My younger brother – younger by 11 years – cannot cook any Nigerian soup and that’s troubling. It’s troubling not just because cooking and being able to carter to one’s basic needs is a necessary survival tool. It’s troubling because I helped raise him – in the African sense of big sister = second mother – and I’m a feminist. Granted, I only owned my feminism a few years ago, but deep down I’ve held feminist ideals of gender equality and justice for a really long time. These ideals manifested when at 11 I began to question why the house chores are left to me because I’m a girl; when I began to question polygamy and deride and detest sexist customs that treated my beloved grandmother unjustly; when I began to ask for equal treatment between me and my male siblings. So, I am worried that as a feminist mother, I’ve failed one son; I don’t plan on failing the others. But, how do I navigate the raggedy terrain that is patriarchal Nigeria? How do I guide my Nigerian sons towards the path of gender equality? How do I raise them to be gender sensitive (aware of their male privilege), fair-minded (dissing sexism and male privilege with gender equality as the goal and ideal)? How do I raise feminist sons/men in a society that teaches them from primary school (age 5) that “father is the provider”, “mother is the homemaker”, “boys play football” and “girls help mothers in the kitchen”? A society that raises daughters to be less than sons? A society that teaches Simba-like pride to sons and shame/humility/submission/obedience to daughters. How do I raise feminist sons in such a gender-biased society?
My son (aged 7 then) once remarked that one of his female classmates often hit him during an argument but he doesn’t hit her back because she’s a girl and boys are stronger than girls. I was proud he knows not to beat a girl, but worried because the reason ought to be that violence is not the answer to dispute resolution, irrespective of your opponent’s gender. I was worried because the mindset that boys are stronger than girls once again reinforces/re-engages/reproduces the Nigerian societal belief that boys are “better”; a belief that privileges Nigerian males – much like majority males the world over – over Nigerian females. In bearing this mindset, the Nigerian son grows up a man who thinks his female colleague/political opponent/wife/sister/friend is lesser than him by virtue of her “weak” sex. He grows up to expect his girlfriend/wife/partner to cook and serve his meals, do his laundry and care for his home, all because she’s female. This mindset, I argue, is the bedrock of gender discrimination, of inequalities that continue to oppress, subjugate and deny the Nigerian woman of equal opportunities alongside the Nigerian man. It is necessary that we, as Nigerian mothers, for the love of humanity – if not the equal love of our children, raise our sons the same way we raise our daughters. We must raise our children – irrespective of sex and gender – to abhor violence, embrace peaceful resolutions to disputes and treat one another with equal love. We must raise our sons, as we raise our daughters, to cook, clean and launder, thereby equipping both with domestic skills necessary for survival, knowing how to cook egusi soup, for e.g. Unless and until we do these, our sons will grow up to be men so mired in patriarchy, sexism and enjoyment of their male privilege, they treat our daughters like shit.
Of course, you are free to take this post as feminist psycho-babble, for I am no Freud. But, as Sylvia Wynter (1994) asserts, societal injustice is the product of our (formal and informal education. That is, our children’s actions, the cankerworms in our societies are the products of our education. Let us be wise and educate/raise our children wisely.