She walked into the class confidently and headed straight for the lecturers’ table at the front. It turned out the course wasn’t the only thing new to me that day, the lecturer was too. Female writers of Africa – an elective course I had selected because I thought it wouldn’t be too cumbersome. Little did I know this course would change my perception about gender in a way I never thought possible. In the boat with some of my course mates, but none of my cronies, we set sail on a voyage in a vessel captained by Mrs. Abakah into the very thoughts of women.
Mrs. Abakah had a very unique style of lecturing. She was always seated. In fact it didn’t feel like an academic exercise at all. She was often caught up in a world of her own, as if her spirit wasn’t present in the class. The ceiling, I imagined, was a screen on which she saw clearly outlined information concerning literary pieces under discussion. She would suddenly look up, seemingly lost for words, and then eventually spew the shrewdest opinion. I was always amazed by her technique. Her message *you do realize I am calling it a message instead of a lesson right?*, was simple, ‘humanity hasn’t been fair to women’. No, I didn’t say ‘MAN-ity’ but ‘humanity’ which comprises both male and female. These very thoughts were captured in the poetry and novels of prominent Female African writers. The likes of Mariama Ba and Abena Busia wrote straight from their hearts. They beautifully invented scenarios and came up with allusions from the bible to drive home their points. And I found that very fascinating. These things are all around us. We see them every day. We hear them in comments – loose comments that slip out of the mouth of both men and women. However how they are whispered softly or said jokingly, they scream loudly the fact that we live in a patriarchal society. We like to call it a ‘man’s world’. The term, if not gender-specific, makes perfect sense and is very apt. We all know what we mean when we say it – ‘a man’s world’- it means it is a world where men wield undue power. As much expected, it is a total power trip. This gave rise to feminists: people who desire to fight for the rights of women. But over the years, the term ‘feminist’ has degenerated into a horrible adjective. The belligerence, the bitterness, the visible out-pouring of messages stemming from past hurts all contributed to this degeneration. I personally hated the word – ‘feminist’, yuck! I always pictured a woman who just came out of an abusive relationship and hates the world so much she goes on a ranting spree. Most of her rants targeted at members of the opposite sex. Basically, a loose cannon, ranting and raving about how bad men are, with every word heavily soaked in bitterness and resentment towards one man. That one man who probably hurt her feelings. This was the picture that came to mind anytime I heard the word.
Then came along Mrs. Abakah. Then quite recently, came along Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I finished reading Chimamanda’s novel ‘Americanah‘, yesterday and I must say it was a sweet experience. This is what I call a pure literary pleasure. To me it isn’t just a novel *and this isn’t a book review either*. It is a 477 paged newspaper. It is a 477 paged diary. It is a 477 paged novel dipped in a concoction of allegory and humor like no other. It is very good that I watched her speech on TED talks before reading her book, because I kept sensing traces of some of the issues she raised during that speech. And such occurrences go a long way to tell you that these are things she is genuinely passionate about. After reading a blog she wrote about homosexuality, though our views on the issue are polar-opposites, I enjoyed every bit of the write-up. I nearly posted on facebook that she is one of the writers I really look up to. But I didn’t. I didn’t dare write that. Why? For some funny reason, the imp in my head told me it was rather too feminine to have a female role-model as a guy. But do we think it is too masculine for a girl to have Komla Dumour, of blessed memory, as a role-model? Is it? It is these little things that go a long way to expose the sort of society we live in.
I recently overheard a woman say to a male shop-attendant from whom she was buying stuff ‘y3 nt3m na wo y3 barima’, which means, ‘be smart because you are a man’. Take 30 seconds to think about it and let it sink in. So to her being smart in dispensing services is a quality peculiar to men, so she expected it of him naturally. This is amazing. These petty comments make the most indelible imprints on the minds of people. And they also display our views on the issue of gender. We have so much reduced women to a lot of demeaning things, there is nothing left of them anymore for us to reduce. In our video clips and movies, they are sex toys, and the most sickening aspect is they don’t even know it. They assume it is stardom or a ploy to make them famous. In marriage, we have reduced women to a biological apparatus of child birth *the very words of Mrs. Abakah*. Meaning, they are only there to give birth or to engage in activities that aim at producing children. This is equally sickening. Women are totally worth more than that. It is time men changed their minds and women did same too.
I remember Mrs. Abakah drawing our attention to the fact that in every patriarchal society, women are mostly the agents of patriarchy. In the sense that, women are often used against each other to establish the ‘rulership’ of men. One shiny example is the fact that the older women in some communities were responsible for executing the mutilation of the genitals of young girls. And it is sad that women would take part in an act that would reduce sexual pleasure in other women to avoid infidelity on the part of those women in marriage – as though they were the only people expected to be faithful. Whenever you hear a woman complaining about her husband sleeping around, it is with another woman he sleeps. This is where I disagree with Chimamanda. *To those who have read the book* In the book, we find Obinze leaving his matrimonial home because Ifemelu was back in his life. No matter how unhappy Obinze was, he brought the misery upon himself by marrying because he could, and not because he loved his wife. Hence, his wife Kosi, shouldn’t be left to suffer the consequences of his actions especially as it is precipitated by the resurfacing of his ex-lover. This is my opinion, fidelity shouldn’t be expected of women alone, but men also. In one of our classes, Mrs. Abakah explicated the nursery rhyme ‘twinkle twinkle little stars’. I was amazed by how deep the poem I had recited many times ,as a child, was. Then I wished I possessed the ability to explicate literary pieces as well as she did. One of Chimamanda’s comments on racism, through a blog Ifemelu wrote in the book was ‘Racism isn’t biology, it is sociology’. Amazing. I thought to myself “why didn’t this thought come to me first?“. Her ability to say a lot in a few words and still manage to write a 477 paged novel is remarkable. Yes, I am a young fledgling male writer, and I admire these two women and hope to possess these qualities mentioned above.