You know, it was just last week that I was reading this piece that lampoons writers for usually failing to fully acknowledge in public the help that a stable spouse provides. I thought about how true it is. We’d rather tell the world how hardworking we are, and how much we suffered before we made it big, forgetting how much harder (if not impossible) it would have been without someone there in a capacity of a trusted companion. Why is this? Because we consider ourselves failures if we had to depend on others? Because a man can’t admit that his wife earns as much (or more) than he does, and still retain his manhood? Because admitting such as a woman amounts to betraying feminism? None of it is true, of course, but contemporary society tells us otherwise.
I am a Nigerian, the father of a one year old. I live in Lagos, in an area conducive to a contemplative temperament, close enough to my workplace, and close enough to the venues of artistic contemplation that I’ve spent a number of years pursuing. I work as a schoolteacher of English (and coordinator of a number of literary-related activities), and in my other free time as a linguist, and founder of a translation company/community. But more than these, I am the husband of a working woman, a feminist, who also doubles as the mother of our child and a co-breadwinner in the house. None of these things work at cross-purposes with the other.
The word “feminist” has been, from the time I encountered it in the eighties, loaded with a kind of fault: “Oh those bra-burning women revolutionaries in the West trying to become like men”. That is a paraphrasing of something I may have heard from my father once. But he’s not peculiar. Men of his generation grew up with a different idea about what women should be and what their role should be in the society. But not just the men. Women too. My mother might swear to you that she’s not a feminist, but it would be a cold day in hell before you walk over her just because you’re a man. And almost singlehandedly, she brought up the six of us sometimes without help, and in spite of a sometimes conscious non-cooperation by her spouse.
What I was thinking about when gathering thoughts about this piece is how in today’s world the tag has become even more toxic. And a friend would consider himself showing concern by asking you “I hope your wife is not one of those who call themselves feminists…” I’ve heard educated women call themselves “womanists” as well, as a way of escaping the negative tag that “feminism” supposedly carries. “I believe in women’s rights”, they say, “but I’m not a feminist” The way it seems then is that the difference between a woman (who, as one might expect, doesn’t believe in being relegated in society to any secondary role) and a feminist (who actively fights to secure that commitment from society) is the difference between a writer and a novelist. A writer enjoys the vocation, occasionally makes money from writing, while a novelist is committed to a cause in a particular direction. S/he writes novels, accepts the specific tag of “novelist” and defends the role of the genre against all others when called to do so. Most people seem content to be called “writers” than be called “novelists”. One requires not just effort, but a concrete proof of belonging to the class.
In the book “Fela: This Bitch of a Life” by Carlos Moore, there was a chapter where the author interviewed Fela Kuti’s first wife – a half British, half-Nigerian woman who lived with him lovingly through all his infidelities and sexual flamboyance. Asked about Fela’s authoritarian behaviour, she responds that “that’s how a husband should be.” She continues “I don’t believe in women’s lib at all. I mean I don’t believe a man should tell me I’m lower than him, but I don’t believe in me going to drive a bus. That’s left to a man, you know. Just that type of thing. These women in Europe, I don’t agree with at all.” (Kindle Location 2300). She was making a point about gender roles, but inadvertently about feminism that has insisted that women should be able to do whatever they want to do. She however wrongly assumed that it says that they should be mandated to do it.
My feminist wife isn’t interested in driving a bus either, and her feminism hasn’t kicked me out of the house, or deflated my balls just as my work and vocation hasn’t reduced her feminity or levels of estrogen. However, it has created an environment to bring up a young man with a different attitude to life than our parents afforded us: a world in which men and women can achieve their best selves at home, at work, and in the society without hindrance, and without obeisance to rules that have their roots in prejudice and fear rather than in fact. My daughter will be able to pay for her own meal even on a date without feeling taken advantage of. And my son will be able to make meals in the house, for his family, if he wants to (and if he’s as good a cook as his father) without feeling any shame.
I’m a feminist too, because I believe that a strong and fulfilled woman is as much an asset to the family as a strong and fulfilled man. I won’t have it any other way.