I’m from a country where sexism is deeply woven into the fabrics of everyday life yet it’s constantly overlooked. It is a man’s world and most Nigerian men view their wives as their property. After all, they did pay the bride price.
From a young age, girls are taught to be passive, submissive, to only speak when spoken to. Everything you do is scrutinised. Parents police their daughters’ behaviour in an attempt to get rid of any behaviour that isn’t “ladylike”. I used to watch my brother and cousins walk around the compound shirtless and was confused as to why my mum was furious with me when I attempted to do the same (I was like 6).
“You must know how to cook if you want to find a good husband”, “Only girls who lack home training talk back”. It seems that from the moment you are born as an African girl, your parents begin to prepare you for marriage, whether this is a conscious or subconscious effort is something I’m yet to understand. They begin to train and sculpt you, not to be your own person, but to be somebody’s perfect wife. A woman’s existence is invalid without a man in her life.
As a girl, your opinions do not matter. You simply do as you’re told without any objections. A woman with her own opinions is a threat to the man and his fragile ego. You’ll only drive away your suitors.
As a child, I was somewhat deviant. I tormented my older brother for fun, disliked my little brother for being the last child thus stealing my spotlight (I was a jealous child). I had an opinion on everything and I made sure I was heard, one way or another. Mostly without using words. I wasn’t the ideal daughter most Nigerian parents would wish for. Luckily, my parents were quite laidback so I got away with things that most girls would never have gotten away with. However, I do remember the attempts from other family members to instil the traditional gender roles into my young mind. The notion that a woman should be seen and not heard or that I would eventually get married and my life would be devoted to caring for my husband and children so I should take that into consideration when choosing a career path. I was told to dumb it down so the boys felt more comfortable. Of course it affected me, perhaps deeper than I’m willing to admit, but generally I ignored them. If those people could see me now, they just might have a heart attack.
Sexism is a problem that is overlooked in most, if not all, African countries. I can only speak on what I know so I can only touch on Nigeria. I knew girls who stopped going to school after a certain age because their parents believed they were wasting money on educating a girl. It’s unfortunate, these girls had so much potential to be a lot more than they are allowed to be. Confined by something they have no control over. Should being born female mean the only thing you can aspire to is marriage? That you must always be referred to as someone’s daughter, wife, sister etc. as if you don’t deserve to be your own person?
As for me, I decided from a young age that I wouldn’t buy into that crap about what it means to be a woman. I didn’t choose to be born a girl and I wouldn’t change it. Everyday, I actively choose to define what that means to me. I refuse to suffer the consequences of society’s made up gender roles. Sadly, not everyone has that choice.
What about you? Any stories or experience to share on this topic?