Mekelle can be quite the dull place if you don’t have class. There isn’t much to do and it’s especially insanely boring if the only people you hang out with are boys with the attention span of goldfish. (I love you guys but honestly. Goldfish.) You must be creative with how you want to spend your time when you are by yourself. I’ve been here for a week and I have tried reading but I couldn’t read more than a couple of pages at a time for some reason, I tried writing but I was blocked and I tried catching up on all the movies but it still wasn’t doing it for me so this morning, I woke up with an idea. I decided to wear a dress and go around and about the town. With the dress came many related ideas that I’d wanted to explore.
I’d always sort of hated being a girl and hands fly to mouths whenever I say that and I think someone tried to kick me for it once but it is true. I’ve always assumed that being a man is so much easier and I might be wrong but I doubt I am. It’s obviously the more privileged sex. Nobody ogles a man when he eats alone or sits alone at a public place, no ogles a man for not wearing a scarf to church, men don’t have to have an awkward conversation with their teachers once a month about why they missed classes, no one ogles a man for showing his ankles and above all, men aren’t really required to wear dresses. Dresses make your thighs hurt, dresses make you have that unsettling feeling of regularly checking to see if the hem is somehow stuck in your underwear and you’re going through life showing your ass, dresses fly in the Mekelle wind and dresses make you vulnerable because they usually go with uncomfortable shoes that aren’t made for running.
I wore dresses exclusively for a year in the seventh grade due to religious reasons and when I finally told my family that God couldn’t possibly want my thighs and my social life to suffer that badly and threw away my dresses for pants, life became ultimately easier for me. I was large and the dresses just made me look larger and that earned me lots of nicknames original but tainted by ugly seventh grade humor. My family and their circle, i.e. people that often come to my house, are very traditional people that believe a respectable woman wears a dress and owns it. And there are a lot of women in the house so I was raised to be a strong independent woman and I couldn’t take shit from a man if I tried.
However, in those days of young idiocy, some of the most popular girls in our school were the tomboys and somehow, they pulled off being insanely detached from femininity and still appearing beautiful and I found myself wanting to be a tomboy too. It wasn’t hard to pretend to be one. I still secretly thought Westlife wasn’t too bad and I liked one strap bags. I liked to sing High School Musical songs with my girls and I had a diary. But externally I laughed at anything pink and turned my back on makeup because it’s super girly. I grew out of this in high school when I realized none of it really mattered and we all die anyways. I became a little gothic for a while. I was a very weird kid.
So today I wore a dress and went to eat lunch by myself. I wasn’t entirely confident so I wore All Stars with my knee length dress and I went to a less crowded place for lunch. The exclamations about my dress started before I even left dorm when my dormmate spent half an hour lecturing me about how I should wear dresses more often because it makes me look less intimidating. Then a girl I knew very vaguely around campus saw me as I was making my way out and she burst out laughing at the sight of me. She didn’t explain the laughter and I didn’t honor it by asking her to. I was very aware of the eight people at the restaurant I ate at looking at me and I was tactlessly hit on a few times. I know it’s the dress because I didn’t change anything else about myself. The only thing I am wearing different from my usual attire is the dress. I even wore the black scarf I’d worn all week.
I’d tried to fit into a tomboy appearance in middle school but now my view about all this has changed completely because I don’t quite hate being a woman. I would like to pull off wearing a dress often and not be vulnerable in it. I would like it if my male friends stopped avoiding my eyes every time they find a sanitary napkin in my bag (I’d like it if my male friends stopped going through my bags at all but one trouble at a time), I would like it if drunken men didn’t hit on me and I like the night so it would be nice to not be afraid of it because of men who’ll do me harm. I’d like it if my worth to be a good woman wasn’t measured by what my body looked like in something tight and I could go on about this all day but I would just piss myself off.
Something I learned just recently is that being a woman and especially being a black woman is power. I don’t know the statistics of how many women are oppressed around the world and I wouldn’t trust the statistics if I bothered to look them up. I know that many are suffering out there and it is not because they aren’t capable of thinking to boil some water and letting their man take a bath in it the next time he comes home drunk and tried to beat her up or not because she isn’t capable of throwing a slap that time the man behind her in the taxi line tried to cup a feel. A girl in my eighth-grade class literally threatened the insanely abusive kid in our class with a knife one time. It was the most hilarious thing to watch but it was powerful. We are very capable of defending ourselves especially since we are so underestimated. Surprise being a very powerful weapon.
