Arit Okpo: A woman’s place [NEW VOICES]

by Arit Okpo

At an event recently, a University Vice Chancellor was invited to give a talk, her colleague, introduced her as Professor Mrs So and So. The woman on getting to the podium responded with weary good humour “I haven’t heard of any man here called Professor Mr, why do I have to be addressed as Professor Mrs This gender issue sef”

A Twitter user announced her intention to raise funds for free sanitary pads for vulnerable women. One man wanted to know why these items should be free. Another man wondered why women could not continue using rags like our mothers in the villages did. A third man expressed his refusal to support the initiative because there was no inclusion of men in the initiative.

Many people are familiar with the billionaire whose interview headline was the proud proclamation that she still cooked and laundered for her husband.

A celebrity in the middle of a marital crisis silently posted a quote about the silence of mothers not being passed to their daughters. Her comments were full of pearls such as “a real woman keeps her home together”, “silence is golden” and “please don’t speak, your strength is keeping me strong”

A woman who reported an incident where a man masturbated on her thigh in a bank received a lecture from a man chastising her for a) wearing a short skirt and b) hitting the man who did it. In his opinion, raising her hand to the man signified the level of respect she would have for her future spouse.

Daily in the media, women receive completely unsolicited advice on finding and keeping a man, building a home, avoiding rape etc.  At other times, one might come across a wail worthy of the Biblical book of Lamentations, declaiming the fact that today’s women are no longer strong/longsuffering/patient/domestic/ (insert your own word here); all complaints pointing to the opinion that fewer women are willing to deal with irresponsibility, stay and pray for chronically unfaithful spouses, cook on demand and much more.

Stories of domestic violence continue to shock and confuse us. Even more worrying are the still all too common back stories of parents/friends/clergy that encourage these women to stay in abusive situations, sometimes till their death.

21st century African women are becoming “woke”, but too many men are keeping their eyes closed in an attempt to feign a deep and never ending sleep.

It needs to stop.

Perhaps it is social media, perhaps the times we live in, but there is more and more talk about the ways that male privilege on our continent continues to, by its very existence, subjugate and diminish women. Many men do not understand it, they do not see privilege and do not understand why we are making a fuss of things.

Africa is a continent built mostly on patriarchy; a culture built on the superiority and privilege of one subsection of its inhabitants will always face resistance from the ones that this privilege benefits. Asking many men to revoke patriarchy is like asking them to revoke their identities; it is unthinkable.

The easy answer to this is “train your sons differently”, but we are in the present, and unfortunately, women cannot send their lovers back to their mothers’ wombs to unlearn and relearn.

More and more women are pushing back against a culture of privilege taken for granted, and this is the difficult, yet most effective way to change the tide. It is not about taking up placards to march, but a consistent refusal to accept a norm that subjugates women at every turn.

It is the social media user who refuses to be silent on sexual assault. It is the woman who demands respect from her male colleagues. It is not seeing the humour in tasteless sexual jokes. It is demanding to be seen as an individual first, a gender second.

This is not a “men are scum” article. It is not intended to bash men. It is however intended to point out that there is a situation that needs to change…indeed, is already changing.

In an ideal world, men would realise that times are changing and that they must evolve to meet it. However, this is not an ideal world. Women must force the change we seek into a present reality. We must require respect and equality and accept no less. And perhaps, if we do the job right, we will not need to teach our sons differently; they will watch their fathers and uncles, and they will learn.

Arit is a highly versatile Content Producer, Presenter, Writer and Speaker. She currently produces and presents The Crunch, the flagship news show for the Ebonylife TV platform, where she discusses and analyses current affairs issues and stories. Arit has also presented travel show Destinations Africa; politics show Naija Politics and cooking show Chefrican, also on the Ebonylife TV platform. She is passionate about telling the African story from a positive and powerful perspective.

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