The culture which is built on the subjugation of women has to be discarded for women to be liberated.
It is a well-known fact that women have been discriminated against for centuries, but with all the discrimination women have come a long way; from not having access to education, limited to no voting rights, not having access to relevant job opportunities, not being able to own properties or hold political positions, to having women in dominant positions in practically every sector there is; which is a good thing. However, this improvement has not eliminated the wide range of discrimination against women.
The entirety of the Nigerian culture strongly upholds patriarchy, which happens to be the foundation of the sexism women face in our society. In as much as a lot of people claim that they do not believe in the discrimination of women, they still cling to patriarchy, the social institution marked by the supremacy of the man in the family and society, while the woman plays subordinate by submitting helplessly to the man, thereby striving in workplaces, politics, commerce; putting the woman in a place of disadvantage which exposes her to domestic violence, sexual assault and much more than anyone should bear.
Recently, a medical doctor, Dr Olufunmilayo shared a story on twitter about how a Nigerian man instructed that his wife’s womb be removed without her consent, because he was afraid she would get pregnant with another child, after their 5th child together. Of course this story drew a lot of attention, it was even featured on TVC’s talk show, titled ‘Your View’. To my surprise, one of the hosts said the man had the right to remove his wife’s womb without her consent, because according to the laws of our traditional marriage, the man pays the bride price and prostrates for his wife’s family, before he can marry her, which signifies that she is a property that he already paid for. Although a lot of people disagreed with the notion, but somehow, when a lady came on twitter to say that she refused to kneel down for her husband during her traditional marriage, she received a lot of backlash, mostly about her ‘focusing on the part of feminism that has no relevance’, or about her ‘destroying our culture’, the same culture that leads to believe women are a man’s property.
The reason a lot of people will rather uphold patriarchy is a mystery to me; could it be because of their love for culture, or because they just love the idea of subjugating women? I digress; but what is clear from all indications in society is that patriarchy does not do women any good. In the instance mentioned by Dr. Olufunmilayo in the above paragraph, the man had the option of having a vasectomy if he didn’t want children, but he chose to remove his wife’s womb without her consent, stripping her of her power, her right to make a choice. What he did may be extreme, but it’s a typical example of what patriarchy is all about – men unduly exercising power over women.
Submission can be defined as the action of accepting or yielding to a superior force, or to the will or authority of another person.
Although people like to pretend that the system of patriarchy and submission of women to male folks does not mean that the women wouldn’t have a say in the marriage, what they fail to highlight is that the woman is at the mercy of the man because she has submitted to him, therefore she will only have a say whenever he wants her to have a say. If an adult male does not plan to control his female partner, why then would he need her to submit to him? Why is there a need for a ‘head’ in a marriage or a relationship if the plan is not to exercise control and authority over the female? After all, the marriage isn’t a war front that needs a leader, and male folks have relationships such as friendships with their male counterparts that function without leaders.
The whole idea of traditional marriage revolves around trading the woman, a trade between her father (the one whose name she used to bear, and the one who receives the bride price), and her husband (the one who pays the bride price, and the one whose surname she takes after the wedding). Now we may choose to act like this does not have any significance, but it does, it signifies that the females go from being their father’s property, to being their husband’s property, hence why our culture stresses the importance of submission on the part of the women. If it doesn’t have any significance, why will people be upset at a woman who chose to not kneel at her traditional wedding, why is it so important for her to kneel if the kneeling doesn’t signify submission to the man? Maybe refusing to kneel isn’t the end to patriarchy, but it is a step in the right direction. By refusing to kneel, she has proved a point, somebody else can take it further by refusing bride price, and with every step, comes the liberation of women from the obligation of submission to men.
Even though we claim not to value our traditional marriages, we insist that once a woman disrupts the patriarchal order of it, she has destroyed our culture. Even when men abuse the fact that they have paid bride price and use is as an excuse to mistreat their wives, we still would find a way to defend it. Despite the fact that there are parts of our culture we have abandoned totally because they weren’t right, we have chosen to continue subjugating women. We all know the fight to defend patriarchy isn’t about preserving ‘culture’, because culture itself changes, people made the culture, so people can also amend it. The defense is only a mere excuse to continue to preserve patriarchy, which is harmful to women.
Women liberation and patriarchy do not work together, because it is the center of sexism. There’s no equality with subjugation of women in marriage. A society that wants to see women kneel for their male partners is not a society that wants women to lead in politics or receive equal pay. It is not a society that wants to end domestic violence or sexual assault against females, rather it is a society that believes a lady owes her husband whatsoever he desires and that a female has to always obey and prioritize her male partner just because she is a woman.
Culture can be reformed, and it has to be reformed to benefit women, just has it benefits men. Women should not continue to be second class citizens just because of ‘culture’, because this culture has been able to make improvements over the years, now it must include the liberation of women.