(written by Violet Ejiata, Face of Girlpreneur)
Debates on gender roles and some gender stereotypes sidetrack the core conversation of the yolk of Feminism, which is on equal rights and privileges for both genders; to the best of my knowledge, that is the alpha and omega of Feminism.
My immediate elder sister had just moved to a boarding school, joining my eldest sister who moved the previous year. I was in primary 2 at the time. Roughly two years after, my older brother decided it was time I pulled my weight around the house. Because my sisters were mostly absent from home (they returned for holidays 3 times a year), I grew to become the caretaker of the home. At the age of 8, I was introduced to sweeping and cleaning. It was a gradual process- I started off with just the sitting room and corridor while one of my older brothers handled the courtyard because we both attended the same school and we had to be done in time to catch the 8am assembly.
Eventually, by the age of 9/10, everything was handed down to me; I swept the bedroom, living room, corridor and courtyard for Saturday sanitation. I swept so much that I’m ambidextrous with the broom.
From arguments that counter assignment of gender roles in the home, what I garner is that women raised by this yardstick that measures strength and ability for determination of functionality in the home front grow up to feel inadequate and less than their male counterparts because the primary upbringing conditions them to be so. This, of course, is very detrimental to the female and the root cause should be tackled. However, I’m yet to read or hear of an individual who has been personally affected by gender roles in the society.
So far, I’ve read of more speculative than subjective submissions. So, here is my own real experience.
I was raised in a home where the disparity on chores was drawn with a clear, fat line, like the broad walkway that was created when Moses parted the Red Sea with his staff for the Israelites to cross in the Bible- that’s how wide the line was. My sisters and I were designated to “feminine chores” which included keeping the home clean, cooking and doing the dishes. Lobatan!
My brothers, on the other hand, did all the “masculine chores” in the house which would be everything other than the three aforementioned activities e.g. washing the rug, emptying the bin, fixing faulty electrical appliances, fixing other faulty props like leaking pipes and broken stools (my father is multi-skilled so strangers rarely came to fix anything for us, and of course, his sons were obliged to join him through the process until they learned to do it without his help), operating the generator, etc. They were useful in the kitchen though- for pounding yam and Akpu (native meal made from cassava).
Gendered chores in my home are well earmarked that neither my sisters nor I were sent to buy diesel or engine oil or anything generator-related, and we couldn’t operate it either, not even one time when they bought a gen that uses a key start. The most we did was go to the generator shed, welcome it and “Daddy it’s nice o”. Lobatan! I can’t fix a lightbulb in its socket. (Sighs)
My father’s bias at the house keeping front begins and ends with gendered chores. At the academic front, everyone was drilled equally with same expectation of outstanding results! He accorded everyone equal treatment and anyone lagging in one or more subject(s) attracted extra lesson fee to his bills. You basically had no excuse to fail! My father was so unbiased that no hand could be placed on who his favourite child was.
I may be the girl who returned home after school to do dishes and wash bitterleaf till it gets bland, but my father was not the man to accept a bad result (bad here includes average result) from me or anyone. One time, he made one of my older brothers repeat a class because he was not impressed with the result even though the school didn’t require my brother to retake the session.
My father is a hard man to please, and my eldest brother was his partner in academic drilling. I must admit that these two cemented my academic foundation when I was younger. During my holidays from the boarding school, my brother would give me “assignments” to write essays and poems. I remember the very first essay I wrote, the topic was “Girl child education: a panacea to poverty reduction in Nigeria.” As an SS1 student, the word ‘panacea’ was just introduced to my vocabulary; it didn’t stop that 16/20 from getting stamped in red ink though.
The reason the anti gender role argument does not hold water is because the females in my family turned out the opposite of what proponents of this school of thought have claimed.
Apparently, my parents did not see gender, our fire was fueled to burn the hottest. Hence, I finished secondary school as the Best Graduating Student. The credibility of this feat in this context may be contested because it was a single sex school, so I’d employ a contest that involved boys. In Junior Secondary School 2, I became the Leader of the Junior Debate Team in my school (a unisex school), and I was the youngest to ever do it at the time. In 2010 (SS2), I led my school to participate in a debate competition organized by the Federal Ministry of Education to commemorate Nigeria’s Independence at 50, and was awarded the best preliminary speaker in the Northeast geopolitical zone. This competition included boys and girls from 15 Unity Colleges in the zone. My father saw and treated these as wins, not as “girl wins”.
We were raised with the notion that effort, not gender produces results. So, pardon me if my conviction supports that.
Biologically, women and men are different entities of the same unit, there is no debate about that. Hormonal and physiological components of the male child therefore, are OBVIOUSLY the motivation behind gender roles. I am a weaker vessel; I say this a lot and this is not a joke. The first time I carried 25 liter jerrycan of water from the dining tap to my hostel room in boarding school, I panted heavily enough to in seconds lose all the extra fat in my body! Need I mention the numerous breaks I took between the two ends!
Gendered chores only stem from the fact that all children are required to contribute their quota to housekeeping. Who else is gonna take care of the habitation?? It reminds me of the duty roster we maintained in boarding school where the chores were literally a DUTY because they were categorically assigned to all students per term.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, I do feel like in modern times, gender roles should be delineated according to interests rather than perceived capacity. It is no news that there are men who can cook oxygen and make it delicious!
Feminism has been so derailed in times past and it definitely feels very all over the place, so much so that defending it feels draining.
Here’s what I know for certain, the fundamental elements of this epic movement are neither erased nor tottered by gender roles, gender stereotypes and traditional gender gestures.
