We live in an age where comment is free. With the rise of platforms that encourage the sharing of public opinion, our feelings and thoughts about issues are no longer restricted to deep meaningful conversations between friends. This has its merits and its demerits. On the one hand it is great that we are free to share our positions on a number of topics, but on the other hand you’re forced to contend with the fact that several of the people speaking are idiots, and that not all opinions are valid or even worth hearing.
Underneath an episode of Ndani television’s show, Real Talk, about whether or not women should downplay their success to keep their men is a comment that reads, “The thing is women are wicked, and when they lose it, they become very disrespectful, and will not hold back not rubbing their wealth in your face.” The problems with that statement are obvious. It is a generalisation so broad that it stretches the confines of the imagination. The next one is in the same vein. “Let’s get one thing clear first and foremost most women who have high paying jobs in the corporate world aren’t that attractive.”
It is one thing when it’s a character on Twitter, but it is another when the person speaking is an influencer on a formal platform. I was listening to a radio show called Table of Men on Coolfm, where a panel of men, and their listeners discuss a range of subjects. On the day that I tuned in, the men asked themselves if they would prefer marriages to career women or housewives. Instead of choose one or the other, they opted for a hybrid. They spoke about how women couldn’t be expected to keep to the same work schedules post marriage. They implied that women would need to adapt their lives to the marital situation. They stated that women should no longer work past 7 at night once married because food needed to be on the table. It was the classic illustration of chauvinism but they didn’t see it or care. They stripped women of their choices and sentenced them to lives of indentured servitude. They also presented the idea of difference as an affront to what it means to be African. This infuriated me.
Stereotypes about what it means to be African are both annoying and useless. Africa is not a country. We are not one people. There is no issue based identity, and if there is, we do not get to pick and choose what qualities define it. Those who publicly declare that female home-making is an African tradition with pride should do so in the same breath that they acknowledge that illiteracy, poverty, and violence are African. After all they both exist on the continent. Why should one be used to defend chauvinism and the other ignored because it challenges our current understandings of what it means to be African?
Opinions that encourage any sort of oppression are just as annoying, and I have grown tired of presenting defenses against them. I have come to realise that it is difficult to describe a pain that someone else has not felt and is unwilling to confront. Positions like the ones mentioned above are the product of ignorance. They are what they know until they know something else. If at this point you still maintain that women are best kept in kitchens, then it is unlikely that your stance will change until you meet with a situation that encourages you to reconsider. It is the same way that a staunch decrier of divorce will think twice before suggesting that his sister remain in an abusive marriage.
Inherent in our humanity is the lack of control we have over life as it exists outside us and it is this that makes sentiments such as the one expressed by the men on the radio show meaningless. If a man with a family lost his job, or got sentenced to prison, what would he ask of his partner? Would he demand that she wait for him to come through, or would he see that she would have to get on with life as best she could? Would he have her starve to protect his idea of what it means to be a man? Would he have his children suffer because his idea of what it means to be African is to leave to his wife the home building, and himself the money making? Of course, when the world moves in his favour, these aren’t things that he would seriously consider but when it doesn’t, the shit gets real. There are jobs to be done, and it doesn’t matter who does them. There are choices to be made and his biases won’t mean a thing in the face of them. There are bills to be paid and they won’t care if the account holder is an XX or an XY.
Change is coming. That much is guaranteed. Ignorance can no longer be covered by the right to free expression. When you consider that the Nigerian Female to Male labour force participation rate has risen from 50% in 1990 to 75% in 2013, you realise that it is only a matter of time before stances such as those expressed on that radio show crumble.