Feminism and relationships

Thanks to Estrella this post is being written. She asked that I write about feminism especially with regards to relationships in the Nigerian context...
When I googled feminism, the definition that came up was “the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.”
Feminism in the context of a relationship…I am not sure how well these two go together but I will say on my part that I believe that both individuals in a relationship are meant to complement each other, the female as well as the male have a role to play. Where one is lacking, the other could make up. This is very vague but that’s my line of thinking for starters.

The notion of one sex being superior to the other has long been a bone of contention for many. I am not writing this to negate or to agree to that notion. Each person can make the choice for herself/himself. As open minded as I would like to think that I am, I could be traditional in some areas. When it comes to a relationship, in terms of marriage/civil partnerships for instance, I still have the notion that a man should be a bread winner, that the man should be the head. The woman could earn more and contribute significantly to running the home, she could even be the one bringing in all that is needed to run the home when there might be a case of the man losing a job or going through a rough time because these things happen but the man should still take the lead. However, certain things are true in a relationship like both sexes need each other.

In the Nigerian context, like any other context, there are chauvinists. A chauvinist is “showing or relating to excessive or prejudiced loyalty or support for a particular group or cause.” In this case it will be prejudiced loyalty to men and not thinking that the woman should equally matter/have a say.
Looking at the typical Northern part of Nigeria for instance, men are everything. A woman is hardly allowed to go out, to be outspoken, she is meant to be submissive. I do not dispute submission but submission to the point of non-existence, that’s where I think there is a problem. A woman is meant to be invisible basically and do her husband’s bidding which I do not agree with. This might be happening in other parts of Nigeria but I can only speak of what I am aware of.

Sometime in the 1800’s in England, this was the case for women in Victorian Britain.
“A married woman in England has no legal existence: her being is absorbed in that of her husband. She has no possessions, unless by special settlement; her property is his property.  An English wife cannot make a will. An English wife cannot legally claim her own earnings. An English wife may not leave her husband’s house.  He has a right to enter the house of any friend or relation with whom she may take refuge, and who may “harbor her” and carry her away by force, with or without the aid of the police.
If the wife sues for separation for cruelty, it must be “cruelty that endangers life or limb” and if she has once forgiven his offense, she cannot plead them. If her husband asks for a divorce, she is not allowed to defend herself. Her husband can divorce her so as to marry again; but she cannot divorce the husband for any reason.”
So the part of a woman being invisible is not new or typical to Nigeria, this has been in practice for a long time. But my question would be: why does it still happen? 

On the other hand, with modern day culture, some men may have lost any form of chivalry. Some men are too direct and have little or no respect for women. The act of ‘gentlemanliness’ might have been thrown out of the window, there is little courtesy. A man might not realise today that he could offer his seat to a woman, or allow a woman to pass if they both are standing at a door, or treat a woman with respect at all times especially in public. A woman might also not be sure of how to act these days in a relationship, especially when she is a high flying career woman who has it all going. A man might come into her life but that would not provide her guarantee on certain levels. The companionship may be important but some women in this category simply do not know how to be submissive. While it is fine for some men, it is a major problem for others.  

I do not dispute that there are some women who take the feminism thing too far. For women like that who are in relationships, I wonder sometimes why they would not be self-sufficient in every respect.
Now striking a balance with whatever cause anybody may be standing up for is one issue I always raise. I might be feminist but the manner in which I go about it may be wrong. If I am always on the defensive, that will certainly put any man off in a relationship. Here is a typical case of a friend (as many examples as I may have, I am sticking to the Nigerian context):

A person she dated would watch out for her outfits. He would ask her to help pick something up when they were dressed and about to head out, then tell her that she couldn't wear the dress she had on. He would say it in their native language to quell the authoritative tone but she noticed that it was controlling. He would ask her to just wear a pair of jeans and a top and not to go overboard with her dressing. She always did that and would look drab compared to the other ladies in attendance. She had to stop him by telling him that she did not like his sense of style but overlooked it sometimes because she didn't want his self-esteem to take a blow. He got her message clearly and let her be.
One thing to note would be that this guy met this lady and one of the things that must have stood out to him was that she was HOT :-) now why would he want to change that? From this example, we see her being subtle but standing up to what she thinks should be. Would we call that feminism? I would say yes but she was not aggressive in her approach and that tends to be the issue some men I have spoken to have with the feminism thing.

I can understand where women might have conceived the feminism idea from - asking to be able to do things that seem normal like; voting, having the right to initiate a divorce, to earn equal salaries as men, to do any kind of job they deem fit e.t.c. However, these things could get sensitive when a woman becomes nothing but defensive, the approach matters.

Another woman who I think is the most submissive person, would cook and her husband would complain just about everything. Her cooking in general is not bad at all. I wonder...why not tell her the way he might like his food cooked or cook the food himself? He pushed this woman too far and you can trust that this was not just with cooking, but with about everything. When she went feminist, she went all out. He lost her! Now there became two heads in one home. Her own feminism was born out of the way her husband treated her.

