I am intrigued by an observation I made a couple of weeks ago. I happened to be in need of cleaning services for my home. A lovely lady was recommended to me. She’s amazing at what she does, and is very dedicated. Definitely a lesson to learn there – if one embarks on doing something, best it be done right. Let’s call this exceptional lady, Abebech to keep her anonymity.
Early on a Sunday morning, we spoke over the phone and agreed on a time to meet up. I waited for her where we agreed to meet. She appeared in a distance with a young boy. The taxi driver whom I went with seeing the same exclaimed, ‘there is a little boy with her, does this mean he is coming along?’
My reply was, I guess so – I was a bit scared since I knew we would spend hours cleaning and I would have nothing to offer the young child to keep him busy while his mother and I worked. Abebech approached us. The driver was quick to ask, ‘is the boy coming with us?’
Abebech responded, ‘yes, he’ll be all alone if I leave him at home, my neighbours have left for the day; I can’t leave him behind.’
I was still caught in thought, ‘what will I do for the young child not to feel abandoned as his mother and I got to work’
We started off. On the way, I asked the young boy his name – with a huge smile on his face he told me his name.
To save time, Abebech and I immediately embarked preparations for the tasks at hand. I dug into my bag and got a bottle of soda which I had purchased the evening earlier with Abebech in mind. The young boy was so respectful when he accepted the drink. I noticed he gave his mother a glance to seek her approval. She gestured yes, after which he took the soda. He had a sip, then stopped when his mother told him to wait for a short while. The drink was a bit cold considering there was no sun outside. He placed the bottle on the floor and asked his mother what he could help her with.
I protested. Like any other child, at least in my mind I thought – a child would rather be outdoors, playing.
I jumped in, ‘this is not a good idea; we need to find you something to do’.
Abebech laughed out loud, looked at me and said, ‘my son is a wonderful young boy. He always helps me – he knows how to do things as well.’
I still protested.
There really wouldn’t be an ounce of fairness in this child having to be indoors with us instead of being in out there, even if he knew no-one in the compound. It was the weekend after all and school had only started the week before. Kids are quick to make friends right?
Abebech and I had already agreed to divide tasks between the two of us so I left the room and went on to take care of my part. Later on, I passed by – what I got to see had me stop on my tracks for a minute. Abebech was meticulously cleaning a shelf; she was on a ladder. She needed a change of water. She had asked her son to pour out what was in a basin and get her clean water. He took the basin, opened a tap and handed his mother clean water in a basin. She thanked him and carried on with what she was doing. When it was time to get off the ladder a few seconds later, the little boy quickly moved towards his mother, held the ladder with the strength he had and extended one hand to his mother as she made her way down.
Now, the reason this has been so intriguing to me is that watching the two of them made a question pop in my head: when does this care, I will call it, all come to an end? Abebech and her son undoubtedly had a bond that makes him so connected to her, that even as a sixth grader, he has this protective urge and conviction to care for his mother – a woman.
I found myself thinking broader – is it in upbringing that male to female relations change? How is it that later in life, taking adulthood into account here, does it occur for a man to inflict pain upon a woman? This is by no means a thought that points fingers; nor is it one that makes a generalized assumption that women are inherently frail and that men have tendencies for leaning towards violence. Abebech and her son’s actions triggered a thought – one that I felt the urge to write about and explore further. If care and respect manifest at such a tender age bracket, then what changes in some? At what point and why does it become a given state of being to consider and describe women as similar weak and emotional beings incapable of making rational decisions or responsible actions?
It could be the gender studies courses I took a while back that shaped this thought. On the other hand, I have been reading up a lot on feminism lately. Here again, I will stay floored on that notion that in me choosing to look at this situation from a feminist point of view, the latter does not necessarily imply alienating and demonizing the opposite sex. A good read I stumbled upon the other day sums it all up ever eloquently. The title reads ‘What is Feminism, And Why Do So Many Women and Men Hate It? The author, Kathy Caprino writes about this dictionary definition on what ‘feminism’ stands for:
‘The advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of equality of the sexes.
The belief that that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.’
Now, back to Abebech and her son, I am inclined to ponder further about the child’s upbringing. Of course, growing up in my society, and this cuts across many other societies I am aware, Abebech is raising her son to obey parents. Perhaps traditional – in the society I grew up in, children obey – no questions asked. More reflection – in this context, where children are only expected to take in, could there be an underlying push factor that later leads to misconceptions and likely associated rough relations between women and men wherever these occur? Is a lack of far-reaching conversations and meaningful dialogue working to our disadvantage?
Alternatively, I have also grown up in a millennial generation – one that is inquisitive and resorts to making its own meaning of situations. So, there has got to be a conversation out there, one that has allowed for blogs, social media, discussion circles, etc. to become ever more vocal on matters of feminism and female to male relations in Ethiopia, for instance.
But even so, there’s so much that is taken for granted, and of course negative reception of anything feminist is all too common – a continental, if not global, phenomenon. Again I ask, when do women become a threat and more so, the weaker species that warrants being bullied for the labeled stronger species to feel good about itself? Offences come in all categories – could be unsolicited call-outs in streets, physical abuse, cyber bullying, etc. Or a long and condescending stare from a stranger. Mind you, the girl or woman being subjected to such kinds of mistreatment could be well minding their own business as it occurs. What makes this okay?
When does it all really end; so much so that a girl or woman becomes a given target for abuse, scorn and all sorts of other kinds of malice?
Note from the author: Questions and later reflections shared in this reflective blog entry are based off of day to day conversations with friends, both women and men as well as some actual encounters.