Saturday, November 5, 2016

Do it like a man

  • Or: unpopular thoughts about feminism from a cisgendered Nigerian male
I have a sister, two nieces and was raised by a strong independent mother. But when a conductor shoves me out the back door of a bus at 20mph, I am reminded that this patriarchy isn’t all rosy for the patriarchs either.
The bus conductor was shoving me out the back door with a gentle push. “Se bi okunrin {do it like a man},” he bellowed again, increasing the force of his palm against my back.
His driver was slowing down, but he wanted me to get off fast. That way his driver wouldn’t have to stop at the bus station. Although it didn’t make sense for him to hurry along, Lagos BRT buses have inherited this infernal predisposition from the Danfos - their black-stripes-bearing yellow-coloured commuter cousins.
I stood rooted to my spot watching buildings sweep past. 
Jumping off wasn’t a problem for me. I have perfected the art over these many years in Lagos; hang out the door with your side parallel to it, lean back like you wanted to sit on the road, then drop quickly while pulling your weight to the rear of the vehicle. The forward motion of the vehicle levels with your counter backward motion such that you don’t end up head-first into the ground. It’s a tricky rendition of Newton’s third law of motion, I think.
Back to the back door. 
I stood rooted to my spot. Not because I was afraid to jump down a BRT bus moving at 20mph, but because this conductor - with his toxic armpits and dirty boxers - was questioning my masculinity. Because I wasn’t as eager to jump off a bus as fast as he’d like, I was somehow less than a man. 
I wondered for a few foolish seconds if I should ask if he understood the sexist implications of his comment and action (of course, don’t forget he was shoving me off a bus.)
But because the feminism/patriarchy/gender roles topic is not one in which I’m well versed, I stayed quiet.
Moreover, a bus conductor listening to a righteous rant about his sexist comments - directed at a cisgendered Nigerian male - would have taken an enormous cake. It was not going to happen. And I was left nursing my stupefied silence.
On the one hand, his comment says “You are a man, do this already,” and on the other, it says implicitly; “Women can’t do this. They are fragile.” 
A good friend and employee of the month, David, wrote recently about how gender roles spill carelessly into our conversations. In his piece, “Na woman dey drive,” he sent light aspersions towards “men” (I imagine) who chalk up bad driving from women to the fact that “they are female.” Not because they had bad instructors. Not because they are good citizens trying to keep the traffic laws. But simply because “they are women.” 
David is right, gender roles (what he calls patriarchy) are systemic, and women often get the short end of the stick. And that sucks. 
What we don’t often mention, though, is what expectations this patriarchy make of men.  In a system where women are considered weak, but also to be cared for, while also chanting impassioned feminist calls-to-arms, what does patriarchy expect of the men?
I have a few from my few short years of being a man. 
You see, the system wants me to put the needs of the lady before mine. It tells me “be a gentleman” when I try to look out for myself. “Ladies first,” it adds for effect. 
The system would frown at me if I wanted to go dutch on a first date. It tells me with the now-familiar righteous indignation, “be a gentleman, pay the doggone bill.” 
The system expects me to give up my seat for the lady on the BRT and shoots me dirty looks when I don’t.
The system wants me to get the door for the woman. Pull out her seat and pay for the meal.
The system wants me to come around the back to get the car door for the lady. (While she sits smug and comfy in the passenger seat)
I don’t oft hear women carp about these perks of “just being a woman.”
We don’t oft talk about how the system segments men into categories. Aggressive. Dangerous. Brash. Harsh. What Chimamanda “incredible hair” Adichie might call “the single story of men.”
The police will stop my three other friends and me (all boys) if we drove past a check point. They consider us a threat so they stop and search. 
The system doesn’t want my friend to talk about how an Aunt molested him at age 12. It doesn’t fit the narrative of the weak, helpless female. 
The system tells me to “be a man” when a loved one dies, and I couldn’t hold back the water works.
The system doesn’t believe my friend when he tells it he was raped at 16. It tells him it’s impossible. 
The system holds its purses closer when I walk into a room. 
The system wants me to work weekend because, well, I am a man. 
Yes, at the root of all this is a system that thinks women are weak. Too weak to rob or wreck havoc on a neighborhood. Too weak to be overworked. And that’s twisted. 
I don’t discount all that women have been through to achieve the level of equality we now take for granted. I have a sister, two nieces and was raised by a strong independent mother. But when a conductor shoves me out the back door of a bus at 20mph, I am reminded that this patriarchy isn’t all rosy for the patriarchs either.
In a follow-up rant-ticle, I will write about “my brand of feminism.”