“My husband said my 2 year old daughter SHOULD start running errands around the house.” Nengi – Rivers state
“I am set. I have two girls. So they will always take care of me. Girls never forget their fathers” Patrick – Enugu state
Today, one is less likely to hear about couples who have 20 kids so they can work their farms. However, such expectations have morphed into modern ones. Many parents have kids so that they can be X or Y for them including baby sitters/nannies (parentification), cooks, drivers, retirement packages etc. This is especially true for female children who are seen as a commodity for future ‘sale’. If it sounds harsh, dig down to the reasons why we put so much emphasis on housekeeping skills and beauty for little girls. Often we are priming them to be good wife material, or seeking external validation of them.
The gendering of responsibilities within the home leaves girls fully occupied with meeting domestic needs, and time barely left over for studies. Meanwhile, boys are given the liberty to float until…something heavy needs to be lifted, or an outward-facing and ‘respectable’ task needs to be done. The same way global economic powers relegate African countries to be occupied at the dead-end of the economic value chain – extracting raw materials – while retaining the high value-adding and profitable manufacturing roles; all necessary links in a productivity chain, but with stark differences in costs and gains.
There is thus a clear difference in opportunity and agency for growth for little girls and boys. This ‘naturally’ continues into adulthood as it is difficult to break out of programming. Combined with the overwhelming pressure on women (and not men) to balance any careers with a fulfillment of the same obligatory domestic responsibilities, women are kept professionally (and economically) stymied and/or over stretched.
The intended consequences of teaching girls to be servile from a tender age are: 1. They learn to follow instructions and not question authority, 2. They learn to make room for (and anticipate) everyone else’s needs before their primary responsibilities of being a child and school (and eventually work), and 3. They learn that their main value is in how well they serve others. Reminders like “Is that how you will cook for your husband?” seal the deal. We have so normalized the focus on marriage that we don’t even notice it anymore. So it continues under the guise of ‘the way it’s done’.
Yes children should be taught responsibility but there is a fine line between teaching responsibility and burdening a child. Overwhelmingly, under the scrutiny of her first boss (her mother), ‘Adas’ (first daughters)- carry most of the load of chores and errands and the rest is shared amongst the girls that follow. This unexceptional girlhood sets the scene for perpetuity. This is not to shame families that put their children to work because they otherwise risk starvation. Such is the symptom of a society that fails children, (and girls doubly so) both inside and outside the home.
So how do we address this? Well to start, let’s be self aware and honest. We should ask ourselves questions like: “Why am I making my child do this? Am I just using them because they are available? What am I interrupting? In giving the child chores, am I also giving them options so they learn to negotiate?” Also: “Am I putting equal expectation on my daughters and sons? Am I gendering the chores? Am I subconsciously trying to ensure she meets the approval of a future husband?”
Unless of course you want to keep your daughter serving others without question, constantly seeking external validation, and too pre-occupied to cater to her own needs and dreams. If that is the case, then you can forget everything I just wrote. After all, a good errand girl makes a good daughter, and a good daughter makes a good wife.