This is one topic in which you might not possibly fail to court controversy, it is a path of toes and you cannot walk without stepping on them, and since I intend to run here, surely toes will be crushed. Need I also say that diplomacy would demand that I say my mind without hurting anyone? The analogy of this would be to cut a pound of flesh and yet spill no blood. No, not with any surgical precision can this be guaranteed, and now I proceed in good company.
Perfection does not exist in the same world as improvement, for one would always kill the other, more so in a topic as complex, maybe complicated, as to do with women. Here, I admit my imperfection, at best I am a decent improver.
Long before Shaggy sang it, I had always thought that God was a woman. For the Jamaican musician, he ‘wondered’, but for me as a little boy whose definition of care, protection, fondness and warmth could hardly be found outside his mother’s embrace, I KNEW God was a woman. It presented itself as a rude reprimand when it began to get clear to me that God isn’t a woman (and isn’t a man too), and though my lifetime wouldn’t be enough a time to know who God really is, it has been a schooling knowing women all these years, but with knowledge, perhaps nothing can be entirely known.
Women have held the world in place, birthed the home, the house and its builder, the porter and his clay, the artist and his brush. For every human who has walked this Earth, a woman pushed, yes, the pangs of childbirth, a painful experience some compare to immolation: women burn themselves to bear others. They are the first teachers of the child, the first guide of every human in this blind world. But soon this baby, a girl named Nnedi, is introduced into the harsh realities of feminine existence in our world... She is the first child, she sees her mother put to bed five more children in the next eight years, all daughters. she notices her father's increasing disappointment with the continued birth of daughters. On a very bad day, she comes home to her crying mother, the woman had been beaten for not having a male child. It is still not coming to this girl, she has encountered boys at school and there doesn't seem to be much fuss about them, or such hype that her mother should be crying for not having a son. It hasn't come to her how much of no value her father held his six daughters that he is now considering getting another wife just to give him a son.
Finally, her mother gets pregnant and over the next few months would go from one prayer house to another asking God for a son. Nnedi is growing bigger and is gaining the basic understanding that comes with age, so amidst the celebration when her mother put to bed a baby boy at the end of nine months, Nnedi is in much reflection and wonder. She is wondering why her father killed a big ram to celebrate, she is wondering why visitors wouldn't stop coming and she is wondering why none of these happened at the birth of any of her five sisters. Nnedi sees that the boy is treated with special care and honour, such that any of the girls isn't getting. Nnanna, the boy, wouldn't have to do house chores because they were meant for girls and he would just have to be groomed to inherit their father's legacies and wealth. However, Nnedi and her sisters wouldn't need much investment, as, in the words of their father, they would still be married off to other men, to breed and nurture children. He believed that his daughters should learn how to keep a home so that they wouldn't be problems to their husbands' homes.
Nnedi is soon getting uncomfortable, she can't understand why she should one day leave her father's house to another man's house, drop her surname and pick up the man's, and live the rest of her life at his pleasure, subject to all his desires, demands, whims and caprices. She can't understand why even the reverend at Church would spend his sermon teaching women to be subject to their husbands and call them Lord like Sarah. She can't understand the profiling, why female sexuality is often the subject of ridicule: 'Beware of strange women, the daughters of Jezebel'. She can't understand why a woman's worth is sometimes screened through the lens of what value she adds to a man's life, yes, if she cannot cook she is not a wife material, if she can't do this or that she is not this or that, and if she is not married she is not complete.
Nnedi remembers Linda, the senior business executive, a frontline entrepreneur who before her engagement had been judged for years in the jury of public opinion and her only blemish was not having a man in her life. Nnedi looks North, and sees Aishattu living with the other women in her father's harem. They are mostly covered up, and often denied education which is haram. And their entire existence is for the purpose of satisfying a man. Nnedi gapes as Aishattu is being married off at thirteen years to Mallam Nuhu, she whimpers as Aishattu puts to bed at fourteen and is soon down with VVF. Nnedi can't understand why this should be, why the men in Al Jannah would get seventy two virgins as reward: seventy two women whose eternal purpose would be to serve one man. Who would serve the women? Nnedi asks.
