Secondary school mornings in Lagos, for me, always started with watching cartoons or breakfast shows, the living room dull with the half-dark of dawn. My favourite breakfast show was New Dawn on NTA 10, hosted by media personality Funmi Iyanda. In Nigerian-speak, her mouth was too sharp, the kind of mouth that said things with…
Secondary school mornings in Lagos, for me, always started with watching cartoons or breakfast shows, the living room dull with the half-dark of dawn. My favourite breakfast show was New Dawn on NTA 10, hosted by media personality Funmi Iyanda.
In Nigerian-speak, her mouth was too sharp, the kind of mouth that said things with a raw and blistering honesty. Her intelligence struck me, her command of the English language imperious, and sometimes, while dressing up for school, my mum would come into the room (her name is Funmi by the way) and say “Ahn-ahn, this Funmi and her big-big grammar,” and we would both laugh, enjoying the spell of Funmi Iyanda’s voice, and knowing that, somehow, our day had been enriched.
Years on, New Dawn departed from the screens, withdrawing its presence from homes and Nigerian lives, leaving a hollowness in its wake. I think Funmi said something about moving on to other things, I’m not too sure. I wished her well, though. I followed her on Twitter, from afar, and it was nice to see that she hadn’t changed. Not that I expected anything less. She engaged her followers with her gender politics, providing cultural and political criticisms. She was uninhibited in every way, her humour supreme.
Twitter, as we all know, can be a vile place sometimes. Celebrities have been trolled and abused so much so that they slink back into the cocoon of their private lives, closing or temporarily leaving their Twitter accounts. So it was no surprise to see the abusive, vitriolic, judgmental comments Nigerians flung at Funmi Iyanda when she tweeted on Wednesday last week that marriage isn’t for her.
Beyond Twitter, and across the Nigerian blogosphere, some of the comments stung me. And I ask this: why are Nigerians this way? Why are we full of patriarchal shit?
Funmi Iyanda, as a whole, complex, biological human adult, has exercised her personal agency by stating that she doesn’t want marriage for herself. Because of this, heaven won’t fall and the Earth will continue to rotate on its axis. Life will go on, and heterosexual couples will still come together to make babies, squealing, tumbling, diaper-wearing babies.
But in a society deeply invested in patriarchy, where patriarchal regulations of womanhood comes sharp-toothed with anti-abortion and anti-sex work rhetorics and the hegemonic presentation of cisgender women as “real women,” Funmi Iyanda’s agency is threatening and very anti-establishment.
That said, the dominant construction of womanhood is such that nuance and complexity are disallowed. Women’s choices and decisions are always subjected to policing and scrutiny to maintain the dynamics that revolves around the privileging of men. Over and over again, we have seen the clichéd, reductive portrayals of womanhood in mainstream media and pop culture, women portrayed as nurturing and intuitive, soft and compassionate. It’s not that these attributes are bad, but constantly and conventionally defining women this way erases and invisiblises other women who don’t possess these attributes.
When someone says a woman must know how to cook in order to keep her husband and ultimately her home, I usually roll my eyes so slowly that I get dizzy. Never in my life have I heard such nonsense, such archaic, essentialist logics. The men who say this are taught to instrumentalise cooking, a survival skill which everyone should have, as a metric for virtuous and authentic womanhood in women.
Marriage is a beautiful thing, but in Nigeria, it is glamourised and made pathologically desirable. Every weekend or so there is a wedding in town, the aso ebi worn joyously by family and friends, a punctilious catering company on ground (they maybe overpriced but you are certain of quality small chops), and the general sunniness that qualifies the air. In effect, women are subjected to pressures that come from a culture that ties marriage to the affirmation of their womanhood. They are taught to romanticise the idea of marriage as womaning and womanist, culturally conditioned to see it as a crowning achievement. Put bluntly, marriage is a choice and not a destination.
Only through decolonising mainstream conceptions of womanhood and engaging a gender politics in which men recognise, acknowledge and interrogate their privilege can we have women make (unpopular) choices without backlash and criticism.