Who is the Girl Child? Perhaps you are familiar with her. Perhaps she is the same person as myself. Perhaps she is you. She is your child. She’s your younger sister. She’s your mother, aunt, grandma, friend, and coworker all rolled into one. She is the girl in the woman, and the woman in the girl. She is unencumbered and undefined by decades of degrading philosophy, religion, and customs that consider being born female as impure, inferior, and deserving of subjugation.
Families in the culture I was born into are perhaps more extended than nuclear. So one has access to aunties (in my mother tongue, they are called ‘Sengas’- these are primarily your father’s sisters) who teach you what to do for men, how to do it, and prepare you for marriage. They will go to great lengths to ensure that you “keep a man.”
I’ve never understood the concept of ‘pulling.’ Pulling is the elongation of a female’s labia, which is taught to females in schools, particularly boarding schools. Your aunts can also tell you and teach you about it. I heard it in schools and saw several girls doing it; I never understood why, therefore I refused to participate on all grounds. My mother asked if I had heard anything about it, and I told her that I had overheard females discussing it at school. She went on, “Did you do it?” I replied, “No.” I recall laughing out loud when she told me I had to do it. “What are the reasons for pulling?” I inquired. – I continued, maybe I’ll think about it if they seem reasonable to me. These are the reasons: “to keep a man,” “to allow your man to enjoy sex,” and “for hygiene.” For a split second, I thought to myself and said, “So you’re saying, I have to go through this terrible process just to keep a man, but mostly for him to enjoy sex- how about my enjoyment of sex?” Is it not factored into the equation? And if not, why not? Furthermore, is it empirically verified that having long labia makes one less susceptible to infections or possibly STDS’?
I couldn’t even get my head to rap itself around that context. I was about 12 years old at the time. I pledged to my mother that I would never violate my body for the advantage of someone else, regardless of who Ma— mentioned. Of course, she didn’t stop bringing it up over the following years and telling me I had to do it. I inquired of her, “Ma, did you pull?” Yes, she responded, and I asked, “Did you manage to keep your man?” I was completely perplexed! My mother instructed me to quit asking questions and just do what I was told. Yes, this has now become a war—for a second, I reasoned that my mother is extremely religious, therefore I calculated that I should employ psychological tactics to defend myself.
I challenged her, “If you believe in the bible, which you do, show me a scripture where it is written; if you don’t pull, you’re going to hell, or you’ll lose your man, or you’ll never get married,” and then added, “Show me Ma.” Maybe if it’s written, I’ll question my doubts! I was looking for evidence and deliberately asked for it. Guess what, there was no mention of such a thing in the Bible. So I told her I’d never do it. Furthermore, female labia exist in a variety of sizes and shapes; we do not need to alter them in any way to feel or be wanted. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s a barbaric practice especially if you reap the benefits—it’s all put to you. Personally, I don’t agree because its rationale doesn’t make sense to me.
From my perspective, these answers all voiced out how girls do not matter as much as men do. And that just didn’t quite match with how I perceive the world. My mind was racing with so many questions at that tender age—aren’t we all human? We all ought to be treated equally, don’t you think? Why does society establish norms based on gender? And, most importantly, who makes these rules? People make these conventions, don’t they? That is, I can set my own rules, right? What do the people who set these standards look like? What was the rationale behind each of these rules? Yes, I was curious because this did not make sense to my naïve mind.
I recall being taught different things from my brother and when I asked the reason why it is so, the answer always came down to because you are a girl. I remember going to different schools than my brother; his were more luxurious, whereas mine were more oriented on tradition and religion. I asked, “Why does he get to go to that school while I get to go to this one?”- Because you are a girl. Everything came down to the fact that I was a woman in a man’s world.
My mother would describe me as big-headed not because I was a troublemaker at school or perhaps an intractable teenager, but because I asked a lot of annoying questions—and not just one or two questions—I never stopped asking about anything and everything! Yes, I was the child who wondered why we were going to this restaurant and not the other! And mainly because I never conformed to the society’s norms laid out especially if they did not make sense.
The pressure from culture, tradition and society can have a detrimental impact on one’s mental health. Women are more susceptible to manipulation and compliance than males are. Conformity is higher in collectivist countries than in individualistic ones. Some people do it unconsciously, for example, because it is what they believe is right, or perhaps it’s what they were taught. Others may present it in an authoritative manner without taking anything else into account. This, however, has a negative impact on the psychological well-being of girls and women. There is the development of unhealthy coping behaviors and anxiety. Depression sets in, and they repress their emotions while also lying about them. They have a hard time trusting others and, even if it takes a toll on them, they tend to prioritize others’ needs over their own. In some cases, chronic manipulation in close relationships may also be a sign of emotional abuse, which can have a similar effect to trauma in some cases—especially when the victim of manipulation is made to feel guilty or ashamed. Women safeguard your mental health.
Strong conformity, overshadows authenticity, straps uniqueness and it exerts negative impact on an individuals’ self-esteem.
I will define ‘The Girl Child’- She is the being with limitless wings to fly. She is the atomic energy of the world. She is the womb of all human beings. She is the power of existence. She is the wielder of extinction. She is a creature that the world cannot afford to lose. She is ‘I am’! To all the girls/women there, stand by what you believe is right. Trust your instincts, and never stop asking questions, no matter how crass they may appear. You wield far more power than the world can comprehend.
Jhangiani, Dr. Rajiv, et al. “Person, Gender, and Cultural Differences in Conformity.” Principles of Social Psychology 1st International Edition, BCcampus, 26 Sept. 2014, https://opentextbc.ca/socialpsychology/chapter/person-gender-and-cultural-differences-in-conformity/.
“Manipulation.” GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/manipulation.
Zhang, Peng, et al. “Social Anxiety, Stress Type, and Conformity among Adolescents.” Frontiers in Psychology, Frontiers Media S.A., 20 May 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4873518/.