In Part I of this series, we related the cultural divide that exists when a woman from the U.S. “innocently” announces her pregnancy to a male friend from another culture. The man takes the “good news” as an accusation, and is ready to defend himself to the fullest including in court.
You have certainly been asking yourself what justified my reactions to Lisa’s announcement of her pregnancy. Honestly, that was the first time that I heard a woman talking about herself mentioning that she was pregnant. Sincerely, a woman had never shared the state of her pregnancy with me. In our culture, pregnancy is a taboo state that people do not openly talk about. Especially at the early stages when the belly is not yet growing big, the woman has no reason to share her internal private business with anyone. I had heard women talk about pregnancies in reference to others but never about themselves.
Traditionally in our (African) customs until the very recent past, the first person to know of a woman’s pregnancy was her mother. The mother of an expectant woman normally gives birth with the assistance of her mother. The next person in line to be informed is the husband, or the father, or whoever caused that specific pregnancy. The expecting woman has no business moving around, touching her stomach, and bragging about being pregnant. Actually there is no need for that spectacle; people will soon figure it out as the belly grows. In no circumstances is the due date shared with anyone except those who have a direct interest in that pregnancy.
A woman telling a man that she is pregnant has the sole purpose of reminding him the outcome of what they both did.
I had to react so forcefully to Lisa’s announcing her pregnancy because I strongly believed at the time that she was suggesting that I was the father. I had to defend myself to; that is why I contacted an attorney.
In addition to the cultural reason described above, my reaction was also prompted by the information preached to us (new teachers) just a few months earlier by the district Human Resources staff during the pre-service training of new teachers. The staff in less than 15 minutes frightened us with what the district policy and rules were, most of which had to do with “zero tolerance,” “don’t touch the children,” “don’t say anything to anyone that has any connotations to sex,” and others.
When Lisa made her announcement to me, that entire workshop started to unfold in my mind. I recall people saying that anyone could easily lose his job and risk prison time if they committed one of those offenses. All the new teachers to the school district were informed about the district’s policy on sexual harassment. In addition to avoiding making sexual advances or invites of any type to anyone – male or female – we were informed that any comments or allusions to sex might be considered sexual harassment if the other party finds them offensive. To me, Lisa’s announcement fell deep in that category.
The conclusion was obvious to me, since I couldn’t predict others’ minds and how they would react to a comment, the best way was to avoid any types of reference to sex. In my view, Lisa’s mentioning of pregnancy was a flagrant reference to sex, and a clear accusation, or even the first step to file claims of child support. I had to defend myself.
Part III presents insights on how various cultures view and deal with pregnancies around the world.
Emmanuel Ngomsi, Ph.D.is President of All World Languages and Cultures, Inc. He educates and coaches on issues of cultures and diversity. He can be reached at info@universalhighways.