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Dealing with patriarchy as a young Nigerian feminist

Dealing with patriarchy as a young Nigerian feminist

We spoke to five Gen Z feminists about their experiences navigating and dealing with patriarchy as young Nigerian women. The nuance of age and their feminist ideals shape their day to day living, experiences and interactions with others. 

Naomi, 19

Honestly, every day I learn one more thing that women can’t do or that women are forced to do as a direct or indirect result of misogyny. Something that really upsets me is the entire discussion around abortion and women’s reproductive rights. It’s really wild to me that a person can be forced to carry and birth an entire human being against their wishes like their own health and well-being and autonomy over their own body don’t matter. It’s especially wild because there are no laws forcing men to have surgeries preventing them from impregnating women in the first place and, there are no support structures in place for women to depend on when they do have the kids they’re forced to have. It’s “just have the kids whether you like it or not”. Crazy. 

Being a feminist around friends and on the internet is much easier than it is to be a feminist around family. Particularly older family members. I pick friends that align with my views and I can control my interactions on the internet but with family, they still have a very misogynistic mindset and when you share your views it’s either “this one has come again” or a “what does this one even know” attitude. It’s not as bad in my family but I know a lot of people that have it worse. 

Really, every day is a battle with misogyny but something that stands out in my journey happened a really long time ago. I was in primary six and I was the Head Girl at my school. We were graduating and my teacher told me that the Head Boy and I would be giving speeches. So naturally, I worked very hard and wrote a speech. Only for the principal to enter my class one morning to tell me that I couldn’t give a speech. Why? Because the Head Boy is senior to me and he would be giving the speech alone. I was so angry and so confused because we had the same post and the same duties so it made no sense that he would get to do something that we had both worked for because he was about. It was a very eye-opening experience for an 11-year old lol.

Being feminist means that there are certain “jokes” and things that people say concerning women that everyone overlooks, but I have to say something. Constantly being the person asking, “why would you say that?” and the person saying “that’s not right” gives you a reputation. People (misogynists) think I’m uptight or aggressive and I take things too seriously. Being a Gen Z feminist means that older people act like I don’t know what I’m saying a lot of the time because I haven’t “experienced life”. It’s really weird but after being a feminist for a while, these things faze me less and I’m more confident in what I’m standing for. 

Mayowa, 20

I see mistreatment of women and misogyny happening all around me. But I am particularly angered about how it plays out in marriages. Recently, there has been some celebrity marriage drama with Nigerian celebrities. The commentary online and offline has consistently blamed wives for the behaviour of their husbands. They are expected to suffer in silence, and I hate that this is normal. Marriage itself often subjugates women further. I am not against the institution totally, I just wish it could be updated – with less of the emotional burdens placed on women.

I definitely feel like I am an outcast when it comes to some of the beliefs I hold. While I have a few friends who identify as feminists, I have been told that my ideas just aren’t practical or that I’m doing too much. 

On the internet, while there are communities who have people with ideas similar to mine, Nigerian Twitter and Nigerian Instagram often use and see the word “feminist” as a dirty one. At times, it is even used as an insult. Sometimes, I hold back from expressing certain views online just because I know what kind of feedback I’ll get.

Many times, I find myself keeping my mouth shut when certain conversations come up, around family, or when I’m in a place where I know that my opinion will be disregarded. At times, my age is a hindrance because I feel like people think I’m too young to have an opinion on certain things. Statements like, “When you’re married you’ll understand” or “When you have kids, you’ll understand,” upset me, because they are said to silence my feminist opinions on parenting and marriage. Regardless, being a feminist means you have an optimistic outlook on society to an extent – you are upset that things around you are a certain way, but believe that change can happen if enough people care. This side of feminism and social activism makes for interesting conversations with new people, which I am grateful for. Even if I don’t change their minds, at least I have shown them another way of thinking about an issue.

Temilorun, 21

Being a feminist in my environment is mostly a lonely experience. I’m lucky my best friend and I have shared values so that is one safe space for me. Most people, family or acquaintances sometimes see me as crazy or irrational for believing in some things I believe in. 

My family is very conservative but open-minded towards some things. Occasionally, their conservative side prevails. Growing up, my big sister would tell me to “focus on a fight I can win and not gender equality”. When I take stands at home now, my mum would remind me that she was not the one who trained me that way and warn me not to go and embarrass her outside.

