Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Nigeria: A nation of wife-beaters?

That Anglican church, that was my church in the
late 70s and 80s had prayer sessions on
Wednesday mornings. And the congregation more
than once, had to do more than praying.
Shrills and wails of the “mother of the parish”
were familiar to some and when they pierced the
serenity of the sanctuary , even fervent prayers
had to be aborted.
Out of the sanctuary and mumbling disgust at
failure of the priest to handle his affairs more
tidily , elderly parishioners would shoo away
children and hurry in the direction of the screams
to save the vicar’s wife from further savagery .
And she would be retrieved from a torrent of
blows and kicks. And a panting and menacing
priest will direct some scowls and threats at the
interlopers who had the impudence to abandon
prayers , to pry into his running of his home.
A handsome, well spoken, seemingly urbane vicar
whose sense of piety tolerated chasing his wife
around the church premises in full glare of
congregants to effect priestly moral chastisement.
He would conduct services the next Sunday dove-
like , like that Wednesday never happened. The
priest was brutal , the society and church were
complicit. The priest received rapid promotions
and has been a top ranking archbishop for many
years.
Domestic violence against women may be
rampant in many parts of the world but it is , in
addition , socially tolerated in many parts of
Nigeria. Victim surveys show that about 50% of
women of all categories suffer repeated physical,
sexual and psychological abuse in the hands of
their men and other men.
Beyonce says girls run the world . Perhaps they
do all the chores. The world constructed by
patriarchy where women are told, and believe,
they were created for men is an unjust world.
Women, helpmeets, ostensibly exist to help men
meet their loneliness. But because men are
literally pulsating bags of sex hormones then
women must further be objectified for maximum
sexual benefits of the male collectivity. So
women, pawns, are socialized into roles that are
seemingly objectively neutral but that are patently
slavish.
And since they are by nature beautiful , men are
groomed cynically to think that women are
beautiful because they are men’s ornamental
pieces. The icing on the cake of their earthly
existence.
Their beauty is for the viewing pleasure of men,
yes. Men deny them autonomy and urge them to
concentrate on cosmetic trivialities and being
beautiful, in the service of their sexual imaginings.
Dolls. And women spend their lives preoccupied
with their sexiness. And women , only women ,
flaunt naked bodies and revel in things tight and
skimpy.
Culturally , they are positioned to live on the
magnanimity of men . The society pauperizes
women because dependence on men glorifies men
-prancing bags of ego. Independence perhaps
detracts from the sex appeal furnished by
dominion.
Across the cultures in Nigeria, women were
almost in some ways were seen as sub-human.
The female child was always considered inferior
to the male child. Patriarchy meant that the
cultures and traditions were merely the wishes of
men. And societal leadership was the exclusive
preserve of men. And the inferior women whose
roles were to gather wood, cook and be married
off to breed children had little real value. And a
man who died without a male child -heir, lived a
wasted life.
And the cultures gave women to men as wives in
the likeness of properties. And since women were
seen by men as superficial , mawkishly
sentimental and lacking in sobriety , maturity and
intelligence, they were generally considered as
marginally more rational than children. And the
husbands were required by the cultures and
traditions to continue from where the fathers
stopped because the character molding of the
female must be superintended by men . Women,
they say, “spoil easily”.
And they all had to be closely monitored because
the society perceived that women weren’t just
vulnerable and perishable but that also
they possessed in their biology all that was
needed to thoroughly ‘corrupt’ generations . And
since they are supposed to be naturally gullible
and loving of ‘sweet things’, they could, if
unchecked, let loose and imperil the society. A
spoilt female, they presumed, could damage the
morality of a thousand men! The lecherousness of
men is always permissively read as the work of
nature. Lasciviousness and promiscuity are bred
by sluts – women.
Women globally have clawed back few rights but
so much remains. Women couldn’t vote in many
places until the 20th century. And couldn’t act as
sureties for bail in Nigeria until a couple of years
ago. Successes recorded in the enactment of
legislation that prohibit discrimination based on
sex , that promotes equality of the sexes have not
translated into significant dismantling of barriers
and systemic disadvantages that manacle
women.
Men fashion cultures and interpret religious texts
and allocate to themselves the position next to
God. And they say it is not male chauvinism. The
woman is not only of lower intellectual capacity,
she is also an inferior spiritual being, they think.
And the elderly women school the younger women
in the art of worship of men.
And the subjugation is perpetuated. A godly
woman is submissive to her man whom she
needs to be a ‘complete’ woman. And being
perpetually female and single is pathetic failure .
An unmarried mature woman is an abject failure.
And many women display wedding rings like
trophies and loudly brag about being “happily
married” albeit to brutes. And these immoral
presuppositions are espoused even by women.
