Men are expected to be paragons of strength, unable to be fazed and sturdy in the face of challenges. It then begs the question; Why do Nigerian men seem to be so intimidated by strong women?
You’ve heard the story before. A highly-personable young woman enters an environment, say a block of apartments, where men have subtly yet firmly asserted their dominance.
At first, she minds her business and avoids unnecessary interactions that, as she knows, may be presumptuous or downright nasty.
After a couple of tenant meetings and a chance run-in, she begins to feel like one of the crowd. She goes out for lunch with the boys (where she’s always careful to cover her bill). She laughs over silly jokes and shuts them down when they’re insensitive.
One day, a neighbour tries to shoot a sleazy shot at her and emphatically, she turns it down. The next day, she schools the more eloquent of them during a conversation about gender politics.
The next day, she returns from an outing and her previously-loving neighbours decide she isn’t worth their time. After a couple of days, she hears a sorry excuse for an explanation; she’s being “disrespectful”.
In Nigeria, even though we’ve only recently begun to talk about it, gender politics has determined the very structure of our society.
Patriarchy and other stories
Nigerian culture has given literal context to the biblical impression that a man is the head. Nigerian men are raised and expected to be patriarchs. We are the embodiment of the “King” complex; the belief that the world must revolve around us at the benevolent, all-powerful being at its centre.
Fierceness and aggression are extolled as important values, and where he feels threatened, the Nigerian man is not afraid to suppress any signs of disrespect, especially when it comes from the fairer sex.
Back to gender politics, this subtle culture has also defined the relations between men and women and what each party expects from members of the opposite sex.
Women are seen as secondary to the male gender. To put it as simply, they are expected to be subordinate.
It reflects in every facet of our society. We expect men to be ambitious and the young girl child with dreams as lofty as her male peers is an exception, not the norm.
Women are expected to willingly relegate themselves to the background; a big personality, or strong principles, are not exactly seen as a strength.
It seems enough to explain why Nigerian men are intimidated by strong women because they are not raised to expect them that way.
The African woman is the nurturer, one whose mind is a blank slate ready to take on the whatever the men in her life wish to imprint on it.
A woman is not supposed to blaze trails that men and women alike follow.
But while we acknowledge these truths, it is also important to recognise what a strong woman is.
Between being strong and toxic
The neo-feminist movements of the 2000s build most of their principles on the view that gender is a social construct. For them, the ideal world is one where being a woman is essentially the same as being a man and no gender is given roles or preferences because of biological or other peculiarities.
It does not celebrate the woman as the “mother”, instead it wants her to be seen as just a person first, and hopefully, for all.
It’s a far distance from celebrating the compassion, nurturing the spirit and everything we’ve defined as the motherly instinct, which is what most traditional forms of feminism are.
Neo-feminists are perhaps the greatest and most culturally impactful of their kind which also means they are the most derided by just about anyone who does not agree with what they think.
One of the most common retorts to their crusading claims is that feminists really just want to do the same thing that men can do and get away with.
For the most part, it’s easy to see how they might think this to be true.
As an offshoot of the attempts to create fix gender inequality, more people are using feminist ideology as a fallback for their attempts to justify certain indiscretions and toxic behaviours.
The perception of a strong feminist in popular culture is now being replaced by one who indulges in casual misogyny and chooses to rationalise certain levels of imprudence as individualism.
It takes much away from women who have challenged traditional gender roles and set their footprints for generations of young girls to follow.
Ultimately, they are the solution; there is no greater chance for dealing with misogyny in our society than raising women who push the envelope in fields dominated by men as the representations of the truth that they argue for.