5 things my vagina does not make me. A guest blog by Doreen Akiyo Yomoah

Doreen Akiyo Yomoah

Doreen Akiyo Yomoah

“You’re a woman.” These three words are quite possibly my least favorite words strung together in the English language. When people repeat them to me it’s usually to judge how I can or cannot behave, or how I should or shouldn’t behave. But aside from the genitalia that I was born with, no other assumptions can be made about me based on those three words. (Even that isn’t an assumption that should be made.) Nevertheless, here are some that people routinely make:

1. That my biological sex makes me inherently less able to do things like stand on a train, open a door, pick up a check but yet because I have a vagina, I am required to cook. Having found out that I can’t – or don’t want to cook – a family friend once asked, “What are you planning to do when you get married if you don’t cook?” Well, I certainly wouldn’t marry someone in order to become his personal chef, so I’m not even sure how that’s relevant. (An African City tackles this topic in their latest episode!)

2. That I have to present myself a certain way. In Ghana (where I’m from originally) every single segment of society is stratified by gender. I don’t live in Ghana now, but when I did, a simple example of things people say is that I need to wear earrings because I’m a woman. Everyone had a problem with me not wearing earrings. My aunt told me I look like a man without them. One asshole went as far as to tell me that I needed to sew the holes in my ears back up if I wasn’t going to wear earrings!

3. That I must have children. I don’t want to have children. Period. But according to family members, friends, relative strangers, you name it – I don’t have the right to decide that. My husband is entitled to have children to continue his family line, they say. Apparently, the wishes of a hypothetical man that I haven’t even yet met trump my own rights to determine what happens to my body.

4. That I can’t do DIY. Once, when I was living in a rented room with a Ghanaian family, I bought a DIY bookshelf into the house. One of my housemates, the landlord’s sister, saw me and asked incredulously, “You’re going to put that together yourself?” While I was in my room putting it together with my weak female hands, the landlord barged in, grabbed a plank of wood from me, and said “A woman shouldn’t be doing this kind of work.” When I objected, he screamed that he was helping me. Right…

5. That I and women as a group can’t change things. Minna  has written before  about Thomas Sankara, the late president of Burkina Faso, who was very strongly in favour of full equality between men and women. There are plenty of African feminists  who reject the idea that we must be one thing or the other. As Chimamanda Adichie said in her (amazing) TedXEuston talk, just because you’re culture says one thing, doesn’t mean that it’s right. After all, we are the ones who create culture. And we’re responsible for making things right.


Doreen Akiyo Yomoah is a vagabond currently residing in Dakar. She writes about human rights, race, development, and gender, and can be found at doreenakiyomoah.co.uk.

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  • BlackSwan

    I have certainly heard the one about the earrings. It’s bizarre how these behaviours are expected of all and if you do not subscribe to it you are less of a person.

  • Sylvester Aina

    This is one of the ridiculous argument on feminism I have ever read. The argument is now shifting from, ”lets teach our boys and girls useful survival skills like cooking” to – ”as a woman I don’t want to learn how to cook because my brothers don’t cook.” Women are biologically and socially different from men. Both contribute uniquely to a vibrant and diverse world. No one is less important in that role. That is what I see as equally. If feminism means doing what men do, even when it constitute irresponsibility, then I think feminism is a dangerous ideology.

    • http://findpalaverwoman.blogspot.com PalavaWoman

      I don’t see what is ridiculous about the points made. The author stated five areas in which her possession of a vagina (as female a characteristic as it gets) subjected her to biases and treatment that wouldn’t exist if she was not at the time in a milieu which still holds strongly to gender roles. I believe her argument is that she should be allowed to choose what being a woman means for her and not to have roles imposed on her. If she does choose to be irresponsible, it is again her prerogative. I see a paternalistic undertone in the last sentence of your comment that I don’t know if you realize is there…as though women need to be guided on the path of feminism away from irresponsibility.

      • Sylvester Aina

        Yes, we all need guardiance (boys or girls) away from irresponsibility particularly at the impressionable age. As a father I will not accept such kind of irresponsibility from my daughter. Again it is a dangerous ideology to think that women like men do not need to be guided away from irresponsible behavior.

    • http://www.doreenakiyomoah.co.uk Doreen

      Well, this comment pretty much proves my point. “Women are biologically and socially different from men” is just another version of “You’re a woman.” It is, once again, ascribing values to us that have absolutely nothing to do with actual differences between us.There is nothing about our biology that makes women more suited to cook- or any of the other things I mentioned. Men have hands. Women have hands. The world’s most famous chefs are men. It’s interesting that you think women not cooking is somehow more irresponsible than men not cooking.

      • Sylvester Aina

        You didn’t prove anything useful. It makes sense if we teach our boys and girls useful survival skills like cooking and the rest. For your information, I do a lot of cooking and house chores and I am still academically ahead of all my sisters. I am originally from Nigeria but I now live in the United States. I have dated both white and black girls and my point is clear to all of them – ”I am not going to equate irresponsibility with gender equality and you cannot be with me and smoke because men smoke. I don’t smoke” I will not handicap my girls on a flimsy excuse that many boys don’t cook and things like that.