I know that many don’t perceive the Muslim religion to be very appreciative or respective of women because of some of the shit al-Qaida has done. But upon talking to a Muslim friend of mine, I have come to appreciate some of the Muslim ideologies and I believed it when I watched a certain Australian debate about the Muslim ban situation and the black woman on the Muslim side insisted that Islam is a religion respectful of women.
The world keeps telling women that they are civilized once they drop all attempts of being a traditional woman. Like if you wear a burka you aren’t modern…. if you wear a long dress you aren’t modern…. if you don’t straighten your hair you aren’t modern…… if you don’t wear pants you aren’t modern…. if you aren’t okay with being naked you aren’t modern……
Pushing these boundaries and holding your head high is the truest power I have come to realize. Being a black woman in the world today is really a challenge because most beauty standards are set by white people with long straight hair and tight skinny jeans. The type of power that allows one to throw things across a room without touching it doesn’t really exist in our everyday life. (If it does, please introduce me. I would like to interview this person) but the type of power that even through oppression and being told that you are not good enough, lets you hold your chin up high and prove them wrong is true power. Watching some of the emotive speeches from the movie Hidden Figures literally made me cry and watching The Help makes me want to be a better black woman every time. Sass isn’t a disruptive cultural thing owned by black women, it’s a defense we have against the world’s bullshit and it’s how we make them all shut the hell up. When it’s true and from the heart, that shit is like adrenaline to me. It says “አይዞሽ”. I hear that rasp in a large black woman with her thick dark braids, heavy folds of skin and very large boobs and I know that she’s not only capable of spitting fire and whopping her kids for coming home in dirty clothes but I know she can also have me sit by her feet and in a calm alto tell me stories about her mother who was an insanely beautiful woman with the voice to bring anyone to their knees. There is definitely a certain power in being a black woman and owning it.
I have said many times that I am not a feminist and people insist that I am whether I want to be or not but I still say that I do not understand what feminism today stands for with the many ideas of feminism flying around and I cannot claim to be something I do not understand. Maybe when I say certain things about women, it coincides with what is believed to be feminism but I still have the right to say I will not be called a feminist but I will speak for women to not be looked down just because they are women.
Yesterday my friends laughed at my pink desktop screen with butterflies on it because it was girly. Well I don’t wear polka dots and put bunny ears on my phone but I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I don’t think there is anything actually wrong with being a girly girl. If anyone remembers the first couple of episodes of New Girl, the guys kept trying to change just how weird and girly Jess was and in the end, they ended up accepting that she was just like that.
Girls often get on my nerves with all the high-pitched voices and some of that perfume they use is not made for people with sensitive migraines like mine. I don’t have a lot of girlfriends because there are a lot of things I don’t like that girls do. Many might raise an eyebrow that I’ve written about how it’s okay to be a woman while always complaining that girls get on my nerves. Some of the most painful back-stabbings in my life have been at the hands of girls and I, personally don’t like to spend too much time with them but I do have to say this to all women. It is okay to be a woman. You are not Beyoncé. You are not Emma Watson. You are not Katy Perry. You are not Rihanna. You are the woman you are. We don’t have to let them all decide what kind of women we want to be. If we want to wear dresses, we should. If we want to sport that frisky hair because straightening it is going make us go bold in a few years, we should just own it. If we want to talk to that male teacher that everyone fears, we shouldn’t stop just because we are women. We shouldn’t stop from trying anything just because we are women. And we shouldn’t just walk away when that ass in the street is making another woman feel less. I might be condemned for saying this but it is the truth I know. Present day women aren’t very up to standing up for each other and that makes me very sad.
P.S. I am very young and very prone to making mistakes and as a writer, to writing the wrong things. But I am not above admitting and trying to correct my mistakes so please do not hesitate to tell me with good reason when I say the wrong things.
P.P.S. Read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Housseni. Awesome book.
Photograph of Kalkidan Tamerat by me…I think. It was a few years ago.