Beyond cookbooks and romance novels…

Manifesta to Young Women and Girls is one of my favorite pieces in Eve Ensler’s book entitled I am an Emotional Creature. A short excerpt reads as:
Girls aren’t good with:
Making difficult decisions
Lifting things
Putting things together
International news
Flying planes
Being in charge.
One of my closest girlfriends/sister is a co-pilot in a major commercial airline. I am glad no one told her that ” girls are not good with flying planes”.
The one on international news however really gets me because I get confronted with that stereotype nearly every single day in the streets of Addis. Whether I’m parked by a café or at a stop light, the newspaper and book vendors that approach me are always already preconditioned about what their offer to me should be – novels, cook books and magazines. Every time I decline, my eyes curiously follow what is offered to the next person and if it’s a male client then out come the books on politics and history, the autobiographies.
I began paying closer attention to how gendered the sales of books and newspapers in the streets of Addis are several months ago after a friend mentioned to me that she was tired of being offered cookbooks by these vendors in their assumption that cooking is all that she would be interested in. True to her statement, I started to notice this disparity as well. While I can understand that these vendors are operating partly on demand, I do not doubt that they are also operating partly on social conditioning.
In addressing the issue of demand, I find it worrisome if indeed the majority of women and girls in Addis who buy books and papers off these vendors are only interested in cook books, novels and trashy magazines in their choice of reading materials. I am of the belief that these selections are short of being empowerment tools. Don’t get me wrong, cooking is one of my passions but not because it is my ” feminine duty” to know how to cook but because I find artistic expression in the creation process. Nevertheless, if we’re raising girls into women who find reading pleasure only in the types of materials the vendors are pushing for them to purchase then women are missing out on building knowledge in areas where our participation has often been missing. i.e. politics, business, finance etc.
My three-year old niece pulled up her book to show me the other day. It was a dress-the-princess-for-her-wedding-day pink book. I cringed in disbelief at the nonsense that little girls are still being fed in this day and age. Granted she is only three but nurturing an obsession over Kate Middleton’s wedding to Prince William is hardly a learning tool for a developing mind – and a super smart one at that!
I’m pulling out of a café. A stack of books approaches me and a head pops out from behind, ” would you like a cookbook – international and local recipes?” I’m too annoyed to annoy him but next time I will ask of the vendors to explain how come their offer to women is predefined.
Love & Light

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  1. What would happen if you asked for the genre of books that the men get offered? Or can you tell them what kind of books women are interested in reading these days? Or would you end up in jail (again!)?
    I love the line about the stack of books approaching you.

  2. The funny part is I asked two or three of them cause I had similar frustration like you do and they were arguing that all the women always ask them for the cookbook and my sis told me not to argue more as you might not convince this person in that situation while a number of people were lining in the gas station behind me …anyway Bilu it is an interesting point thanks for feeling it too 🙂

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