When Beyoncé opened her song “Pretty Hurts” saying her aspiration in life is to be happy, one may have just brushed it over and not given it much thought, but there are some key life lessons to be gotten from that moment.
The video was about the realities of pageants and what its negative effect on participants was like – powerful stuff, but that’s not what’s up for discussion today. I want to talk about “Career Women”.
Let’s a paint a picture shall we? A young, beautiful woman has newly graduated from university and is actively seeking employment. On one of her many interview days, she meets this dapper looking young man, complete with the confidence that could make any girl swoon and he shows interest in her. Couple months down the line he expresses his interest in marrying her and starting a family immediately afterwards. She on the other hand, just got a promotion in the field she’s worked so hard to get into and doesn’t feel ready to start a family as it could interfere with her ongoing career goals.
It’s at this juncture that I want us to take a pause. This is where some people empathize with her and try to think up ways around the seemingly difficult decision. This is also where many people say all sorts of judgmental things because they believe “career women” are causes of many of today’s societal ills – yes it’s been taken that far – and so they won’t see why it’s such a big deal for her to “do her job”. (job = raise a family, not the career heights she’s worked uber hard to achieve.)
Do you see the error in this warped mentality? Why is it that being career-oriented is frowned upon for women but cheered on for men? I’m not saying women should disregard their families – of course not, but I don’t see why a woman is expected to automatically, with no questions asked, denounce her goals in the name of building a family as though she’s the sole creator of the family; two people are in the union after all.
I came across something on social media during this week that says that true Nigerian culture had women wits actual roles in the community beyond being wives/mothers.
Being Yoruba, I’ll reference that tribe to expand my point. In the pre-colonial Yoruba culture, women were never confined to their domestic roles only. The ability to exercise freedom in trade implied also the woman’s ability to take care of her children. Through known history, Yoruba women wield economic power since the market sphere is considered strictly the domain and political hegemony of women. The market days were seen to be ‘holy days’ and observed in very specific and meticulous order. The women choose a president who directs the affairs of all the traders. Usually in Yoruba land, the Iya L’oja, (President of the Women Market Association) also seats on the king’s ruling council, and wields tremendous political influence and power. Missionary accounts from the 1800s show clearly the economic independence and business acumen of Yoruba women who engage in the tie and dye trade, cotton spinning, pottery, processing of the palm produce into oil and soap. Women also engaged in household production of crafts, petty trade, weaving, bead making, mat weaving, beer brewing, home economics and management; all of these starts early under the mother’s tutelage. (1)
So if even my true, unadulterated culture doesn’t limit me, what should? Whether you’re of Yoruba descent or not, I believe every woman has a right to chase her career dreams without feeling limited by anything.
Rewind back to the Beyoncé reference – my aspiration in life is to be more than just happy; it’s to be fulfilled.
The International Journal of African Catholicism, Winter 2013. Volume 4, Number 1
Gender Issues Among the Yorubas
By: John Segun Odeyemi, Duquesne University