An Apology For Womanhood
I posted quotes by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, on my Facebook Timeline earlier today. All day, the quotes rolled through my mind like a refrain to a sad love song. And as I navigated thick traffic in Abuja, Nigeria’s equivalent of Washington, it hung like a wet blanket alongside my cranky baby’s cries. Hunger and exhaustion made me extra tense. I turned the radio on just in time to hear the anchor dispense advice to a caller who was seeking help for a floundering marriage and periodic punches from her husband.
“You know men have egos. You just have to stoop to conquer. Avoid behaviours that anger him. If he tells you to stop serving dinner late, you too, get home earlier!”
‘Softening,’ he concluded by recommending she watch her tone and find opportune moments to discuss issues with her husband.
We raise girls to cater to the fragile egos of men.
Seconds later, my car rocked from the impact of a danfo bus running into the passenger-side door where my baby was seated. The driver had been trying to shunt the traffic queue. Rage propelled me out of my car. He sauntered out of his bus muttering, “Na woman sef.”
My fury grew as he unrepentantly argued with me and as he spat, “Hey! Mistake na mistake. I get your type for house! Don’t talk to me anyhow! Na so you dey talk to your husband for house?”
Bystanders advised me to calm down. “Shebi you know he is a man,” one of them counseled.
We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller.
When we finally made it home, the water heater failed. I needed the electrician, Mr. Kehinde, to repair it. However, I couldn’t call him because he has issues taking instructions from women. So I rang my husband who was 800km away to call the electrician who was 4km away, and tell him to fix the heater.
Later, a friend called me to lament her experience at the police station where she had gone to bail a neighbour. The officer in charge had laughed in her face and told her that because she is a woman, she was not qualified to bail anyone. My friend, a medical doctor, then had to get her driver who has a secondary school-leaving certificate, to post bail. She was bitter and vented for a long time.
Each time they ignore me, I feel invisible. I feel upset. I want to tell them that I am just as human as the man, that I am just as worthy of acknowledgement. These are little things but sometimes it’s the little things that sting the most.
Earlier in the evening, I listened to my aunt counsel my cousin whose husband is cheating on her and doling money he wouldn’t spend on his family, on his mistress.
“Just keep your home. That’s what I know. You will not be the first woman. Men stray, they return. Just ensure he continues to eat your food and don’t deny him sex. Don’t let silly girls who have not suffered with him snatch him from you.”
We teach females, that in relationships, ‘compromise’ is what women do. We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs, or for accomplishments — which I think can be a good thing — but for the attention of men.
And then she turned to me, “I hear you are applying for PhD again. . . come, what are you looking for? You just want to compete with your husband ehn! The poor man does not have a Masters, now you are ready to lord PhD over him abi? Continue! That’s your cousin struggling right there. You don’t have problems; you want to create some for yourself with your own hands. Already, don’t you earn more than him? My dear . . . ”
We say to girls, “You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you would threaten the man.
Just before I turned in for the night, I visited Facebook. Four angry rants filled the comment section under my post. Their lowest common denominator? Women were marginalized in Nigerian society but that narrative has since changed. Citing a few trailblazers, they maintained that today’s women are just as empowered as men are. So quotes like Adichie’s only promote mischief.
I shook my head sadly. I didn’t respond. No. I shut down and kept my angst to myself. As I drifted off, I wondered why my society would showcase exceptions as the norm while women remain second-class citizens in the pecking order. Why, in spite of clear opportunities to change the status quo, do we continue to look the other way? A society that is blind to the lived experience of roughly half its population is a sorry excuse, an apology for woman empowerment.
We’ve got a long way to go baby. But maybe, just maybe, tomorrow will bring us a new song if we open our eyes.
Abiodun Baiyewu is a lawyer, human rights activist, and feminist with a strong interest in medical jurisprudence and reproductive health.
Watch Amy Schumer’s video which inspired the series.
Photo credit: Unsplash/ https://pixabay.com/en/girl-sad-crying-raining-rain-drops-690327/
©Timi Yeseibo 2015
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