Nnedi has a case, a good case, a feminist case. She wants to see the dignity of a woman recreated. She wants the role and position of a woman redefined. That is as far as it goes with Nnedi.
In several cultures, liberal and conservative alike, we would always find women who are dissatisfied with the status quo, women who believe that the stereotypes and profiles under which women have been made to live should be dismantled and a new framework established. Often times we find them engaging in different aspects of activism to demand for a better deal. However, method, is as important as purpose, and when undefined purpose cannot tell a spear from javelin, in method, sports becomes war. Here we find perhaps the biggest problem with feminism, no not the men, who are often erroneously considered the enemy, but rather feminism itself, what it means to one and to all. It doesn't need an extensive research to discover that many feminists do not even know what they fight for. Some are because their friends or heroines are, and when it is not mob mentality it is plain misandry.
The problem continues, that even for those who believe they know and can properly define their own feminism, what feminism is to one is different from what it is to another to the end that there is hardly a consensus anywhere in the world on what feminism is just as 1+1=2. That is as far as theories go, but beyond theories, by their fruits we shall know them and we can see the invisible winds in the dance and sway of palms and branches. A person's actions speak volumes and so has militant feminism. There are some whose mindset empties entirely into actions that show more loathe for men than love for women, like in the words of Golda Meir, Arabs who would know no peace until their love for their children is more than their hate for Jews. This breed of feminists cannot differentiate between sameness and equality, and would oftentimes infer that women are same as men, consequently rolling over several fallacies as they try to argue out their points.
The difference between men and women spread from emotional to physiological details and understanding and appreciating these differences have created high cultures where women are treated as ladies and men as lords. Yes, it is by understanding these differences that men open the car door for their ladies and walk them down the stairs. It is in that same understanding that we say 'ladies first' almost as an article of faith.
Yes, chivalry isn't dead, and it was born by this understanding. Yes, ideally, men should treat women with such honour and respect that this understanding demands, and more importantly respect is reciprocal. But, somehow, a certain feminist orientation would rather have men and women struggle on the same queue for train tickets, or bread ration during a famine, bearing in mind the physical strength advantages that the man possesses over women and undermining them. Anything outside of this would suggest to her the obvious relative physical weakness of women, which is as clear as the sky on a bright day. At the same time, this breed of feminists would criticize the man for having no shame for raising his hands to hit a woman.
'Coward,' they would say to the man, 'you dare hit a woman.'
Talk about eating one's cake and having it back. It’s all militant feminism, all guns and thorns until it’s time to pee, and she says ‘ladies first’, or rebukes the man for being ungentlemanly because he didn’t open the car door for her, again we fetch the ground with questions; should women be relieved of their traditional responsibilities but men retain theirs and all the trappings of chivalry? Does the woman become a King (not Queen) and the man remain the King’s guard? If things change should things not change with them?
Another aspect of feminism found among another certain breed is a chronic victim mentality: the idea that the system has singled women out for mockery, marginalization and damnation. Why should women do the chores? Why should women be sexually objectified? Why should women drop their surnames for their husbands'? Why this and why that? And while some of these concerns are legitimate others are plain sick.
I once came across a feminist who questioned why women should give birth, saying that child birth is rape, in her words 'the baby rapes the mother from inside out'. Such are the thoughts of these ones, 'We are victims, everyone despises us, everyone uses us, even babies rape us.' Just negodu. Of the legitimate concerns, it should also not be forgotten that men could ask 'Why should men work at the mines? Why should men pay the dowry? Why should, especially in the Nigerian context, a man be considered not fit to marry if he has no job but no one raises an eyebrow when a jobless girl walks into a wealthy man's house by the certificate of marriage?' For almost every legitimate feminist concern, men have got there struggles too. It is the system, it is the table bending here and there.
