By Barbara “Adiaha” Young
Consider the male and female sexes, and their continuous competition for superiority in everything; so, why bother with a third, fourth, fifth or fifty-second gender, when we haven’t found a way to mollify the contretemps of the first two created through social construct?
This is the question you should be asking before delving into the need for a varied identification of gender roles. The foundation for gender equality, respect or association is continuously rocky, drawing out constant debate from every corner of the globe as to what gender itself should be considered as and what rights each gender deserves as regards their differences and or similarities.
Who you are however, what role you associate yourself with, is as a result of gender differences which come from social and cultural associations, for example, where you come from, who you grew up with, what you believe in, and so forth. Being a man or woman, transgender or non-binary, androgyne or bigender is a choice, it is not the same as the biological mix of cells that carry out the function of creating two sexes to propagate reproduction and the continuation of the human species.
Here’s an example of gender roles in a traditional Nigerian setting, circa 2000s.
Bolanle Okafor has spent all of her young life in the relatively patriarchal society of Nigeria. Born in the late 1980s, she has had to bow her head or kneel while being spoken to by the men of both her tribes, having the neither fortunate nor unfortunate luck of being born into a mix of Igbo and Yoruba lineage.
The responsibility of cooking at odd times of the day for the elders of her family while her brothers sit in during family meetings, cleaning and taking care of nieces and nephews and speaking only when spoken to has been the general role of the younger women she has been surrounded by. Bola is taught the basics of ‘catching’ a man and keeping him, ignoring his faults and controlling him slyly. Finally, she is taught the art of being a strong woman, “never be broken by the ignorance of men”.
For Bola, education or marriage is her way out, while her brothers go on for Imu Ahia apprenticeships or join the family business she goes to school, granted the family chooses what she must study from the very narrow range of professional courses, that can bring in more money to alleviate some of the family’s economic stress and uplift the family’s social status while giving them bragging rights at their society meetings. It is fine with her because this is all she knows and it is what must be.
With Bola off to school, the first born son of The Okafor family, a well-grounded and smart young man named Ugochukwu who goes by the nickname Ugo, has dreams of being an artist, but being the first son means being responsible and following expected rules to please his family, become respected by his friends, peers and Umunna; consequently, he is ever present at the male dominated family meetings despite finding them boring, he breaks kola even though he hates the taste and accepts to differ his education for a few years while his sisters finish and find fitting suitors.
His next years will be fraught with excessive work under some distant relative within large markets around the country until he can be released to face the realities of his own business and marriage.
Ugo is protector and provider from the moment he can think for himself.
“Don’t hit a woman.”
“Don’t be lazy.”
“Provide for the family.”
“Find a good wife.”
Bola is not exempt from the barrage, as the second child and first daughter, her mother calls every other day while she’s at school at first to make sure she is serious with studies and then to suggest some suitors she has been looking into on her behalf for the arrangement of an early marriage.
“Bola, you must give me grandchildren.”
“Don’t disgrace the family name.”
“Your father has spent so much on your education, what will you give in return?”
“Find a man that will provide for us o!”
It is the same thing every time for both Ugo and Bola, with so much pressure to fit into the mold that the society and their culture has attuned them to, they can only continue the cycle of monotony. Ugo must be a man in the way that he has been taught and Bola must become a woman by birthing the next generation. No pause, little change.
For Ugo being a man means working hard, making money, joining age grade groups like Ndiopara or Umunna, finding a wife that pleases his family and believes in the ideals he has accrued over his life time, and then having children who will repeat his cycle and perform Okwukwu when he is finally laid to rest.
On the other hand Bola’s idea of being a woman is learning how to keep a man or at least keep him married to her for life whether happy or not, how to take care of her home and how to give birth to children to please her in-laws and husband so that her place in her family may be solidified, and only then can she join respectable groups for women and begin to be honoured as her fellow men.
In the Sub-Saharan African society, the phenomena known as son-preference is highly regarded because it is believed that the male offspring is of greater economic benefit to the family than the female. Gender bias is not just a one-way street and the bias doesn’t rest only on one sex over the other, economic, political and social reasons are an underlying cause for these disparities.
In Nigeria, women in Southern Nigeria had the right to vote as at the 1950s while their counterparts in the north received theirs in the much later 1970s. Seychelles has a female literacy rate of 92%, their women enjoy the same legal, political, economic and social rights as men and the society is essentially matriarchal with unwed mothers being a norm while in Morocco parents are seen as the greatest hindrance to female education because of the societal view that education is a masculine norm. There are different numbers and different ratios of gender balance and imbalance across Africa and one cause seems to be pronounced, the human factor.
According to experts, gender bias is learned behaviour which can manifest consciously or unconsciously, it is a prejudice from one gender toward another whether subtle or overt almost blurring the lines between expected roles and inferred ones. Society teaches these behaviours and society is made up of people, the consequences of which are paid for by people.
All genders are vulnerable to rigid social norms, leaving the question, “Is gender the problem or Society?” –YA