(Mis)perceptions of being a man
Daniel and Patricia Iorever embody the typical Nigerian parenting couple. Each has expectations they expect the other to meet, but the realities are a lot different.
A travelling salesman, Daniel spends a month away from home and returns with a month’s worth of dirty laundry for his wife to handle. Patricia does it without complaining, and takes care of their three children. It is her wifely duty.
She’s also hoping they can move out of their singleroom apartment in a slum neighbourhood of Nasarawa State.
When Daniel is home, he spends most time indoors, resting, on his back. Patricia runs around to cook, clean, wash, ready the children, take them to school. When she brings them back, a fresh round of chores is up.
Last month, she did all that and then went shopping. She returned, tired, sun-beaten, weighed down with her burden. As she stepped inside their apartment to put down her shopping, her husband roused from the bed and reminded her it was time to pick the children from school.
Patricia simply broke down in tears, screamed her frustration. Neigbhours calmed her. In the end, using one end of her wrapper to wipe her tears, she went to pick her children.
The friction goes beyond the Iorever’s: it is at the heart of what it means to be a man or woman in Nigeria.
These differences in what’s expected of men and women is at the heart of the landmark research, Being a Man in Nigeria: Perceptions and Realities. Expectations Seven in 10 men and five in 10 women believe men need to be tough, according to result of the research conducted by the group Voices 4 Change. Combined with money and performance, the stereotypes about men—and women— are justified across regions, age and gender with reference to them being cultural and the norm.
Fifty-nine percent of men believe a man has no value if he does not have an income, and 61 percent too believe a man should be “embarrassed if he cannot perform sexually.”
By contrast, women are perceived as being led by their emotions and thus weaker.
A traditional leader in Kano told researchers, “The religion has made man the head of a woman and has made man to take affairs of all. Most things in the society, that is taking care of your home, your society and every other thing, you are supposed to see the man as the head and in this place you will always get people to respect you for being a man.”
That’s perception. Reality is nearly half of women don’t agree men need to be tough to be a real man, and some men disagree too.
“It should not be that because I am a man and stronger, then a woman should have fewer rights,” one representative of a youth organization told researchers in Lagos. “My wife has the right to tell me not to go out at a particular time.”
Men’s relationship women
Up to 90 percent of men—and nearly the same proportion of women— believe they should have the final say and have their wives obey them in everything.
But in reality a firm agreement is that women are an important source of support for men as head of household and should be consulted before making decisions.
It is traditional in some parts of the country but it is waning. The same waning support for harmful traditional practices means many do not support subjugation of women under men in marriage. Sixty percent of men and 70 percent of women do not think “physical violence against women is justified under any circumstances.”
Division of responsibility
with and labour in the household
Men make the money and women keep the home. That’s the perception, and conforming to that dominant idea and how both parties should behave is key to ensuring a family’s reputation.
But changing dynamics is turning that notion on its head. Women’s increasing presence in the labour market is an important way for them to support men in their role as providers, the research found. The belief is that women have qualities that put them at an advantage over men, but the statistics for women labour participation (at only 48 percent as opposed to 64 percent for men) don’t support the belief.
Daniel doesn’t think it is proper for him to do housework or bathe his children, because it demeans his manhood, he believes.
But a growing proportion of younger men and women believe sharing house chores is a sign of love and respect. Older men are more likely to support chore sharing when a woman is ill or incapacitated. The view among respondents is that it is acceptable but not to be expected. Roles in the public Seven in 10 men—and women—think both sexes make equally good leaders. But increasing figures show prejudice against a woman aspiring to public office.
According to the research, up to 70% of respondents believe women should have the same chance and opportunities to take part in leadership, but 57 percent think women are too “emotional” to be leaders and men are better.
And the proportion of people who think women in politics don’t get respect or sometimes deserve to be discouraged from going for men’s position just lies at 45 percent.
“When it comes to elective positions, people say the men are occupying space and they need to shift,” said Munirat Ogunlayi, deputy team leader of Voices 4 Change. “I believe it is not about the men shifting, but it is actually about the women actively taking up the spaces. We need to work for it and also take up the spaces, while the men have to work to accommodate that flexibility that these positions are not meant for only men.”
The research has garnered endorsement from around the country and put on panel names as artistes 2face Idibia and Waje to discuss what it meant to be a man in Nigeria.
The stereotypes must come down, said Lagos State House of Assembly memeber and Nollywood actor Desmond Elliot, among panellists at the launch of Being a Man in Nigeria report last week.
Elliot said: “We need to inform them on remarkable changes that can come to us as individuals and as a nation when we address the complementary nature of how men and women can coexist. We are meant to work together to see we make a complete society.”
Daniel and Patricia are an exception.