I have met one too many feminists quick to pull out buzzwords like patriarchy and social construct when they try to explain the current condition of the female gender. While it is good for intellectual gymnastics to inquire into the nature of how gender roles are a product of social construction, it is futile to dive too deep into that subject because society has changed drastically and continues to change at an even quicker pace thanks to computers and the internet allowing fast assimilation of information from all over the world.
Unfortunately, consistent with Nigeria’s resistance to the unknown we have found ourselves caught in the worst possible ditch in the process of gender roles rearrangement. The moment we developed a service based industry women became major players in the workforce and most Nigerian fathers these days are aware of the need for a girl to be educated. Women are now encouraged to aspire to a career that would provide independence so she doesn’t have to rely on any man for a living.
Compared to the past we have made some progress, but this progress has brought with it many problems because we have only taken half measures on the matter. While women are encouraged to be successful they are warned of the dangers of being ‘too successful’ which apparently is bad when marriage is at stake. This is because men are intimidated by successful women. Or to be more precise, men are intimidated by women more successful that they are. Under objective intellectual scrutiny it is easy to say that this fear of successful women is baseless, but in a practical and emotional world which we inhabit, I will risk my neck to say that these fears aren’t exactly unfounded.
For years men have felt like we had a place in this world as providers and this task gave us purpose, meaning, and identity in the family. Most of us have been raised in homes where the father assumes the role of house leader and subconsciously we have adopted this idea. It also hasn’t helped matters that most women continue to place financial stability as a top priority in mate selection. Studies have shown that even successful women in directorial positions desire to have men more successful than themselves as partners. And there is the stereotype that women easily get drunk on money and power because they are not used to wielding either. I think they just act like men when they acquire money and power but we perceive them to be drunk of it because we aren’t used to seeing them in such positions.
The whole point of a social construct is that it is embedded in the culture of the society hence it is accepted with little or no thought because it appears normal, tried, and tested. This means we adopt these ideas with a faith that can be likened to religious faith, hence making it difficult to break. I must also add that this isn’t a gender specific problem. Women are also just as guilty as reinforcing these stereotypes. For example, every time a woman allows a man pay on a date without suggesting a split of the bill it sends a signal to men that we still play the role of providers.
If we are to progress to create a society where women are not pressured to limit their ambitions, it is necessary to get rid of notions that hardworking women make bad mothers, or bad wives. We must learn to accommodate the right of women to dream as far as they dare without subjecting them to being apologetic for doing so. Women must also learn to reduce the pressure on their partners to play the role of provider and avoid making him feel inadequate on that front. It is a long way to go, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with but a step.