17December2017

Sehin Teferra

Sehin Teferra

Friday, 10 November 2017 11:43

Setaweet Parenting

 I was recently speaking to a leading Ethiopian feminist activist who has parented two remarkable women and who is now a grandmother to two boys and one girl. She was taken aback when I said that I think that in Ethiopia, becoming a man is as difficult as becoming a woman. Let me explain. The more I learn from parenting my six-year old daughter and my four-year old son, the harder I have come to believe that the path of parenting children of either gender requires a surgeon's precision and a vast amount of the purest love that you can access.

Agreed, the task of raising a girl who will become a woman in this unequal world is daunting, but I am of the opinion that raising a boy needs as much conscientious effort. The notion that boys will get by because they are naturally tougher has put many many men in vulnerable positions where they feel under-loved and under-nurtured in a society that encourages them to act out in aggressive ways. It is similar to being put on a precipice that requires careful negotiation to descend while the crowds on the ground are encouraging you to Jump.

Raise them the same, but not

I think it's great when women and men say their parents always treated them the same as their siblings of another gender. If we teach our sons to bake and cook without making it a big deal, we are equipping them to feed themselves, not to 'help' their future wives, assuming they will have them. If you encourage your daughter to be physically active and to rely on herself, she will grow up to be a self-assured woman. This I believe is Feminist Parenting 101. But let's not end there.

Their Sisters' Keepers

I think that as feminist mothers, we need to teach our girls to be self-confident, for sure, but also to uplift other women. We can tell our daughters to steer clear of men who are threatened by their ambition but also to make sure that they think beyond their own gains. This takes practice but what has worked for me in developing my daughter's sensibility around gender is to to follow a strict rule of not bad-mouthing other women. I plan to call her out on any
catty remarks she might make about classmates or friends, as unlikely as that scenario seems now. Her current best friend is a boy but she has other close friends who are girls. In her short tenure at kindergarten, we have already had the difficult task of negotiating a case of bullying by another girl which required much feminist hand-wringing on my part. I wanted to use the opportunity to teach her to stand up for herself without falling into the dangerous 'girls are like that' trap that has set many women of my generation up for unnecessary angst. At the end, my daughter ended up delivering her much-rehearsed 'I will not play with you anymore as you have been mean to me several times' line and that was the end of that. For now.

I am sure there will be more people like that in my children's lives, and they will be boys and girls. There might even be a time when it is my child in the guilty seat although I certainly hope to not see that day. My feminist take on the unfortunate reality of bullying is to emphasize that it is not the natural domain of femaleness as society and exposure to Ethiopian media would have us believe.

Am I saying that women and girls are not often cruel to each other in quite specific 'feminine' ways? I wish I could argue that but we all know better. The women who eye you with aggression the minute you walk into a room and who make nasty judgements before they get to know what you are about. When my male friends observe that women are often not nice to each other, I wish I could honestly say that has not been my experience but I can't. What I can and do say is that I see through it. I see through the unnecessary competition that is bred from the misguided and patriarchal notion that there is not enough to go around - not enough beauty, not enough male attention, not enough success. I see through this lie and do not participate in it. As a feminist parent, it is my responsibility to ensure that my daughter does not either. Feminist Moms, we need to help our girls brush off, and be above the 'mean girls' that they will encounter, because that is, unfortunately, a real syndrome.

Feminist Moms, go further and teach the women of tomorrow to be their sisters' keepers. When they come home with an award or a promotion, praise them for sure, but also ask them how their gains uplift their friends. Teach them, by example, to amplify the voices of their girl friends or at the very least, to not stand in their ways. Universal sisterhood is a difficult concept and has not always worked, but it doesn't mean we can't be strategic allies. We can pull each other up even when we don't agree on everything.


Expect as much from boys as we do from girls

We need to replace the saying, 'Boys will be boys' with 'Boys will expected to be as polite, as respectful and as considerate as girls.'