Cultures, traditions and laws are always
seemingly objective and neutral. Tools of
domination.
A decadent and impoverished Nigerian society,
unfortunately, can no longer maintain a steady
stream of matured capable eligible bachelors in
an increasingly monogamous setting. So many
unpaired ready women languish emotionally. The
society insists they marry but the society lacks
sufficient quality men. Many marry and submit to
poorly groomed and conceited nitwits to escape
the social handicap of remaining unmarried.
Lagos landlords would not even let apartments to
unmarried ladies.
So all kinds of marriages are now contrived to
satisfy different needs and fears. In many of these
contraptions, women shackle themselves with
crippling yokes and their hopes and self esteem
are squashed . The men are lords of their manors
and the women are essentially glorified domestic
helps.
And the standards are now so low that marital
love is assumed to exist if couples manage a
steady stream of bland courteous interactions.
And if men show wives sporadic affections in
tokens and gratuities for sex , for house chores,
and for bearing and looking after their children,
they expect adulation.
The woman would endure endemic sexual
harassment in workplaces and yet come home to
spaces where the man, enfant terrible, must be
feared because he can unilaterally deny everyone
peace by throwing tantrums. The incidence of
domestic violence has been on the rise in Nigeria.
And wives are serially physically and sexually
abused. Some husbands are so out of touch with
decency that they batter their wives even publicly.
And some who, as children, suffered severe
psychological dents when their mothers were
battered, pay no heed to the sanity of their own
children when they batter and denigrate their
spouses. And if you are as unlucky as a cousin of
mine who had the misfortune of a hefty
tempestuous husband who had a second wife in
alcohol, you will be battered at night and on his
temporary return to sanity in the morning , the
brute will ask you how you came by so many
bruises.
Amongst many who claim sophistication are men
who torture their wives verbally and
psychologically. Threats of divorce are casually
dangled because bullies consider themselves
indispensable benefactors of the women. The
husband becomes the maverick. He enthrones an
air of unpredictability and lives out his whims,
caprices and sadistic fancies. “You will pack out
of this house” . “I will send you back to your
father’s house”. Daily squirts of scorn, contempt
and derision. Many Nigerian men treat wives like
low level employees.
In a society where men are allowed to punish
erring women and where family matters aren’t
supposed to become police cases until perhaps
someone has been knocked into coma, the men
get away with horrendous crimes of domestic
violence and the women burn silently. And even
when families and friends are brought in to settle
disputes , the general counsel is always for the
woman to find some way and manage the
madness of her husband. Wife beaters judging
another wife beater.
And the victim’s helplessness is exacerbated by a
certain faithful acceptance of the notion that
marriage is somehow “for better, for worse”.
Divorce is condemned. The female divorcee easily
earns public contempt. So the woman takes in
the scorn and brutality of her husband and
remains “happily married”. Aren’t they always
happily married?
Wives are essentially personal acquisitions.
Mandatory dowries, which are often exorbitant, do
not help to curb the sense of ownership that
many husbands associate with marriage. And
since the Yoruba wife refers to the husband as ‘
Olowo ori mi’- my owner, the man does not need
the woman’s express consent for sex.
The woman’s rights belong to her husband. Sex
must be given on demand and to refuse the man
sex is to commit an act of gross insubordination
which could even be construed as an act of
infidelity. And any hint of infidelity by the woman
is an abomination weighty enough to make her an
eternal outcast.
Marital infidelity by the man is understandable.
The man is viewed as inherently polygamous and
when he chooses monogamy for any reason he
must be rewarded and encouraged by a little
license to ‘respectable’ and ‘guarded’
compensatory extramarital liaisons.
And many tout themselves as good husbands
because they shower their wives with visible gifts
. Amongst them are exhibitionists for whom wives
display objects through which the egotistical self
can aspire to vainglory. So the wife can have the
most expensive of luxury cars but would be
accorded the disdain due a pest inside the home.
And even a careless yawn might attract the
sternest of rebukes! The agony many glamourized
wives of the rich live.
Relevant statistics in Nigeria are non existent .
Domestic violence cases are rarely reported to the
police who are always reluctant to press charges.
The society’s stigma and lack of confidence in
the police by victims ensure most raped and
battered wives grieve in silence. The law here still
says you can’t be guilty of raping a wife.
Barbarism. A criminal justice system populated
overwhelmingly by men cannot understand the
pain of domestic and sexual violence on female
victims.
The laws and customs in Nigeria cede the homes
and everything else to the men. They are founded
on utterly sexist assumptions bordering on
misogyny. The presuppositions must be
dismantled by raising of consciousness. Religious
texts must be interpreted hermeneutically. The
criminal justice system must be fine tuned. A
wife-beater is a criminal.
Ladies , “shine your eyes!”

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