LET HIM EAT, HE IS A BOY
“ My son, I wish you the strength to face challenges with confidence...along with the wisdom to choose your battles carefully…I wish you adventure on your journey and may you always stop to help someone along the way…listen to your heart and take risks carefully…remember how much you are loved…I am so proud of you. Love you… Mom”.
“ Be brave and true, never forget your own dear sister, and try to treat women as you would like her to be treated” …Dad.
The above quotes were for courage and honor, for protecting the weak against the strong. The boy child was doomed from the start. Any other, short of this onerous expectation was not acceptable. The great line from Disney masterpiece, Pinocchio raises the bar for the boy child. The blue fairy says to Pinocchio, “Prove yourself brave, truthful, and unselfish and someday, you will become a real boy” She was clearly talking about those characters that matter, those that make parents proud.
While growing up in Nigeria like any other young boy, I had larger rations of food over my sister’s. We were expected to eat more as we were “boys” and required more for strength and physical prowess. Home chores were relegated in principle to my sister in some parts and my girl cousins for the most part. I did not need to see the four walls of a kitchen as it was a girl’s thing. I could not even boil water. I was a ‘boy”, I needed to be trained in larger issues bothering the world. I was supposed to be the defender of the weak and unprotected, I was supposed to be fearless and brave, I was not allowed to cry or show emotions that were girl-like, I was meant to become “hulk” or “Iron man. I remember fighting off a lot of my sisters’ aggressors while in primary school. I remember punching an older bullish guy that snatched my sisters’ pastries during break time, my sister had come crying and “ I went to save the world”, “ whipped up my iron fist and went after the boy”. We were made to understand that the girl child was the weaker sex, they were the least in strength, they were the “meek”, we boys were meant to protect them.
One can see that by virtue of being boys, we had a lot of liberties. As a growing up kid, I had more play time than my sister and girl cousins as most of their time was spent in being molded into the perfect woman, doing house chores and less physical activities. Three-quarters of their entire childhood was taken over by chores, “make you a great wife activities”. The boys were up and about and most times were the apple of their father’s eyes “ he reminds me of me when I was young” they would always say, celebrating every milestone a little over how they would have celebrated had it been the girl. It was just normal back in the day to have large birthday celebrations for the boy and a miniature version for the girl. The boy child was laden with responsibilities, though celebrated at birth, it was common knowledge that the fathers considered a change of batons long before birth and hence much was expected. We all grew up knowing that we were the de facto heads of families, we grew up with in-built instinct of protecting the weaker sex, we grew up believing that the sole provider was the men, we grew up thinking that every ideal man was strong, we grew up excluding the girls from strenuous exercises or activities, we allowed them the sole mastery of kitchen activities, we grew up letting the girls own “crying and show of emotions”, we were allowed to be disorganized. We just did not know anything else but to be the ones better and bigger than the girls.
One of the myths failed me the sixth week of my stay in America when I could not sustain the “ Denny’s”, “ Chipotle”, “ McDonald’s” ,” apple bee’s”. I just could not do it, it was draining my meager reserves faster than the wax. I spent a greater part of the night, each night staring at the ceiling, thinking seriously on what to eat and how best to go about it. I was tired of the ramen noodles and I was seriously considering getting a “girlfriend” or friend that was a girl with the sole purpose of filling this deficiency that I now felt grave. My first potential “girlfriend” had hit me with the “ are we dating?”, “Are we an item?”, “ are you mine?”, “I only cook for my man” she had told me and I had moved quickly to my second option which was surfing online for recipes, watching you-tube for ideas. I had stumbled on sisi Jemimah, a food blogging site with mouth-watering recipes and colorful centerpieces that would get anyone salivating at first perusal. I had perused this site for over a week till I settled for the beef stew, since it seemed the easiest. “ chop the onions nicely”, “stir thoroughly for 2 minutes”, “ allow to simmer for ten minutes” too many instructions , three consecutive tries and I had given up on the act of cooking. The truth laid at my father’s house, I was not equipped to survive in this new found world. I did not pack my “cook” in my duffel bag while coming over, I was just not cut out for this. My friends from Africa that cooked had one thing in common “ they were all boys in their household” or they hardly trusted women in their lineage”
The second shock followed suit the next month while I was out in the mall enjoying the trapping of decorations in readiness for the thanksgiving of that year. I was sited next to a table that had four girls in an obvious celebration mood. It might have been her birthday as the balloons had heralded. Everything was going nice and smooth till a violin playing man appeared from nowhere to usher in a supposed grown man, the boyfriend to one of the girls. It was a surprise “will you marry me”, and then on one knee down, he had proposed. A well-packaged performance by the young man, very romantic in all standards. The “aww” that rented the air shattered my long-held myth. The man had at first covered his face with his palms as if shy but then I could hear snippets of sobs a second later that escalated to some sort of “cry of joy”. He was even been consoled by his friends and more “ aww”, “that is so sweet”. It dawned on me that men were allowed to cry here. Men were allowed to show heartfelt emotions. It was acceptable and quite understandable to be human out here. “Wow” was all I could muster.
