So it’s Women’s Day, and this being a blog (mostly) about African women, I have to post something today, right? Hmmm…. Maybe I should have held on to my most recent post and released it today?
I actually have something else on my mind. It is Women’s Day today, but I want to talk about men and boys. To be specific I want to talk about African men and boys.
The African woman is coming into her own. No matter what her nationality, ethnic/tribal group or village, she is on the rise. She is rising in politics, in business, in technology and science, in literature and the arts – in almost every facet of life. It is a slow but steady progress that will only gather momentum as time progresses.
|Strike the Woman, Strike the Rock|
This ascent of the African Woman, has been a direct consequence of the liberation of our minds. Afro-feminism in particular and feminism as a whole, facilitate the process. No longer are we completely bound to that idea of the woman as the one in the background, whose role in society is limited by how much they permit her to fulfill the more “appropriate” role of wife and mother.
It is a good thing, this ascent. I and many of the women reading this blog, I daresay, are direct products of it. We move through the world with a little more freedom, a little more choice and options because many of our mothers had, and we now have slightly different mindsets about the purposes and roles we can and should fulfill and assume in life.
|African Women to Watch|
|Ladies of the Cameroon Professional Society|
It’s all fine and good for us. The future is bright and promising. But what about our men, the young boys among us? Are they coming along for this ride? Oh sure, they are kicking literal and metaphorical butt in all spheres of life as well, but that likely can be attributed more to the expectation on them to succeed, than it can be to the kind of freedom for self determination that women enjoy. The crucial question here is this: As the minds of African women are being untied to the kitchen and the bedroom, are the minds of African men vis-a-vis their idea of the roles a woman should occupy being untied as well? Or are they still ensnared in the trappings of what a woman should be, and how she should act especially when it comes to the sphere of family life and marriage?
I ask this question because I think it would make for a lot of unhappiness if these two processes did not happen in tandem with each other. We could end up with (or have we already?) communities where there would be discord between roles and expectations that men have of women and that women have not only of themselves but of the men in their lives, and the brunt of resolving this discord would still fall on the woman. An unequal distribution of responsibility, so to speak.
I remember this day at a hair saloon, back home, I think it was Caro’s in Buea Town (by the way, no one could sew a weave like Caro…well maybe Michael….) This was one of the places that women who wanted their hair done and done right would go. This was one of the hair dressers of the “aunties” . Of course, there was always a line of women waiting. These were not ordinary women. They were smart and ambitious and by most Cameroonian standards, successful. They were the women who had transitioned from struggling university students, had written the “concours” and were now barristers and doctors or had some appointment at the various government offices in the town.
This fine rainy Saturday afternoon, I went to get my hair done and since I showed up without an appointment, I had to wait for all who were there to go before me. I brought a novel because I knew what I was going to face, and settled into a chair to wait. My novel soon lost all appeal because I was shamelessly eavesdropping on a conversation between a young woman in her thirties and the friend who had accompanied her to get her hair done. She recently had fired her house help for some reason or the other and there had been some strong feelings involved, since this girl was a relative her mother had sent from the village. During the parting argument the girl had thrown sass about how she would be unable to manage raising her children, managing her family and meeting the demands of her job.
So this woman set out to prove her wrong. She woke up early enough to cook the lunch and dinner, then prepared her children’s and husband’s breakfast. She dropped her children off at school, picked them up and took them with her to the office till she had to leave at 3 or 4 or so. She helped them with home work and kept track of dirty clothes and dishes and pretty much all of the housework. On the weekends, she cleaned and laundered and grocery shopped and did everything that needed doing. She had it under control and the house help could go to hell. Her children were well fed and taken care of, she was doing fine at work and her husband had no complaints. She would do this until she found a trustworthy help and if she couldn’t she already knew that she could take care of business and would do it by herself.
I was impressed. And so was her friend and pretty much all the other women present. There were cries of :
“Na so!” (That’s it!)
“You get to show this young girl dem sey the fact sey you bring them no mean sey you no fit do the thing them you sef sef” (You have to show these young girls that the fact that you bring them in to help doesn’t mean you can’t do these things by yourself)
“You be correct woman!” (You go girl!)
“You di try, chei!” (Wow! You kick butt!…or something like that)
She glowed with the praise, and deservedly so.
One question niggled at my mind though, where was the husband in all of this? At no point did any one even suggest that he could have helped with washing the children’s clothes, or his own clothes, or doing the dishes, or picking the children up from school. Was his possession of a penis an automatic disqualifier for participation in domestic/family life? I mused over it for a bit and it passed into my subconscious. After all, I was still steeped in a culture where despite education and emancipation, women and men still mostly assumed their assigned gender roles.
I think about this more these days, though. Many of my peers have traveled abroad and are married with families of their own. Even surrounded by cultures where gender roles are a little more flexible, they still see themselves as “African Women” and with this comes the expectation both within themselves and from the men, young and old, in the community that they assume responsibility for family life.
“Man pikin, no supposed for di do that kind thing them, even if na for America.” (Men shouldn’t do these things, even if they are in America)
Which in theory, isn’t or shouldn’t be a problem, especially if you’re one of those women who has somehow found that delicate balance. What happens, though, when a liberated, outspoken and ambitious woman who really does want to marry a fellow African, ends up having a small to zero pool of suitors because men want more “African” women? What happens when professional success means a little less involvement in family life and the woman has to be the one to give up on ambitions? What happens when you are spread so thin trying to meet these demands, you’re like 25frs worth of butter on that 150frs boulangerie bread? What happens when it starts to affect your health and mental well being? What happens when you are just plain tired/ stressed out by responsibilities you can’t enjoy sex with your husband enough to even be interested in it?
What happens when the resentment starts to build on both sides?
The African woman cannot afford to leave the African man behind in her walk towards emancipation.