By Rohey Samba
‘As a feminist by default and an observer of men by volition, I am of the unbridled conviction that men doggedly and relentlessly try to exclude women, by whatever pretext, from the political, cultural and economic echelons of power,’ I said quietly in a tone of voice that was anything but emotional.
When I got the shocked attention I had planned on evoking from the gathering of mostly men, I pursued my argument slowly and deliberately.
‘My point is reinforced by observation and interactions with the opposite sex over the years, as a junior personnel at the workplace, an equal and also as a senior staff at different levels of power in the society. These personal experiences are, of course, heightened by world fact sheets, where women and men doing the same job are paid different wages based on their gender; where well-educated and experienced women are continually side-lined at whatever pretext, based solely on the sex they are born with and gendered connotations of their roles and rightful ‘place’ in society.
In my parody, The Generic Mediocrity Agency, first published in the Daily Observer newspaper about workplace gimmicks in The Gambia establishments, this view is expanded. The generalised view that when women complain about their work situation and boldly ask for what is rightly their due, they are perceived in bad light as perchance overzealous or over ambitious, pays credence to the feminist reality that we face every day.
In fact, I have never during my lifetime, as a civil servant for the past fifteen years, witnessed a situation where a position is created purposely for a woman to occupy, and/or where a woman is given favour in the workplace without raising eyebrows and scepticism from men.
Meanwhile, men create positions for men every single day, even as I am typing away right now. The new directorates invented to cater for men in this small Gambia are preposterous to say the least. If created for a woman, she is either someone’s whore, or somebody’s relation, from whom she had gained favour. Well, I am getting carried away, so I will skip the parody for now and seek to understand, if not accept this masculine view, so endearingly twisted to inverse that reality women face every day and feminists dare to voice out at our own peril.’
After my speech, which I must add was entirely unprovoked; there was silence like the air in the room was entirely sucked away. A vacuum of delectable upset was created in my stasis, which would have prompted my mum to say, “Why rock the boat? Why so markedly pave your way to your own woes?”
Rosario Kamanga was the first to recover from the unemotionally declared but very emotional statement I made.
‘Well, what’s that your name again?’ Rowney? He said.
I nodded in agreement. I was jeering at the temerity I had summoned to say that. ‘Call me whatever…what’s in a name, any???’
‘Well Rowney, that’s a very feministic and debauched portrayal of men in general, which does not represent all men at all,’ he started heatedly.
‘I am quite certain that you have a few bad experiences in your short life. But I am much older than you are and I tell you that that is not true. Whatever has informed your hatred of men is more psychological than logical. You really need to work on your mind.’
Well, who said men were not predisposed to emotional outbursts. I have not mentioned hatred anywhere in my speech. I was just conveying a subtle message by the wisdom of plain talk.
We eyed each other up, each one refusing to blink until a sudden noise, somewhat forced, like the clearing of an already cleared throat, cut through the silence like a sharp knife slices through lean meat. It came from Ben.
Ben Nyadzi, a timid, self-effacing guy who spoke out about men and women not created to be equal but complementary. Drawing up a hard and fast plan to reconcile Rosario and I, he finished by saying, “Men and women are not meant to be equal. They are created to complement each other.’
He stopped abruptly at that, as if by saying those words, somehow things would right themselves.
‘In a perfect world, we would be asking such questions as who rules whom? Man or woman? But the world is not perfect and without proper respect for each other’s humanity and society’s desire to infringe upon women’s rights, these uncomfortable conversations must be had.’ I concluded wryly in the driest of tones as if nudging Rosario to just shut up. And he did. He would not allow himself to be brought down by an angry woman.
So in his masculinist dissection of matriarchy which I plan to critique in today’s article, acclaimed Nigerian writer and self-proclaimed bachelor, Chinweizu inverses the feminist propaganda and seeks to persuade the world that women are in fact the very reverse of what feminists claim that they are, quoting phrases from well-respected women world over, such as the Argentinian, Esther Vilar, who famously said:
“Women let men work for them, think for them and take on their responsibilities – in fact, they exploit them.”
And Marvin Harris who said: ‘Women…control the nursery, and because they control the nursery, they can potentially modify any life style that threatens them.’