I am no expert in this field, remember at the beginning of this post I mentioned that I do not know if feminism and relationships go well? In general, I think in relationships, if both parties are treated right, this issue might not even come up. I have heard that "the man may be the head of the household. But the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head whichever way she pleases." :-) :-)

I seem to have only scratched the surface and there just might be a rejoinder on this subject.

Now let’s hear your thoughts. 


Google (images, definitions)

Caroline Norton: A Biographical sketch, http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/norton/biography.html

Norton Letter: Damrosch David (Ed) The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Second Edition. Volume Two. New York: Longman, 2003


  1. Nicely written Tammy.
    Personally, I consider myself a traditional kind of girl too but the sharp teeth tend to come out the minute I feel certain people are attempting to carve roles into my forehead while holding me down. I had a friend who was just that, a friend. We were neighbors and used to go to each others houses whenever we had the time. He had this annoying habit of telling me to go to the kitchen to go and cook whenever I visited. "There's a tuber of yam left", he would say, "and some tomatoes in the fridge. Make something for us". It used to make me mad. I love cooking, but I don't love it when as a man you think that is what I am narrowed down to. Its ridiculous. Its the same way women narrow men down to walking ATMs. So I do agree with you to a large extent, Being nice to each other is a cardinal rule in any relationship plus doing to the other what you want him or her to do to or for you..

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and thanks to you this post was written :-)

  2. Very well written, as usual, Ene.
    I love women. I think women already have been handed the shorter stick by nature in too many ways. So, if some women want to scream and scratch about being allowed equal rights and opportunities as men, by all means, they should be tolerated if not simply allowed to. Afterall, when some men completely rob their women of the right to feel as much of human beings with feelings and wants and the ability to be TIRED as men, we all (men and women) brush it aside and say, yea, you know how it is. He's the man afterall, and whatnot.
    What we have now are the unfortunate effects of an inherited culture created by people from time as old as man. Sadly there will not be drastic change in our generation or the next one as far as male dominion over female goes.
    I do not take it too hard (*clears throat* Not entirely true) on men who do not know to treat women kindly and see them as partners and I do not take it too hard on women who expect to be treated as the less significant sex. We all inherited so many annoying cultures. (I say annoying because I hold back from more adequately expressive words). :D
    What I do say, is women need to become aware, that it is okay to want what they want. It is okay to want to be happy. But we ought to know too, to be happy in our own company, independent of anyone, so that when someone comes along, we have value added to what already is, as opposed to a knight in a nice shirt to come whisk us away from life's monsters.
    There's a reason the fairy tale stories quickly end when the unearthly handsome, all around amazing guy saves the princess and takes her home. It is that, that is when real life begins.
    Earn your own money, live your own dreams and follow your own desires. Enjoy your own company for heaven's sake. Find yourself before he finds you. Be your own woman. Nothing is hotter that that afterall.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Temidayo, I see a rejoinder on this subject happening pretty soon :-)

  3. Just don't rob your man of his roles. Do allow him to be the head. Allow yourself to be taken care of. It's his natural place.

  4. Temidayo, you spoke my mind too quick. Am not trying to be very spiritual here but the bible/ quoran that should be our ultimate guide tells us that we are the HELP meet. Modern day woman! Let the men be men and the women remain HELP MEET! Let's not switch roles in the name of love. When the so called love fades is when we remember feminism. I personally do not accept that feminism and relationship go together. A wise woman builds her home, the blend of feminism and relationship is the reason for so many broken homes now resulting in a decaying society.

    1. Thank you Lucy, at the end of the day, balance is what is needed. When feminism is misrepresented, that's when issues arise.

  5. In response to all your thoughts, I will put this quote from Oprah Winfrey, although lengthy, worth reading...
    "If a man wants you, nothing can keep him away. If he doesn’t want you, nothing can make him stay. Stop making excuses for a man and his behavior. Allow your intuition (or spirit) to save you from heartache. Stop trying to change yourself for a relationship that’s not meant to be. Slower is better. Never live your life for a man before you find what makes you truly happy. If you feel like he is stringing you along, then he probably is. If a man cheats with you, he is likely to cheat on you. Don’t stay because you think ‘it will get better.’ You’ll be mad at yourself a year later for staying when things are not better. Maintain boundaries in how a guy treats you. If something bothers you, speak up. You cannot change a man’s behavior. Change comes from within.”
    This is all about self worth and of course feminism. So looking at feminism from how it started, I think feminism and relationships actually go together. It is all about what each party can bring to the table, a relationship/marriage should be mutually beneficial.

  6.  I'll have to disagree with Lucy here. Feminism in its true form is simply the push for women to have the same opportunities as men - voting, education, work, pay, inheritance, protection by the law from battery etc. I don't see how these affect relationships.
    Let us not confuse actual feminism with the bleating and attention seeking we see today where people try to equate feminism with "I won't cook for my husband". That isn't feminism. If at all real feminism is related to relationships it will be more about a woman being able to decide whether or not she wants to get into a partnership with a man and not being judged if her decision is no.