      • Sylvester Aina

        Also, I am a biologists and I study the brains. So, I know real differences exist between men and women.

        • Ida Wepener

          lol you are trolling right?

      • MsAfropolitan

        Doreen, I also made the responsible choice to not cook for men. Once you start you’re doomed.

  • Ebele

    All well and good but the clincher for me in overthrowing gender stereotyping is also extending ( or is it loosening>) the idea of what it is to be a man. For Doreen to be all these things with ease, it will be necessary that man may choose to be uninterested in DIY and not to have children. He may be a great cook and prefer to cook for his lady, sport the latest ear rings, and plait his hair. And yet have a strong and purposeful penis.

    • http://www.doreenakiyomoah.co.uk Doreen

      Ebele, absolutely. While I think women are the ones primarily oppressed by patriarchy, it also means men have a very rigid definition of how they are “allowed” to behave- in some ways maybe more rigid than women; i.e. we can wear make up or not wear make up and be relatively safe- men can be verbally and physically assaulted for doing. The story of Sissy Goodwin comes to mind. This to me is still a function of misogyny, because a man should be punished for doing something that’s primarily associated with women.

      For the record I love men who cook, and I’m still a sucker for cornrows.

      • Sylvester Aina

        I really do not want you guys to have the impression that I am anti-gender equality. Freedom does not come cheap. Freedom is hard work, and skills development. You cannot negotiate effectively with a man from a disadvantaged position. Get the education, horn your soft and social skills, set bigger goals for yourself. Power intoxicates whether it is a man or a woman who possess it. Women are capable of abuse much as men are. it depends on who have the power. We have more serious issues limiting women in Africa than the issue of whether you want to cook or not. For example, anyone who tries to mutilate my daughter’s genitalia, I will have him or her arrested and put to jail.

      • Ebele

        Doreen, agreed. Patriarchy is felt most keenly by women but it imprisons us all. Perhaps I am unduly cynical and jaundiced but I find that many feminists like fairly ‘traditional’ men. Overthrowing patriarchy is not just about what women want for themselves but also what they want in men and a revolutionary view of the good man.

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  • http://findpalaverwoman.blogspot.com PalavaWoman

    Mr. Aina,

    I think you are conflating two issues here. Raising a child to be responsible is quite different from giving a fully grown woman the freedom to make choices that affect her. Your daughter is yours to raise and guide as you see fit. Emphasis on guide because once she achieves the status of independently functioning adult, your guidance can only go so far. Once she hits independent adulthood her choices are her own and not to give you peace of mind. You seem to believe that equality breeds irresponsibility and I am not sure what to make of that. It suggests that if a woman because of gender equality fails to fulfill the roles you believe to be ascribable primarily to a woman, then she is acting irresponsibly. Which is ridiculous. Exceedingly so. I would hope that you would know not to date a smoker, rather than choose to date a smoker and then expect her to stop because she is a woman. Am I as a woman then expected to tolerate a man who smokes because he is a man? I am also not sure what point you were trying to make about doing house chores and still being academically ahead of your sisters. It seems to suggest that something about the XY chromosome you have is what enables you to be excellent academically. Intelligence and academic excellence is a function of many things, the least of which is gender. If you control for all the confounding factors, I doubt there will be much variance to be seen when intelligence is stratified by gender.


    You make a crucial point. If women are to be liberated from constricting stereotypes then men SHOULD be able to operate outside of theirs as well. I am highly irritated by women who explore the benefits of feminist liberty and then slip back into the mould when it is convenient . For e.g. I’ll choose if or not I cook for the man, but the man ALWAYS has to pick up the tab if we go out.

    • Sylvester Aina

      I am particularly concern about raising my girl child responsibly. This is because the habit you pick up and the teachings exposed to at the formative age follow you for life. As an adult you can choose to do whatever you want and take responsibility for the consequences. I would prefer my girl child knows how to cook and do house chores and then choose later in life to cook for herself or for her man or not. Then I know it is her choice based on certain realities facing her or that she wants to send a strong message. It is not a way of defending an handicap situation. No, I do not equate equality with irresponsibility. I insist we will be doing our society a disservice if we fail to teach both our girls and boys survival skills. When you become an adult you can choose to deploy the skills as you pleases. But the fact remains, based on sound science, that what you pick while growing up stays with you for most of your life. On smoking, I did a study on smoking recently, and one of our conclusions is that the makers of cigarettes needs to be in jail. So, if I expect her to stop smoking, it makes for an overall healthy society. And what could be more annoying is to defend smoking by saying that men smoke. The question is – ” I am a man, do I smoke?” To use men as a template speaks volume of how inferior you see yourself. Also, no intelligence is not related to sex but it has a genetic component. My point was – if I do better academically, I can cook, I do my house chores, I earn better income, etc – what will you bring into our relationship? It will better for you as a woman to do all these because that is what I see as true freedom. And if you don’t smoke as some men do, your life expectancy will increase.

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