Sunday, February 14, 2016

Are You a Misogynist, a Subversive or a Feminist?

Isn’t it bizarre that in 2016 the world’s still struggling with how to treat half its population fairly? What with small pox having been eradicated, man landing on the moon and the internet connecting us to worlds previously unknown, shouldn’t achieving gender parity be a piece of cake?

Apparently not.

Covertly or overtly, on purpose or inadvertently, the man-at-the-helm is constantly reinforced in every facet of life as the default societal structure—from religion to toys to fairy tale princesses perpetually waiting to be rescued. With such toxic narratives being peddled as the norm from childhood through adulthood, it’s no wonder we’re a long way away from gender parity and patriarchy continues to win new recruits and enjoy support from its large fan base—misogynists and the subversives.

The Misogynists

Misogynists aka male chauvinists are men who believe a woman’s rightful place is beneath them. In their minds, women should not own property, work or be anything else but exist for them. They’re patriarchy’s fiercest proponents, and excoriate men and women who adopt non-traditional gender roles. In their warped world, it’s only natural for women to submit to male domination because they’re emotional and incapable of making informed decisions. To misogynists, women, by virtue of being women, are adults who never escaped childhood, and therefore must be chaperoned and guarded by grown-up males.

But say what you will about misogynists, their candid opinion on gender equality is laudable. After all, a battle is half won when the enemy is identified.

Patriarchy is an aberration.
Photo: Javier Zarracina/Vox

The Subversives

Their rank comprises of men and women who have internalized patriarchy as the de facto natural social structure to be upheld. They propagate gender tropes in their different incarnations: Pink is for girls and blue for boys, women are living appendages and make bossy leaders, and bread-winning is a man’s God-given, inalienable right, not realizing these are socially constructed notions—and thus illusive.

As their name suggests, subversives may go as far as to call themselves feminists—or even use the vague term ‘gender equalist’, to disguise their mission. But don’t be fooled. Their true intention is to maintain their social, economic and cultural edge over women, using invasive methods.

Consider Oscar, a senior manager at a financial firm. Oscar needs a finance manager to supervise a team of male accountants, so he puts out a job ad for the position. However, it’s only open to male candidates, because in Oscar’s mind a woman can’t handle a group of men. By barring women from applying, Oscar has tightened another screw on patriarchy. But of course, he thinks nothing of the discrimination nor it implications, at least not yet.

It’s Friday nights and Oscar hits the bar, where he picks up a woman for his entertainment. Note that Oscar never, ever seeks out women in his economic class since they have just as much financial clout as him, and are less likely to let him dictate to them. Instead, he settles for a less troublesome lass—one who pads his fragile ego and supports his distorted notions of gender.

Initially, everything goes well until she starts asking him to pay for phone credit, transportation, Brazilian weaves. A girl’s got to look good for her man, right?

Oscar for his part, stoically assumes the role of the macho man, the financial provider up until his padded wallet begins to lose its bulge. Then he turns poet, and starts waxing lyrical about gender equality, and how modern-day women should be financially independent.

Once again, don’t be fooled by the claptrap for Oscar’s thinking hinges on selfishness. He simply wants her to earn some money (never more than him, of course) so she doesn’t bother him. To Oscar, patriarchy becomes a dirty reality when it requires more from him.

Subversives are also quick to assume barriers no longer exist for women since Hilary Clinton is running for president and Angela Merkel is Chancellor, and parliament has a couple of women representatives. They consider having a female president, a male vice president, a male speaker of the house and a virtually male parliament a landslide achievement not an aberration.

Another pastime of subversives is to bemoan what they see as a disproportionate coverage of violence against women, while obsessively fishing for stories where men are victims of abuse to prove the focus on women’s right is unwarranted. They act as if protesting a girl’s right to education somehow negates the rights of a boy, and choose to ignore the fact that violence and discriminatory practices affect more females than males.

But in the real world, statistics matter.

It’s the reason lions are on endangered lists and buffaloes are not. It’s also the reason HIV/AIDS and cancer get more funding than rare disease like epidermodysplasia verruciformi. But that attention doesn’t imply scientists couldn’t care less about finding a cure for epidermodysplasia verruciformi. In the same vein, neither does spotlighting sexism against women diminish the problems men encounter.