I’ve stopped talking to a lot of friends who take regressive stances in situations (like when my old best friend would rather blame me for being a smoker rather than be there for me after I was raped on a double date). When issues came up online as well, his perspective was always off.

Society upsets me daily as we prefer to police women’s actions rather than speak against or put in place regulatory bodies for offences against women. My sister was molested in our house growing up and rather than dealing with the perpetrator, they focused on how my sister was always putting on mini-skirts around the house.

When one of my sisters also got an abortion and my parents found out because she had complications, they preferred to increase our prayer sessions in the morning and night and also impose a fresh set of rules that basically ensured we had no social life or tried to look ‘vain’.

Being a Gen Z feminist means I have to not allow myself to get comfortable and constantly unlearn a lot of misogynistic privileges that sometimes contradict my feminist belief. It also means I have to scrutinize the things older feminists say regarding situations and learn to have a mind of my own.

Changing my circle to include people who have similar ideologies has made things better for me; the journey isn’t as lonely as it once was definitely. But at the start, making conscious decisions to be in charge of my life such as moving out and changing my circle was definitely lonesome.

William, 20

For as long as I can remember, someone I know has had a turbulent married life but everyone would gloss over it and ignore it. I would like to mention that everyone knew her to be frail as well. So later on, when her children were much older (they are separated ), she had to live with him for a while, he would play nice and bring her food. She noticed that she was sicker than usual and traced it to the food, the old boy was poisoning her. A woman that had been with him when he had nothing, had children with him, supported him at her own expense. He was poisoning her – her body in this instance but also her mind throughout their relationship.

It’s really hard especially since my family is Christian and they’re pretty serious about their faith. So when I speak up about things I get the “reverence your husband, persevere, report him to God” speech and other stuff lol. With family, I’m told not to be assertive and my being feminist is conflated with being a lesbian or a misandrist (not that I mind but it gets annoying). Around friends, it’s pretty easy because we’re patient and willing to learn from each other. Of course, we have disagreements but they aren’t unbearable. On the internet, it’s so-so for me because, on one hand, I can block people or just log out. On the other hand, I love that people are more knowledgeable than I am and there are kind strangers and free resources.

Teniola, 19

Sometimes it’s me throwing a tantrum because I don’t want to wear a fucking bra but I know my grandma will make me trend on the group chat if I leave her house without one (I’m staying with her right now) or people dismissing my reasons for not wanting kids or having marriage as a priority because “I’m too young to understand what I’m saying.” It’s also not being able to leave my house when I see a cluster of men gathered in front of my neighbour’s house, “visiting” his gateman because I know they will most definitely catcall me (I have told my dad about this several times but, like every other thing I talk about, I’m just exaggerating) or (my favourite one) my mom telling me that I shouldn’t study engineering because I won’t have time for my husband and children (when she said this I honestly just started laughing because homegirl truly doesn’t know what’s going on). 

Being a feminist makes you realize how much being a woman feels like an automatic 1-0 in life. Sometimes, it feels frustrating, I’m angry and resentful (when I see the boys playing FIFA and I’m hiding because I don’t want to be in the kitchen cooking) and annoying. 

But sometimes, it feels liberating, peaceful and right. Like when I look at my friends struggling with upholding some patriarchal standard, I’m just so thankful for feminism. 

It has most definitely helped in giving me the clarity to define my life path and make decisions of my own. 

In the beginning, my mother was ready to throw me away but now, she understands that she doesn’t have a choice. My dad mostly doesn’t have any issues. He is the reason why nobody can tell me anything stupid like, “you should learn how to cook for your husband” or “see how dirty your room is, is that how your house will be” because my guy cooks and cleans. He’s also the reason why I love science. Ever since I could pick up a plug spanner, we always fixed the car or the generator or the light together. 

One time, this useless old man was harassing my 10-year-old sister. I went to his house and told him to come out, I want to talk to him. He did not and that’s how I found myself crying some white girl tears in the middle of the street one afternoon like that. I’d like to say my mission was successful but you know Nigeria. My neighbour came down and tried to diffuse the situation by placating him. THE ABUSER WAS BEING TOLD, “SORRY, DON’T BE OFFENDED”. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to tear somebody a hot slap like I did that day. I don’t particularly like Nigerian adults but what she did really hurt me. I don’t speak to her anymore. When I see her I move like she doesn’t exist because, quite frankly, she’s dead to me. Now, the men on my street know not to move mad around me because they will find me in front of their gate wailing. I cannot be shamed.

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