In December 2017, my family did what most Igbo families do in December: drive to the village. It was a full car; my parents, one brother, one sister, one boy cousin, one girl cousin and myself, of course. At some point during the journey, my father suggested we let our windows down and turn off the air conditioner to save fuel. Doing this however made it easy for the various insects that revel in the afternoon heat to get in and out of the car. Flies, dragonflies and all sorts of winged warriors buzzed in and out flying above our heads and in front of our faces. During one such attack, Timilehin (boy cousin) screamed and shrank back in fear as a dragonfly landed on his face. When this happened, my younger brother laughed and said: “why are you behaving like a woman?” If it had happened a year earlier, I would have laughed right along with him and even added a jibe of my own. Instead, I frowned and told him not to say anything like that again, much to the surprise of my father. It was not just what he said, but the way he said it; his face twisted with disgust, the words spat out of his mouth like sour fruit. The idea of being a woman irritated him.
I was brought up to see myself as superior to women. In retrospect, this was very weird because my mum worked so hard and achieved so much that it was stupid to see her as inherently inferior because of her gender. She was the one we met to solve most problems, and for three years she was all we saw because my father was in the seminary in faraway Ogbomosho. In primary school, after going through my report cards, my parents would ask if any girl came higher than I did. If the answer was yes, a sarcastic remark about letting a ‘woman beat me’ was bound to follow. I was a man, created to be the head and not the tail; all the women were created from Adam’s ribs and were therefore subject to me. I was to do manly chores like wash the car while washing clothes and plates were mostly given to the girls in the house. Whenever my mum scolded my brother and I for being dirty, it stopped at advice on personal hygiene and personal health. For my sister and cousin, the tirade extended into why it was bad for their futures because “you have to learn to clean your house when you marry”.
It was not just at home. In school, where we were meant to be enlightened, teachers scolded us for letting girls ‘beat’ us. It would have been bearable if I came twenty-eighth out of thirty students as far as the first twenty-seven students were boys. In JSS3, we had to choose between Agricultural Science and Home Economics, and I chose the latter. For two terms, I was the butt of sissy jokes because I decided to learn about cooking and washing clothes instead of doing the manlier subject and going to the farm. In Senior Secondary School, more boys went to the science and technical classes while girls came to Arts and Humanities. I loved Literature-In-English and sucked at Technical Drawing, yet I cannot count the number of times I wished that I was able to use a set square and T-Square effectively so I could be with the guys. It did not matter that I could read a poem and point out the figures of speech used and write full pages on the themes and explain what a ‘poet persona’ was. It did not matter because I did not know Faraday’s laws.
In 2015, I finished secondary school, and in January 2016, I started university. It was a disillusioning experience; all my little, ill-formed ideas about the world were swallowed up and spat back in my face. I was Jon Snow. It was here that I began to notice the many subtle ways in which I had been socialized to assume that superiority over women for no other reason than that I was a man. It was in the way I talked over my female classmates, in the way I gave them a sad patronizing smile whenever they spoke about how they were feeling. It was there when I tweeted that “Iwobi shoots like a feminist” and how I never acknowledged rape as a violationof a woman’s control over her body but instead as the actions of a weak man who did not have enough ‘game’ to convince her to sleep with him. I got upset whenever I saw a ‘men are scum’ tweet, argued against the ills of generalization on WhatsApp group chats and joined in hooting and screaming like a mad man at girls walking past my hostel. I understood how I enabled rape culture by refusing to recognize the right to a woman’s autonomy over her own body and reducing a whole human being to just sex. It was in the little jokes about women ending up in the kitchen after getting degrees and telling my younger sister to learn how to cook because her mates in northern villages were already mothers. It showed when I chuckled at and saw nothing wrong with the way Okonkwo treated his wives in Things Fall Apart.
Unlearning misogyny, like any other action to better one’s self, involves accepting some hard truths. One was that acceptingfeminism and all it stands for also means accepting that the system was skewed in my favor and that I was already advantaged in our patriarchal society for the mere fact that I was born male. Another was understanding that agreeing is one thing and supporting is another; I have to speak out whenever I see statements that belittle women and promote discrimination and sexism. I have to put my ego aside because women, old and young, have been wrecked by society and my ignorant pride is nothing compared to the years of pain they have experienced. I have succeeded in some things, and I have failed at others, but the learning and unlearning is a process; one in which I have to assess principles and discard long-heldopinions.
I am not perfect, and sometimes, without intending it, the misogyny does jump out. But I will keep trying; to educate myself and to educate others because as Adichie said in We Should All Be Feminists, “there is a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better.”