Tradition & Expectations

I am my mother’s daughter and her mother’s blood runs in my veins. I am a product of unconventional traditionalists. If conditioning is preparation, Legacy is simply generational conditioning. True to tradition, I’ve been conditioned to be unconventional.

Hear me out because this isn’t brief: “I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me thinking, what can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther.”-Rupi Kaur

My mother and I are nothing alike but I am hers. She is a survivor who shuns any tradition that serves no purpose and fiercely (though unconsciously) safegaurds her culture. If we are alike, it is in our contradictory natures (and, uhm, our faces apparently). She often laughs that I’m more traditional than she is, [me] wanting at all times to pay homage to a culture that she has the luxury of loosely embracing because she represents it so fully. She owns no seshoeshoe dresses or seanamarenas (Basotho blankets) but effortlessly corrects my blanket draping and headdress whenever I deign to wrap either upon my person (because I insist on owning both). She still knows every seamstress worth knowing because I refuse to wear anything other than traditional garb for all of my major milestones. She sings hymns on command (only on command). She does not understand my fascination, having permanently left her home country when I was 4 to start afresh in another country, unmarried, unprovoked and unperturbed having already birthed a human there (me). She says I’d switch to Sesotho as if on cue whenever we’d cross the border back to Lesotho; even when there was nobody around, as if it were my home instead of hers. My mother is a fearless force of nature and I’m sure that I frightened her all the time with my audacity and unexpected tendencies. And she took it in stride. Because I am my mother’s daughter.

