“the women of Abeokuta who serenaded the Alake into understanding that his appendage was not a sufficient mark of authority prove that in this land there is nothing new about the feminist interrogation.”
In Rousseau’s conception, the idea of shame is a largely human invention. The first human being to put on clothes and build himself a hut in which to store his worldly belongings is the cause of the first inspection man made of himself. It was the beginning of our end. In Nigeria, this being is a woman and she is always made to feel her invented shame. When she works. When she stays at home. When she cooks and cleans. When she does not cook or clean. When she is raped.
The stereotype of the Nigerian woman is she who does all that is necessary to nurture, to care for, to keep alive, well and strong all the men and dependents in her life. Rarely believed to have the capacity to independent or original thought, the ‘good’ Nigerian woman is she who does. But always for father, for brother, for husband and son. If she is worthy of praise, it is because – and only because – of the heights to which her efforts raise the men in her life. As such, she is loved; and because of this, she is a woman. Mother, sister, daughter, wife; her description is always in relation.
in response to the question: “What do you think is the prevalent cause of rape in the society?” 34% of respondents said “indecent dressing”
The phrase much wielded by the Nigerian man to keep his wife in check – “behind every successful man …” goes the drone – was not invented in this space. But we have used it to embed a shameful inequality in our societies. In the second quarter of 2015, the National Bureau of Statistics reported that a total of 19.6million people between the ages of 15 and 65 in Nigeria were either unemployed or underemployed. In both categories, women were greater affected. Where 6.9% of the population is unemployed and male, 9.6% is female. Underemployment affects 15.4% of men and 21.6% of women. There is a greater incidence of poverty among women than men. Primary school enrolment and participation is lower among females in comparison to males. Adult literacy is lower for females as compared to men. On far too many indices, women and girls are faring worse.
Although Rousseau’s understanding is far more complex than presented here – man’s role in his own demise is nearly indistinguishable from that of nature. In Nigeria, that women are the cause of all evil including that which is carried out against them is simplistically clear. In a country where marital rape is not a crime, and where in response to the question: “What do you think is the prevalent cause of rape in the society?” 34% of respondents said “indecent dressing”, it is almost pointless attempting to report official figures. Indeed, the country posts no figures on the UN’s annual statistics on sexual violence.
If she is worthy of praise, it is because – and only because – of the heights to which her efforts raise the men in her life. As such, she is loved; and because of this, she is a woman. Mother, sister, daughter, wife; her description is always in relation.
The Mirabel Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Lagos reported assisting 25 victims per month within the organization’s first 5 months of operating in 2013. The fact that rape victims also tend to be publicly shamed and punished for “inviting” their own rape, means that we can be sure that there is a gaping lag between the numbers recorded seeking help and the actual rates at which the crime is perpetrated.
There is no evidence that women in Nigeria have come anywhere near close to having equal access to opportunity in employment, wealth, or basic education; or indeed to the equal dignity and control over their persons and bodies to which every human being is entitled. Yet, any attempt by women to advance the principles of gender equality is very likely to be greeted with the cry that women are trying to take over the male domain. The notion that the feminist “agenda” in Nigeria seeks to overpower what has become a pervasive and unbalanced male dominance is a very long way off from the current reality. The being who is yet to be seen as fully human can pose no rivalry to he who is exalted as ‘Ultraman’.
This is, of course, not a ‘women’s issue’. It is a problem of societal breakdown. In an environment in which women must maintain one idealised singular form, men must logically be contorted to fit the opposing ideal. We have constructed a society in which men must value themselves and be valued on the contrivance of an absolutist understanding of hyper-masculinity. The fraction of men in our society who see it as part of their identity to be caregivers to their families beyond the provision of financial aid has become a damagingly small one.
The phrase much wielded by the Nigerian man to keep his wife in check – “behind every successful man …” goes the drone – was not invented in this space. But we have used it to embed a shameful inequality in our societies.
Women in Nigeria, as in many other societies, have for centuries, found ways to accomplish many of their desires while ensuring that the delicately imposed gender balance in their homes are not disturbed. The new feminism is a meaningless trope to millions of Nigerian women, who everyday divide themselves into a thousand pieces and seamlessly perform all the roles heaped on them by society whilst managing to fulfil their own individual goals as well. These women do not have the time to stand still to incinerate pieces of their clothing.
But the new feminism means something for the health of our societies. And it is of great benefit to our men. Men who wish to respect themselves and be respected, because of who they are as individuals and not because of the manufactured ideal of a gender. But to be valued as humans and not to be used merely as ‘men’, their partnered sex will dare to ask for the same and equal recognition in return. For many have grown impatient with having to hide the fullness of their humanities in plain sight for just as long as men are unaware. Indeed, the women of Abeokuta who serenaded the Alake into understanding that his appendage was not a sufficient mark of authority prove that in this land there is nothing new about the feminist interrogation.
We are indeed plotting. We are plotting to have the balance of our societies back; and all men are welcomed to join.