A couple of people and I from my university are doing our teaching practice at this school and there are these two boys that just get on my nerves because of all the entitlement they have. For a while, they would keep telling the women in the group, “O you made a hit,” meaning Your outfit is hot, and it pleases me, and they kept going make sure you “make a hit” again. This went on for a while and it slowly drove me crazy until I told them to stop saying it as it’s offensive and an objectification of women. Long story short they started yelling that they can say whatever they want, that there’s nothing wrong with it and I’m the immature one. At some point during this argument, the thought crossed my mind that “feminism in Nigeria is dead and has no hope of being revived.” In my head I’d already starting making plans for escape to another planet or reality where there is freedom for women.
As a feminist living in Nigeria, I can’t begin to explain just how frustrating it is trying to educate people on the importance of equality. Nigeria is a country that wants to hold tightly to religion and culture. It is a country built on a patriarchal structure. We have revered the man and held him at such high esteem that we have turned him into a god. A lot of people will reject the idea of feminism, believing that it’s not a ‘Nigerian’ thing. If this is true, it’s largely because Western gender ideologies were pushed onto our existing cultures through colonization. It is ironic that Nigerians believe that in our culture and our traditions the man is the leader of the house and the wife the subservient servant. She should be submissive and not allowed to have her own opinions. He refuses to see and accept that the woman can be and is more than a wife and mother. In truth this patriarchal system was introduced to us by our colonizers. It’s funny that submissiveness is encouraged in girls, when our history is full of powerful women who have fought the good fight for Nigeria and helped shape Nigeria into what it is today.
Girls are taught from the start that they are less than the man, that they should aspire to please the man, accommodate the man and that is why some Nigerian women will say things like “If you’re a girl and you don’t know how to fry plantain, you’re a disgrace.” We have told generations of girls they should learn how to cook and clean to make their husbands happy, and generations of boys to “man up” when they cry, perpetuating dangerous gender roles. The boys have been taught to be manly, strong and to not show weakness. When men come forward with experiences of rape and sexual assault, it’s discredited as impossible. Sexual assault is any type of forced sexual behavior that happens without consent and the idea that a man would be forced into sex by a woman in a violent way is seen as ludacris. Not because it is seen as a sign of weakness but because it is often thought that men want sex all of the time and it is all they think about so the idea that a man would reject sex and subsequently get raped isn’t considered a thing (but look at me reaching so far, we rarely even believe women when they speak on their experiences either). Vulnerability is seen as inherently feminine and completely discouraged in boys, because it is thought to emasculate them. My friend Haneefa describes it as our “generational responsibility to unlearn this belief” and teach boys and society in general to accept and embrace the entirety of their identities.
The subjugation of women is so far reaching that our president made a comment on an international news channel responding to his wife’s statement that she may not support her husband’s second term if he continues to run the country the way he currently is. Muhammadu Buhari said, “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and Other room”– literally insinuating she didn’t have the right to have an opinion and that she belonged to him, and existed to satisfy him.
There are a lot of misconceptions about feminism in Nigeria. You walk into a room and say you’re a feminist and you literally hear the groaning and muttering that these trouble makers with no husbands have come again. A popular criticism is that feminism is all about man-hating (even though radical feminist Robin Morgan would argue that man-hating is the right of the oppressed class to hate the class which is oppressing them), which ignores the complex ways misogyny denies us our freedoms. Feminism is about (among many other things) making sure women get paid, treated fairly, aren’t slandered because they are successful or referred to as sluts or ashewo because they are sexually active. It’s about making sure men aren’t referred to as being weak or unmasculine because they are being sensitive. It’s about freedom from institutional barriers: the feminist writer Joy Bewaki describes feminism as “a push behind the girl child, a motivation to strive and not be made to feel inadequate for denying traditions and certain social stereotypes that try to place boundaries for girls.”
If you are not sure about feminism, or are a feminist who wants to expand their knowledge about how feminism can and has manifested itself: take time to read articles and books, watch talks and documentaries centered on feminism. Think about it this way: why should your gender be a weapon against you? Why shouldn’t you get that job or be allowed to say that thing, or cry, or dress that way because of constructed categories? Consider the injustice of this, then gather your things from the anti-feminist corner and hightail it to the feminist corner, we’ll welcome you with warm hugs, and a feeling of value.
P.s: This is an article I wrote for wahalazine. This is incomplete and you can read the full version and other brilliant articles, fiction and poems by clicking here.
Pp.s: All images except the featured image were gotten from tumblr.