By Rohey Samba

When a private conversation is used as an instrument to bring one down in public, it literally sucks the wind out of your sails.  As a matter of fact, the pain is excruciating. Not to mention the shame that accompanies the sense of sadness and stigma. The entreaty to “move on and learn from one’s mistakes,” is often easier said than done. To feel that one is habitually browbeaten or belittled, considering that your biggest persuasion in life is to make peace with yourself and the world at large, well, that sucks. It really does suck…
A victim mentality is a state of mind. It is acquired when a person recognises him or herself as a victim due to the negative actions of another person(s), the state and/or institutions that he/she trusted because they were meant to protect him/her.
Sometimes we choose by our own volition to be vulnerable to a few people, inasmuch as we don’t choose to lay our trusts in every Tom, Dick and Harry.  Who does not want to share a bit of juicy, unrestraint and unguarded moment with a trusted friend, without having to think twice about the consequences of one’s words? Especially when one feels secure in knowing that it would stay just that, banal conversation – not a weapon of one’s own destruction.

Nothing can be more cruel than to break this trust by snitching, spreading gossip or plain referencing these statements in another context to make a particular point, especially when the context of those statements are removed from the current narration.
What may not seem surprising perhaps is that every one of us have faced this sort of painful experience in one form or the other at one point in our lives.  There is no class or society, which is exempt from censure in this matter. This heart wrenching betrayal of trust often causes smoldering anger, not at our betrayer, but often at ourselves for falling short in our abilities to judge the other person well enough to disclose to them such personal, revealing or intrusive information.
But we learn from our mistakes and we move on. As Rapheal Sabbat once said, “to regret is to discredit EVERY SINGLE THING that has happened prior to where you are standing right now.” So we choose not to regret.

People in unhappy lives, whether it be their personal lives or their work lives are happy to seize upon every opportunity to escape and run into a chance of excitement and worthwhile endeavors. Feminists, especially male feminists, urge women to participate in national development, seeking to champion the women who have somehow made their lives meaningful, be it their mothers, wives, sisters, cousins or their own daughters for that matter.

Having gone through the school system together, and really appreciating the women for their intellectual aptitudes and abilities, and knowing in the midst of patriarchy that there has neither been any choice nor reason for the differences in sex between the women and themselves, these male feminists make a lot of comment to the effect of encouraging, motivating and pushing women to higher heights in national development.

Needless to say, this is my ideal man.
In fact, my male friends, and they are many, are ardent feminists without whom I would not be where I am today. Off the hook, I will recall Falu Sey, my former co-worker and great friend. A great listener, a champion for women empowerment and my greatest counselor to whom I always revert back to when everything means nothing to me.

Falu is a unique, one of a kind gentleman. Those men who love and value their mothers to the effect of transferring these untutored life skills to every woman they encounter. Whenever I wish to walk away, and really, when walking away is the easiest thing for me to do when I am at the brink of anger with the skewed system, those who run the system and those who perpetuate its ideals, he would give me a million reasons why I should not. Really, by the time he reaches the third reason, I am already convinced to stay until the tail end.

Again, there is the legal luminary, my learned friend Almami Taal, who I met in those gaslighting years of my life when I would go to La Parisienne at the time when ice cream cost D10 to buy. With his powerful poetry, dedicated for the most part I suspect, to his dream girl who eventually became his better half, the very beautiful and intelligent Cany Jobe, this very dedicated Gambian intellectual is one friend I count on, like Falu Sey, to push me onward whenever I falter in that intellectual space we share.
Very keen to see me participate in national politics, Almami would find a way to circumvent all my pitiful objections. Which woman in this world, the right conditions permitting, would rather not stay at home and take care of her household and kids? Especially, with all the problems, hassles and endless battles at the work place? Yet, the confidence and sense of propriety, which Almami instills in his feminist favour makes me dream big, for the collective rather than the personal interest, my personal interests per se.

