Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Imagining the End of Patriarchy
I do agree that as the world becomes more globalized, more and more societies are going to have to shift to accommodate the contributions of women in the public sphere. The agrarian societies that required a gender-based division of labour and in which physical prowess was a main arbiter of power are disappearing – and they are not coming back. However, the societal shifts that are helping to liberate women are not happening everywhere.
In the West, which was far more affected by the global recession, the rise of female power is only accelerating an ongoing trend. Women have been steadily moving into the public sphere in American and European societies for the last 30 years. In Nigeria, feminism has only barely started to take hold – and only among certain classes in certain parts of the country. We are still outraged by the story of an aging senator whose fourth wife was a 13-year-old girl and the revered traditional monarch who brought armed thugs with him when he went to beat his wife in her own home. And many Nigerian women still expect to marry men who will “take care” of them financially.
But whether we like it or not, the world is changing and in the new global system, patriarchy simply does not work. The idea of a single powerful male single-handedly providing for a passive and dependant spouse is impossible when few men earn enough even to care for themselves. Our clinging to a system which even our ancestors did not practice in a bid to maintain a false sense of tradition, is doing us a disservice. It is placing men under an increasingly unrealistic burden of responsibility while keeping women out of a system that increasingly needs their input.
Western feminism may not mesh with aspects of African culture. A tradition which holds that a person’s most important legacy is leaving behind children who will remember them, cannot agree with Simone De Beauvoir’s view of marriage as a soul-crushing prison. So, we have to find a version of feminism that works for us.
Before colonialism, many Nigerian societies had their own avenues for female power. Among the Igbo, for instance, there were ways for women to become chiefs and own land in their own right. But the richness and complexity of these traditions were stripped away and we have been left with concepts that are poor, denuded versions of what they were.
And this is where imagination comes in. I think too often we writers fail to adequately tackle the issue of female empowerment. And when we do, it tends to come across as moralistic and trite. Plus, the burden is left solely to women, as if they are the only ones who have a stake in changing the system. For instance, Richard Ali’s review of Ahmed Maiwada’s new novel “Musdoki,” celebrated it as a tribute to traditional masculinity. Mr. Ali speaks so glowingly about the novel’s themes of male dominance and the fear of female emasculation that one would have almost thought the book was set in the 16th century, not modern times. People, we can do better.
As patriarchy becomes increasingly untenable, our society will need to find a new system. No one is advocating all-out female domination. I am of the opinion that matriarchy could ultimately be as destructive to men as patriarchy is to women. Instead, I think our future lies in devising a true equitable partnership between men and women.
What is needed is a society in which men and women are free to choose their paths without preconceptions of gender to box them in. A world in which men can be caring and nurturing without being a called weak and women can be assertive and powerful without being called domineering.
Writers, especially writers of speculative fiction, have an important role to play in this discovery. It is up to us to imagine the new order that we want to see. We can inspire the world to change, but before it can be, someone has to dream it.