Feminist Moms and Dads, we have the unenviable task of educating our daughters about sex, and our sons about sex. In the Ethiopian context in particular, the word 'sex' is synonymous with shame. Women in particular are made to feel shameful for having sex, let alone for desiring or pursuing it. Feminist parenting requires us to break that mold. To teach boys and girls to name their body parts matter-of-factly and to recognize that as uncomfortable as it makes us, children are sexual beings who will touch and explore themselves. It's our job to refrain from messing with the curiosity that nature has given them while teaching them the appropriate where and when of self-love.

Consent is another important consideration that can't be taught too early. I learnt this the hard way. From the age of three, I taught my daughter that her private parts are her own and that no one except her immediate care takers are allowed to look or touch her there. It didn't occur to me that my son needs the same affirmations until a certain incident at his school involving the (innocent) explorations of other little boys. We focus so much on the vulnerabilities of little girls that if we are not careful, we leave our sons wide open to not only abuse but the confusions of hormones and seemingly uncontrollable libido.

Speaking of, a highly important lesson we need to teach boys in particular is the myth of men's uncontrollable desire. We are raising sentient beings who can respect women and who can think beyond sex. Feminist Dads, in particular, call your boys out if they linger too long looking at women's anatomy. Feminist Moms, you know it is not nice to be looked at like a piece of meat. Share your feelings with your sons, for sure, but do not plead with them to respect women out of deference to you, teach them that it is the only way in which they can respect themselves. Feminist mothers do not make excuses for sons who rape.

Feminist Moms, but particularly Feminist Dads, please, please  drill 'consent' into the very fibers of your kids' sexuality as they grow up. Tell your sons to stop chasing that girl if she no longer enjoys playing with him, and that real men can take 'no' for an answer. Tell your daughter that she never ever under in any circumstance owes a man sex. Teach her to look out for herself because there will always be men who won't hear her response, but also to say what she means. To not be coy and lead men on because of the dangerous idea
 that women need to play hard to get. Tell your little girl that it is ok to ask out the guy she likes.

Dating and romance are all good and can be good complements to the love we have for ourselves.  However, our daughters as well as our sons need to know that it is good to be alone and that only really great people are worth the heartbreak they will face one day. I ask my daughter Rekka who her best friend is, and she replies 'you.' If I probe harder, it will be her grandmother. But she knows I will keep asking, so she replies, 'myself.' A conscious feminist parent aims to raise a child who won't need even her.

Teach Women of the Future to Love Being Women

Feminist Dads and Moms, if your ethnicity, race or religion are important identifiers that you teach your daughter to hold dear, include in that her gender. It is the category closest to her self, often the only visible identifier and yet usually the one we women hold in least esteem. If women battled for themselves AS WOMEN the way they always have on behalf of their ethnic or religious identity, patriarchy would have fallen long ago.

Own Yourself, Woman.

Feminist Dads, talk to your daughters about the strong women you know. Let them know that you are not ok with sexist comments; make sure that if a man ever harasses or disrespects your daughter, that there is nothing in him that reminds her of you. Because unless you mess up on an exceptional level, you will be the standard male she will hold all future men against.
Don't accept an apology on her behalf, you don't own her. Because you love her, teach her she is complete in herself.

Because I am learning both feministing and parenting as I go, I often have the thought that begins, 'If my dad was still around.' The endings vary -'I would have this and not that, I never would have ended in this relationship or I would never feel unloved.'

I know instinctively that my feminist identity should be the antidote to the primordial longing for my father who as a woman, I have been taught is the pillar of my existence, but it is a battle. In an effort to pull myself up, I tell myself, in the words of Toni Morrison from her book, A Mercy, 'Own yourself, Woman.' It is easier said than done but it has been a good lesson for me in the meaning of feminist parenting. So Feminist Dads and Moms, because you love your daughters and sons, and because you can't protect them forever, teach them to own themselves, mind and body. Teach them that they can live without you.

