After more than 70 years of reign on the throne, Elizabethan era has now come to an end with demise of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 96, on September 8th 2022. Her successor Prince Charles has been crowned the new monarch with the title King Charles III as the head figure of the United kingdom and 14 other common wealth countries.
King Charles III has been stated to be the oldest king to ascend the throne in British history, which reflects well on late Queen’s good health, enthusiasm and dedication to her duties of the crown. 10 days of mourning period was announced for the nations to grieve their loss and bid their farewells. In good words. In words where her subjects sang of the pride and elegance she held herself with, of the smiles she brought in each of their homes supporting and encouraging them to stand for unity, with a face of a mother in soft spoken & polite voice but never faltering addresses to the world representing her people and the crown; as a force to be reckoned with.
‘She did well’, my mom said. And I nodded my head. In some ways, for us, she is a loss not only of a monarch of the lands but of a figure ‘the women in us’ look up to. In a world where we know how little our lives as women can make an impact and is valued, she stood like a burning flame of a mythical bird phoenix. Had their been a male heir on line of descent, she would have never succeeded the throne either at the time. She embraced her role. Needless to say, did it very well.
Prince Charles III does seem to have a big shoe to fill in with his royal image. Especially with his history with late Princess Diana and Prince Andrew still on public image as sex offender. ‘That happened under her rule. Can she have done something more?’, my friend is not so impressed of the hymns being sung . ‘I don’t know,’ is my answer. ‘Not every criminals are born to felons. Sometimes despite nurturing homes, despite royal status’. There is a big public scrutiny over every royal family members of the link. On that note, I am impressed by District court of New York. ‘No one should be above the law. ‘
‘Why are you in the kitchen? You are going to burn it down’. My mom used to say every time she saw me in our kitchen. To be fair in her part, I am someone who even burns tea. As in I’ll put something in stove, half an hour down the line, there is no sight of me and the vapour has evaporated, the residues of tea has stained yet another pot and I am on scrub duty for another half an hour.‘You have other things to do’, she would say. Always.
To this day I don’t know how to cook properly. I swear, until now when I go home, my sister packs me food of 3-4 days worth and sometimes, even takes days off or clears her schedule to grind in the kitchen for me. Hey! I can cook some things. But they just wouldn’t have me in the kitchen and, it has sort of become a tradition now to ‘scare’ me away as soon as I am spotted. Like they do to crows in my country when one spots in veranda as a bad omen.
‘You don’t need to learn this’, mom often said watching me paying attention to how she knits. ‘These are for people who don’t have work’. Used to watch grandma make mats out of maize corn covers. Imagine how cool it would have been, had I learnt. ‘Shoo shoo’ mom would flap her hands about motioning me to go away.
‘A woman’s life is very hard. You need to be able to stand up for yourself, go out in the world and make yourself a name & money. Go study. I am sure you have lot to do’- Mom
‘For you to be a successful my dear’ said one of my aunts. ‘Either you have to be a very beautiful or a very smart girl. Nothing in the middle would work. Anything average, you have to commit to average life of marriage & family. Days goes by and aspirations too then. To rise from it, you have to hustle everyday from now.’
Dad supported moms decisions. Coming from the environment they were raised where girls worked mostly on fields and were spoken for, for their first cousins by the age of 12 or 13. Their support was enormous. They prioritised our educations. ‘Anything that is best’, he used to say. One can never underestimate an image of a father in a patriarchal society. Having a husband, a presence of masculine energy in the household; name alone despite physical absentee offers a big emotional security to a woman and her family to plough through their days. This is a society where identity of a man grounds her & her children’s into a box that labels ‘socially acceptable.’ And this was a harsh reality both my dad and mom ensured ‘me and my sister’ knew from the very beginning.
‘When you seek husbands remember -A character of a man comes from virtues he was taught & from the environment he was raised at. Same is with girls. There is a saying in our village, a poor man’s daughter looks good by her face. A wealthy man’s daughter is good by her name. Choose the right man.’
