This is a guest post by Sonia Audi, a writer, graphic designer, and visual activist based in Nairobi, Kenya. She uses her art to address issues that affect women on a daily basis. When she isn't engaged in the next big project to make the world a better place, she is either buried deep inside the pages of a Stephen King book or watching TV. Follow Sonia on Wattpad.
Mama told me to always keep my knees together. Of course, she had the best intentions at heart. She warned me not to be like “those girls who throw themselves at men,” otherwise I would get pregnant or worse, contract an STI or AIDS. She said that if I got pregnant out of wedlock, no one would ever respect me again. The boy would get high fives and be called a “man,” but I would be spat on and called a slut.
The conservative and highly religious society I grew up in taught me to never be too frank about my desire for any man. It was “unladylike.” If I happened to like a guy, I was not to tell him until he told me first, otherwise I would come off as “cheap and desperate.” I was made to believe that as a woman I could only exist as a stereotype, either a whore or a Madonna. I chose the latter.
A big chunk of my life story is told in journals in the voice of a scared, self-righteous, and confused teenager, journals I cannot read without wincing. Whore, slut, bitch, cheap, disgrace and desperate are words that appear over and over again in reference not only to girls whose lives I did not approve of, but also myself. The girls I "slut" shamed ranged from those whose clothes I considered “not modest enough” to those who were unabashed about their sexual escapades. They disgusted me, because that’s what a righteous Madonna like me had to feel for whores, right? However, I never told them what I really felt about them to their faces because I was a coward.
I was too much of a coward to admit to myself that the only reason I hated them is because I envied them. They had broken free of the stereotypes that had me caged. They were neither whores nor Madonnas, for they owned their sexuality with the same passion with which they thrived in all other areas of their lives. Many of them were quite studious and clever, and made it to very good colleges after high school. They respected their parents, gave back to society through charity, fought against injustices, and loved their neighbors. It was unfair to judge them based solely on the number of men they had slept with and the hemlines of their skirts.
I used to hang on every word they spoke when they described kisses, caresses, foreplay, and sex. Afterwards, in the comfort of my bed, I would fantasize about having sex with one of the many crushes I had at the time. What did that make me? Certainly not Mama’s little angel! Was I then a whore, “cheap, desperate, and unladylike” for desiring sex? No, it only meant that I was a normal teenager who was becoming more and more aware of herself as a sexual being. That was definitely not one of the many thoughts that flooded my mind each morning when I woke up. Instead, I felt dirty for being such a “bad Christian.” I blamed myself for letting my mother down, and I asked God for forgiveness.
I carried this weight with me for the longest time. It was not until after high school when I was forced to start taking responsibility for my life that I finally let go of it. I had to move to Nairobi, miles away from Mama’s wings, to attend college. It’s the first time I saw the world through my own eyes, and not Mama’s. I started to see the hypocrisy that is the fibre of our society when it comes to gender and sex, and how we are brainwashed not to look beyond that. I started to question myself. Why is it that women are shamed for being sexual beings, and yet men are applauded for the same? Why do I have to be defined only by my sexuality when there’s a lot more to me? I started to question those around me. The answers I got (still get) are not the kindest.
“You have a pussy, not a dick. You’re being penetrated and not the other way round. So, you’ve got a lot more to lose.”
“Leave that feminist talk for white women. African women are not promiscuous.”
“Women should stop trying to be men.”
What the hell?! I can barely keep it together every time I think about these responses and many others. The late Simone de Beauvoir captured my feelings perfectly in her quote, “Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female – Whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the man.”
To all the women out there... You are a mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, neighbor, niece, daughter, friend, lover, and a whole lot more. Most of all, you are a human being with dreams, expectations and desires. People’s distorted perception of you based on how you choose to approach issues of sex should not define you. It’s okay to own your sexuality. Wait... Did I say ‘okay’? Hell, it’s great!