Friday, September 22, 2023

Puffed up on patriarchal stereotypes: women light it up


At the turn of the century liberation movements across the Diaspora encouraged women to be bold, political and protest the loudest against patriarchy.

An expression propagated by men was conceived: “Women are no longer in the kitchen pregnant and barefoot like their mothers but they are now in bars drinking and smoking like their fathers’.

It would appear as a plus for females for breaking down the stereotypes however the anatomy of a woman is more vulnerable to be damaged by intoxicating substances and stand a higher health risk should they over a long period of time continue to drink and smoke like their fathers.

As part of last week’s commemoration World No Tobacco Day, under the theme “Tobacco and Lung Health” a day dedicated to highlight the health risks associated with the use of tobacco products and advocate for reduction or cessation of tobacco use, the Sunday Standard looked into the breadth and depth of this habit and the implications it has on women in particular.

From a tender age the boy children are more inclined to start experimenting at an earlier age with cigarettes, alcohol and sex than the girl children would, however in the recent there is a significantly higher number of teenage girls smoking and drinking, and as the years progress the more publicly they do it.

A waiter at one restaurant at the Central Business District spoke quite candidly of the manner in which ladies in the 20s and 30s smoke openly and quite possibly more than the men that frequent these places.

Moses, a 39-year-old man who has been tending tables all across the city for the past 15 years spoke of how at first ladies would huddle up in a corner to have a smoke back in the days and that now they get a table, pull out a pack and lighter and proceed to light up as and when they wish. Moses further says that at the establishment he works for there is an assortment of goodies to be inhaled like the (in) famous hubbly bubbly and cigars for sale which they also indulge in. When questioned on why he thinks trends changed, Moses said “Ke sekgoanyana (Westernisation) in our culture women rarely smoke it is a habit for men and I myself would never get involved with a woman who smokes.”

The World Health Organisation report titled “Facts on Gender and Tobacco” explains that of the 1 million smokers of the world 200 million of them are women and 1.5 million of them die annually.

According to the report, cigarette companies strategically target women in their marketing campaigns by playing on existing stereotypes that link smoking women with beauty, glamour, prestige and sex appeal. Who does not want to feel sexy? Women are also inclined to buy cigarettes packaged as ‘light’, ‘mild’ while the mildness implied results in compensatory smoking which means inhaling more deeply and frequently to curb the itch.

The report goes on to cite the medical implications of smoking that occur in women as infertility, delay in conception, higher risk in cervical cancer, increased risk in coronary heart diseases and the most embarrassing incontinence (lack of the ability to control urine and bowel movement). For pregnant women smoking during the pregnancy could result in premature delivery, still born births and a high infant mortality.

“I started smoking when I was 17 and it was only socially and now 15 years later though I can go for weeks without smoking there is always that one day when I absolutely need one to distress,” says one lady smoker in her early 30s who doesn’t seem concerned about the health and risk factors and is convinced she can quit smoking anytime she likes. She thinks smoking is cool and as an independent woman who makes her own money no man has a right to question  her actions, she is however quick to point out that should her parents find out it will be the death of her.

Like all social ills women tend to start smoking because all their friends are doing it and they do not want to be left out. There is also the old wife’s tale that smoking could aide in weight loss through suppression of the appetite yet there is no registered dietician, clinician or doctor that would recommend that a person should replace lunch with a pack of cigarettes. 


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