Now, this is not a feminist post. Neither is it a slur on men. It is more a quest to understand something that bothers me deeply.
I drove my first car at the age of 17. It was a gift from my parents and I used it to commute to university and back on the weekends. It was pretty convenient having a car then and I shared it wholeheartedly with my friends, carpooling like crazy on weekday mornings and dropping people off at different points on the way home for the weekend.
I bought my first car, with my own money about 10 years later. And being the kind of person I am, I really saved up and bought something ‘big’, at least by my own standards at the time anyway. By this time, I had been fully independent for four years or so; no one was doing anything for me, not paying bills, not feeding me, not clothing me e.t.c. I was taking care of myself and doing a few things for my parents and siblings. I had a good job that was challenging and rewarding and I woke up every morning with a strong sense of self and of purpose. By many standards, I was in a good place.
And so it was, that I went into work one morning, of course in my new car that I had just purchased with my hard earned savings. I parked in the lot and made my way to my desk. Along the way, I was accosted by a male colleague of mine. He smiled at me, said a boisterous hello, asked how I was doing and then proceeded to tell me how nice my car looked, and how clean, and how much of an improvement it was from the ‘jalopy’ I had been driving before. I took all these comments with a modest smile on my face and a thank you on my lips. Of course, I’d have liked to wring his neck for throwing shade at my previous car, cos I loved that car. We had history. Anyway, we kept walking towards the building and then he leaned in closer, like he was about to tell me a secret and he said “talk true, you didn’t buy that car with your money. Who is the generous sponsor?”
My eyes popped open, because for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what he meant. All I could think was how much Garri I had soaked in the past year, and how much Agege bread and N200 Suya I had had for dinner. My mind went over the fact that I had literally kept the same wardrobe for the last 365 days or more, having gone through every single permutation and combination of skirt and blouse, trousers and blouse, jeans, t-shirt and dress that I possibly could with my existing wardrobe. Even at that moment, I was wearing shoes that had seen way better days, something I was painfully conscious of. And this niccuh right here had the effrontery to suggest that I didn’t pay for my car. What nonsense! I don’t know how I kept the smile on my face that day as I told him to eff off.
Over the course of my independent life, I have had similar episodes, where people, mostly men insinuate that the material things I have provided for myself have actually been provided by some imaginary and overly generous man. I have even been asked on occasion what I do with my money, as if the presence of this imaginary man in my life would cancel out the need for me to have my own source of income. So, this here is what I need to understand – what is so unusual about a visibly independent woman that many men and women find so difficult to accept? I really don’t think that there’s anything special about an independent woman, especially in this day and age. She’s just another human being who, thankfully has the means to take care of herself. So why can’t she just be seen and accepted for what she is?
Last I knew, companies that pay well haven’t stopped employing women. Some small and even big businesses have women at the helm of affairs. Some male magnates have female heirs whom they have groomed to take over their empires. And these do not in any way cover all the opportunities that exist for women to make a handsome living (note how a good living is described as ‘handsome’, just sayin’). So why is it that some people still assume that women cannot provide for themselves the finery and niceties of life?
As far as I know, it’s not written anywhere that women don’t work as hard as men. In fact, one could argue that they work even harder considering the several roles they have to play in life and also considering the fact that they have much more to prove. And yet, when I go out to a meal with a male friend of mine, and I settle the bill and I give the security guy a tip, the thanks and hailing don’t come to me. They go to my male friend, never mind that the security guy saw me reach into my own purse for that money and hand it to him. Sometimes, it’s been all I could do not to take back my money from the ungrateful twat.
I don’t want this to sound like a rant, because that would take away from the seriousness of the situation. It bothers me that no matter how hard I work, no matter how significant my achievements, there will be people who will look at me and attribute all that work to someone else. I’m sure that if I were married, they’d just assume that my husband was the great benefactor responsible.
Am I the only one who thinks this is a problem? It seems to me that if this phenomenon remains as is, then our girls will grow up to become women who are constantly fighting to prove themselves. If I who was born in the 80’s cannot stomach my independence being overlooked, then what will the girls who are being born now, who are bound to get to independence much faster than I did, what will they need to do to earn their respect on first contact? To what lengths will they have to go?
Is it possible that there is still a high level of disregard for women as individuals in our society? One would hope that we are getting better as time passes. Though with men like Dino Melaye hanging around in corridors of power, I can certainly see how we still have a long way to go. And it makes me very sad. What then did my mother work for? What did she drum all those warnings about being a liability into my ears for? Why did she risk the wrath of her husband by making sure her career was always on track no matter how many babies she stopped to have? Were her sacrifices and indeed those of other mothers not so that it would be easier for us to hold our own in a world dominated by men?
I know there are men out there who respect and appreciate independent women for who they are. But I wonder if they try to educate their less-informed peers when they see them ‘misbehaving’. Do they remind them that they were born of women? Do they tell them that physiological and biological differences apart, there’s nothing about a man that makes him superior to a woman (a bigger brain doesn’t mean a smarter person)? Do they caution them about how they should and shouldn’t talk to women? Is there any man who has witnessed a security guard acknowledge him and totally ignore the woman that’s beside him, and done something about it? I imagine that it would be easier for them to keep quiet rather than take these erring men up on their behaviour, but who has silence ever helped?
There’s only so much that feminist groups and equality laws can do to remedy the situation. There’s only so much that women actively fighting for their recognition and for fairness and equality can achieve. The bulk of the work I believe lies in the hands of those men who know better. They alone can bring their lost brothers into the fold. It might seem crazy asking men to fight for women’s causes, but two men would easily get into a fight over a girl. A man would easily punch the lights out of anyone who threatened ‘his’ woman. So maybe if these men recognized this situation for what it is, a threat to women’s ‘well-being’ in the society, and to their individuality, and to their sanity (because a girl can go crazy from all this) and most especially to their independence, then maybe they might have the motivation to do something about it, at least if not for their wives, for their daughters. Because a ‘man’s world’ will not be changed by a woman. Rather, it is the man who will change his world to make room for the woman…