A well-meaning man recently said to me, “Make sure you don’t get a PhD before you marry o, or you’ll drive potential husbands away”. His friend, who was a part of the conversation, concurred and then he said “you know, when you tell women not to buy cars before they are married, they don’t listen until they can’t find husbands to marry”. He wasn’t joking. I also recently read about a lady who sold her car and house and gave up a mega job for a modest one so she could find a husband to marry. I laughed till my afro ached but then it’s not a laughing matter. The other day, I had an argument with a male colleague who had actually wronged me but wouldn’t agree. Rather than prove himself right or simply apologize, he said “can you imagine you, a woman, talking to me, a man”. Check. I was supposed to shut up before him on the mere grounds that he is male and I am female! Many times, a girl gets raped and instead of outrightly treating a rape case as one, we say, “what was she wearing?”, “where was she?”, “why was she out at that time of night?” “Doesn’t she know she’s a girl? “,”eh, it’s what she wanted”. But does the world have to be so unsafe for girls? I have often heard people say of the woman, in cases of marital issues, “maybe she is not submissive, she is probably rude”, “she won’t cook on time, what do you expect the man to do?” “Imagine, her husband will be feeding and bathing the baby. What is she doing? What kind of thing is that?” Now, this is not to excuse the woman from the responsibilities that come with these issues or to say that women are never guilty or to suggest that all fingers begin pointing at the man but to question why we almost always impulsively blame the woman as though all marital conflicts were a woman’s fault. And wait a minute, what’s wrong with a man feeding and bathing his baby? Do we also know that Section 55 of the Nigerian penal code actually permits a man to beat his wife “for the purpose of correcting his wife, such husband and wife being subject to any native law or custom in which such correction is recognized as lawful” as long as grievous bodily harm is not caused where grievous bodily harm is defined as injuries resulting to hospitalization for at least 21 days? This means that if bodily harm were caused resulting in hospitalization for a lesser number of days than 21, it would be lawful. But this is obviously not a question of whether or not grievous bodily harm is caused but a question of why a man should be permitted to beat his wife at all. To get new passports in my country, women need their husbands’ signatures to certify husband’s approval. The same doesn’t go for the man. Why? Because the woman is less important?
Now these are only a few of the burdens we unnecessarily place on ourselves on account of gender but I imagine how free we would be if we let unprofitable stereotypes go and focus on who we are rather than who we have been taught that we must be.
But then, I sit here knowing that there’s a root to every issue. The problem of gender inequality is one that has been raised by a conscious socialization. They say males are inherently proud and females, inherently passive. I disagree! Because I’ve seen otherwise. We teach girls to be passive and weak and domesticated and slavishly submissive. We teach them to have moderate aspirations so they don’t threaten the man and hence financial dependence, and to remember that the greatest achievements of their lives would be to get married and have kids (and yet male kids. Yes! In many places, till today). We teach them to guard virginity with fear and trembling in order to win the applause of men (not for moral or spiritual uprightness) and because it’s the most precious gift a girl can give to her husband on her wedding night (husbands don’t have a need to offer this gift). My mother would say “If you let them, when they have finished with you, they would tell their fellow men that you are mere chaff and no other normal man would want you”. But then I wonder why only one party has to bear the consequences of a crime committed by two parties and why one party can proudly announce their crime when the other has to cover their face in shame. And wives! How dare you tell a full blooded African man to dish his own soup and eba and probably get some for you. And then we teach boys to know, that they can’t be weak and cry like a girl (herein lies the degradation of the female) because they are men and men don’t cry, to always remember that they are the stronger sex (where physical strength has been largely abused). We teach them that high aspirations are their birth rights (this is not a bad thing but why do we try to deprive girls of the same?) and that in every way, they are superior to the girl. We teach them to be insecure when we teach them ego and then we say it’s inherent. But may we know, that in the subjugation of women, we contribute greatly to depriving our Africa of a free flow of development, that the suppression of women and our refusal to rise against it have earned us increased rates of sexual and domestic violence, STIs and poor agricultural output which stems from unequal accessibility of resources and opportunities between men and women. Lucretia Mott has rightly said that “the world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of woman, the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source”. But I look forward to the emergence of great nations where the determinant of fair chances and human freedom does not depend on the arrangement of chromosomes, where boys and girls can aspire to the same things without the fear constructed by society, where women can be strong and still feel, where boys are allowed to cry, to be weak sometimes and be strong men still and where people have the courage not just to raise daughters like sons but to raise sons also like daughters.
Oh and I hear voices saying “this issue has been over flogged” but need I remind anyone that the equality of the sexes which is long overdue has not yet been achieved.