#MissingPieces is our study on cultural issues affecting African countries and how we can direct them in more conscious directions.
The African society is one that that attempts to cling tightly to tradition and claims to be extremely religious. Furthermore, in this society, the structure of the family unit is very simple. The man is to be the head of the home, the woman is to submit to him and the children are to obey both. And to be honest, this structure is quite a familiar one, not only from an African perspective but also from the perspective of many other Eastern and Western cultures.
However, gender roles are not something that ended in the home. It spread out to determine the socio-political and economic positions men have had in relation women, which has consistently been one of dominance and advantage.
As a result, in the global sphere, women who became tired of being seen as less than a man, developed and looked onto feminist ideologies thus creating arguments and narratives that pushed for gender-equality.
Of course, this was met with resistance as individuals with privilege will never willingly give up their advantages in society without a fight. Regardless, global feminism often won against the opposition and has managed to establish relative change in more or less three waves.
The first wave of feminism started around the early 19th century and continued till the early 20th century. During this period, global feminists fought to overturn legal inequalities that women faced in relation to men. Women wanted to have political influence and a voice in elections and because of the Suffragette movement, they got it.
The second wave of feminism occurred between the 1960s and lasted till around the 1980s. During this period, the feminist debate began to include discussions about cultural inequalities between women and men and generally arguments against gender roles.
However, from the perspective of the average African woman, it is difficult to say that in our society, we have moved past the debates that are being chalked down as being mostly concluded for feminists in other parts of the world. This perspective is one of many that has been highlighted in the third wave of feminism, which arguably started from the 1990s and has lasted till date.
In this wave, many have come to identify that feminism worked the best for a particular set of women, during those earlier periods, than it did for other women. In my opinion, those who make this argument are not wrong considering the socio-economic position minorities and the colonised had in comparison to the average white-western woman and the African society is definitely one of many societies within which feminists find themselves stuck in the second wave of the movement.
In Africa, most women arguably have the same amount of economic and political power as the men, but still, this is undercut by the lack of social power the society permits them to have.
Being a woman is more than being a man’s sidekick and men as well as our society in general, need(s) to recognise that.
It would not be a surprise to hear a majority of Nigerian men argue that a woman’s place is behind her husband and that while she is free to assert her economic and political rights, it should not be in anyway that is disrespectful to the head of the house.
For many women, this is a paradoxical position that puts them in an uncomfortable bubble with no sign of an escape due to the fact that these women find themselves having to follow an extremely high standard set for how they may live their lives.
Women in this position find themselves being contributors to the economic stability of the home as well as then being a mother to all, a wife, a nanny, cook, and counsellor to her significant other. And others who cannot meet this standard set for their gender are looked down on, or deemed unmarriable.
A woman could have a well paid, 8–10-hour job and still be expected to return home and be the housewife. According to an extreme most, it is a duty which even the Bible and Quran attests to women and going against the responsibilities God has given is like going against God himself.
Additionally, men are permitted to run free in their youthful days while women are to construct their daily lives around the prospect of someday becoming a wife and a mother.
Even more, any slight deviation from the rules set for a young woman causes her to become spoiled fruit meanwhile, her male counterpart could go as far as to make deals with the devil but as long as he repents on time, he deserves any woman he wants.
This has allowed for the growth of both internalised misogyny, i.e a prejudice against women, by women themselves and external misogyny by men. Furthermore, as a result, men are spoiled by the society while women are strictly disciplined.
A man could put his girlfriend or wife through emotional and even physical abuse and the instinctive reaction by the community will be to ask the woman what she did wrong.
Also, the way a woman dresses or asserts herself could be in the eyes of society the reason why she becomes a victim of any kind of sexual assault rather than the blame being on the man who chose to assault the woman.
Even in the eyes of the law a woman could be treated more favourably or excessively punished for a crime just because of the fact that she is of the female gender.
All of these are just a tip of the iceberg of the problems that come about as a result of assigning gender roles and discriminating between a man and a woman.
People love to argue that men and women are unequal so we have no right to demand socio-political or socio-economic equality, but the fact is they base this gender inequality on the difference in the biology of a man and a woman which frankly is a poor evaluation.
Inequality in this day and age and even in our historical past, cannot be determined based on anatomy because both genders have needed each other to survive. How can one gender therefore be the superior gender when without the other, it would die out?
The historical reason behind gender roles according to Ester Boserup is really simple and honestly, has nothing to do with religion or culture.
At least in Nigeria or the societies that existed before the country’s creation, gender roles were assigned based upon the ability of one gender to acquire the food and resources. The Nigerian communities were agricultural-based communities and in them, men were hunters and women were gathers who also had the ability to continue the family line, so it makes sense that the woman’s place was in the home and the man’s place was on the hunt.
Also and very arguably because of the power a family name had over access to land or resources, rules had to be put in place to protect women from men who wanted to take advantage of their ability to have kids.
Nevertheless, these days, in African countries, although family name matters, it only matters just as much as how much a family has in the bank. We are now a modern society and have departed from living in a ‘State of Nature’ which according to Thomas Hobbes is a state where we are in a more brutish war of all against all for land and resources. Therefore, the need for gender roles matters just as much as the need to have a town crier deliver our daily news.
One thing most people fail to understand about feminism is that it is not a movement designed to completely restructure how you live your life. It is just a movement asking you to give women the same equality of opportunity that men have.
A modern day woman has the ability to work as a modern day man can. She has to potential to get involved in jobs that a modern day man would do. She does not need to produce children to have value, especially in this overpopulated world. She can understand political discourse and has economic power and therefore, there is no need for society to keep her socially subjugated.
Regardless of what happens in society, there are still many women who want to be submissive in their home, for either religious or cultural reasons or just because for them, it is just easier to have one partner be the head and the other the backbone and there is nothing wrong with this. However, not all women want this and those that don’t believe they will enjoy living as a submissive to anyone deserve the freedom to choose a different path. All we ask as feminists, is that society permits the latter group to do this without any bias.
Men get to live in our communities as individuals separate from their gender, all women ask is that we get this right as well. Women want to be seen as people first, we don’t want to be demonised when we do things as men do, we don’t want to be looked down on because motherhood isn’t for us, we want respect and freedom from being looked at as just plain reproductive organs and potential nannies to children.