The Memoir of the Girl Child

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.

References

[1]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/.

[2]“Manipulation.” GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/manipulation.

[3]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/.

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Why is depression more prevalent in females?

Depression is more common among females (5.1%) than males (3.6%). Women are nearly twice more likely to be diagnosed with depression compared to men. The etiology of depression appears to differ, with women more typically exhibiting internalizing symptoms and males experiencing externalizing symptoms.[1] In a study of dizygotic twins, for example, women were more sensitive to interpersonal interactions, whereas men were more sensitive to external professional and goal-oriented factors.[2]Women also encounter specific types of depression-related illnesses, such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder, postpartum depression, and postmenopausal depression and anxiety, which are linked to ovarian hormone changes and may contribute to the increased frequency in women. The fact that increased depression prevalence correlates with hormonal changes in women, particularly around adolescence, before menstruation, after pregnancy, and during perimenopause, implies that female hormonal oscillations may be a trigger for depression.[3]

Unequal power and status

Regrettably, this is a man’s world. Not only do women have to go to work like men, but they may also be expected to shoulder the burden of running a household, raising children, caring for elderly relatives, and putting up with sexism. Furthermore, we must be concerned not only about our children and families, but also about the rising occurrence of sexual harassment. According to research, nearly a third of women working in traditionally male-dominated trades in the United States said they were sexually harassed frequently or always. A poll was carried out involving 9408 adults(51 percent men and 49 percent women) in eight countries (Australia, Ecuador, Egypt, India, South Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam), roughly a quarter of men surveyed said, “It is sometimes or always acceptable for an employer to ask or expect an employee to have intimate relations such as sex with them.” Thirty-nine percent of Indian men polled believed it was okay to wolf-whistle or cat-call a colleague on occasion, if not usually. “It is sometimes or always appropriate to pinch a colleague’s bottom in jest,” said 36% of 25-34-year-olds in the United Kingdom. In the United States, “44% of men aged 18-34 stated that expressing a sexual joke to a coworker is sometimes or always acceptable.”[4] Why is society failing to effectively condemn violence against women?

Sociocultural Reinforcements for example “…the ideology of men’s entitlement and privilege over women, social norms regarding masculinity, and the need to assert male control or power, enforce gender roles or prevent, discourage or punish what is considered to be unacceptable female behavior”

CEDAW, 2017, para. 19

This belief system consists of deeply ingrained attitudes, values, conventions, and prejudices against women that serve to perpetuate men’s dominance over women. Unconscious prejudice has a negative impact on women’s autonomy and integrity at work, and is linked to societal gender stereotypes, which can impede women’s professional advancement and most especially contribute to emotional distress.

Cultural factors

Women’s greater rates of depression aren’t only related to biology. Cultural stresses play a role, particularly in developing nations where gender roles are ingrained. Western societies are fortunate in that they seek for equality in women’s rights. In South Asia, the widespread impact of boy preference is predominant. Wife battering and female suicide have been connected to women’s reproductive roles, including their expected role of having children, the repercussions of infertility, and the failure to generate a male child.[5]

The majority of societies are patriarchal in nature. People typically believe that “girls are born to be fed for the rest of their life” and “boys are destined to earn and support the entire family.” A newborn boy’s birth is celebrated, whereas a baby girl’s birth is frowned upon. In some rural areas of India, the situation is even worse, with girls being denied their right to live. In India, sex selection during pregnancy is still widespread, where women are forced to terminate a female fetus. In one of the rural areas of India, it happened that, when a woman returned home from the hospital with her newborn daughter cradled in her arms, her mother-in-law mashed a poisonous coriander into a dollop of oil and pushed it down the infant’s throat. The explanation for this was that sacrificing a girl ensured a male in the future pregnancy.[6]

Evidently, a woman born in this region is unwanted, and if she isn’t killed, she suffers the repercussions and is vulnerable to all of society’s rage. I’m curious, people that hold the believe that they matter more than others–particularly due to differences in gender, skin color, or sexual orientation, etc. If you possess such a mindset– Do you honestly believe you matter more than others? If so, why?

Some countries still hold ancient traditions and customs that promote various sorts of violence against women. These include honor murders, exchange marriages, Quran weddings, Karo-kari, bride price, dowry, female circumcision, doubting women’s ability to testify, confinement to the home, and denial of their right to choose their partner are examples of these practices. If you’re reading this and you don’t live in a culture like this, first-off, consider yourself fortunate; second, imagine living in such a society for a moment. What emotions come to mind when you think about it? According to a study conducted in Pakistan, pressure from husbands and in-laws was the root cause for women to commit suicide. Sad to say, the system in these societies accepts these atrocious acts. There is no way out for this female, and law enforcers are usually hesitant to intervene because they refer the situation as a domestic conflict. Furthermore, women’s mental health is frequently neglected[6].

Let’s discuss female genital mutilation. It entails the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Bare in mind that this practice has no health benefits whatsoever. WHO mentions that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated. This practice is carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15. Culture is all fine and dandy until its norms become a violation of human rights. This is beyond anomalous and deviant. FGM is an extreme violation of the human rights of girls and women. It is an extreme kind of prejudice against women, and it represents deep-rooted gender inequity. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also breaches a person’s right to health, security, and physical integrity, as well as the right to be free of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and also the right to life if the process results in death. For the societies that perform FGM, it is considered a vital element of raising a girl in preparation for adulthood and marriage. It is thought to assist a woman resist extramarital sexual acts by ensuring premarital virginity, marital fidelity, and libido.[7] In simple terms, this is depriving women of their sexual pleasure in order to fulfill men’s sexual pleasures. I’m not sure about the females reading this, but I’m enraged.

As a woman writing this, my emotions are indescribably torturous- I have failed to articulate the right words that express the current feelings about this. All these acts, dehumanize girls and women. They rob them of their individuality. They deny girls and women their right to emotions. Because society owns every part of you, they strip you of your dreams, imagination, creativity, and expression. They undoubtedly provoke suicidal thoughts, and many succeed since it is the only way out of the awful reality into which they were born. They deprive women of their right to exist.

No wonder, depression is prevalent more in women than men. Women are simply attempting to navigate this man-made world; Striving for equal rights hoping they will prevail not only in western societies but also, developing nations. Most importantly, the females aim to retain their sanity while contending for equality.

References

[1]Bartels M, Cacioppo JT, van Beijsterveldt TC, et al.Exploring the association between well-being and psychopathology in adolescents.Behav Genet 2013;43:177–90.

[2]Kendler KS, Gardner CO.Sex differences in the pathways to major depression: a study of opposite-sex twin pairs.Am J Psychiatry 2014;171:426–35.

[3]Albert, Paul R. “Why Is Depression More Prevalent in Women?” Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience : JPN, vol. 40, no. 4, July 2015, pp. 219–221. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1503/jpn.150205.

[4]Gendered Power Inequalities, https://www.endvawnow.org/es/articles/1930-gendered-power-inequalities-.html.

[5]Validate User, https://academic.oup.com/bmb/article/57/1/33/301595.

[6]Niaz, Unaiza, and Sehar Hassan. “Culture and Mental Health of Women in South-East Asia.” World Psychiatry : Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), Masson Italy, June 2006, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1525125/.

[7]“Female Genital Mutilation.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation.