Continuing on from my introductory post, (click here) Part 2 expands on ‘rape culture’.
*trigger warning: rape*
Rape culture is not a foreign concept that was imported into Nigeria. As Nigeria runs on patriarchy, rape culture is a byproduct of the system and it is so deeply woven into said system, that it is sometimes difficult to see it. Looking at the example mentioned of Nollywood films in part 1 and illustrating sexual harassment, it falls under the umbrella of rape culture and one must wonder just how normalised and expected it is for a woman to give her body — without consent, in return and/or as a reward to the man/power figure. The act of rape is to exert power over the victim and has very little to do with the sexual act in itself. To rape is to not have consent and defining it in this way forces us to examine the numerous methods used by men to turn a woman’s initial firm no into a limp yes.
A consequence of patriarchy is the illusion that women do not initially know what they want and so we need to be “convinced” which, in other words, means being coerced into giving the response that pleases the man. Coercion happens without it looking forceful and goes undetected under the guise of the man being “persuasive” and “persistent”, which are deemed desirable and romantic qualities. As aforementioned about the idea that women require “convincing”, the element of “the chase” in a heterosexual dating dynamic, is another result of that and a factor in rape culture. This is something Nigerians unknowingly uphold often and when posed with a dating scenario question, responses always fall into the line of thought that men ought to “chase” and women like the “chase”. There are seemingly rules to be followed whilst dating that aid in making “the chase” worth it. If a woman is perceived as “easy” (she sleeps with the man on the first date), the man is thought to have been robbed off chasing the woman and she, as a result, is sex-shamed. However, if a woman holds off from sleeping with the man for a lengthy amount of time (again her body is seen as a reward), she is viewed as a “prude”. So here we are, caught in between a catch 22.
There must be no room for rationalising rape as that adds to victim-blaming which is the firstborn of the marriage between rape culture and misogyny. From the moment a girl is born and assigned her gender, there are expectations from her, to name just a few, on how to behave, what to do to curb the leering eyes of men and how to adjust her skirt/dress to where she’s not addressed as a “slut” or in the context of Nigeria, an “ashewo”.
Last year, I visited Lagos after more than a decade away. Of course, a culture shock was to be expected as Lagos was different, yet still the same in some ways, to when i left. Now, an incident happened during my time. On a sweltering hot day gallivanting with a new found friend on the mainland, I experienced the most extreme form of “slut” shaming I’ve had to date. I was threatened with rape because of what I chose to wear. What i was wearing is truly irrelevant but given the nature of the man’s comment and for the purpose of the readers understanding, i shall state that i had on shorts and a dashiki top. Before encountering this man, I had already received backlash from men who claimed that i ought to be arrested, women who called me ashewo (yes, we internalise misogyny, no surprises there) and leering eyes. But to hear the words “if you walk pass here again na rape i go rape you” from a man who had a customer in front of him as he sold shoes, shook me to my very core.
We must begin to scrutinise our culture that permits the ease in which this man spat those vicious words at me, whilst in the presence of a buying customer (who was another man) and no one thought to flinch. That is an act of misogyny; a disregard for my humanity and my individualism because i am not somebody he was related to. Acts and comments like the ones i received have enough virulent venom that has deleterious consequences to one’s own individuality and self-confidence.
Often, men like these are othered and/or infantilised by descriptions of “not real men” by men who attempt to distance themselves. “Real men don’t rape.” Yet, unfortunately, they do. They are men and as real as they come. Stripping away their manhood does absolutely nothing to dissect the purpose of their actions, and such comments tend to be made by men that fall under the benevolent sexist category. A benevolent sexist (BS) deviates from the hostile form of sexism that is routinely practiced, but instead has actions that are, from the surface, “harmless” but said actions are rooted in sexist stereotypes that continue the subjugation of women. Examples include chivalry and analogies such as “the man is the head and the women is the neck” – unpacking analogies like this one would require a separate post. Hostile sexism (HS) rebukes women who are aberrant whilst BS rewards women who conform to stereotypes that serves the needs of men. Nigerians practice both and according to a report for Harvard’s Business School’s Gender and Work conference, countries that have more benevolent sexism tend to have more overt hostile sexism (Glick, 2013).
BS is reflected through our rights in the constitution and the practice of implementing our rights in Nigerian society. It is simple to postulate the women’s rights outlined in our constitution but those have no practical bearings on the lives and conditions of women in Nigeria but, instead, are used to restrict and corner us into subordination. In the next segment, i shall divulge into how the laws in place acts as a tool for misogyny and patriarchy and the way in which our government leaders show off their sexism.
Glick, P., 2013. Gender & Work: Challenging conventional wisdom, Boston: Harvard Business School. Available at: http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/conferences/2013-w50-research-symposium/Documents/glick.pdf