Feminism: What African women should know| Segun Ogunlade

Not too long ago, I was chatting with a friend that had gone home for University of Ibadan end of the session break. Midway through our chatting, she mentioned that she was in the kitchen. I thought she was the one doing the cooking for her family that night. But I was wrong. She said she was only in the kitchen because of her mother. Besides, she resented the compunction that always greeted her father’s scolding each time she is in the living room and her mother is busy in the kitchen. About helping her mother out in the kitchen, that doesn’t sound abnormal. I know of some women that wouldn’t allow any other person cook for their husbands under their roofs, including their daughters. Her mother could be like those women.

However, she said she didn’t want to be like her mother that’s always in the kitchen every evening, cooking for the family. According to her, it isn’t only the woman’s duty to cook for the family. If the husband can cook, he should be saddled with that responsibility too. Because she would be a career woman, that would mean she would often be outside her home. Thus, cooking for her husband and their children would have to be done by either her husband himself or a maid that she would hire to help her with that. She has a career to pursue and she can’t jeopardize that because of a man that could turn against her suddenly and develop a ridiculous affection for a younger girl. Besides, she maintained if a man could eat, he should be able to cook too. She ended up saying she would prepare a timetable that would see her prepare food in some days, and her husband in some others.

But I have seen a very beautiful and hardworking lady lose out on the love of her life because she couldn’t cook. Truly, she has a career and, like my friend intends to after school, is pursuing it fervently. But I told my friend that many things apart from love keep relationships and marriage going. And if she intends to get married to an African man, she should strive to learn how to make African delicacies especially as it relates to her immediate environment. A woman that can’t cook is only perceived to have a poor upbringing by her mother especially. Of course, many women are still keeping their marriage because they know how to cook for their husbands. But there is more to this discussion about men and women and whether they should be equal or not.

This type of thinking, a westernised one, is a divergence from the traditional African teaching that women are to always be in total subjection to their men. Among other things, African men and I believe other men elsewhere too, would prefer a woman with a good culinary skills to one that is without. Besides, the society has placed it a standard responsibility on women to know how to take care of the home which in no doubt includes cooking. Every traditional African man would see it as a flagrant behaviour to share domestic chores with their wives. African women should know this. No matter how modernised our thoughts are with about the person of women, the African society has stipulated some things as women thing. Men that do them are considered less of a man and in fact believed to have been hypnotized. One of such is a man cooking while his wife sits somewhere in the living room, stretches her leg and enjoying soap opera. Alongside this, some important decision making position are totally exclusive to women because they are seen as misfits. Because women are believed to have been naturally placed below men, some decisions that have a direct effect on their person are often taken without them. Many men still believe that unguided, women are not capable of making sound decisions on their own without male interference. Unfortunately, some women are continually making it so because of the way they live their lives as total dependents on the person of the person they’re married to.

In Africa here, the society frowns at every act that seems to make the wife disobedient and deliberately putting down the person of her husband. Particularly, experience has shown that African men are egotistic and chauvinistic in nature. They always go about the mantra of it’s the man’s world and they can do anything, many of which are not permissible to the womenfolk. And if they could exert their superiority over women outside their own homes, they could not exert less on the women within their walls and on whom they pay dowry of different kinds and committed to them as ‘subordinates’. Even the most sophisticated of all men African men wants to exercise control over his wife and doesn’t expect same from his wife. Perennially called the head of the house, even though many have failed to be nothing but foot of the home, they believe the control of the home should be their sole responsibility. They could veto any decision that didn’t fall in line with their beliefs.

And from time immemorial, the society has placed certain responsibilities on people of different gender. Certain behaviour are linked to a particular gender. Men have been taught to always be strong and assume leadership position both within and outside the home. They are also to be on the lookout for women under them and strive to protect them in the best way they can in every sense of the word. Women, on the other hand, are taught to be caring and inculcated with home management skills. Women are also taught to be homely so they could appear to be well brought up by their parents while men are taught to be someone that could give all the necessary care that a woman deserves, always appearing unfazed when problems arise. No matter how we try to change some of these things in the face of modernity, they can’t be changed easily. Very few men around here and elsewhere would agree they are not above women in everything.

Inasmuch as many African women are now breaking themselves from the shackles of living from the parlour the through the bedroom to the kitchen, they must be mindful of the society. The society often cast an awful gaze at a woman that is successful but fails in marriage. Here in Africa, the person of a woman is oftentimes disregarded and subjected to utter disdain if she isn’t married when she ought to. And when a woman is perceived to be ambitious or overambitious and independent, people around her often feel it’s not good for her person. For they think the status quo is for a woman to not appear not to need her husband and overtly pursuing her career more than raising a family. They say the best thing for a woman is for her to get a good husband after all her achievements. The ones that are married are taught to keep their husbands against all odds and the unmarried ones are encouraged to do so on time. It is ‘unAfricanlike’ to stay celibate. Staying celibate is seen as rebelling against nature for procreation is a natural process to ensure the continuity of the society

A sudden divergence from what the society says about the persons of man and woman are frown at by the society in its entirety. Admittedly, some of these are against the person of women. Socially, religiously, and in everywhere you turn to, women are often under-represented. For example, some religions don’t allow women to occupy clerical positions while in some, the testimonies of two women can only dislodge that of a man.

Surely, a society that believes men are superior to women wouldn’t change its precept in the coming years. It would probably take till eternity for the society to agree that men and women should be treated as equals in all fronts. No matter how the major beliefs of feminism is being preached and how humanly the message of equality of men and women is, most men wouldn’t allow themselves have equal say with a woman on the same matter. For, now the feminists should continue to pursue their ideal of making the world one in which all humans are treated equally, their gender irrespective.

Segun Ogunlade writes from Ibadan.

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