Laquandra, the lady that lived next door to me was a single mum of four. She had two full-time jobs, a two bedroom house, a 90’s ford and a sit at home “PlayStation playing”, “baggy jeans wearing” boyfriend. She worked sixteen hour days some days and twelve on some other. The amazing thing was the ease at which she succeeded in merging work with “mother” and” girlfriend” duties. The wall that separated us was quite thin and I could hear a lot coming through from the other side. I could say I lived there too. The boyfriend expected this one woman to clean, to cook, to tend to the kids and as well as satisfy his sexual advances. A woman that just knocked off sixteen hours? A superwoman that also paid the house rent, bought clothes for the kids and boyfriend, bought groceries, and bought cigarettes and “high” to keep her man happy. It came as a shock that a universe existed asides “Nigeria” where women were breadwinners, a universe where women were sole providers, a society where women protected men, a place where men were allowed to be lazy. Quite unbelievable I must say as I embraced my alien world.
Gregory, an eighteen-year old young man that I seldom saw at the front ends of the corner store, however, gave me a sort of common grounds. He was every inch similar to the majority of the young men back home. He wanted to become a lawyer but by sheer reality of his situations, had decided to become a pseudo-musician. You could see Gregory actively moving towards his desires as he had multiple demo cd’s he sold. Like most of the boys back home, Gregory has had his fair share of peer and societal pressures that had derailed his sworn path of becoming a lawyer. He was a product of a dysfunctional family and hence was raised by his mother. All he knew of his daddy was “dead beat”. There was no father figure in Gregory’s life. He had become a man on his own account and experiences. Talking to Gregory outlined a lot of hatred for his dad but also exposed a bit of deficiency on his upbringing. He treated women with a lot of disrespect, he was a bit selfish, he did not have any fear of authority, lots and lots of in-built insecurities. He needed to get to the “bag”, money was the first thing on his mind. No one had counseled Gregory or impressed on him the need for proper education. He had full access to school but dropped out when it was evident that he also needed to help his mother and other siblings to survive. Striking similarities existed as well back home where the majority of the boys felt that it was their responsibility to take care of the family and like Gregory, would forgo education for quick money and like Gregory might miss out on treating women equally rather than inferior. It was evident to me that the boy child was ill-equipped in every corner of the world.
We have neglected the boy child for a long time. We had given the boy child no instruments to survive. It is not anyone’s fault I would say but there had been an age long need to close the gender gap in Nigeria. As a crusader for feminine rights and privileges, I understand the existence of these gaps. I understand that our boys need a lot of grooming, counseling and equipping with tools to survive the modern world. Our boys need role models, they need positive first influences in their lives, they need to be reoriented in the functions of “boy”. While we have expended a lot of energy and resources to buffer and cushion effects of the lagging in the female development, I also think that a widening gap had borne its fangs as a result of this neglect in the boy fold.
It is now a matter of “ the egg or the chicken”. We need to have a strong foundation and upbringing of the female folks so that we can ensure proper training and discipline to the male offspring which will in-turn aid him to approach the world with a total understanding of the parameters to survive. Egg or chicken, the equality gap is a reality in Nigeria and we as crusaders, should keep pushing for a balancing act to carry both divides along. We should champion causes that do not alienate the boy child while working around issues that uplift the girl child. It is vital that we maintain this synergy among these groups to have a just and stable society…
It matters that we see that the upcoming generations of boys deem it fit to treat the women folk with respect. We need to instill in them, the same sense of protection over the girls. We need to let them be boys and humans at the same time. We need to identify their weaknesses and aim to transform them into strengths. We need to prepare them against the ills of society and convert them to crusaders for common good. If and only if we do this, a stable and just society is only a blink away.