“…I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
From the age of 16, my favourite poem has been Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. What struck me most about the poem is the burning zest for life that the speaker has… his adventurous spirit so restless and irrepressible even in his old age. Having lived a fulfilling life, the speaker reflects on his experience and looks back not with a solemn nostalgia but with a rose-tinted lens of his glorious youth & how he made the most of his days.
This poem resonated so much with me for years and one of my closest friends and I even attempted to learn it all off by heart. Our selection was a highly unconventional one since most of the popular choices in our class were the more tranquil and gentle poems about forbidden gardens, lost/reunited lovers and seasonal changes or death.
Of course, the speaker in the poem is a man… as are most heroes whose noble and brave life stories are preserved in mythology, folklore and other types of art. My friends and I knew that had we lived in the era in which this poem was written, we most certainly would not have been the target audience. Our roles would not have been the adventure-laden ones with the unexplored lands to discover, conquests to pursue and innocents to defend, save. We were a part of the hidden figures in those narratives, patiently and loyally waiting for our spouses to return from these adventures (Mariana). In these narratives, we’d have no ambitions of our own beyond tending to household duties, or as the glorified mothers, wives or prizes. Or even worse, we would be given the roles of the temptress whose sole purpose in the narrative was to blind him with lust & temptation and to derail the hero from his noble cause … another obstacle he was to conquer in order to further glorify him and his heroic achievements.
And so began my plunge into the type-cast of the angry feminist who seemed obsessed with the way womxn were depicted in the media, in literature, film, art. The one place in which we could reconstruct society and reality, to undo – in one gesture – all the chaotic injustices and inequality with which we struggle in the real world, somehow, in those fictional worlds in which dragons and sea monsters could exist, womxn were still trapped in the rigid confines of societal and cultural norms. So it was instant love when Zukiswa Wanner (who is now my favourite South African writer) said jokingly during a talk she gave at my school, “Behind every successful man there’s what? No, a doormat. Because why must you be behind any man?” It was this joke which had her written off by many of my peers because apparently she had found her own “barely funny” joke more amusing than anyone else did, except me of course.
That’s when I decided to plan my own adventures, noble causes and conquests for thee future. I made bucket lists of places I wanted to visit, causes I wanted to advocate for, people I wanted to meet etc. Slowly but surely, I challenged myself – taking subjects I heard were difficult, volunteered to go second at hiking and abseiling excursions, took a few kicks to the face in karate classes, started community service initiatives, auditioned for the Dance Company and took ballet class then competitive debating and and and… I was living my best life, seizing every opportunity that came my way.
Years later I’m still glad that I made the choices I did and I’m even more grateful that I had all those opportunities made available to me; which is more than I can say for millions of other young womxn in the world today. Just a few days ago, I read about an illegal abortion doctor who’s wanted by the police for practising female foeticide. In an entire 2017, there are still people who view daughters as burdensome and less worthy of life than boys. So of course the normative narrative of heroes,villains, or anyone whose life has been deemed worthy of recognition and immoral glory would be centred men.
So this was reflective day for me. It was a moment to look around at all the platforms I have around me to not only grow myself but to support other young womxn and to encourage them to create their own narratives placing themselves as worthy heroes and adventurers and record-breakers – perhaps by breaking records or perhaps by simply existing, daring to be in a world that says we’re a subcategory to men. to humanity.
We’re here to be more than disposable eyecandy to James Bond, more than Marvel’s damsels in distress, more than glorified pretty muses to de Vinci or yet another obstacle to Odysseus…
Obaa Boni, an exceptionally notable Ghanaian feminist from whom I draw inspiration quotes in her piece Resolving Existential Angst Through Lemonade: Black Women Are, “I want every Black woman to understand herself not in relation to men or to whites, but in relation only to self existence. Womanhood is not the opposite of manhood. It is not a means to balance the world. Blackness is not the opposite of whiteness, it is not all that whites fail to be” …
I hope we won’t have to carve through the misogynistic mess in literature to find versions ourselves in characters clearly not designed for us and our amusement. But I hope we become those captains of our own ships and authors of our own immortal narratives.
Asaase Yaa Mma (Obaa Boni) blog – https://ghanafeminism.com/