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The Strife of Womanhood: Reflections on Innocence, Sisterhood and Growth

Shylet Chabata | Zimbabwe

Childhood is a myth.

We think of it as a time of exploration, of carefree optimism and of growing up before adult life crushes you with responsibilities. For some, it may be so, but girlhood is altogether a different experience.

The weight of responsibility starts early on. It is a different entity from the more relaxed and generally understood childhood experience, at least in my African and Shona culture. A culture that greatly values its shared and common norms, and it is frowned upon to depart from those norms.

Girlhood is the installment of lifelong "do not------ because society will judge you" and "you should------because society will judge you" rules to be followed for one to become a proper woman.

You should sweep the floor properly because no man wants to marry a woman who can't sweep properly.

Do not whistle, ladies do not whistle.

Do not play football with the boys in the streets, what will people think?

Of course, becoming a responsible, well-rounded addition to society is important, but it is the fervour and enthusiasm with which these rules are laid out on the girl that is amazing to watch. The girl is restricted, squeezed and moulded to be just as society wants her to be.

As the girl grows, so too does her awareness. She realizes the image society has moulded her into does not equate to the idea and image that she has of herself. There begins the strife of womanhood.

Her eyes are opened to the struggles of her fellow women. For the first time, she sees her grandmother, mother and her aunts for the women that they are and not only in their familial roles to her. She sees women who had dreams that came to fruition and dreams that fell by the wayside. She sees their triumphs, their sisterhood, their sorrows and their joys.

Finally, she realizes that she is building her own life on the foundation of a legacy of women who have done the best they could under their circumstances. Some have managed to break out of the societal mould. Others have stayed in the mould, and, in turn, ensure it remains enforced. Whilst some have reshaped the mould, slowly bending it out of shape to suit their own shape.

In the innocence of girlhood, everything is simple and straightforward, A follows B followed by C. But in the strife of womanhood, following the mould and its rules doesn't always equate to the desired results.

Nothing is simple for the grandmother left behind with 6 grandkids to fend for, nothing is simple for the woman fighting an 11-year losing battle with infertility, and nothing is straightforward for the single mother working as a vendor to send her children to school.

It isn't simple and straightforward for the college student struggling to pay her fees, or for the working mother plagued by mom guilt, or for the woman watching her husband take yet another wife.

It isn't simple and straightforward to the numerous women who are trying to do it all but are burnt out in the process. It isn't simple for the lone woman at the boardroom table or the female mechanic at the local car repair shop.

The innocence of girlhood is lost and the young woman recognizes the reality of each woman's struggles as they are opened to her. She becomes part of the sisterhood of women.

Shylet is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mum. She is passionate about writing stories from an emotional and educative perspective. Contact her at

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