This week on HERStory, we speak to the daughter of a real-life Superhero mum who lives a fearless and resilient life that breaks the gender stereotype about women being weaker than men. Through her many adventures and conquests in life, ‘Superhero Mum’ showed her daughter that the strength of a woman goes farther and deeper than the human mind could imagine.
What Did She Do?
Everything “Women Are Not Supposed To”
Daughter of Superhero Mum: Since I was much younger, my mum had always been a sort of real-life heroine to me. She did things that surprised me and my siblings all the time. At home she was our ‘handy-woman’ – she could fix any and everything that was faulty at home, without even bothering to call my Dad, anything from electrical faults, faulty doors, broken sockets, to even carpentry. I remember one time when I was little, she actually became popularly known as the ‘Lady Carpenter’. She would make furniture for the house, and soon enough, she made a business out of it (even though father shut down the business because he wanted her to focus on the children). At some point in our childhood, she was a cab driver (this was long before we started having lady drivers everywhere like we do now). She would drive us to school early in the morning, and hit the streets in the afternoon, picking up and dropping off passengers, and still come back to pick us from school in the evening. She did this for a while all without telling Father. At some other time, she started the wholesale trading of ice blocks to make additional money. This required a lot of heavy lifting and very early mornings. She would wake up earlier than everyone else, load the ice blocks into her van, then get us ready for school, drop us off and then go distribute the blocks and resume as a cab driver, and still get back in time to take us to school. She also had a shop where she sold provisions, but that was really just her decoy to keep my Dad from knowing about all her other hustles. She was really something. In the midst of all this, she would get home and still make sure the family had home cooked meals every night. Now that I look back, I really wonder how she did it.
How Did She Do it?
Not Recognizing and Succumbing to Sexism Around Her
Daughter of Superhero Mum: Some people seemed to think Mum was that way because she was physically advantaged. She was taller (over 6 ft.) and bigger than most women (even than my Dad who was shorter and skinnier). I think she was just fearless. She never really saw herself as weaker or less capable. Once she had her mind set on something, she was going to do it. She never considered her gender as a limitation or a reason to fear or shy away from doing whatever she wanted to. That in-built drive and confidence made anything possible. I remember when she started her carpentry business, a lot of people made mockery of her and told her that a woman could not go into the business. That did not deter her. She kept making the best pieces and the business actually started growing until Father found out and asked her to close down the business because it “put her at risk as a woman”. At the end of the day, she was still a submissive wife and I think that was her 'Kryptonite'.
A Moment That Tested Her
The Day A Male Bully Attacked Her
Daughter of Superhero Mum: One moment that I think I would never forget was the day she stood up to a male bully and ended up in a physical wrestle which she won flawlessly. Now, in those days in Aba, it was sort of a taboo for women to be seen driving. Women who drove cars were seen as rebellious, unruly and wayward. They were stereotyped as sluts, loose women. Ever the change maker, Mum never gave it a thought about driving after we moved to Aba. My Dad would tell her not to, but she did not see gender limitations. She was going to drive whenever she wanted to. On this fateful day, she was driving me and my sibling home when someone drove his car straight into the back of ours. The car’s bumper was obviously shattered, but, mother did not care she did not want any drama, so she attempted to start the car and keep driving. Before we knew it, the driver had overtaken us and blocked our car. The not-so-gentle man was pretty young, maybe in his early twenties. He came down from his car, commanding my Mum to get down from her car, reigning insults on her stemmed from the stigma placed on women driving in Aba. My Mum kept her cool, but this young man kept going with the harassment. As soon as he started getting physically aggressive, Mother calmed him down with a dirty slap that sent him to the ground. With his ego bruised, he called the police (apparently, he was an offspring of some influential politician). In a whirlwind of events, we found ourselves at the police station with my Mum locked in an actual jail cell. My Dad hurried to the scene and after what seemed like years of pleading and negotiation, my Mum was finally released. She was extremely upset, so was my Dad, especially at her. Just as we were about to walk back into the car, this young man passed by us, still making his aggressive and insulting comments. Mother already had enough. She launched at him and they both engaged in a wrestle. My Dad tried to stop them but, Mother was in a state of fury. She beat this young man like a baby, and did not stop until she had stuffed his mouth with enough sand to keep the unpleasant taste of his stupidity in his mouth for a long time. Of course, I do not support violence as a means of solving disputes, but, Mother’s strength that day just proved to me that she was truly a heroine. It was a moment that tested her and she was not going to let a man belittle her because of her gender. That was the lesson I learnt that day.
Her Eureka Moment?
Reaching Retirement and Realizing She Gave Up Too Much for Her Marriage
Daughter of Superhero Mum: For many years my Mum had been fearless and daring in all aspects in her life, but all that would be doused once my Dad made any requests. It was like she was a superhero and he was her one weakness. She woke up one day feeling like she had not accomplished anything for herself because she had sacrificed a whole lot for him. She had a Bachelor’s degree in Education, and even a Master’s. She could have had a successful career as a lecturer. She was always so industrious, but anytime she wanted to start a business, he would shut it down before it became too successful. Now, that we were all older and had moved away from home, she was left back to see that she had nothing of hers as an accomplishment. This rude awakening was compounded when she found out that my father had since sold one of her landed properties without her permission or even giving her a share of the profits. His reason? They were married and all that was hers was his. This sent Mother to a very angry place, and she filed for a divorce. I was so proud of her and excited when she broke the news. I always felt like he was tying her down. It was going to be a new beginning. We were already house hunting in the city and exploring new business ideas, and then one day, she called me to tell me she was calling off the divorce. She was a deacon in the church, a marriage counselor. How would she be able to show her face to the congregation or her students. At her age, what options did she have? Those were some of her rationales behind this decision. I was extremely disappointed. It was like for a second, she was no longer my superhero. She went back to Daddy and is now living a quiet post-retirement life with him. She still invests her time and resources in different business ventures and remains the fearless and driven woman she has always been. I guess she is just one of the many superhero women who get tamed by marriage, society and institutions like The Church. Nonetheless, she is still a Superhero, my Superhero Mum.
What She Learnt
The Superhero Mum’s Daughter:
Many women are stronger than you can imagine. Our strength is really beyond the physical it’s universal, our body, minds and soul. It is beautiful.
There are many heroines who have been tamed by society, family, and institutions like marriage, religious bodies and even government policies/laws. We need to find them and empower them.
We have to create more enabling environments that would ignite the fire and potential of the heroines around us. If a heroine like my Mum had the right community around her that fostered her potential, she would have soared beyond measure. Her environment limited her.