historical oppressors to keep their victims in check. If you’re not aware that Narnia exists, then you’re less likely to go looking for it. The patriarchy relies on shaming women to uphold a system that is inherently harmful to their wellbeing. It relies on the belief that not enough women will realize the grave injustice done to them in their lifetime. And the sad truth is that most women don’t.
Some Nigerian women have not trained their minds to see the patriarchy for the sham that it is. And some of these women never actualize enough awareness to see past the blur of antiquated beliefs passed on to them by an oppressed generation. Even when they do, society does all that it can to keep a tight rein on them. An alarming amount of women in Nigeria whom we so gladly call ‘Patriarchy Princesses’ are hostages walking around with Stockholm Syndrome. These are women who believe that pandering to gender stereotypes somehow exempts them from the culture of violence perpetrated against women. To dispel this myth, those who know the truth must educate these women about the power that they have inside of them. As a woman, you could dress modestly, be the perfect daughter/sister/wife, and it still won’t move society to care about you as a person. That’s why I think it’s important for women to selfishly choose themselves.
When my radicalization began years ago, the main bone of contention was seeing myself other than what every adult in my life had taught me to be. I did not fault them, but their definition of what it meant to be a woman had a lot of defects. For a long time, I had internalized a lot of harmful theories. I thought that my worth as an individual was attached to the man I would marry. It’s shocking how much the little comments you get from the immediate adults in your life impress on your brain in the long run. When I tried to push back against these ideologies, I was met by an even bigger roadblock. The people in my life didn’t care much for the new Arese. This Arese didn’t care for kids, marriage, and chores. I was punished for choosing my path and living my truth. The things listed above may simplify the feminist movement today, but to thirteen-year-old me, they were massive issues. Nothing I did could produce real change because I was too young, afraid to speak up, afraid of looking stupid, and afraid that I wasn’t worth listening to. I was lucky that I had access to other women that were asking the same questions I was asking. When I couldn’t sort through the jigsaw that was my mind, I could count on social media to direct me to women that would reassure me.
However, my awareness only went so far because now my confidence was being called into question. It took a while for me to realize that I needed to love myself, to be able to gain enough confidence to be who I wanted to be. I have spent the past years discovering myself. I defined what being Arese means and I love that for me. The process of learning taught me that awareness is not nearly enough. We also need awareness that transcends to self-love and transcends to confidence.
More women need to love themselves as themselves and not who they could be to someone. When they realize that they are enough, confidence flows from there on out. I have learned that there’s no one definition for confidence; it is open to interpretation. For me, confidence is being able to look people in the eye, tell people they’ve hurt me, and realize that my stutter doesn’t define me. It’s also not confining myself to a box that I think represents my gender. It is challenging harmful systems, and it is loving the entirety of my being in a world that tells me that there’s always something to not love. Society isolates women and preys on their sense of worth. It was tempting to adhere to the status quo, but that felt like a betrayal of my essence. I need more women to choose themselves over and over again because not enough people will.
About The Writer
Arese Sylvester is a brilliant writer, editor, and storyteller from West Africa, Nigeria. She explores and tells the stories of marginalized demographics while documenting lifestyle, culture, and politics through her vast experiences. Instagram and Twitter at @omgitsarese. Email: email@example.com.
Follow @ayamba.theblog on Instagram to stay up to date.