07 May 2007

Do you have children?

"Do you have children?"

Inevitably, this question comes up in every extended conversation I have with native Africans of all nationalities, genders, ages, and cultures. To say that children are very important to Africans is an understatement. Children represent so many things - future, fertility, wealth, adulthood...

So how do I respond? I am sorely tempted to lie. People, especially older women, always give me these pitying looks like I might as well be dead because I have certainly proven my uselessness as a woman. There is also a slightly scornful cast to their pity, because without children I am not a grown woman. But I don't lie. "No, no children yet." I always add that yet part, because if I don't they will ask why. This is just as bad as the pitying scorn. The why is so very complicated. And who knows? The women in my family often have children late. I have some time.

Today, I explained a little bit of my complicated personal reasons to the anthropology student who asked. "If you are a woman and want to be a scientist in the United States and to advance, it is pretty difficult to do so and have children." Linda started nodding. "Yes, it is the same here. Women are seen as just factories for making children."

The situation is more complicated in Mozambique, but Linda and I didn't really need to get into the unstated understood. For instance, more than 70% of agriculture, especially subsistence agriculture, is done by Mozambicanas. So women are food factories too. Mozambique is also ranked first in the world for Female Economic Activity (82.8%). The US ranks 58th, with 58.8% in case you were wondering. Let's just say that Mozambicanas have a pretty difficult life.

I'm not sure how many Americans would publicly state or agree with the baby factory comment. However, the sentiment that a woman's role is to take care of children still permeates US culture. Obviously, not everyone believes this. I've met single dads, stay-at-home dads, and dads that share childcare equally with their spouses.

I've also experienced the pitying looks and "You'll regret not having children later" type comments in the United States. Again, mainly from other women. I don't know; maybe I will and maybe I won't. I do know for certain that I am tired of having people, sometimes complete strangers, constantly harp on my lack of children to me. Why am I so much more patient about answering this question when someone outside my own culture asks?

Do men even get asked these kind of questions?

No comments:

Post a Comment