However, truth must be said that this table seems to be tilted to masculine advantage. While chivalry isn't dead yet, male chauvinism is alive and well, and it stares us in our faces almost everyday. We are at a fancy Night club in Benin City, a group of boys walk in, rich and spoilt, they park their fancy cars outside the establishment and walk in with swag. Then they order for costly alcoholic beverages, and then one roars with a hoarse voice 'Where are the ladies at?!' Yes, there is that smack of entitlement in his voice, that arrogant exclamation at nobody. Soon a group of girls catwalk in, their skimpy clothes would go off one after the other till almost nothing is left to the imagination, each boy takes two or three of them for himself, he spends the night between gulping his wine, sucking his shisha and groping the girls' generous bodies. To him they are almost not human, they are almost the playthings of his hormones, almost as useful as a bottle of André or a shisha pipe, basically they are things to him.
But who do we blame? The boys that need the girls to make their nightout complete or the girls that would so generously throw their bodies around the boys? Who should complain? Is it Iti Mpataka, who is typically minding his business or the feminist who is angry at the boys for having no respect for the girls and their bodies but would say nothing to the girls for having no self respect?
Yes, we should talk of how Europe underdeveloped Africa but we should also talk of how Africa underdeveloped Africa. We should talk of male chauvinism but we should also talk of how women have helped it survive. How often in the university campus does a boy invite a girl over to cook for him and how often she doesn't say no? How often would he overtime make such demands? How often would he thus believe that he can always make such demands of any other girl? How often do girls get invited to hotels and they would gladly go, often times taking their friends with them? How often does this make the man believe that women are cheap and willing? Truth is ideas are fed by realities, and most women have not helped these realities. Most men believe in the superiority of men because most women have acted out inferiority.
Here I should say that discussing feminism is very difficult when what it is is different from what it should be. Again I suggest that mission is as important as vision, and that the mission of feminism for the most part is deceptively detached from what the vision should be. The vision should be to balance the table and not to turn it. It should not be for women to have the table tilted to their advantage and to the disadvantage of men, that would be inheriting the load side on the lever of a skewed system, it would be a turned table but still a table. Yes under that system women would become kings and men would become palace maids, it would be revenge but like feminism now, it would be a matter of time before men start 'masculinism'.
History has shown that oppressed puppies become the vengeful hounds of a turned table, imagine the early days of Nazism in Germany, or the Bolsheviks in Russia and the Fascists in Italy, the picture at the beginning often contrasts with the picture at the end. In all a turned table is bad news, a balanced table is not. Feminism should be able to design a vision and mindset that is realizable without man-hating. It should pursue a balanced table, a system that recognizes and respects our gender differences, it should pursue a system where men are lords and knights and women are no less ladies and amazons, not whores.
In its mission feminism should love women and not hate men, it should work on the self-esteem of women. A woman who starves herself because she doesn't want to be 'fat', as defined by trend, is as much at home with low self-esteem as a woman who feels intimidated by a man, they are both the same all the same. Feminism should teach women to be hardworking and to strive to succeed on their own as it is odd putting on a pair of shoes, blouse and skirt, jewelry and undies all bought by a boyfriend or sugar daddy and remaining a feminist as we know it. Hardly would people treat you better than you treat yourself, thus feminism should also teach women to have respect for themselves first so that others can respect them so.
Redefining the woman's position in society has gone a long way over the years, and this is an ongoing process which may never end. For example, in Christianity, for years women were not allowed to hold certain positions or participate in certain things, but the lively hands of continuous reformation have allowed women more freedom in Christianity, whereas two thousand years ago Saint Paul was saying that women should have no authority over men in the Church and should be in silence, two thousand years after women are pastors and bishops, presiding over men. Sudden change is often calamitous. Gradual change is often effective and with less casualty, but most times people are impatient to let a season run its course. We should all be patient as we seek a balanced table so that we may eat upon it with malice towards none and goodwill towards all.
A question persists however, the sameness of man and woman has been addressed, but to what extent can we say that they are equal? I would say that they are equal and opposite like action and reaction, one the king of his world, the other the queen of her world, and both worlds existing together would always have clashes. My firm belief also is not that what a man can do a woman can do better, but that what a man cannot do, a woman was designed to do.
_ Okwuchukwu Augustine Ndulue.