Of course these claims fly in the face of our collective experiences as working women, including housewives, for indeed as I wrote earlier, conventional modern opinion, as well as society, both support the feminist view about the lack of inclusion and general denigration of women, especially at the workplace.
To his credit, Chinweizu also quotes a few feminists such as Ellen Galford of Britain, who wrote:
‘Women are slaves and men are masters.’
And Andrea Dworkin of the USA quoted as saying, ‘All housewives are economically exploited, all working women are too’.
These claims no doubt, outweigh by far, the appraisals rendered by a few other women who seem to share Chinweizu’s masculinist dissection that women rule over men. Expatriate Nigerian actress, Patti Boulaye, is famously cited as saying, “Most men are controlled by women.”
Whereas authority is one of the many types of power, power without authority is not unknown, as is recognised when it is said that, ‘behind every successful man, there is a woman.’ Chinweizu thus dissects the prima facie oddity that lays claim that women are powerful in society, and in particular over men. He boldly asserts that women are far from powerless by dishing in his own quotes:
‘Women do get, and always did get, what they want – be it riches, thrones or the head of John the Baptist, or routine exemptions from hardships and risks which their men folk are obliged to endure. That women operate by methods which often differ from those available to men does not in any way mean that women are bereft of power.’
This claim is largely supported in our societal settings. In Wolof parlance for instance, there is the saying that ‘Gegain du rohbah soiye,’ meaning whatever a woman sets her heart upon, she would achieve eventually, especially with respect to the man of her own choosing. Well, if this is not a trivial assertion refuted time and time again by the facts of life, this is a perfidy beyond the comprehension of the common woman herself. In reality, a few women in real life get to achieve their actual ambitions or their hearts’ desires.
Still, Chinweizu delves into the courtship arena with these epigraphs:
‘The object of woman’s existence is not to war with man, or allow man to war with her, but simply to conquer him and hold him in subservience without much as a threat or a blow. Clever women always do this; clever women have always done it.” Marie Corelli, British novelist is quoted as saying.
In another quote by Nigerian columnist, Regina Joseph, she purports: “What woman hasn’t been able to wrap a man around her fingers, if she puts her mind to it?
Well convincing as these may sound, I do not believe that a woman exists to conquer a man and hold him in subservience. But, I may not be clever as I think.
Also, I don’t think that wishing to be Queen of England or the wife of President Barrow, would make any woman queen or first lady for that matter, however doggedly determined she may be. This is wishful thinking in all summation. Thus, this claim by Chinweizu, I would sadly conclude is just a rendition of our Africanness, as I am sure in every one of our African languages, we can find a generalised quote of this sort. Unfortunately, generalisations are bad, poorly concocted thoughts, for the most part, that are oft-repeated and have nothing in relation to the truth.
Thus we fall back to his definition of power, and the power, he claims, reposes exclusively within womankind. The kind that woos the famous and accomplished men of all time, igniting quotes by Esther Vilar: ‘Man’s work is only done with woman in view.”
And from his studies of the human psyche, Sigmund Freud reports:
“…in the greater number of ambitious day-dreams, too, we can discover a woman in some corner, for whom the dreamer performs all his heroic deeds and at whose feet all his triumphs are to be laid.”
Coming home, my husband would say, “All I work for, is for you.” Believe me when I say, I want to believe him, I really do…! But I don’t. Sorry to say.
So, if the natural goal of male power is to pay tribute to women, then concludes Chinweizu, that male power is naturally tributary to female power.
Notwithstanding public structures where men generally dominate, Chinweizu asserts that the under representation in public structures is not proof that women are less powerful for indeed public structures do not exhaust the modes and centres of power in society. He cited other modes and centres of power which women monopolise as the subject of his inquiry.
Accordingly, in those centres, ‘women control scarce resources, commodities and opportunities, and distribute them. They exercise power through education, propaganda, directives, suggestions, rewards and punishments. They wield instruments of persuasion and coercion. Thus he draws the conclusion that in human society, it is not male power but female power which is supreme. That however great male power may be, it is to female power what one-seventh of an iceberg is. Meaning the biggest part of the iceberg is unseen and lays hidden from sight below the water column. Which in turn equates female power.
I seem to agree with this theory entirely. But do you?