September 24, 2018

I must born a boy or die trying – Viola Okolie

I must born a boy or die trying – Viola Okolie

There was this lady I used to know.

She had two kids, a boy and a girl.

From as little as 7 years, she would keep a small stool near the gas cooker and have her daughter stand on it and cook.

This little girl would fry fish with all its oil splatters, make soups (at least two or three different ones at a go), cook for the family and even attempt to pound yam. It was pretty impressive except for one thing.

Every time you commended that little girl as in – “oh my, you made this stew yourself? You are quite a big girl now o”; she would respond with: “my husband will be very happy with me”.

Husband ke?

At 9?

At that period, I was a young corper, living very far away from home. Matter of fact, I had left home for the university when I was a little over 15 years old and we cooked as soon as we got to school.

So, I tried to explain to the girl that she was learning fast and at some point in time, she would live alone and have to cook for herself. She could also be a chef, a caterer, she could even teach others how to cook; but every time you brought that up, she had a “husband” angle to counter your attempts to make her see herself beyond just being a wife.

Sao Tome, Generosa, portrait of smiling black boy and girl at school

And the culprit behind that unfortunate indoctrination was not hard to find.

Every time her mother started “grooming” her, she would reinforce her lessons by saying things like, “that salt is too much, do you want your husband to pursue you from house”; “the pepper is just perfect for this stew, if you keep making it like this, your husband will be very pleased with you”.

This girl’s grades suffered in school and everytime she brought home what I thought were god-awful results that could be improved upon with a little more study, her mum would “console” her by saying, “don’t worry, you will marry a good man like your father, who will open a business for you. Once you know how to buy and sell and calculate your money so that they don’t cheat you, you will be okay. You are a woman”.

This was appalling to me, so I attempted an intervention of sorts one day and chipped in, “but if you can concentrate on your books and devote a little more time to study, you can actually be a banker or lawyer or even medical doctor…”.

“Don’t mind her o”, her mother chimed in. “You can be anything God wants you to be and it is not by force to have a career. Don’t join all these women like your aunty that like to read big big books. Can’t you see her glasses?”

Those were the days when my “onyokometers” were the size of bicycle wheels. My glasses were like transparent dart boards, bigger than my head even and made worse by the fact that they were four times the thickness of coke bottles.

So, once she introduced the “god” factor; and took a swipe at her favourite joke theme – my glasses – I beat an honourable retreat before my dignity took much more pummelling.

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Her son, on the other hand, was not allowed to do any chores or participate in anything whatsoever in the household.

Two years younger than his sister, he was already getting to be a nuisance – at least in my own humble opinion.

He would throw his stuff all over the house as soon as he got in from school and his sister would walk behind him, picking things up.

Oh, the number of times I felt like walking up to him and slapping all the evil demons out of him.

He would mimic his dad and lounge in the sitting room, watching Africa Magic or football all day long. If he wanted something, he would yell for his sister or any of the nannies who would come running and attend to his royal majesty.

Once when he called for one of the nannies to come and take away the plate he had used to eat, I snapped.

“Can’t you get up and take the plate to the kitchen yourself? Even if you won’t wash it, at least take it in”.

“Leave him o”, his mum protested. “He is a man besides, what am I paying all these nannies for? Leave him”.

So I left him.

But being lazy was not the only thing he was proficient at, he also liked to beat and slap around his elder sister. He would put his leg out and trip her up, hide her toys away from her, beat her up for no good reason, pull her hair, stuff like that.

The parents would laugh and say, “he is a boy, he will change when he grows up”, and anytime the girl got fed up and attempted to fight back, the mother would chide her, “you know he is a man, he will just beat you and wound you”.

And she would only caution him half-heartedly.

I was always itching to use the koboko on that boy all the time I frequented their home. In a nutshell, he was a little devil that was left to grow horns and run wild around the house.

And his parents reinforced that with the “male privilege” passes they kept handing out to him.

One day, I turned my back for a moment and felt a hand land on my ample behind in a cheeky slap then Lord of hosts, the hand actually grabbed some of the flesh and squeezed.

I turned around and it was him – that enfant terrible, with a cheeky grin on his face.

Ah well, since he thought male privilege permitted him to be so forward, I dealt him a little bit of female privilege in the form of a stinging slap.

