At some point in history, the measure of a woman's success was pretty simple. A woman was regarded as a good and respectable woman, if she was by a certain age, married by a man, and was a mother. Indeed, a simple measure. Further to that, the roles of said woman in that setting were also very straightforward. She looked after the needs of her husband and children within the home. That was what she lived for. It was her pride and the entirety of her existence. In fact till today, across Africa, women are still addressed in a way that depicts this identity. "Mother of .... (insert name of firstborn child)".
With a sense of worth, pride, and identity in Africa entrenched so deeply within the bounds of "wife-hood" and motherhood, these are without a doubt, in African society, are roles most women aspired to have. Be it as a result of a genuine desire for companionship in a husband and desire to nurture as a mother, or simply as a result of societal pressure and expectations. The fact remains, It is high on the priority list for many African women.
Society has changed a lot over the past few decades. From the point of view of women in Africa, many women alive and breathing today, were the first within their families, to have had the opportunity to get educated and pursue an endless array of careers. And indeed, women have not taken this opportunity lightly. Countless women in Africa have gone on to pursue careers in every field imaginable, excelling and rising to the top of their chosen field.
So back to the question then, what is success? How would you define it? What does it look like? And let's throw in the twist, just for the heck of it ie. what does being a successful woman, actually "cost" ? Strange question I know, but stick with me for a moment as I try and unpack it.
I began with a simple narrative of what being a successful woman looked like, probably as recently as 50 years ago in most African countries. She was simply, a respectable wife and mother. There was no uncertainty in the description. You either fitted this bill as a woman, or you didn't.
In modern society though, the lines have become significantly more blurry. On social media daily, we are bombarded with imagery the depicts the standard of womanhood to be so much more complex. We meet the "mompreneurs", the "yummy mummy's", the "I don't need a man I make my own money types", the "blessees" who make a career of looking fabulous with other people's husbands' money, the academic and corporate achievers, the career wives and mothers who contribute to the home and humbly adhere to the traditional roles as well, the single girls travelling the world choosing not to be tied down to any man. The list is endless.
Which begs the question. Is there a particular combination of properties or titles that a woman needs to have to be considered to have achieved success? Does having a husband alone make you successful? Does having degrees make you successful? Does having a child make you successful? Is a woman with a husband and child but no job more successful than a woman with a top job and no man? Are women who have a husband, child, and a good job, happier than women who choose not to have a man and rather explore the world? Is a woman with a child and no husband as good as a woman with a husband with no child? Is a woman who chooses to be funded by other people's husbands rather than become the wife whose husband is funding other women in the wrong? Is it still okay to be a mummy and not have to be “yummy”? Is it still okay to only want the husband and child and not be concerned with career or academic pursuits? Does society give single women the same respect as married women? Is it possible/practical for society to expect women with demanding careers to put as much effort and time into "slaying", as women who choose to depend financially on men? Is it acceptable to be single by choice?
Is the expectation that a woman should be physically fit, always look glamorous, be a great mum who makes it to all the school events, attentive humble and domesticated wife, have “stacks” in the bank, stacks up degrees, and soars through glass ceilings at work, all in a day's work, actually practical? The more interesting question in my view is, are the women who have achieved all this and are managing to balance it all, happier than the women who don't "have it all"? Or perhaps are they just more.... exhausted. What's the real cost of being a superwoman, in terms of the physical, mental and emotional toll it takes on a person to achieve all those aspects?
Well, just some thoughts from me. I certainly do not claim to have the answers. Goodness knows the questions are pretty complex.
I'm interested to hear your views. What does it actually mean to obtain "success" as an African woman in these times we are living in? What are your ambitions and aspirations as an African woman?