Saturday, 30 September 2017 06:40

Setaweet Parenting

I was recently speaking to a leading Ethiopian feminist activist who has parented two remarkable women and who is now a grandmother to two boys and one girl. She was taken aback when I said that I think that in Ethiopia, becoming a man is as difficult as becoming a woman. Let me explain. The more I learn from parenting my six-year old daughter and my four-year old son, the harder I have come to believe that the path of parenting children of either gender requires a surgeon's precision and a vast amount of the purest love that you can access.

Sunday, 30 July 2017 23:20

Saving Graces: Endezih New-a!

Sometimes, it is the uncomplicated wisdom of a teenager that saves you. I was squatting on the floor of the hospital bathroom, willing my three year old to go 'pee pee.' The chickenpox we were waiting for him to get from his sister was severe enough to land him in the hospital for five days where my life took on a pause. I left his sister with my mother and spent every minute wiping away tears and massaging small swollen feet. I wasn't tired but the magnitude of single motherhood suddenly seemed insurmountable. Leeben is only three and his sister Rekka is six years old. By my calculation, that's another fifteen years of responsibility, of my heart swelling open and shut with love but also worry. It is little sleep and a lot of prayer. It is not having the right to get sick or feeling guilty for a nap. It is a physical exhaustion I did not know I had in me.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017 09:46

Eyes Wide Open

Our dear readers will excuse me. I had to be reminded by my wonderful co-blogger that I had failed to post not only one, but two posts. My excuse is a simple one; I have been going through, and processing, one of the most difficult chapters of my life, and it has beenan-all consuming process.

Sunday, 08 January 2017 08:21

Learning to Matter Equally

 Recently, a friend of mine sent me a link to an essay on feminist parenting by the excellent Chimamanda Ngozi Aditchie (1). The piece impressed me so much that we had it sent out as reading to the Setaweet mailing list and it came up on the next discussion of the Setaweet Circle which coincidentally focused on the topic of 'Being a Mother and a Feminist.' A writer leaves her mark on the mind of her reader when she strikes a nerve, when a certain combination of words hit a chord that chimes long after. I keep thinking of a phrase from that essay, addressed by Aditchie to her friend who had recently become a mother and had asked Aditchie for advice on raising a strong daughter. Aditchie states, "The first is your premise, the solid unbending belief that you start off with. What is your premise? Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only.’ Not ‘as long as.’ I matter equally. Full stop."

I haven't parented like I matter equally. I have given my five-year old daughter, and my three-year old son, everything I have. I think nothing of going to the Pediatrician twice a week to get every cough checked out but my own asthma would some times flare and clear, unattended. I still carry my son on my hip because he likes it even though my back never healed from bringing him into the world and I often ache afterwards. If we eat out, I will order what they like and finish that off as I hate to waste food. Until recently, I could have counted on one hand the number of nights I slept through the night since my son was born.

Sunday, 16 October 2016 08:02

My Wonderful Son

When you noticed that the rear view mirror of my car was broken, you asked, kindly, 'Mama, can I fix it?' And when you noticed after a few weeks that the said mirror was fixed, albeit badly, you exclaimed triumphantly, 'Mama, I fixed it!'  The world is that simple for you. There is no problem that is too big for you to handle. Life can be hard but you pay it no mind. We have shielded you from harm all your life so you are not afraid of anything. You walk up to strangers to greet them with energy that surprises them and if I let you, you would kiss stray dogs.

Three whole years on this earth, and you, my son, have made every day count. You make me ridiculously happy but you make me work for it. We have had a few challenging days over the last year, haven't we? There was that difficult night at the hospital where your grandmother cried to see you so small on the big grown-up bed but a mere 24-hours later, she was running after you as you took off on a run in the hospital corridor, your illness long behind you. You are strong, and your bubbling joy - laughter like sudden Kiremt rain - is larger than your tantrums.

Monday, 01 August 2016 04:45

All We Need is Love

Sometimes life is reduced to cliches.

