She overtook us as we walked past the olde world shops, just where they give way to the lush green graveyard surrounding the thousand year old minster. I called her name as we neared the school which opened in 1549. Recognising my voice, she turned, her tattoos clear in the strong sunshine, the bright pink tips of her short brown hair glinting. I asked how she was and she told us her marriage had finally ended. We expressed our sadness and I felt yet glad for her. She pouted, “He expected me to stay at home! Be the perfect wife!” Her loud snort made one of the children bouncing down the path to the school look up and study her.
I said, “Such a wife would irritate me.”
“Not him!” She swung round so quickly that the child scooted towards the building he obviously loves. “He wants me to be Little Miss Yes.”
This feisty young woman, my wife and I talked about how women are taken as lesser beings, even today. It was only in recent decades that women scientists have been allowed to continue working after marriage. It has also been discovered that many of those given Nobel prizes were supported by incredibly capable women, who in several cases, really ought to have received the prize.
Even though I went to boys-only primary and secondary schools, each for white colonial children, I have always seen people as individuals, whatever their cultural background or gender. It surprised me a few years ago when somebody pointed out that seventy percent of my friends were women. I hadn’t noticed. Never have I assumed women were less intelligent, less capable, less powerful, in deed, the opposite is manifest in many of the people I know and encounter.
During our twelve years in France it used to pain me how women were treated. They were routinely taken as sex objects, creatures who had children and who ensured fine meals were perfectly served with a punctuality verging on the dictatorial. We knew a woman who had been told she’d get planning permission if she slept with the mayor; we knew a young woman who had been taken off a train and to the police station whereas the man who had flashed her was left to continue the journey; we knew an intelligent 28 year old woman who was told by an official that he’d not deal with her because she had no idea where her father lived. And there’s more and more. OK, that was deep in the countryside, but it was this past decade.
Back in Kenya where I grew up, the noble yet fierce Nandi warrior I admired as a child, told me, “We are part female, part male and a balance of both makes a fine person.”