The Feminists

In the fight for gender equality are feminists, who like the subversives, comprise of women and men. Feminist men are comfortable with feminism because they understand it doesn’t advocate matriarchy, but strives for a society where the sexes have equal opportunities to the social, economic and cultural goodies of life. They believe not in holding doors for women, or playing the role of supermen to damsels in distress, but in empowering women to hold doors and live an unrestrained life to the fullness of their abilities and talents.

Photo: Sarah Turbin/Vox
A woman’s ambition or blinding success doesn’t perturb the feminist man, who also has no reservations about cooking, changing diapers or being a stay-at-home dad. They’re unafraid to name patriarchy as the enemy and confront it head-on. The feminist man is aware his wife reserves the right to keep her maiden name, and considers it an honor if she takes his.

Feminists teach their sons to respect a woman’s opinions as they would a man’s, and their daughters to pay for their meals and diamonds. They don’t tell boys to man up when they cry, because tears are not a sign a weakness but a healthy human reaction. In a feminist world, boys play with Barbies and girls with trucks, girls climb trees and boys play hopscotch, and women are just as capable as men in coding.

We cannot claim we are serious about burying patriarchy for good, if we only recognize its existence when it turns on us. Fighting it every time in all its forms is the only way we can achieve parity. So ladies and gentlemen, where do you stand? Your reaction to the idea of a man moving into a house built by his wife is a tiny clue to where you stand in the fight for gender equality.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Why Shows Like An African City Matter

Cast of An African City
Photo: An African City
An African City, a Sex and the City-esque online series which debuted last year and is currently in its second season, follows the lives of five, single, middle-class African women who return to Ghana after years of living abroad. The show, which diverges largely from the usual narrative about Africa—hollow-eyed children with distended bellies, disease and war—has been lauded for showcasing a version of Africa where Africans work normal jobs, wear fancy clothes and eat in expensive restaurants. But it has also come under criticism for not reflecting the lives of typical Africans.

But what’s the story of a typical African?

Sure Africans have shared experiences, but there are also differences so large that should be recognized as a valid stories in an African anthology. The expectation that poverty and war should feature in an African story simply is as absurd as positing all women must experience dysmenorrhea because they’re women. Yet, such expectations are rampant.

Case in point, during my postgraduate program in the UK, my supervisor proceeded to tell me how dangerous Nigeria was after I mentioned I’d be returning to Nigeria when the program ended. He narrated how his sister, who worked for an NGO in Nigeria, had to have mobile police with her at all times. By the time he ended the story, I would have thought Nigeria was a war zone if I’d never lived there. Granted, not all of Nigeria is peaceful, but most parts, like where I live, are calm and a far cry from a war zone.

In an unrelated event, a surprised face met mine after I disclosed my tuition fees were paid by my parents and not a scholarship. Apparently, there are some people who think Africans just sit around waiting for financial assistance.

Still, my personal experiences were nothing compared to a Kenyan friend of mine, who was asked by a fellow a volunteer at a charity fundraiser to wear a plaque of sorts and carry a donation bucket, because wait for it… people were more likely to respond to pleas from an African.

A tasteless remark? Yes. But that volunteer can’t really be blamed if they’ve been fed countless newsreels and TV ads with a morose voice-over soliciting one pound to help crying, black children with runny noses and flies swarming overhead. This insular narrative is a similar treatment applied to Native-Americans and Australian Aborigines, whose populations are often depicted by the media as poor and alcohol-dependent.

In the art of storytelling and creating impressions, the media has a companion in Hollywood, an industry notorious for promoting tropes among other things. For a primer on how Hollywood pictures Africa, one need not look any further than the final scenes of the movie Independence Day, where the aliens’ spaceships go up in flames on different continents after Will Smith saves the day. Australia was represented by its famous Sydney Opera House. And Africa? Africa was depicted as a bush with loin-clothed men wielding spears.

Dear Africans, do you come across these people regularly?
Clip from Independence Day
A quick survey of Hollywood’s Africa reveals one of these three realities: Africa is a hell hole teeming with ruthless warlords and tribes bent on brutalizing one another; a picturesque land where the red sun forever rises over acacias, and naked Africans and animals roam the vast Serengeti, or a continent of the eternally happy singers and dancers as handsomely portrayed in the Adam Sandler movie Blended.

These jaundiced and oft-repeated accounts serve no purpose other than to typecast and perhaps ridicule a people. Which is why diversity and representation matter—be they in the news, books, movies, or Hollywood movie studios. Not only do we become better informed when different stories are told, we encounter a panoramic view of our world through the eyes of others. And shows like An African City are helping do just that.