The new normal is that girls are allowed to choose how they live their lives. It is presented to us on silver platters as soon as we are able to speak but the cracks appear when we try to live it. It becomes a little too easy to ignore how quickly we lose power and say over our bodies while we chant about this new normality.
The first crack came in a primary school hall, during a girls’ assembly. A bubbly nurse stood before our confused Grade 7 faces, trying to explain that every girl would soon be starting their menstrual cycle. She emphasised that it was nothing to be afraid of and that it was meant to prepare us to give birth. She pointed at random girls and asked them to imagine the number of children they would love to have. When the finger landed on me, I proudly stated:
“I do not want children.”
She stared at me for a moment, then loudly concluded that I may want them when I am older. I simply shrugged and let her comment pass.
The second crack found me in a similar setting in high school. That day, a counsellor accompanied a nurse in front of a pack of curious senior eyes. They indicated that girls were allowed to sexually explore and express themselves. However, that it should be done in a safe manner. They passed different contraceptives around the room, explaining how each worked and allowed us to become familiar with them. I worked up the courage to ask if there were more permanent ways to keep a woman from having children. They explained that such procedures could only be given to women who have a minimum of two children. I indicated that I did not want children, to which I was told:
“You shouldn’t engage in sexual intercourse if you don’t want children. Contraceptives were made to keep you from having children until you are ready.”
When I pushed the idea that I may never want children but wish to explore sexually, the counsellor pulled me aside. She questioned if I had experienced any abuse or childhood trauma that could be causing me to dislike children. I shook my head. When she had run out of ideas, she concluded that I may want them when I am older. Once again, I let the comment slide.
The final crack shook me as soon as I obtained my university degree. Along with the celebratory calls from different family members, was the idea that I could finally start my dream career, find a husband and have children. The three were tied together as though I cannot have one without the other. At a family reunion, whilst listening to them discuss my future, I casually mentioned that I did not want children. In pure astonishment, one of my aunts asked:
“What kind of a woman doesn’t want children? What will you tell your husband?”
With the same level of casualty, I indicated that I may not even want a husband. The façade was finally shattered and I heard them all gasp.
“That is not normal!”
I have lived my entire life with the gradual persuasion to find a husband and build a family. It involved the baby dolls I was given to dress up and care for, with the claim that I would hold my own child in the same way (when I got older). In school, other girls had books filled with pictures of their dream weddings, husbands and homes. They played pretend, created homes with imaginative husbands and fussed over made up babies. Behaviour that I was encouraged to adopt.
As I grew older, I was probed for hints of boyfriends who might be itching to marry me. Family members have pushed their babies into my arms, telling me that I would learn to be comfortable around them. Community members dropped whispers of how I had a face that was ‘pretty enough to snatch up a good man’ and ‘a good figure to carry a child’. Anytime I have tried to oppose this, I am told that I will eventually change my mind. That it is only a matter of time.
I have nothing against children and I do not know what the future holds. Honestly, I am only bothered by the concept of a woman’s fulfilment constantly involving children (and a husband). That I can live the way I want until I have to settle for the role that society has defined for a woman. I cannot be told of my options but have everything pushing me towards one direction. Having power over one’s body starts the moment you have a say over it. Perhaps, I just do not want children.
Read one writer’s opinion on society’s unrealistic expectations for women here
Tell us: Do you think women have enough power to choose the life they want to live? Why or why not?