You see, most men, even the feminists among them fail to realise that women are different as they are diverse. One of the delicate problems of boxing all women in one carton is the generalisation. But there is another aspect of the problem. Many women are tempted to work. This often falls to women when they have children and their spouse’s income cannot suffice to take care of the family, whether due to polygamy, polyamory or just plain low Gambia salary.

For those women tempted to work by life’s conditions in a patriarchal society, setting the same standards for her and her male counterpart at work is generally antithetical to the agenda of women empowerment. This is virtually because of her gender role as a female in the African setting.
She leaves for bed last in her household and wakes up before everyone else, yet she is mostly ‘late’ because at the last minute of leaving to take the kids to school, one of them may choose to visit the lavatory, and she must wait and cleanse her because she is ‘mother’.

She misses certain promotions at work, because she goes on confinement leave for 6 months, which is half of the calendar year. Men cannot understand this long maternity leave because they do not get pregnant or serve as primary care givers to their biological kids.
Soon after I returned to work after my confinement leave this year, one of my assiduous and very brilliant co-workers, Wandifa Saidyleigh, was surprised when I needed a break to attend a family celebration. He is a very enlightened feminist no doubt, but he could not get it that even after six months of ‘rest’; I still needed to attend to a specific family function on a working day at that.

In his devoted-to-work-kind-of-potency, Wandifa did not realise that he could fail to attend any family function and not get any reprimands as a man, but for me…there is hell to pay should I fail to attend as a result of my work, because I am a woman!
Moreover, women get more sick leave days in every institution because it is not just the women who get sick but their families too. Many women take sick leave when their kids, parents or even their husbands fall ill. That’s just the way it is…

For women, visibility at the work place creates a major conundrum.
On the one hand, their contributions are mostly down played or overlooked at work. Their general mode of address is often stereotyped, meaning they must display obeisance at all times in their dealings with their male counterparts. Their mode of dress or makeup is oftentimes a matter of commentary. Thus when women try to make themselves visible in the workplace, they face countless backlashes for violating expectations about how women should behave, thereby face the risk of losing their hard-earned career gains.
Real women loathe to be treated as children.

By talking down to women, telling them what to do and what not to do; by treating them abruptly or dismissively…well that is a red line for most women. Candour and dignified treatment are the only safe policies. Even where men have the occasional right to reprimand women, especially in places of work, the censorship should not be done so rigidly as to arouse anger and/or resentment.
Women are not children. They are adult human beings and they deserve to be treated with dignity.
The male feminists are often tempted to throw caution to the wind and believe that women, by their natures are fragile and less egotistical than themselves. Quite rightly, women resent any interference with their actions, so chiding and cajoling works for the most part rather than plain talking of salient truths. But not all the time. And not definitely for all women. Some women find such actions unwarranted and patronising.
Personally, I am a makeup wearing, over-dressing, foul-mouthed, cursing woman with feminist tendencies and a big ego to match. Yet, I am paradoxically soft-spoken, mild mannered and definitely a kind human being, who loves people naturally. Even if I say so myself.

Perhaps in a spirit of malice or jealousy, many high placed women will dissociate themselves with the cause for women empowerment and rather seek to compete one another in the workplace. Instead of helping to lift each other up.  Now if you ask me, this more than anything else hinders the progress of women in the workplace.

Trying to separate oneself from the other women in the workplace is, sadly, a strategy that’s frequently employed by women at the top echelons. It’s easy for women to believe that there’s limited space for them at those high levels because they tend to see it with your own eyes.  But that is a space, which we can enlarge to accommodate as many of us, women, as possible given the right motivations and inclinations.
So when I am asked, as I am often asked, especially by my feminist male friends, ‘why do we have so few women in high positions in our institutions?’ My answer is, it’s mainly the women’s, our own, doing…
I say, “A broken wing can be fixed. But a broken bird, meaning the system including bureaucracy, patriarchy, establishment, etc.; is meant to die. And then I riposte rhetorically, “so who will fix the bird?”

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