The first time I went to a Nigerian event in Canada was in the fall of 2011. It was an Independence Day ceremony. I’d performed a spoken word. But before the event began, I was seated with some guys. Then in walks this incredibly built Nigerian fellow who knew one of my friends. After respectfully greeting that friend, he turned to the other guys, introduced himself, shook their hands, and then without so much as a glance my way, strutted right off.
Kay pause. WhatthedoubleF-!
“Sexist much?” I blurted out.
But nobody else seemed to notice. And I didn’t blame them. They were men. No, seriously. How often do men notice sexist microaggressions?
I felt invisible from that encounter. Irrelevant. Completely disregarded for my gender.
A few years later, I left Canada to move to Nigeria after 15 years away. And I did so as a raging feminist. It didn’t help that most of the men I met (not including my lovely partner, of course) were misogynists.
I’ve seen a random man slap the ass of a woman he didn’t know in a crowded street; I’ve been told that men are superior to women, that nature demonstrates male dominance, and that it’s a man’s right to beat the woman who insults him.
So it probably goes without saying—a lot of my interactions with men in Nigeria pretty much resembled that bull shit encounter earlier described. When a guy does notice me while greeting his boys he slightly bows in a display of chauvinism that’s admittedly endearing. But rarely do they address me as their equal.
I become visible only with an introduction from my partner, which elevates my status from assumed “whore” to wife, an honorific title in the Nigerian consciousness. Also makes me worthy of acknowledgement in men’s eyes. (Being simultaneously single and woman exposes one to so much harassment here. In the past, men have grabbed me and stalked me when my husband wasn’t present to do the body-guarding. Cops have yelled obscenities at me. And then of course, I’ve received the usual slurs and snide remarks that read as street harassment.)
It doesn’t help that I love beer and smoking. Both acts position me right next to the sex worker who’s body is the most condemned in the cultural imagination. And guess how I deflect this: by emphasizing my Canadian accent. Because colonialist legacy awards Whites/Westerners far more dignity and respect than Blacks in Africa, and because Nigerians don’t criticize white women with the same microscopic lens as they do black women.
I constantly feel compelled to justify any action contrary to what is deemed appropriately feminine. And that shit drains me.
I am expected to wear skirts to church. To wear makeup (but not too much). To drink “like a lady” (that is to stick to wine and sweet liquors and limit my consumption to a few glasses only, unlike men who can belch and drink with impunity). And in general, to behave with feminine grace and dignity. This is annoying!
The societal policing of women’s bodies is constant and insidious.
Sexism is so commonplace that a day doesn’t go by wherein I don’t encounter it. It comes in the form of my mother-in-law relegating house work to me and not her son, albeit doing so with loving intentions because, y’know, CULTURE. Or in folks continuously purporting that gender violence is often, paradoxically, the result of an ‘abusive victim’ (read: the mythology of the verbally abusive wife). It comes in the form of the reverend father who espoused the sexist gender narrative of male dominance; and in him gaslighting the woman who exhibits ambitions beyond the submissive role in her heteronormative relationship. And it’s also in men’s assertion that my feminism somehow oppresses them. That I oppress them because I’m unapologetically anti-patriarchy. Cause I’m political. (Now ain’t that hilarious?) God forbid when Nigerian-raised feminists speak up. They’re muted with prostitution accusations (that ironically overlook the repressive structure nurturing the sex work industry).
I find it incredulous that in the 21st century we’re still not having serious conversations about gender equality. How do I even approach that subject when men don’t know how to address me as their equal?
When I bring up sexism in male dominated spaces, the guys turn to me wide-eyed and flabbergasted. As if to say, “my, aren’t you a bold one, aren’t you audacious.”
And to them, I say: I am! My tongue’s razor-sharp, and my agenda’s anti-oppression. Just try me. You’ll see.