When am I just me?

Society & Culture | By Harriet Toko Mupungu, Student | 08 May 2015

For as long as I can remember, my mother has always been known as “Mai Berry”, Berry being my brother and her eldest child. I have always thought that this is a mark of respect, that in our culture, you cannot call a married woman, a mother (!), by her first name. I remember the look on my mother’s face when she corrected the woman - she was proud. Proud to be a mother so much so that she wanted to be identified by it. It was admirably beautiful but all the same confusing to my inquisitive young mind. Why did my mother not say “Ndinonzi Elizabeth”? I dismissed it as old traditions but years later; I am rather intrigued by the fact that within my seemingly modern social circle, my peers are showing similar traits.

With globalisation and other influencing factors, Zimbabweans have spread out across the world and are increasingly dependent on social media to restore, build and maintain relationships with friends and family. Facebook has perhaps become one of the quickest ways to trace that old school mate or work mate. Or is it? If anyone were to look for some of my friends using their real names, they would hit a brick wall because nobody uses those names anymore. We have all become “Amai vaNhingi”  and that is how we are being known as on our profiles! Our profile pictures are also that of our beautiful offspring as we will not miss a moment to show them off! It is all very sweet but what does it say about our own individuality? I have challenged friends who do this and like my mother back in the day their response is “that’s who I am now”. Is it really?
I, of course, appreciate that social media is as it says on the tin, social, and that we can be as casual as we want with it. However, I cannot help think that as women, as mothers, we are restricting our identity to that attached to someone else. It is either we are identifying ourselves as our husband’s wife, our partner’s girlfriend or our children’s’ mother. Can we not be casual as ourselves too? Do we become ourselves only on “serious” LinkedIn? When are we us? I fear that constantly associating our self to our families strips us of our individuality. Everyone needs an escape, a safe place to indulge free thought and expression without preconceived censors. A little bit of selfishness never hurt nobody!

There is a level of respect one attracts if everyone knows your marital status or that you have a child. Attached to that respect is the expectation of certain behaviours which can ultimately be restricting in your interactions. It looks to me as if individuality becomes bound in a straightjacket were any movement outside the boundaries of the seams becomes an unattractive outburst.

As a woman, I was and am me before being someone’s wife and someone’s mother. I appreciate and am proud of myself individually and to not always associate my identity with that of others, even those whom I wholeheartedly love. I want my womanhood to still “independently” coexist with all aspects of my life. The changes in my life may influence how I live my life but it hardly defines me.