“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I ask my kids in my Sunday school class the other day.
Their little hands are wiggling up in the air, the mostly six-year-olds eager to share their dreams with me.
“A doctor,” one girl says, and another and another.
“A pilot,” a boy shouts, and of course there are several more.
One girl says she wants to be a shopkeeper. A rather cheeky lad announces that he wants to be a policeman. I notice a trend and so I ask those who want to be doctors to raise their hands. You guessed it. Over half the girl population go with this choice. Boys raise their hands for pilot. Looks like nothing much has changed since my days as a child. I wanted to be a doctor. No one told me to want to be one but I sure did get a lot of societal hints that being a doctor was the best thing to want to be as a girl (or a nurse). When we were asked the very same question during classes, it was the same as in this current Sunday school class. Boys wanted to be pilots and the ones who did not ‘aim that high’ wanted to be drivers.
Why is it that this is the trend? Have you ever asked yourself that question? I have. I wanted to be a doctor all the way to high school. Then it happened. Biology happened. Bones, to be specific, in fourth form. I was not so sure I wanted to be a doctor any more. Chemistry happened too, and one Mr made me believe that moles were difficult and I was never going to hack them. Did I mention mathematics? Oh math. I hated you so when integration and differentiation entered the scene. Needless to say, I only felt a tinge of excitement during physics lessons but I still hoped to be a doctor, evident from my university choices. Very uninformed choices, if I may add. KCSE happened and, well, the rest is history. I was sure I was never meant to be a doctor. Of course KNEC helped me make that decision since I had little choice. I revised my university choices, a little informed this time, but still not certain of what I was doing. My first choice was Land Economics, UoN. Smh. What in the world was I supposed to achieve with that? (Update: Someone felt that I was hating on Land Economics by writing this. Do not misread this. This is about me. I am sure very many people pursue this course and do great things out here.) I only filled it because daddy’s girl was not going to go anywhere that was more that 20km away from him and mum. My second choice was Information Sciences. That was an informed choice. I had no idea what it was but a reliable source told me it was worth my while. Yes, it was in Moi. Yes, Moi University was 311 km away from mum and dad. Yes, I was cutting the apron strings with that choice. And yes, JAB picked me for that choice.
Best decision I ever made. I was ferried to Moi University by my entire clan on that early morning of August the 9th 2009 and thus began the journey of self-discovery. I discovered myself behind closed doors in my room, on my phone, in which I blogged the first piece here. I discovered myself in a press club I joined when it was almost too late. I discovered myself in lecture rooms, where I almost always sat at the back, tweeting away the entire time, either on phone or computer. I was once caught but managed to talk my way out of it. Information Sciences was right up my alley. The only problem was we were lectured on a lot of obsolete things. If I were to flip my notebooks right now (the ones I kept before I completely dumped them for my computer), I would be reminded of all the things I learnt that should have been done better. All the same, I learnt the basics of search engines, web design, programming and journalism in those classes. They complemented what I had learnt at IAT quite well too. For that I am forever indebted to the institution. I rarely felt I was less bright than the men in the same room all through the four years, but I did feel I was less confident. Whenever it was that time the lecturer needed people to answer or ask questions, I would never raise my hand. Ever. Unless, of course, I was picked (which is pretty hard for the picker to do since I would hide this tiny self behind there). As expected, the men would be very vocal in classes but never the women. (Writing women right there was the hardest thing I have made myself do in this piece.) Maybe it is because we were outnumbered or maybe because we were ladies but that is just how it was. Men talked, we listened. Some lecturers complained but no big deal was made out of it. Why do you think this happened? I am yet to come up with the right conclusion.
So I am out here now and I am doing what nobody, including myself, thought I would be doing as a career. In the initial plan of things, I was going to pursue web design but I sort of ditched the idea when I got out of campus. I discovered I was better placed to pursue what I was passionate about better, writing and social media. I would be lying if I said that my decision was not further cemented because of the fact that I am a woman. The first internship I took up in this capacity was in a company that had the territories clearly marked out by gender. The social media department was made up of ladies while the web and graphics design departments were occupied by dudes. I tend to notice such stuff. It burrows a hole in my brain and sits there forever. And then you read articles of how Google is promoting coding for girls or how being a woman in tech is a big deal and you know it is a worldwide phenomenon. Then you want to be a part of that movement where women do things that go beyond the stereotypes. And you know what? You can, in your own way.
So what am I saying? Am I what I am because I am a woman? Probably, but who says that’s a bad thing? Should you let your sex determine what you can or can’t be? No, you shouldn’t. If you are a woman and being a bus conductor is your thing, do it and do it well! If you are a girl geek, go ahead and code away, I admire you for that. If you want to raise your kids over going to work every morning, that’s your choice. God knows being a mother is the biggest job there is, cliché or not. And nobody should make you feel that you are backward. Do not be insecure because you are a woman. Be proud. If society expects you to be something you are not, do not be for its sake. Do what you feel is best for you and in essence, for everyone around you.
Today I came by an article about egg freezing by Apple and Facebook for their female employees. I was not familiar with the concept before this. Apparently, it’s a way of extending your biological clock where you get your eggs frozen for you while you are still young but not ready to conceive then get them back later when you are ready to start a family. That way, you get to pursue career and climb up the corporate ladder and postpone having kids till you are older. Wow. That is how far we have gone to try to be equal with men. Like I have said before, we never will be. There is a reason men don’t have a biological clock per se. I don’t know about you, but I would definitely not do it myself, even if it was offered for free in Kenya, like those IFAS tablets. Being a woman at work has its ups and downs and you have to be ready to compromise either job advancement or family time at some point, as Indra K. Nooyi, PepsiCo CEO, says. You are not superwoman and you will never be. It’s not like there is a superman anyway. Deal with it. I am not there yet but I know the time will come.
This equality debate messes us up, to be honest. I am obviously biased but allow me to mention Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Have you read it? I tried and I hadn’t even got quarter way when I put it down (or rather shut down the application). Why? Because I believe it is full of hyperbole. Yes, it’s a good book. Yes it has many truths. It even mentions my raising-hand-in-class issue. But if you know you are going to advocate for women to ‘lean in’ and do their best at work without feeling held back by their being women, please do no exaggerate. It’s annoying and it just makes men think feminism is a bad thing.
“A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes. I believe that this would be a better world.” That’s a statement in the first pages. I got to hand it to Sheryl though, even after that statement, she admits that there are other ways to make an impact in the world other than just scaling the corporate ladder and leading. Here’s another: “Ask a man to explain his success and he will typically credit his own innate qualities and skills. Ask a woman the same question and she will attribute her success to external factors, insisting she did well because she “worked really hard,” or “got lucky,” or “had help from others.”” Really? I mean, are you kidding me?
I will be back.
[Photo (which made me laugh) credit: mahakhalid]