By Bayo Olupohunda
"See this yeye man o, after wey u don stand for one hour for queue, you enter bus come give up your seat for ordinary woman… Stupid woman wrapper like you."
We were all passengers on a Lagos BRT bus. The fully loaded bus, bursting at the seams, with passengers hanging "bumper-to-bumper" on the long aisle, was heading towards Obalende from Ajah.
Earlier, at the BRT terminus, I had arrived to join some passengers standing impatiently in a long, winding queue. But there was no bus in sight. After more than an hour's wait under the blazing Lagos sun, a bus finally arrived. Inside, passengers crammed into every available space. I settled into a seat close to the aisle and the journey soon began. Then I noticed her. The lady, the subject of the bigoted "woman wrapper" outburst from a middle-aged man was standing a few bodies away. She was sandwiched between two men. With a heavy travelling bag in one hand, a heavy Ghana-must-go bag also dangled on her left shoulder.
At a point in the journey, the driver stepped hard on the brake to avoid hitting a car that had suddenly swerved in front of him. The force of the jolt sent passengers reeling forward. The lady in question was slammed against the man standing directly in front of her. He complained loudly about her bag getting in his way but made no attempt to relieve her of the burden.
At this point, I stood up and beckoned on her to take my seat while I took the heavy travelling bag off her. The lady had hardly taken her seat when all hell was let loose. The middle-aged man who was previously engrossed in an old crumpled newspaper looked from the girl to me and back to the girl again. You could see the contempt in his eyes – which translates to something like, "How can you stand up for a mere woman?" Then he let out his tirades. I was too shocked to utter a word. The passengers on our part of the bus obviously enjoyed a good laugh when he labelled me a woman wrapper. He kept on ranting about why women do not deserve anybody's favour.
The fact of a man vacating the only seat in a bus for a woman seems to be alien and a taboo for this Lagosian. And to think that the passengers also included upscale well-dressed young men and women who laughed and looked at me strangely as if I had committed a sacrilege painted a picture of how our society denigrates and treats her women.
But I had seen it all before.
Nigeria is the worst place to be a woman. This is a society that sneers at her female gender. Most men have bigoted view about them. Some even treat their wives as subordinates. Or worse, even. A woman is almost less than human here. It is also sometimes shocking how other women join such prejudiced men to perpetuate these biases. For example, a woman is more likely to condemn another woman over her choice of dressing.
In our society, one often hears sexists use derogatory terms such as "ordinary woman" or "common woman" to describe a female. This perception has metamorphosed into more dangerous forms of intolerance against the womenfolk.
The chauvinism against women, one of which was blatantly displayed on the BRT bus was nothing new. In Lagos, like in most parts of Nigeria, women are subjected to more terrible forms of degrading treatment. For example, we all grew up to learn of the popular saying that "a woman's place is in the kitchen".
A few months ago, a friend visited me. He walked into the sitting room and met my wife slouching on the couch watching her favourite television programme while I was in the kitchen fixing dinner. I emerged from the kitchen, to be confronted by my friend's disapproving stare. Later, as he took his leave, he pulled me aside to offer what he called a "brotherly" advice. He admonished me for being less than a man. He was filled with rage. He strongly disapproved of my helping with house chores. He said it is a taboo for a man to enter the kitchen. He said it is the woman's duty to cook, wash, clean, scrub and pound yam.
In short, according to him, the only time a man should see the kitchen is when he peeps in to rant about his food not being ready. I laughed and thanked him. But I have since deleted him from my list of matrimonial friends. I mean this guy is living in the Stone Age. Did I marry a wife or a slave? And talking of pounded yam; I had been in an argument recently with some friends about whose duty it is to pound yam. Is it the wife or the husband? I had previously thought that the energy-sapping and muscle-building job of pounding yam is a masculine duty until recently.
This digression, of course, is debatable.
In spite of major achievements by the women liberation movement of yore and the feminist voices that have pushed women issues into public discourse, the glass ceiling has turned steely. In politics, corporate boardrooms, and on the streets, women are still the subject of ancient stereotypes that reinforce the "weaker sex" myth.
You often find people, especially men, use certain derogatory terms that strengthen these beliefs. For example, a man who is not "sharp" while driving in Lagos is said to be "driving like a woman". Expressions like "why you dey behave like a woman" is common.
A woman who owns or drives a new car is the envy of others: "Don't mind her, no be man buy the car give am, ashawo." In the eyes of many, a woman cannot build a house, own a brand new car without a sugar daddy or aristo somewhere doling out the cash.
An uncle recently told me not to trust any woman - including my wife! "Ah, no trust any woman o-even your wife", he hollered. One Yoruba proverb even says "A woman is your wife, has children for you does not mean she will not bring her husband misfortune."
The bias also starts when a female child is born. Recently, when my neighbour’s wife gave birth, the man refused to throw a party like he did previously for his male child. He told me: "Sebi na girl." It was also recently reported that a man refused to visit his wife in the hospital when he learnt of the child's sex!
The one that beats me is the pressure the society puts on single women to get married. Another Yoruba proverb even proudly announces that "A man is the crown on a woman's head". That is why many women will endure the most bizarre form of domestic violence to stay married. Many even attribute delay in marriage for ladies as something of a curse. This explains why single ladies besiege spiritual centres for deliverance in search of Mr. Right.
I have also lived long enough to know that a single lady living alone is either promiscuous or a queer. But this is strange as all human beings have the right to choose the way they want to live without being the subject of bizarre and denigrating stereotypes.
Now my verdict: I believe prejudice about women will be a thing of the past if all men will as from today, yes, today you are reading this article, act, respect and speak up against practices that belittle women-even at the risk of being labelled a woman wrapper. As for me, I have chosen to be one instead of keeping silence.