In April this year, the famous Nigerian writer and gender activists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie instigated a media uproar when she confidently asked former US secretary of state Hilary Clinton why, Hilary had put Mother, Wife and Grandmother her tweeter bio before her public and other professional achievements.
Chimamanda said “In your Twitter account, the first word that describes you is wife. And then I think it’s mom, and then it’s grandmother,” “And when I saw that, I have to confess that I felt just a little bit upset. And then I went and I looked at your husband’s Twitter account, and the first word was not husband.” She later told Hilary she was angry with Hilary’s bio.
The problem was not that a woman was confident enough to ask Hilary Clinton, the wife of former president, or a former US secretary of state why she chose to tell people that she was first and foremost a wife, mother and grandmother over her professional achievement, but that as one anonymous critic puts it to Chimamanda, the problem was that “this madness of gender equality is destroying traditional families”.
Since after Simone De Beauvoir published the “Second Sex”, there has been a flood of request from women for equal participation by men and women in domestic chores. Some women believe men should spend equal amount of time cleaning the house, washing plates, and preparing salads and garri and Okro as women are doing. These women don’t understand why only women should go to market, buy foodstuff for the family (some in the west call it do the groceries), and take care of the children.
Some, women are not just asking that men and women should do the same amount of domestic labour, they should also have equal rights to work. Women should be allowed to become engineers, pilots, masons, and cocoa farmers, just as they can become nurses, midwives, and teachers. They should be allowed to work eight or even ten hours a day just as men are allowed to work. And they should earn the same and be allowed to take major decisions in their workplaces without the chauvinist “all-knowing and all seeing male ego.”
But the response to these demands for equal participation in domestic labour (or Labour as Hannah Arendt will put it), for equal rights to work, and also equal recognition and participation in action—in politics, making warfare decisions, directing fortune 500 companies, and in the case of Cameroon becoming a Minister for Territorial Administration or Minister of Finance—has received a lackluster response from men or sometimes lead to issues of abandonment of responsibilities.
The healthy demand for gender equality has led to unhealthy response from men. First some men believe if women want equal gender participation domestic chores, women should as well take charge of paying the rents, the bills, feeding the family, and paying for children’s tuition and all other fees. Not equal contribution to these important issues, but women should take charge.
Others believe if women are asking for equal pay and equal access to jobs, they should as well handle the heavy workplace loads or physical objects that men carry every day. Not that all men carry heavy objects, or most women don’t, but the point is clear, women should carry the loads, if they can ask for the pay.
Without dismissing the important debates on whether equal pay means equal work—even in environments where equal work means equal weightlifting; or of whether demands for equal participation in domestic chores means equal contribution to family income, there are two problems with these responses wherein men want women to take charge because they are asking for gender equality in private and in public.
First, even in cases where women already contribute equally to the family income, some men still labour less, and when the lady ask the man to do more chores, they respond by completely abandoning their responsibility to contribute to their family income and tell the lady “you wanted equality, take care of the rents and the bills, after all don’t you work?” Some even go as far as abandoning their family all-together.
The second problem is that some men have interpreted request for gender equality as “getting the woman to catch the spiders”. Danger and security have played very important roles in most patriarchal societies—these are social systems where men are in authority over women in all aspects of society. Most jobs are categorized on the form and amount of harm or danger involved in the execution of the job. People think about jobs, about the nation, and even about their houses based on concepts of security and danger. At the end of the day the goal is simple, safety and security, as Rodi Rell told us.
But as feminists have sprouted, we are not abandoning the centrality of security and danger in the structures of our society, were are basically changing who takes care of the danger and brings the security—as if women weren’t doing that before. We are still afraid of the spider sting or the recoiling snake. We are still afraid to live without income. But instead of getting the men to catch the spiders, we are asking the women to “get the spiders”. Women should man-up as some men will request to physical danger, if they want equality. They shouldn’t be little Disney Princesses, who hop like kangaroos in the face of a spider or snake.
I don’t think this is what gender equality is about. Gender equality is simply what women are telling us men to do. Do more work at home. Clean the dishes. Put the clothes in the laundry machine. Clean the house, and if possible clean the cars. Go to the shop, buy clothes for the kids as well as foodstuff. Give women equal access to all types of jobs, while paying them same as their male colleagues. Get more women into politics, into top defence, finance, and managerial positions, as well as respect them when they are presidents just as we expect them.
Doing this this is not a weakness. It is responding to a pervasive form of social injustice and contributing to the well being of our homes and societies. It is getting 51% of the wrld’s population to realize their potential. to make a great contribution to humanity.
Men should kill the spiders if the princess asks them to. Women should enjoy the wonders of a great wedding gown or the excitement in trying dresses they won’t buy in shops. They should get emotional, passionate, and keep up with Kardashians. Those who want should apply as much makeups as they can on their faces and paint their nails in numerous layers. But in all these, men and women should still do equal amount of labour, work, and action, and men shouldn’t stop catching the spiders if they have to. As Hilary Clinton told Chimamanda , “women should be able to celebrate both their personal and professional achievements”.