My grandmother had 4 children and one husband for whom she relocated her whole life and managed a household. She cannot drive, (she fought with my grandfather once when he tried to teach and never bothered for a rematch). This woman, our matriarch, who taught me a healthy mistrust for Chaka (not a typo) Zulu and corrected my education on Difaqane (Zulu translation: Mfecane), taught me how to catch and defeather a chicken and perhaps the most traditional (and badass) human I know, is the love of my life. She is also, much like my mother, a feminist. Just don’t tell them that.At face value I’m nothing like either of them. I value tradition with selective reverence, I see its core values as well as its trappings and shortcomings and I’m comfortable questioning all of it. I respect what the traditions stand for and am constantly choosing what to safeguard (fiercely) and what to dispose. They think I’m an anomoly with all of my feminism and solo international travelling, surfing (my mom once told on me to my grandmother because I had the nerve to disrespectfully face the ocean with nothing but a board strapped to my left foot) and excessive reading (nobody can account for this). I say: There’s no question whose blood runs in my veins. I am their legacy.I believe that this means I can rest where they couldn’t. We’ve collectively earned the right for me to choose and create a life for myself that they never could. Growing up I was told that being a woman meant being “marriable” which consisted of a puzzling combination of obedience, skills, early waking, tireless toiling and near debilitating selflessness. I heard: be disciplined, kind and look after the people that you love. The rest didn’t make sense. A standing argument, when I still lived under my mother’s roof, was: if I didn’t object to the actual chores themselves be it cooking/cleaning/washing/sweeping, did it really matter if I did it a couple of hours after dawn? Did sleep deprivation really make the plates shinier? For the record, I actually enjoy cooking (I’m a bit more experimental than is prudent for a Large household) and cleaning is therapeutic but Lord, may this never have to be my ticket to love.As you can imagine, that went down well. I’m pretty sure my mom was ready to write me off as feminine failure but I think my grandmother knew I was onto something: I’d grasped the core argument of tradition, I was just questioning the implementation. She let me read all afternoon when my chores were done (despite the fact that owning a vagina and all, I was positively failing if I wasn’t constantly “busy”), she didn’t object when I included my male relatives in the dishwashing rotation at her house (I felt the judgement whenever I wasn’t at the sink and often caved to the pressure but still) and, just last month, after trying and failing to convince me that she needed a grandchild imminently she changed tack and asked: “what do you want?”. I told her. As a result, we’ve agreed to suspend grandchildren negotiations until 2021. She’s very close to perfection. Maybe I’m a passable woman after all. Marriageability aside.Then there’s marriage, as a concept. My take is not too unconventional. I used to think that I wanted to get married, I really did. I am an established romantic; It’s what we’ve been taught our whole lives. Frankly, it should be a no brainer. I long for intimacy. But I also long for freedom with equal fervour. With every friend and/or peer’s engagement, I think “yay!” and “not yet Lord!” simultaneously. I comment on how “right” it seems for the individual concerned (it always is) while looking down at my empty finger with relief. I’ve been a few more years of freedom on the books. When my friends describe our collective angst about not yet being married I participate but when picturing my newly engaged friend/peers new reality: a man in my house, like, permanently? I break into cold sweats. I also conveniently ommit that my fears have more to do with being unloved than being unmarried.One day I sat down with myself and asked: if this isn’t what you’d been told you’re supposed to want, would you want it?. The answer was no. A very quiet but determined no. There are so many things that we’re socialised and conditioned to want (and do) that it’s sometimes worthwhile asking oneself these things. You’re a commitment-phobe I’d tell myself. But, dear reader, does that sound anything like me? I’m (happily) commited and loyal in all of my relationships, even to sports and passtimes I’m merely mediocre at. Let’s not get confused: I don’t have any strong desires to be single (in the non-legal sense). As stressful as I find vulnerability, I enjoy being in a relationship. On paper marriage and I are perfect for each other. But the numbers aren’t adding up. Let’s take a look.We know 4 things about marriage: it’s meant to cement commitment and family values, it is ancient in design and concept, it is a legal contract and, at present, it’s failing at the same rate its succeeding at. We have the statistics and the history, human behaviour being predictable as it is , we should be able to crack the code.If at least 50% of people (women in particular) are unhappy, abused or getting divorced in marriages (yes that means the other 50% are happy and thriving, it’s implied in the stats) why are we being forced into it as a collective goal? And calling it tradition (“she’s staying for the good of her family”) doesn’t make any sense to me. I’d already determined that traditions and cultural practices broken down to their fundamental functions were: look after your loved ones, share with your neighbours and contribute to the preservation of the social, physical, linguistic and psychological well-being of your community. How, I wondered, was something that failed to do all of the above half the time, so enshrined in this doctrine? Either we were doing marriage wrong, for the wrong reasons or both. Then I took it back a few steps more (because when stats don’t give all the answers, history should fill the gaps).Once upon a time the only way for a woman to leave her parent’s house was through marriage. Her finacial and biological future rested upon a man contractually agreeing to care for her and preserve the principles of tradition and culture. This was great because human beings are built for community, communion, companionship and children (anthropological and biologically speaking). Survival is the basic instinct but thriving is the goal. Through generations of conditioning, these things were ensured and insured by marriage. Even as some were straying from (or even abusing) the contract. Then, with time, women gained agency over their lives (all those generations of mountain climbing women paid off), we entered the job market, scrabbled for some rights, maybe even a vote or two and suddenly the contract scales tipped. The incentives were still the same (community, communion etc), but the contractual obligation became more “want” than “need”. The conditioning did not change however, so many (men in particular) didn’t adapt either (many did and they’re doing amazingly well in the present climate). Before we know it, it’s 2019 and men can’t dangle marriage like a carrot anymore. It’s no longer synonymous with a woman’s survival and *gasp* some of y’all might have to work on yourselves, be decent humans and become, oh dear, marriageab- I mean desirable. Some of y’all are fine so don’t sweat unless the shoes fit.I’m not making a case for the abolition of marriage, I’m just saying that it would be laughable to shun the technology (and necessity) that brought about smart phones because the Nokia 3310 could withstand tanks. Sure, they were (much) more durable, but do they fit now? Shouldn’t we be tailoring marriage (or at the very least the conditioning around marriage) to fit our present needs? Humans haven’t changed much, our basic needs have remained the same but our whole world has changed. We make jokes about the rich unmarried Aunty who lives their best lives in Barbados on vacation. We pretend we don’t hear the many cries of women about marriage being “hard” or the fact that we’ve groomed a generation of men who value women by how much suffering and sacrifice she can endure (or mothering duties that she can take over). We turn blind eyes to the (numerous) studies that show that men gain more health and psychological benefits from marriage while women get the opposite. And look, I’ve seen the marriage thing work. I’ve seen friends bloom and blossom and come into themselves because they’re being loved correctly. I’ve seen people flourish, reaping the benefits of the core values that tradition and culture seek to honour. I’m also saying I haven’t seen it enough.As for me, I’m an unconventional traditionalist. I’m my mother’s daughter and my grandmother’s blood. I do not take tradition lightly or blindly. I believe that a relationship should be defined by the people inside of it and marriage in its current “traditional” form is not for me. A legacy of strife runs through my veins and bought my freedom. I am still open to being convinced into marriage, but short of it being more than the sum of our individual parts I see no other reason to agree to it. I can love you and like you and still not feel obliged to saddle my horse to your wagon. I reserve the right to choose.If I’ve done my job right, those that come after me will be prepared to build the world they want and not exist in one they have to be conditioned for. Legacy.I’d love to hear your thoughts, let a girl know.

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