    1. I tried to say that mildly earlier but yes, that's what I meant by misrepresentation :-) Thanks Lizi for coming by.

  7. So my two cents on this topic has to do with a recount of a situation at work a few weeks back.....
    These two older guys (Asians) joined my project team and you could see from the get go that they had decided I was a female and belonged to a certain box.......which i totally ignored. Well it all came to a head one day when we were discussing a reassignment of duties for new parts of the project and this guys go...... well Bukky you will take care of the admin duties and documentation!! Because in their minds since i was the only female on the team that was the best role suited to me irrespective of my training and skills........hehehehe
    I played cool looked at both men straight in the eye and said no i will not be doing that.....i was brought on the project to get my hands dirty and not to push papers around.....and dirty they shall get (with a smile on my face while talking but making my point clear).
    They went back to check my resume and after seeing my multiple engineering degrees they started grudgingly addressing me as a professional. The fact that a lady is every inch a woman in looks and appearance doesn't mean she doesn't have the intelligence to take on challenging tasks.
    So not only in relationships do you have this issues cropping up.....the workplace creates an enabling environment of the female feminism being challenged.

    1. Good job for standing your ground girl! Yes,the work place is one of the places where the issue of feminism is always, always raised and equality/equal pay is still being fought for.

  8. Anytime I see a gender sensitive post especially those emanating from a female point of view, I can’t help but empathise with my fellow male folk. The central theme, almost without exception is the gross injustices meted out to women folk over a lifetime of man’s existence (Some might even go as far as challenging why we are called MANkind, lol). Men are invited to share the ‘guilt’ of centuries of practices that denied women their fair share of rights, wealth, pleasure or any of the other niceness of this world. So irrespective of your independent thoughts as a man, you are declared guilty as charged. The irony of this school of thought is that the privileges women might have enjoyed in those periods (however little) are largely ignored. Any attempts to point at the protection of ‘women-folk’ are immediately declared as a throwback to the era when women were deemed the ‘weaker sex’. However, when the narrative is deemed suitable, women would complain that chivalry is dead forgetting that there are unexpected consequences of change.
    My take on this is that we need to explore history to understand why certain things happened the way they did. One account I recently read suggested that a woman’s place in society in those days past was often determined firstly by the family they were born into (the same case with men) and secondly, who they got married to (I wish men had that same luck). However, in the modern world, we welcome the change where women are emancipated from the clutches of men for their existence and livelihood. But the consequence of that is that men and women are increasingly competing for spaces in the competitive world today. Thus, would anyone be surprised if a man did not give up his space for a woman on the bus? Or subject women to the same survival strategies they employ against one another in the work place?
    Mine is not to antagonise, but to bring to our consciousness the consequences of development and change. Also, I would like to plead innocence for all other charges for what men in the past have done, but only take responsibility for what I might have done wrong. Lastly, I would like to see an article that expresses how women see themselves in the world. I am often shocked to see that whatever men are accused of doing, sometimes fellow women take the front seat in doing same. For example, I have witnessed where women would call out fellow women as ‘prostitutes’ or ‘loose women’ on the bases of their dressing or flirtatious behaviour; or the advice of fellow older women recommending subservience as a veritable tool for younger women to use to ‘hold down a good man’. In summary, I am pleading for context to be central in identifying male-female relationships in today’s world.

    1. Finally there is a comment from a male, yippee!
      I will start by pointing out that this post was not intended to take any male on a guilty ride. However, it is inevitable to mention that some of the 'gross injustices' that happened in the past still happen today as we see from some of the comments and examples used.
      On the other hand, I agree that with change, if women are asking for equality on all levels, certain things might be lost along the way. Not all of us agree to that school of thought. I would still like to have a man show some chivalry :-)
      On how women see themselves, some have been beaten down emotionally and psychologically to the point that they feel like they are non existent. I say this from interactions I have had with different women at different times. Even though they fail to admit it, their wills are lost in their men's unconsciously for different reasons (wanting to fit in/be the picture society wants or constantly being told that women should not...by men). On the other hand, there are so many women who feel powerful and unstoppable, their men support them and some might not have men but choose to be who they want to be all the same.
      Remember the context of this post is tailored to relationships? On a general note, this topic is super vague and fortunately, I have not had some of the bad experiences that some women have had, should I call that luck? I would not know but on a subject like this, I think I can only scratch the surface with whatever I write. There will always be different perspectives to it.

    2. Yes, I know it was directed at relationships but some of these issues just have a way of popping up. Sometimes, I think we have a tendency to become really sensitive. I find myself on the receiving end a few times. I read different positions on this matter and I can't help but think it is only human to put people in boxes. I know it is annoying to have colleagues doubt your technical skills because of your gender but if we look closely, it happens more frequently than you think. I guess my own take is just to let people know that men suffer too.....

  9. Interesting exploration of feminism and relationships. My favourite take on the subject comes from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who describes herself as a happy, African, married feminist. So it must be possible !

    1. Many others could describe themselves that way too but sadly not all can say same.


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