Last Tuesday, in the 20-minute drive from his school to our home, my son asked me 22 questions. Yes I kept a count (#pettymummy). Almost every question started with a "why": Why do I have to go to school? Why do people here speak Arabic and we speak French? Why do people say I'm black when my skin is brown? Why does God get to do whatever he wants? Why do daddies put babies in mummies? Why? Why? Why, Maman, WHY?
Let me tell you, some conversations can make 20 minutes feel like an eternity. Here I was, trying to answer as many questions as I could, and cursing myself for the vow I'd made to never utter the words "because I said so" in front of my children. On a few occasions I told him I didn't know the answer to his questions but we could look it up together later in a book. I also pretended not to have heard a question or two and waited for him to move on to the next. Don't judge my life.
By the time we'd reached home, I'd grown from cuteness overload to supreme impatience. Yet thinking back to the conversation a couple of days later, I found myself feeling grateful to my son for reminding me that questioning the status quo is the first step towards changing the world.
“Questioning the status quo is the first step towards changing the world.”
My own feminist journey started with asking simple questions about the injustices I was noticing around me. I remember asking my father why there were no women in our village's council of elders. I remember wondering why my dad was the one getting our quarterly school report cards when my mum was always the one who stayed up late and made sure my homework was done. I was often told I was too young to understand these things, which infuriated me to no end. I couldn’t wait to grow up and finally get it.
Five-year-old me would be disappointed to know that now that I’m adult, I’m no longer asking the simple questions. She would hate to find out that, after a university professor criticized me for "bringing the class back to the drawing board" with my “basic” questions, I started believing that simple questions were inappropriate and letting go of them was what made me an adult.
This changes today. I'm challenging myself to embrace my inner child and ask as many simple questions as possible.
In honor of my nosy son, I'm starting with 22 "why" questions:
Why do my friends congratulate my husband for "allowing me" to go on a holiday on my own?
Why have I been summoned for countless family meetings about planning weddings and none about maintaining a marriage?
Speaking of marriage: why do the elders in my village insist that bride price is a symbolic tradition, and then request an amount that is anything but token?
Why don’t any of the people who tell me feminism is “un-African” also reject Christianity or democracy?
Whenever I am in conversation with other African women about the women we look up to, why do we find ourselves celebrating African-American women more often than we do African heroines? (Team Oprah, don’t come at me now… I’m just asking)
While we're at it, why is "Black" so often used as a replacement for "African-American" to name disciplines that rarely include the perspective of Black people living outside of U.S?
Why can’t I stop obsessing over how imperfect my body is, even when my feminist brain tells me I shouldn’t care?
Why do families who can only afford to send one child to school so often decide to send their son, not their daughters?
Why are women in my village subjected to lengthy and degrading widowhood rites, while male widows are encouraged to remarry as soon as possible?
Why do we choose to "protect" young girls from sexual assault by massaging their growing breasts into oblivion rather than by educating men that growing breasts are not an invitation to rape?
Why do men keep saying "not all men" even after you've explained patriarchy is about the system? (Don’t #NotAllMen me on this one, please)
Why do we often recoil and feel offended when someone points out the privileges we enjoy in regard to our gender, class, skin color, sexual orientation, religion or as able-bodied individuals?
Why is sexual intercourse (and rape) defined by penetration when there are so many other ways to be sexually engaged (and assaulted)?
Why are millions of women still subjected to virginity testing when doctors have known for a freaking century that a torn hymen is not a scientific proof that a woman is sexually active?
Why are there countless treatments for erectile dysfunction and no cure to endometriosis?
Why am I hearing Moroccans refer to me and other black people as Africans as though they were unaware of the geographical situation of their own country?
Why are we heterosexual people so comfortable asking LGBTQI people questions about their sexuality we would never dare to ask our own sexual partners?
Whenever I'm watching TV with my parents and the actors start kissing, why am I so itchy to go to the bathroom or the kitchen (or any place that’s far away from that TV, really)?
Why are we so loud about muting R. Kelly and so quiet about outing the rapist next door?
Why do waiters always hand the check to my husband, even when I'm the one who requested it?
Why did our nanny use to call my lighter-skinned sister "little white girl" as if it were a compliment?
Why aren't we asking why more often?
Last Tuesday I came home thinking, If I got a dollar every time this boy asked me a question, I'd be a billionaire by now. Today, I'm grateful that he reminded me of the power that "why" holds.
I’m making 2019 my year of why. Throughout the year, I’ll keep asking more questions, and because “why” is only the first step, I’ll do my best to get answers. I’ll ask my guests, I’ll have tough conversations with my loved ones and myself, and I’ll do my homework. Stay tuned: I’ll be sharing what I’m learning along the way.
Will you join me? Let’s reconnect with our five-year-old selves and dare to ask why over and over again, until the world makes sense – or until we change it for the better.