“Ahn, ahn”, his mother protested. “Can’t you see that he is such a small boy? Why did you slap him like that? He was just playing with you, you could have corrected him gently and with love”.

Lol. So he is now a small boy because he tasted the sting of my palm ehn, he is no longer a “man” who should be allowed male privilege?

“Abeg”, I replied her, “I no dey like this kind play. He just slapped and grabbed my buttocks. What sort of a small child plays that way with an adult like me? He acted like an adult and I responded like he was an adult. Tell him that what he did was wrong, you are the mother. Tell him he was wrong and why”.

But, she was hell bent on insisting the boy was just playing with me and I “overreacted”.

Anyway, subsequently and having tasted the feel of my palm on his cheeks, he kept his hands to himself  and anytime he started harassing his sister and I spoke up or even just stared at him, he composed himself – quickly.

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Somehow, I was close to this family, because I was dating this lady’s brother.

So I would be in the house most times I was free, just hanging around with them.

And slowly, it became clear to me why the young man I was dating, was a chore to be with.

His room in the BQ of the house was always upside down, he could wear a pair of boxers for ages without washing or changing them and saw nothing wrong with pushing women around physically and mentally; to complete his husband materialship, he had this mindset of what the “perfect wife material” should look and act like.

This was how he had been brought up – male privilege.

It was easy to see why the relationship was dead on arrival. By his understanding of what a marriage relationship should be, it was obvious I was missing five and nine-tenths of a yard of wife materials

I was coming from a background where my father did not slap or push my mother around.

There were no gender-specific roles in our house growing up – my father would wash clothes this Saturday while my mother cooked, and the next he could be the one in the kitchen, cooking and mopping while she washed.

Chores for the children were split according to age and responsibility, never according to sex.

One thing we never heard in our house was, “don’t you know you are a boy?” or “are you sure you want to stay long in a husband’s house?”

Those things were irrelevant and immaterial to our parents, their primary concern was that each and every one of their kids must have a university degree and some basic career, before thinking about marriage.

And yes, even that desire was gender neutral.

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Everyone who thinks it is okay to grab a woman, push a woman around or beat her up, exercise male privilege just because, didn’t just learn it overnight or as a result of “peer influence”; it is almost always as a result of gradual almost unnoticeable conditioning by parents who themselves, were conditioned that way.

Absentee parents.

Busy parents.

Lazy parents.

Bad parents.

Parents who think it is just okay to groom a woman for a lifelong role of servitude and not paying as much attention to the male child.

So what do we have?

The average definition of a Nigerian wife material is that woman who is seen and not heard; who works in the office and works at home; who sweats it out in the kitchen all day long; who raises the kids almost single-handedly; who does not bat an eyelid at abuse or misuse but sees it as an extra score towards getting a perfect CGPA in wife materialship.

And the average Nigerian husband material? He does anyhow he likes; considers parenting the provision of money when called upon; has little or no life skills of his own and considers the woman a chattel to be used at his will and pleasure.

Anything short of that and the woman does not know her place as a woman, while the man is considered a wuss or woman wrapper.

So this perfectly mannered and groomed Nigerian woman, inherits an ill mannered and poorly trained man; and now has to “take him like her baby” and “shape him into whatever she wants him to be?”

What a joke.

Small wonder marriages of these days are like microwave marriages.

Jump in and five minutes after, you are done.

You want out.

Parents, if you are still raising your sons the male privilege way, that is old school.

Neutralise all the roles and chores at home and let your children understand that each has to obtain basic skills like cooking, cleaning and washing – because they would come in handy in the future.

Teach your children to respect each other irrespective of gender: nothing like “don’t you know you are a girl” or “leave him alone, he is a man”.

No. They are all human beings and would one day want to marry and cohabit.

Consider raising and grooming your son without male privilege, the making of a modern-day husband material – a man who loves and respects women; is not abusive and does not consider himself superior by virtue of being male; is not ashamed to express his emotions; is not afraid to contribute emotionally, psychologically and physically to raising a home and is not too lazy to split chores.

Raise your kids equally and maybe, just maybe, your perfect husband-material son would be deserving of the perfect wife-material girl he seeks.

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Read more from Viola

#Boycott beef and say enough to Fulani herdsmen – Viola Okolie

Noble Igwe will not make heaven o – Viola Okolie

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