(Continued from The Alpha Female)
“Hello Tom” Jane says. Tom picks after the second ring.
“Hi Jane” Tom’s voice does not betray any emotion.
Jane takes a deep breath.
“I am just calling to say I am sorry for bursting out earlier.”
Pause. The momentary silence is perhaps the only indication that Tom was hurt.
“That is okay Jane, no hard feelings”
Jane closes her eyes and takes another deep breath.
“I will make it up to you, I promise. If you will let me, that is,”
“Okay, we can re-do the dinner. We will just find a place without televisions” Tom replies, attempting to lighten up the mood.
“Or maybe we should find a way to do it without me” Jane replies, making a self-deprecating joke.
Tom laughs. They chat for a while longer then hang up. Jane puts the phone down. That was difficult. She is not used to making apologies to anyone. Sarah is looking at her with a mixture of amusement and admiration. They sip their coffee in silence for a while. The Sarah speaks.
“I did not think you would do it,”
“It was the right thing to do. I guess”
More silence. Then Jane speaks again.
“Sarah, do you really appreciate how difficult it is for a woman to rise to the top? These men you are defending are chauvinists. They may smile at you, but they do not think you are worth anything”
Sarah smiles kindly.
“Including your father?”
Jane smiles. She has calmed down somewhat.
“He is an exception I guess”
“You have already made two exceptions since you came”
“Who else did I make exception for?”
“My husband, James.”
“Those are just two men”
“Look Jane,” Sarah says, growing serious. “I am a mother. I have a son, and two daughters. I do not want my girls growing up feeling inferior to their brother, or my son feeling superior to them. But neither do I want them to think their brother, or their father, is wicked just because they are male. Does that make sense?”
“I guess. But why would they think that? They know them”
“That is precisely the point. I do not want them to have the default mindset all men are wicked, until proven otherwise,”
“But don’t you think your girls need to be told to be wary of men? I mean, we all know all the wrong things that can happen to a woman in the hands of men”
“Bad men. They need to know the world is wicked and historically has had no place for women. But they will also need to know that there are good men who will respect them and support them. Otherwise what will be the value of training my son to respect women if women will not appreciate it and respect him for it?”
There is momentary silence, as each of the two women is lost in their thoughts again. There is a soap opera running on television, but none of them is watching. Sarah idly fiddles the remote. She checks out different channels and stops at one showing a documentary on ancient Rome.
“By the way Sarah, why did you quit your parastatal job? You were doing so well. I always wanted to be like you. A powerful woman in the corporate world” Jane asks suddenly.
“You no longer want to be like me?” Sarah teases. They both laugh.
“I quit because I could. The idea of women empowerment is to give women a choice. Choice to decide what she wants with her life. I can decide what I want, just like any man, because I have financial freedom. That is what I do for those kids in the slums. Help them get an education. Help them get the right attitude. That way, they will get empowered in future. You could say that is the reason I quit. To empower kids from less privileged families”
“But James? You don’t have to consult him?”
“I do. But you see, getting married is also a choice I made. I wasn’t forced like some girls unfortunately are. Which also means I chose the man I thought had the right attitude. I could have stayed single and not lacked any material thing. At least not the necessities of a decent living. But I chose to get married. So yes, I limited my decision making freedom by getting married. But that has nothing to do with being a woman. Because James also has to consult me before he makes major decisions in his life. He also limited his freedom by getting married,”
“But there are many women who are not so lucky”
“Yes. Which is why organisations like mine work towards helping them get empowered, so that they do not have to be dependent. That will help enrich their relationships with men, because they will no longer operate from a position of fear. Of course this will take a while, but we will get there. Either us, or future generations. But we will get there”
Sarah refills their cups of coffee.
“By the way Jane, what do you read besides architectural and business texts? How is your social life?”
Jane smiles. They both know the answer to those questions. Jane is a workaholic. She spends the bulk of her time working. Occasionally, she will binge watch series. Even in school, she spent the bulk of her time in the library. She keeps a small circle of friends. In fact, most of her initial clients were her father’s contacts, and the rest are referrals. But she keeps her relationships strictly professional.
She knows what Sarah is driving at. She has been told she is elitist and narrow minded before. That she is out of touch with the real world. And arrogant. Of course many who told her that didn’t say it gently like Sarah. And perhaps that had further pushed her to keep to herself and her books. It is even surprising that she has been in romantic relationships, however short, before. Titus was a classmate in Madrid. Eric is the son of Moses, her father’s friend. They knew each other growing up. And she was introduced to Tom by a childhood friend, Natasha. But she has always seen herself as driven. Pushing against odds to overcome the challenges in a patriarchal society.
“The world is challenging to be a woman Sarah. I have always worked to prove my worth. I want men to treat me as their equal. I guess that is why I get edgy when I think a man is disrespecting me.”
“I come from a humble background. My father, unlike your father, could not afford to pay my fees. But he took me to school anyway. And somehow I made it to Std. 8, even though I always had fee arrears and was frequently sent home. But I survived and passed. But I did not have school fees to go to high school. But another man, an engineer in my village, sponsored my secondary school fees. He believed in me. That is how I made it to the University. And that is why I purposed to study engineering by the way. Mr. Mutiso inspired me. But even after getting all these qualifications, there are other men who do not think I am good enough. Even when I was the CEO of the agency, I met men who did not think I deserved to be there. Some of them my juniors. Surprisingly, there were also women who thought a man would do my job better. Women who did not want another woman leading them. Point is, there in nothing you can do to prove your worth to a chauvinist. On the same vein, there will always be people who will believe in you without your having to prove it. They will see your potential and help you realize it. Just focus on being the best version of yourself. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone, except yourself” Sarah replies.
Jane thinks about this. She has worked with Civil and Structural engineers, Electrical engineers and Quantity Surveyors who did not think she is good enough. And that always drove her into an angry determination to prove her worth.
“But what has reading got to do with anything?” she asks suddenly.
“Literature is the mirror of the society. It broadens your mind, something formal education somehow does not do. When you read widely, you appreciate other people and cultures better. When you socialize, you get to meet all kinds of people. Some nasty, some kind. Some cold and aloof, others warm and social. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists and others, including those who don’t care less about religion or the lack of it. When you interact with people who are truly poor, like I do, you learn to appreciate what you have. Generally, when you know how to relate to different kinds people, you become a better person yourself. You become more patient, more tolerant.”
Sarah rises, picks the empty cups and goes to the kitchen. She comes back with a bowl full of fruits. She had planned to take advantage of the absence of her husband and kids to make progress with her PhD research. But talking to her younger friend is worth the while.
Jane looks at her friend. Her mind is reeling from all what Sarah has been saying. How can a 42 year old woman know so much? She has always wanted to be the ultimate Alpha female. Lording it over all, especially men. She still doesn’t know how she can be that while doing all the things Sarah is saying.
Sarah picks an apple from the bowl and sinks her teeth in. She leans back and looks at Jane with a contented smile. Suddenly, Jane realizes something she hadn’t thought about before. There, in front of her, is a formidable female. A woman who has had it all. One who doesn’t go trampling other people, but one who knows what she wants and goes for it. She has always respected Sarah. But now she starts seeing her in a new light. And her respect for the older woman starts to soar. The Alpha female she should emulate.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/geneephillips/15764443850