Exploring patriarchy in the Nigerian home.
Often times, I sit and explore my place in the world and how it fits in with the different expectations and classifications of society. As a Nigerian woman, I have noticed that I am intentionally and unintentionally urged to be a secondary role player in the show that is ultimately mine: my life.
From childhood to early adulthood, the woman is urged to see herself as someone who belongs to a fold in a bigger picture; never fully in control of her life or decision. A great example of this is the transition from “Father’s house” to “Husband’s house”.
A woman who is in her pre-teens is constantly reminded the importance of grooming herself and preparing herself for this ‘husband’ figure way before he is even allowed to exist in the picture, as many girls are not allowed to date at this point in their lives.
Therefore, from a young age the primary role player in the goal of self-development is this imaginary male figure in our lives that doesn’t even exist yet. That brings up a very necessary question:
Is self-fulfillment a concept if it is not explored in the context of being enough for men?
As a Nigerian woman, the kitchen is a great place to start exploring patriarchy. I had many elderly figures in my life use the phrase “what are you going to do when you get to your husband’s house?” when questioning my lack of interest in cooking or the fact that I hated chores with a burning passion. To be honest, I did my fair share of ducking and weaving to avoid grimey plates that piled up in the kitchen sink after Sunday brunch, but one thing I noticed was that the same expectations were not placed on male counterparts. Specifically, my brother.
My brother, thankfully, was blessed to have two arms and legs as I did but was hardly ever called upon to cook for the family when mom had needed to enjoy the beautiful comfort of solace and rest after a harsh Lagos day. I didn’t realize the problem with this until I was away at college and we realized on FaceTime he couldn’t fry plantain: the entry level cooking item of the average Nigerian. At this point I had already started exploring the things that made me uncomfortable that I didn’t ever really have a name for, but this was a confirmation in itself that I wasn’t just being dramatic; that there were stark differences and expectations for males in Nigeria. A culture of being catered for, of being nurtured in ways that a woman was not allowed. A luxury funded by the patriarchy.
Conversations surrounding cooking in the female context were hardly every explored without a male being the focus of the conversation.
These questions were also used as a form of quality assurance in female gatherings to determine what form of daughters you as a mom had raised. I’ve never had to sit through a conversation in which my male friends or relatives were presented with a hypothetical cooking question in an effort to somehow categorize wether they are a “good man” or “bad man”.
“What would you do if your husband loves to eat amala but you can’t cook it?”
“What are you going to do if you can’t cook when you get to your husband’s house?”
In essence, what I am trying to say is cooking was allowed to be a choice for men; but for women, an expectation. As a result of all these internalized micro-aggressions, saying I couldn’t cook became a form of resistance. A way for me to take power back and steer conversations in the direction I wanted them to go. Especially for entitled males who often brought up “what can you cook?” when trying to flirt. A particularly disgusting reoccurrence.
I often wonder if the presence of predominantly female domestic help is a contributing factor to the problem or is simply a derivative of the current environment.
Cooking in itself is not a problem (sorry, I know it’s a pretty obvious statement but it is necessary to include that statement for all the people who staunchly believe feminism is about cooking); it’s about the environment surrounding women, and how we treat women even as women ourselves. Internalized misogyny is huge in Nigeria and it is often disguised as culture, rearing its head in our cultural practices and norms.
In multiple ways women are never encouraged to be the sole focus of their lives. This is evident in always using their existence in comparative terms, attaching them to someone else in other to validate their experiences. In a speech I gave in 2014 about Female Genital Mutilation, I concluded with “Not because she is a wife, a daughter or a sister, but because she is a person” and those words still strongly resonate with me till this day.
Women often make life decision’s considering everyone but themselves; they think about their unborn children, and their husbands. This is one thing I admire about women: our ability to be sacrificial in nature. However, I believe it is dangerous to romanticize this characteristic because this imposes it on unassuming women, women who never intended to choose that path in this journey of life.
There are very many things I’m grateful for when it comes to the environment I was raised in and Nigerian culture. But being completely in love with someone or something doesn’t mean you can’t point out their flaws. When it’s all said and done, gentle correction and unlearning is the way forward. Opening spaces for dialogue is so important and I’m forever grateful to God for empowering my voice.
Thank for reading and stopping by the blog! What are your experiences and what are your thoughts on feminisms and how we have unknowingly created a culture that caters to patriarchy?
Looking forward to hearing from you!
Love, TBB xx
Pictures by Gracie Hammond (@gracietakesphotos)