You don't know how much you love what you have until you lose it. All we need is love. Money can't buy you love.

My friend asks her three beautiful children, all under the age of ten, the usual. 'Who do we love?' They all answer, 'Hulum Sew Hulu Bota'. Every person, everywhere.

This message is particularly important in the case of this unique family as the children are the products of an inter-faith relationship. I believe that their mother is doing a great job in helping foster empathy for others - all others - in her children in their formative years. The instruction to love is easier said than done but I have taken its simple message and made it my new mantra. It has not only brought joy into my life, but also enabled my communication with the world. Most importantly, it has provided me with an enduring sense of peace because love sheds a clear light on my path that leaves little room for resentment or conflict.

Saturday, 30 April 2016 03:15

Seeking my grandmother's courage

Lately, I have been looking for my Emmama's spirit every place I can think of. Sometimes, I think I can smell her on my daughter's face, the earthly combination of Afer and water that was the undertone to my grandmother's scent, overlaid with the Ariti that gently came off her worn clothes. She was of the earth, my grandmother. Her cows wandered into her living room at will and she delivered at least a couple of her calves by hand, with help from a strong dose of Tebel. Before she gave birth to my mother, her only-ever child, she carried her dog Mechal on her back, in a Netela. As a teenager, if I laid on her sunken old couch to kiss her, I could well expect a couple of kittens to pop her from her side, I often wondered how there were so many kittens that did not seem to grow into cats. There were always animals and children in her simple, mud-floored home by the river, a place I loved beyond all reason.

My grandmother was a nurturer for sure, but if your mind is conjuring up a sweet little old lady, I have got you fooled. My grandmother was a warrior. The strongest woman I know.
She could not stand weakness, physical or otherwise and once slaughtered her own sheep as the local Araj was not quick enough for her. She was beautiful and she knew it, she enjoyed being courted and reveled in the attention of men but she only loved one man in her lifetime. She left a comfortable living in Addis, with a well-off, educated husband who did not treat her as well as she thought she deserved, and traveled with her four-year-old daughter hundreds of Kilometers to Wollega to work in a hospital. With little formal education, she taught herself Afan Oromo and transformed herself into a single working mother. She turned away every suitor who came her way and she was known to take her daughter's teachers to task. When my mother completed elementary school, the same formidable willpower ensured that she was accepted into the prestigious Etege Menen school in Addis Ababa. 

Saturday, 16 January 2016 09:01

I am Worthy of This Blessing

I write this entry reclining on a swinging bar stool a few feet away from the Indian Ocean. This is perfection for me, my kids playing non-stop barefoot, dipping in and out of the two pools, my husband relaxed and all of us soothed by the warm salty air, good food and the most precious resource of all - abundant greenery.

This vacation is a defining moment in my life because it's the first time I have allowed anything good to happen to me guilt-free. When my husband first suggested taking this break, I fretted privately, 'Is it an appropriate time to take an international vacation?' There is so much wrong at home and in the world, so many people are suffering. How can I be thinking of granting such a luxurious experience to my kids when I know there are children who live not too far away from us who go to school with empty lunch boxes? Isn't it wrong to fly to another country purely for leisure while my fellow humans and fellow Ethiopians are risking life and limb in search of security?'

Saturday, 07 November 2015 00:00

Leeben Lion's Letter

My Leeben Lion, My Golden Boy, you are now two years old. I'm not sure how well you understand this as  when I informed you on your birthday, you remonstrated loudly, 'No way!'

You have grown up to be the little boy of my dreams. If I comment on your tendency to shoot a ball straight at the TV or how you sprint at full speed in the grocery store aisle without even looking back to check that I am following, your grandma and others remind me that you're the Rebash (hyperactive) kid that I always wanted. Perhaps that's why my patience has yet to run dry - when you finally fall asleep after a full day of running, kicking and a fair amount of floor thumping, I cuddle up very close to your warm, still-small body and fill up with enough love to get through another day.

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