Individuation as a feminine act of survival and being.

I am scratching my head right now. Thinking. Thinking blankly. Asking myself questions about this particular topic. Admittedly with a lingering doubt here and there but my pen must dance on this paper. It must. It has been itching to touch down, all night.

Individuation, is an idea that has been burning inside of me of late. They say thirty-five is the age of the self. A self I am yet to uncover in depths. This article is inspired by Carl Jung a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology.

To put it down simply, individuation means self-realization.

As a kenyan woman raised in the kenyan dominant culture, self-realization has been a deep burning heap of charcoal that has threatened my very existence. To yank away years of lessons and ideas that define me as a Kenyan woman, as a daughter of the community, as a mother and as a person, has been nothing but easy. As a child and as a woman, individuation is highly  not recommended or encouraged. We are supposed to move through the society, following certain rules, goals and destinations that essentially leave us no room to examine why we all want to follow that path or must achieve those set goals. We know no other way of being except the only way to be.

However for women like us, we grow up not being able to distinguish between who we are and what society demands of us. Our kenyan culture or any culture for that matter creates a reward system for achieving the set goals. A process only achieved by totally letting the self compromise for fear of punishment or banishment. Normal human acts become abnormal. It upsets the world when women decide to follow a path known only to them. The world becomes rough, violent and resistant. The world can be interpreted as the people in our lives, our parents, family, community and even governments and institutions.

Individuation is obstructed, halted and slowed down throughout our lives  as women until an inevitable looming crisis hits, not just once but severally to awaken the self only for it to be kicked and thrown into the dark room leaving a terrible trail of painful anxiety. Self-realization is always knocking, insistent and ready to be explored.

The patriarchal culture we live in forces us to look up to men as a substitute for the Self. Everything is supposed to lead us to men as saviours and our existence validated by them choosing us. It’s the end goal and one that gives temporary excitement, pseudo acceptance and an illusion of worth.

To be accepted by family and the society becomes the onus of our lives. We bend and fold to accommodate the world. We follow and allow the society to set guidelines for what our lives ought to be like. We do anything to be loved and wanted by taking on a persona, a social mask that each wear in our interaction with others in the society. It is definitely not entirely a bad thing, however we must be able to distinguish between the mask and the self.

I will tell you a story about what losing the self means to women through a relatable narration.

Rukia, the bride with the fruit basket.

Once upon a time, in the valley of the Rift, lived a young lady. Her name was Rukia. Rukia lived with her family and like her mother and grandmother, had waited all her life to meet her the man she would marry.  Rukia, prepared and prepared, just like her mother and grandmother had. She weaved her hair, oiled her skin and collected the fruits in her basket. Her hair was never weaved enough, her skin never shiny enough and her basket never seem to fill. She dedicated her life to the preparation of the most important goal of her life. Everything Rukia did was in anticipation for her marriage.

One early morning, on her way to the river, Rukia saw a young man. He was handsome with a beautiful lithe body, whose face and skin was oiled just right, whose hair was weaved just right and whose bag was filled with just enough fruit. She hid behind the thicket and watched him walk by. She was too excited and ran home, leaving her basket by the river.

” I saw him, I saw him!” She screamed. Rukia’s mother and grandmother knew it was time. Time to prepare for the wedding. She oiled her skin, weaved her hair but could not find her fruit basket. She looked and looked and looked. It was nowhere to be found. She asked everyone if they had seen her fruit basket as panic set in. She cried,wept and ran into a frenzy. Rukia suddenly remembered that she had left the basket by the river. She ran down the river and her basket was gone. Not a fruit in sight. She looked and looked by the thicket, down the river bend but couldn’t find it. She had forgotten about the handsome young man. Without the basket and the fruits even her weaved hair and oiled skin would not make her a suitable bride.

Days went by and turned into weeks and eventually months. Her basket and her man never to be found. A year slipped by and ushered a second, the preparation halted and the excitement died. Finally her mother and grandmother convinced her to choose another and weave a new fruit basket. The task was too tough for Rukia. She couldn’t seem to weave the basket right or oil her skin just right and eventually, asked her mother if she could choose another. She chose another groom, threw away her unfinished basket, with the dried fruits and married the new groom.

The End

Interpretation

The story of Rukia, describes a woman’s life in a nutshell.  We are always doing and preparing for the unknown ( handsome stranger) yet expected things. Always looking outward for salvation while having mothers and grandmothers( culture) forcing and recreating us towards the same path as theirs. This leads to the death of the self, exasperating anxiety, waiting, searching and deadening of the soul (losing the fruit basket). Eventually we succumb to the pressure and throw away the fruits (creativity, self-expression, self-love, body acceptance, personal choice, sexual expression, spirituality) The new yearning (weaving a new basket) never ends because we lost the first and we don’t have the same stamina and strength to weave again or collect new fruits. The yearning makes us accept any slight love and attention shown us as validation for our worth. It is the same yearning that causes us to fall into deep crisis’ when the validation, the love and praise is withdrawn or given to another. Or when our lives and pressure to succeed in accordance to the society to have the right job, right partner, right body, right behaviour are not able to be met as desired. It creates panic and fear because we  have lost our own fruits basket and the task to go collecting fruits becomes tedious and demanding.

The culture we live in punishes us for trying to be individuals as women. We can’t inherit property, our own choices get questioned and nitpicked, our value systems and respect is always weighed on a scale of how we conduct ourselves, if we bear children or not, the size of our bodies and variant features of our structures. We struggle to individualize by conforming to what is supposed to be the measure of independency, again decided by the set rules and dominant culture of the day. In the Kenyan context the acquisition of education and a job marks freedom for many women who are in themselves prisoners of the persona and others. Financial independency is only the outward act of self-actualization that can and could aid the freeing of the entire self. A process that is life-long and absolutely not easy to accomplish. Independecy in certain matters might mean being a prisoner of the said cultural setting.

Conformity creates fear and uncertainty while self-realization is a process that allows proper expression of self and seeking truths as they are even unbearable, hard truths which are not easily recognisable or acceptable.

To be continued…………

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I am a Kenyan woman who enjoys writing and vlogging about the Kenyan feminist issues while fusing dreams into stories related to the kenyan culture.

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