Culture and Tradition
The elders in Nigeria, insist that culture and tradition is what gives us our true identity. Ergo, must be protected at all costs, especially because westernization has taken precedence in today’s generation. What these elders fail to understand is that culture and tradition can also be a hindrance to growth and development, particularly when it comes to the liberation of girls in Nigeria. According to the writer Toyin O. Falola, “women have long since faced threats in the spheres of influence and privileges since the 20th century because patriarchy combined with colonial changes have altered gender relations.” Injustice to one in the name of culture and tradition is an injustice to all, or should be viewed as such. However, as long as men sit in high places in Nigeria, injustice to women is only seen as putting us in our rightful place. Culture does not make people, people make culture and without the input of women who traditionalists have so gleefully banished to the ‘kitchen, parlor and the other room’ culture and tradition will become decadent. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stated that “if it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.”
As a result of the situation in which girls are raised, they grow up one of two ways; either bending the rules or breaking it. They become forceful in their demands because their parents have brandished the “let me raise you, so you don’t bring shame to my family” act on them. They defy culture and tradition, exploring their sexulaity and teenage experiments in secret. Experiences that should be a rite of passage become the same experiences that girls begin to sneak out to participate in, lying to their parents in the process. This is because they crave freedom from the life sentence of ‘discipline’ impaled on them. On twitter, someone said and I loosely quote “parents love their sons but raise and discipline their girls.”
Girls who cannot beat the system of gender inequality in the name of culture and tradition, join the system. They become girls who grow up to be women whose voices are subdued. Salaam, in 2003, stated that because we live in such a patriarchal society, it sets the parameters for women’s structurally unequal position in families. Which automatically views women as less than men, tacitly condones domestic and sexual violence, the sanctions of differential wages for equal or comparable work, and unequal sharing of inheritance. Because of the patriarchal system in Nigeria, marginalization of women in education, economy, labour market, politics, business, family, domestic matters, and inheritance is justified.
My mother says, the woman is the backbone of the family and she is also the neck. Without the neck, the head who is the man would fall. As tradition demands, every night mothers come home from work, they change from their office attire and go into the kitchen to prepare dinner for their husbands. They serve him, sometimes on bent knees. While their husbands are eating, they patiently wait on them. When their husbands are done eating, they clean up after them. It does not matter how highly these women are regarded in their place of work. Some women believe serving their husbands is not a sign of weakness but a show of love and recognition of their husbands as the ‘head’ of the family. However, if a woman decides not to serve her husband the way culture and tradition demands, she is regarded as disrespectful and her background (how she was raised) is called into question. In other words, a woman is expected to serve her husband, whether this is something she likes to do or not. Boys grow up to become men with these types of expectations, while girls grow up to become women at the mercy of culture and tradition. Forgetting that without them, there is no man and there is no family.
When I have conversations with my male colleagues, sometimes questions about my ability to perform domestic activities ensue. Meaning, do I know how to cook, clean, do the laundry, serve my man, wash the dishes etc. It sounds like without me possessing these skills, I am not a well trained woman. Not that I have a point to prove to anyone, let alone my male counterparts, but my parents raised me well. They adorned me with the skills needed to care for myself. There is always this mocking glare I see on the faces of these men, even when I tell them I know how to do these things. I have heard them say to me on more than one occasion “you don’t look like a woman who is domesticated.” As if a woman like me who is exposed and is an outright feminist can not also mend a hem and cook a meal. Apparently, girls who are domesticated look and talk differently from girls who are not. A woman who prefers not to live in the kitchen or in the laundry room is led as a sheep to the slaughter for not being ‘raised properly’. But a man without these same set of skills is encouraged to hire a maid. Culture and tradition seemingly states that an undomesticated woman brings shame to her family. It is a failure on the part of the mother who raised her and utter laziness on the woman’s part because she refused to learn or be trained.
Career Path and Marriage
When some people, men and women alike, hear that I am pursuing my masters and may forge ahead with my PhD they immediately ask about marriage. They say that by the time I am done with school, I will be too old to get married and men would regard me differently. I will intimidate men and it may be harder for me to find someone who suits my ‘high standard’. A man who is easily intimidated by my success is not a man I want to to be associated with in any way. As a woman, if you are past the age of 25 and still unmarried, there must be something wrong with you. Women who are successful in their careers, who have paved the way for women like me to have a voice, are still looked down on because they are unmarried. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stated that a woman at a certain age who isn’t married; the society teaches her to see it as a deep personal failure. But a man after a certain age isn’t married; we just think he has not come around to making his pick.
There is what we call a traditional marriage in Nigeria. The traditional marriage consists of the man paying a certain amount of money known as the ‘bride price’ to the family of the woman he’s interested in marrying. The paradox of the bride price is a symbol of the capability of the man to care for his wife. However, most men see this as buying the woman. Some sort of permanent ownership, like a property. She can be dealt with how he deems fit because she has been bought for a price. Ergo, the violence, turning her into a baby making machine, restricting her movements, banishing her to certain parts of the house, refusing her from working and giving her ‘monthly allowance’ so she can always rely on him, forcing his sexual advances on her even when she has balanty refuses is all well, good, and acceptable.
These are only a few examples of the situations girls face in Nigeria. I am not saying boys do not face some issues. However, it is not the same. There are no substitutions for what the girl goes through and is still going through in Nigeria. But we are stronger together and should equally make use of our power and our voices the right way; the feminist way.
More to come.
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