No one will reward you for your martyrdom. No one will praise your eagerness to sacrifice unless they’re benefiting. I promise there will be no redemption for martyring yourself. I am telling you this because I wish someone would’ve warned me. As Somali women, we are expected to martyr ourselves before we can be deemed, honorable mothers and daughters. Patriarchy tells women we have to earn merit to receive good treatment. We are shortchanged and offered less in our professional, personal and intimate lives. I am telling you that there is no reward for adhering to a system built on undermining our right to refuse a lifetime of eternal sacrifice.
I wrote about Eldest Immigrant Daughter Guilt which resonated with so many Somali women. This guilt is debilitating. Eldest immigrant daughter guilt is rooted in a martyr complex because we are instilled with the belief that one day, we will be compensated for our suffering. Perhaps, we will receive better treatment, favor, happiness and maybe even an end to our suffering. But that never happens. Instead, this guilt incites resentment; opportunities missed, goals delayed and lives derailed. Everything I was taught about being a good daughter was rooted in my willingness to endure. I didn’t realize I was being groomed for a lifetime of overworking myself to no avail.
No one will reward you for giving up on your dreams or compensate you for your emotional labor. No one will apologize for interrupting your progress or manipulating you into making decisions that hinder your freedom. No one will remember that you improved their lives to your own detriment. This is just one of patriarchy’s many scams that put women in a double bind. I’ve been praised for being a walking doormat and putting myself last because that’s what I was supposed to do. But which benefits have I reaped? My student loans weren’t forgiven. I wasn’t given an honorarium. I didn’t even get an appreciation dinner. Or a plaque with words of gratitude etched into it: thank you for giving up your childhood. For always giving into your selflessness, guilt, and benevolence, so that we do not have to pay someone else to do it. There is no end game to martyrdom. No accolades. Nothing.
Patriarchy convinces women we have to earn our keep through sacrifice, unpaid labor and a willingness to endure. When we refuse, we are called ungrateful. We’re insulted, berated and belittled for choosing ourselves. This is a form of violence. We’re told we have to act gracefully during our exploitation. We’re expected to martyr ourselves until the stress becomes a chronic illness. Or until our lives end prematurely. I’m no longer invested in perpetuating this vicious cycle. I’m finally in a place in my life where I can reject martyrdom. Growing up, I couldn’t imagine having ownership over my life because I felt guilty for even being self-interested while I still had a debt to pay. As Somali women, we rarely have spaces to discuss how martyrdom affects our lives. Because when we refuse to martyr ourselves, we are ridiculed, sabotaged and terrorized into silence. Can we have honest discussions about how martyrdom holds us back in every area of our lives?