For instance, it is global knowledge that the colour pink is associated with the female gender while the colour blue is male-pegged. Some individuals opposing this status have claimed that the colour attributes portray women as a weaker sex.
The vital question here is, what effect do these colours have on individuals’ psyche?? Can similar effects be traced in individuals whose baby rooms were painted in a different colour? Do you even remember the colour your room was painted when you were little? ‘Cause I don’t! How has the colour of your ONE YEAR birthday dress affected your ability to set and achieve goals? These are questions we truly need to ask ourselves and answer honestly. If dire consequences are not derived from the answers to the effect of these colour stereotypes limiting a woman’s rights and privileges to succeed in the world, then, just maybe we should let sleeping dogs snore.
Imagine the confusion that would erupt if yellow balloons were popped at a baby shower. What gender would that be?? Knowing humans, same people asking “why pink” would still ask “why yellow though”?
My favourite colour is White, and there’s no way my mum would have known this prior to my delivery because I only started fancying White some two years back. Instead of over flogging gender roles and exaggerating impacts laced with fallacy, I think more energy should be geared towards addressing the nature of upbringing of a child. The family is the first point of socialization for any child, it’s only typical therefore that they grow to reflect the family’s configuration.
A friend once told me of something that happened in her family when she was younger. One of her elder brothers and elder sister were in the same class. They were both to write UTME but their father made a decision to only pay for the elder brother’s form so that he would proceed to the University first because he was a man. Mind you, the sister was even older than him.
If a child is raised in a home with disproportionate yardstick for different genders, it would indubitably affect not only the way the child sees him/herself, but also the way the child presents him/herself to the world. For instance, my brothers were groomed to be protectors and helpers. Helping has been so ingrained in them that you would see them even helping random people carry heavy stuff so long as they are female because they are already conditioned to think women are weaker vessels. I, have on the other hand, definitely made the mistake of thinking all guys are helpers because numerous times, I’ve been hit with the reality check that the next dude is nothing like my brother.
“I think holding the door shouldn’t be gender because we should open the door for everyone. I hold the door for men and women. I have trouble with the idea of holding the door for a woman because she is a woman; because chivalry is the idea that women are somehow weak and need protecting but we know that there many women who are stronger than men”. ~ Chimamanda Adichie
Sometimes, high profile personalities forget to clearly state the difference between their personal fancies and the concepts that drive feminism. A classic example is this Chimamanda’s controversial tweet quoted above.
In my honest opinion, this is a personal perspective of a traditional gender gesture and it should NOT be treated as feminist ideals that should be cast in gold. If no one gets hurt in the process, why then is it an issue of concern, enough to be expressed and enforced? It is rather unsettling that because Chimamanda Adichie is a renowned feminist, even her most remote thoughts with regards to gender stereotypes including notions which in my opinion derail the essential nucleus of the movement are treated as words on marble. As a globally renowned and celebrated flag-bearer of the campaign, I think she should be able to sift her personal perspectives on small beers from core feminist principles.
The problem is, she probably doesn’t even recognize the difference, hence cloaking all her prejudices with Feminism.
For instance, I personally do not grasp the rationale behind a man purchasing three rings-the engagement ring and 2 wedding rings. He bought the engagement ring to engage the woman, he’s gonna buy the wedding ring to say “I do” to her, why isn’t she the one to buy the ring she wants him to say “I do” to her with?
I’m not attaching this to feminism because this genuinely has no business playing on that playground. I’m indicating instead, that my stance stems from my fancies. I want to walk into the ring store myself, and after critical analysis, select a ring that I believe will remind my husband of me. I’d emboss on it words that he’ll be pleased with till death do us part. I just need him to understand that when I saw the ring in the showroom, I thought it would look better on the finger of the father of Viola. But then, that’s just Violet Ejiata. Integrating it into the grand scheme of an age-long, well-defined campaign would indubitably be a stretch.
Similarly, some socio-cultural practices in my opinion, should be left to lie like sleeping dogs in cases where they cause no harm to anyone. For instance, some sect contest the Yoruba and Igbo traditional marriage custom of brides kneeling to their husbands to present kola or palm wine.
Where is this same energy when the congregation only rises upon entrance of the bride into the Church? Are the men suddenly less significant or invisible?? It’s even a wonder why no one has tried to suggest that ladies should be allowed to wear black to weddings since men wear black suits too.
I consider it pertinent to point out that even the Nigerian Law protects individuals (male and female) from harmful customs e.g. forfeiture of an intestate man’s property by his widow without a male child which hitherto obtained in the Igbo custom, annulled by the Repugnancy Doctrine.
Truth be told, it was hardly surprising when Teni’s tweet surfaced on my Instagram timeline. It was rather agitating that such benighted expression would be made by a woman. Why mock the very cause that’s afforded you a voice? If you won’t support a cause, it’s best not to sabotage it. Regardless, I’m of the opinion that this ignorant statement wouldn’t have been made if the focus hadn’t been shifted by Feminism frontline advocates from the compass of equal gender rights. As women, we really should have a uniform front against the pervasive inequality in our society.
Feminism is really just about promoting a level playing field so all genders would be afforded same opportunities politically, socially, economically, legally, educationally, to ensure everyone can thrive in an unbiased world. The imbalance only favours one gender which is why naturally, the aggrieved gender is championing the cause to demand what is due to them.
Gender roles are like a pedestrian platform on both sides of the highway (where gender rights constitute the highway). Feminism is the vehicle- it plies on the highway to arrive at its destination. Attempting to ply the pedestrian platform would not only cause damage to the car, but also hurt the driver.