It is confusing at times. The emphasis Mom seems to be putting now, on our success to be determined by the husband we’d land for ourselves when they raised us since we were kids as though we were boys, being reminded on multiple occasions our femininity makes us weak and we had to fight to be strong & independent to defend our lives and our rights as a human, as a wife and a mother someday. Shouldn’t our value be determined by what we have achieved so far than our partner’s social status? I am a little disappointed.
‘Nobody chooses a wrong partner because they want to. Mistakes happen. Divorce is okay. Single mom can raise children as well and do it right. You raised us almost by yourself you should know’. I speak gently trying to slowly ease her biggest fear that we might become single mothers and a ridicule target of society. ‘A house needs a man’s roof, protection & decision. I am not saying a woman is not capable but …’, Mom says.
Being raised under roof of strong men and women, I will not argue gender roles. A child needs both. By nature, we simply don’t have amenities to stand up to being both dad and mom in one. However, my mom comes from days when women endured a lot, including domestic violence and abuse from their partners because they were financially dependent on their husbands, had no means to get away and were forced to persist in loveless marriage by society. As strong headed as she is, she does have a unconscious bias having seen it as a norm that to an extent it is still normal and it is acceptable. Why?
‘Commitment speaks of your values, establishes you as a person of your word. That means something’. She says.
‘Ofcourse. And won’t we be lucky then. But there is a word called toxic relationship’.
In many parts of world including where I was raised, women are underprivileged solely because of the gender bias. A dowry is higher for a daughter who has more education and a job than those without. I would not be able to afford a husband in those communities. What good is relationship and partnership when it is signed before its birth with money?
‘It’s not easy. A woman’s life. And they will never let you have it easy either. So you should be your biggest ally. Only accept help when you need to. No shame in asking others for help. But a favour received is favour owed. Always hold your head high. If you have your reasons, if you are right, you hold your grounds no matter what.’
I do hope I have inherited some of my mother’s strengths and pray, none of her peculiarities. I do hope I also find a partner who supports & respects my decisions and stands for our ground together even though it meant turning down /fighting against the privilege he was blessed with. In my eyes, that would be a biggest sacrifice. I watch my dad cook and clean and it warms my heart. His friends would tease him saying ‘here you are being a house wife again’, but he never let it go to his head. I won’t say, he is an ideal of what every woman should expect but a quality in a person, who is thoughtful enough to say, ‘I can share the work and this is both our job’ is something everyone of us, every woman wants. There is a word called ‘conformity’ I came across in psychology. It is tendency of an individual to try to fit in the society. Not necessarily a bad thing, we are after all social animals. But I feel this nature drives a majority of men to believe that they are inherently superior beings to the other sex, authority and violence is therefore acceptable; and women to believe, they are condemned to this treatment.
Anyways, steering back to role of Queen in my life… In some ways, I have always been thankful to my dad’s recruitment into the army under her reign ; with her face in every coins they held in their hands. These weren’t silver coins alas that they traded for freshly pressed razor sharp bank notes in a bamboo woven trays. But, these were keys. To every locked door my mom closed down because of her insecurities. These were keys to her confidence in a new era where her daughters would indeed work shoulder to shoulder with men and be accepted not just for how they look or how much handy they were with household chores but for their skills & talents. Their heels here would never be sorely cracked or the palms be dry and roughened working on fields/labouring in factories trying to put food on table for the young. These were the keys she was always praying for, to the world of the Queen where she saw no daughters will ever be caged of their dreams and of the opportunities they wished they had. No, it wasn’t perfect. Oh the world is so far from being perfect for her daughters, but at least here she had strong hope. ‘My daughters will some day work in an office with people on fancy white shirts, they will have enough money to pay their own bills & buy their own houses. They will walk down the halls, down the roads with their heads held in pride while the world looks at them with respect, ‘look those are Mrs … daughters’, they will say. And they will be married to these men with most beautiful souls who will always keep them happy. ‘