…A Response to Chimamanda Adichie’s Dear Ijeawele
“Should we still raise our daughters to be feminists, even when gender roles are already in their favour?”
One thing modern feminism seems to gloss over is the fact that the societal constructs for gender are heavily swayed in favour of women. The disposability of men has been ingrained in our interpersonal relations, not because women are the weaker sex but because of the life-bearing ability that only they possess. Only women have the ability to bear and carry children, meaning that in any given circumstance, they ought to be protected. If not for the safeguarding of women, the human species could literarily become extinct. For this reason, in extreme circumstances involving life or death, women’s and children’s lives are always put first over men’s. That being said, we have reached a stage in our evolution where we are no longer under an immediate threat of going extinct, hence, these lines of gender hierarchy have become rather blurred.
Men, in the past, have had to be breadwinners for their families while women were regarded merely as child-rearers but these roles have now been exacerbated. On the one hand, men permitted by religion or personal lifestyle tend to become polygamous, either officially or unofficially. On the other hand, because of the biological makeup of the genders, the role for men was primarily to hunt. This means that contemporary women who need to fend for themselves by earning, have issues in the workplace such as maternity leave, finding someone to rear the children and in some cases, a pay gap because they are considered to be in the woods with men, hunting. These are some of the reasons why feminism has thrived. The ulterior essence of all of these is to bring to the fore of our minds that the original, untainted gender roles in society were in favour of women—a fact worth considering when training our children emotionally.
Feminism is but a tool used by women to demand all sorts of rights, despite their intrinsic capabilities over men. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award-winning writer and renowned feminist, was broaching this topic, when, in an interview with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show (that caused quite the controversy amongst Nigerians), she said that she doesn’t believe men should open the doors for women on the flimsy basis of chivalry. Chivalry is usually at the disposability of men. Men are supposed to put women first, equating to the respect shown them by women by reason of their gender profile. This is however not because women are weaker, as Adichie mentioned. There is, of course, the issue that respect should not be gender-based. Chivalry has been fed over time by the training pattern the girl child gets, as women are raised to believe that they enjoy a type of leverage; a cushioned chamber on a pedestal, unlike the kind the male child gets.
Chimamanda Adichie, in her book, deals mainly with the training of women, the beauty and burden of motherhood and the goal of marriage for women as a negative reinforcement, while trying to get rid of gender roles. She mentions some negative gender roles thus, “it is funny that we are still talking about cooking as some kind of marriageability test for women”, but what she does not mention or consider is that there are aspects of gender roles that are in favour of women. The flaw in Adichie’s writing is perspective. Her portrayals of feminism never reflect, even in the slightest ray, the male perspective; how men have been catering to the needs of women and their varying expressions of selflessness when it comes to the woman. It instead shines a bright beam only on the misfortunes of gender roles where women alone are objectified. There is nearly always a recurring thematic preoccupation of hers, portraying only how women are being appraised in some way or another, on the level of the domestic grooming they might have received growing up, and what it all adds up to now; and what the significance of whatever result that amounts to during courtship or in marriage. This consideration does not take into cognisance the reasons for this dynamic. It inadvertently makes her book a mirror of complaints featuring the Nigerian society on an imbalanced scale, rather than an even assessment of what each role actually plays. The lack of a holistic consideration further perpetuates the placing of women on pedestals, further willing women to put themselves first over men.
Child rearing is indeed already in favour of women. What Adichie fails to consider in her book, is the clear distinction in the way male and female children are trained to deal with their emotions. This inevitably affects and reflects in the emotional expressions, as well as the relational skills, of the two genders later in life. An example of this is when a female child, a toddler, is crying. She is consoled and pacified thoroughly, whereas, when a male child cries, he is given a time limit and chided for crying. Males have been raised to be strong and to not vocalise their emotions while females are much more in touch with their emotions. This is acted out in their lives as they progress in age and get into relationships. Females tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves. This transparency, which is a type of strength, puts them at an advantage over men. Men, on the other hand, are made to tend to the emotional wellbeing of their significant other, even though they often are left to deal with such issues on their own, simply because of their own lack of ability to share their feelings. In Chimamanda Adichie’s book, she tends to deal with the superficial aspects of what needs to be done to raise a female child but she does not take into account the emotional rearing of a child, and how this compares between a female and a male. Taking this further would have helped in posing a stance on how a feminist striving for equality should also strive for an emotional balance between the sexes.
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