I came across a singer named Joe Tex’s the other day. ‘Hold on to what you’ve got’ he sang in one of his well know works, with his rich southern blue voice. In the middle of the song, he says the following,
You know it is not always a man can have a good woman.
A woman he can call his very own
A woman who will stay right there at home and mind the children while he is gone to work
A woman who will have his dinner cooked when he comes home.’ Clearly depicting what a woman is expected to do.
Now, consider how societies are constructed and organized. While doing so, try to realize the roles and responsibilities ‘given’ to women and the roles and responsibilities ‘taken’ by men.
What do you have now? Are they different? Are they proportionate? Are they acceptable?
As we live in a very diverse world, society norms are different from place to place and from country to country. Such discrepancy is created because of the so called agents of socialization. These agents (family, peers, school, work and social media) play a significant role in shaping an individual into the societal norms and values. They mold them so they can fit into the society and go along smoothly. These agents, however, being part of an ever-changing environment, will go through various and diverse changes due to discoveries, improved way of thinking, way of life, or even influence from other agents.
These agents, at some point in time, have defined and determined who will do what in a society and who will make decisions. Most societies, unfortunately have made men on decisions they consider important and necessary and most women have been at the peripheries. Gender roles, are one of the manifestations of this.
Like any other society Ethiopia have had a set of gender roles where there were distinct demarcations in which both sexes should proceed. Let ask ourselves these questions for instance. What will amaze us more, a girl who cannot cook or a boy who cannot cook? A boy who cannot change a tire or a girl who can’t do so? When you think of the things what a woman must be able to do and what a man must be able to do, we have a clear distinction.
The socialization agents then, perpetuate these distinctly put gender roles mostly without questioning them. Since childhood, boys are given ‘manly’ tasks like playing football, changing car oils or farming out in the field while girls are given ‘womanly’ tasks like making the bed, washing the dishes and combing their ‘female’ dolls’ hair. They grow with that set of mind.
Additionally, we have not long been a fan of people or groups that stray away from the norm set by the society. Thus when and if an individual or a faction within the society starts deviating or questioning from the regulations set they are considered to be abnormal and are often squashed effectively. This is one of the reasons why female genital cutting is still prevalent, as people are not willing to let go the culture that they have been raised in.
Thus, I was not surprised to hear when Joe Tex sang as such, as his words resembled the proverbial assumptions of his society, of any society. He only sang about what he saw and experienced growing in his community. Always expecting and viewing women as not more than what has been ‘given’ to them. While men can be adventurous and explorers of the world.
Yet cultures, traditions and norms exist as long as we allow them to. We must be able to choose what is good for all of us and abolish that are not. The aim must be advantage for all not advantage for some and disadvantage for others. Instead of celebrating March as the month of women, we must be concerned and show a coordinated effort that will tackle concerns for our women. That is how we celebrate them.