Feminism is a word that scares a lot of Nigerian men. To the average Nigerian man, feminists just want to “destroy the natural order of things” and “go against God’s plan for the world”. To them feminist women want to assume headship of their families (thereby usurping the roles of the men as head and grand commander of the family). I’ll point out why this fear is unfounded but it’s certainly an interesting viewpoint, no doubt informed both by a misunderstanding of what real feminism is and how vocal some pseudo-feminists are (I’ll come back to the pseudo-feminists in a bit). So it’s no surprise that Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie, one of Nigerias most prolific contemporary novelists/writers and a self confessed and vocal feminist doesn’t have a lot of fans amongst the Nigerian men folk not because she’s not a great writer but because she’s a feminist.
I’m a man, so it may surprise a lot of men that identify as feminist. Well maybe it would be important for me to first clarify my views on true feminism. While the essential basis of feminism is equality between the sexes, I think one core concept of true feminism is freedom of choice for women. Why do I bring up the issue of freedom of choice? Well, the fact is that while some women want a change in the status quo (those seen as feminists), other women want things to remain the same because they have learnt to live within the current societal setup, are comfortable in it and cannot imagine a life outside it. It would be inappropriate for feminists (or those society views as feminists) as it were to force a wholesale change on them as it is something they do not want. The idea of freedom of choice being paramount is that I feel women in today’s world should be free to take on and aspire to whatever roles they want within the family and society at large without being judged or condemned for it. I’ll start with a few analogies and case studies.
Back in secondary school, I was in science class. Now as far as academic performance went, the girls were better than the guys on average. Our teachers would constantly lament that it was wrong and shouldn’t be so (in the presence of the girls too), that as guys we were supposed to be smarter and more intelligent than the girls and get better grades. While I was one of the guys doing well in class, I didn’t particularly believe that line – I mean, if you cut open a guy’s skull and a girl’s skull, it’s the same one brain you’ll find. So what makes one more special than the other? Unfortunately, this kind of view impressed on some of the girls that they shouldn’t be as smart as the guys – so some of them started putting in less effort and, consequently, their grades went south. Some guys that were hitherto not as good as those girls started appearing to perform better, not because they improved or put in more effort but because the girl’s started putting in less effort and became worse.
Here’s my personal view on human beings – I feel that regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation or political and personal ideology, we can only improve as a society if each person is allowed to aspire to the highest levels of whatever field they so choose and whatever they choose to do without fear of judgement or repercussions. Till today, you still hear some women tell their daughters that fields like engineering, architecture and the likes are “for men” and they shouldn’t bother venturing in that direction. I don’t whole blame those people because, as it were, truthfully men do dominate those professions and would see a female presence as a challenge to their “natural right” to be the ones in that field and a lot of Nigerian men would do all it takes to frustrate any woman that tries to aspire to better positions in such fields.
Coming down to the domestic setting, the issue of “man at office, woman at home”, to me is extremely invalid. Let’s face it. some men would make amazing home makers and some women would make great boardroom executives but because we’re all so pre-occupied with sticking with “society assigned roles”, a man who would rather stay at home and take care of the house is deemed weak while a woman who is the family’s breadwinner is considered to be doing something inappropriate even by other women regardless of if she’s good at what she does. It’s funny though how modern life is forcing these predefined notions to change. More men are realising that their families would need more income than they can bring in alone and, as such, encourage their wives to work or at leas be involved in a trade. My personal view is that whatever roles a man and woman take in their family should be agreed upon by them both and not forced on them by society. If a woman is not comfortable with with being a housewife, then she should be free to marry a man that has no problems with her being a career person without society telling her she’s wrong for it. If a man is more comfortable staying at home and taking care of the house and the kids, then he shouldn’t be begrudged that so long as his wife has no problem with it. Society does not live our personal lives for us so, in a lot of situations, society should not dictate our personal choices so long as those it affects directly are also in agreement.
“But isn’t society also unfair to men in some cases?” I have heard some people lament. Like situations of rape, domestic abuse and sexual assault are taken more seriously for women than for men. It’s the truth, but we can’t expect women or feminists to fight that battle for men. If we men feel so strongly about such issues, then we should also start our own movement challenging society’s preconceived notions about men in such situations. Also, by and large, it’s our fellow men that choose to ignore or overlook the plight of their fellow men when these things happen. In this case it’s a change from within that we should try to enact – but we shouldn’t expect feminists to fight for that change for us. It’s like gay rights activists expecting civil rights activists to fight their battles for them – it’s not their struggle, so they really can’t be bothered.
I feel that Nigerians, Nigerian men especially should better understand feminism before forming opinions about it based on unfounded ideas.