Two weeks ago, I was at the University of Lagos for the monthly seminar organized for PEIFFUND mentees, whom I happen to be one of. The topic of concern was “Communication Skills” so you can probably imagine how interactive it got.
After the session, in the spirit of that interaction, four of us got into a conversation about feminism; I and 3 young men who I have gotten to know over the past few months.
Now, this article is not a run-down of our conversation, but I’d like to highlight a few things that I think we all need to pay attention to in the way that we show up in the world as men and women.
Feminism gets a lot of backlash, and at least some of it comes from the thinking that women (read: feminists) clump men in one category and try to sell them all as misogynists. While that is far from being the truth, I can understand why men are inclined to think that way.
Stay with me.
When we talk about issues affecting women in Africa and in Nigeria particularly, more often than not, the topic of men will eventually make its way into the conversation. Why is this? Because men historically have and presently do hold more power. This is not to say that women have never been in positions of authority or had access to power; they have, and they do even today. Yet when we take a holistic view of our society, we realize that there is a wide gap.
So although you, Deyemi, do not have any real power today, by virtue of your being born male in this society, you’re automatically placed one step higher than women for no other reason than that.
Is that your fault? Of course not. Should you feel guilty for it? That would be a waste of time.
What then can you do? You can take responsibility for your privilege.
There are many men who treat women right. They respect the women in their lives, treat them as equals and place a premium on the humanity of those women. When it comes to women they do not know closely though, the story is starkly different.
It is why your ‘guy’ makes tasteless statements that we’re supposed to believe are jokes about a girl’s body and you laugh with him even though you know it’s not right. It is why you know your friend is a serial rapist but beyond the occasional head you shake at him, you turn a blind eye, because after all, that’s his problem and you would never do something like that. It is why your friend deliberately hits the breasts of female passengers in the bus because he thinks it’s a good way to get some, and you don’t say anything. It’s why a lot of terrible behaviors have become our norm in the ways that we approach relationships between genders.
It is not that all men are chauvinists; it is that too many are not actively anti-chauvinists.
For how long are we going to stay cocooned in the excuse of “that’s how I met it, and there is nothing I can do about it?” At what point do we take responsibility for our evolution as human beings and the role that we all have to play in making our systems better.
Privilege must come with responsibility. When the world gives you a longer rope than others, then you have a responsibility to share some of that rope. The change is in the every day. It is not enough to not be a part of the conversation when your friends are threatening to deal with a girl who is “proud”; you must actively speak out against it and firmly state the wrongness of it. It is not enough to tell your friend, “guy, you fuck up,” when you know he has raped a girl; you have to actively take steps to hold him accountable.
Now, I recognize that (that) part may be hard for you. Here is where I tell you to think about the short and long-term consequences in the lives of multiple women because this young man was not taught that women’s bodies do not belong to him and was not held accountable when he crossed the line.
At the end of that conversation that sunny Saturday in Unilag, Amos, one of the guys said; “I always mind my business when things like that are happening around me, but now that we have had this conversation and talked about it, I’ll do better and speak up next time”.
That’s really it. No one is asking you to overhaul your entire life or to stop being a man (whatever that means). We’re asking that you open your eyes to the realities of our world, and that you let that influence the way that you show up as a person.
It was Martin Luther King who said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal”.
I hope you’ll think about it.