An Interogation of Stereotypical Language use in Gender Relations: Racism in Nigeria
Adu Funmilayo Modupe
This study proposes that culture based gender stereotype is a hindrance to women participation in Nigeria’s development. The paper examined the use of stereotyped language in the relations between genders in Nigeria. Nigeria is a patriarchal society, with culture embedded in practices that promote male dominance over the female. This culturally ingrained and historically grounded practice holds sway in gender relations, social practices and is revealed in inheritances and kingship transitions amongst others. Interestingly, words promote social acceptance and design societal values. As such, Nigerian tribes, it is noted, use peculiar languages to express the assumed weaknesses in the female gender, certain proverbs are expressed to further show the subjugation of women in inter social relations and these words and proverbs further promote gender denigration and discrimination. It is my argument in this paper that the adoption of such stereotypical words and connotations is a form of racism. Racial stereotype cuts across attitude, language and believe and it is culturally ingrained. The paper concludes that such usages are anti development and cannot promote fairness in gender relations in Nigeria. The paper suggests ways in which these usages could be stopped or reconfigured to promote equality and forge development through fair gender practices.
Keywords: stereotypical language, gender relations, racism.
Author: (Ph.D), Department of History and International Studies, Ekiti State University, Ado - Ekiti.
African gender stereotypical language, believe and attitude is considered a hindrance to development. It is research concluded that racial differences are more in the mind than in the genes, thus it is also noted that superiority and inferiority associated with racial differences are often socially constructed to satisfy the socio political agenda of the dominant group. Interpersonal social relationship between sexes, the hidden injuries of the oppressed is highlighted in detailed ways insists Shaw and Lee (2001). Such are verbal onslaught, denigration, repression, oppression, ruling and ignoring (ibid). Gender Scholars have summed up their findings and conclude that the way men talk to women (especially in Africa and some other cultures), act towards women, make different assumptions about women, all add up to ensure a class categorization of society into two halves of weak and strong, intelligent and unintelligent, great achiever and second fiddle, superior and inferior (Shaw et al ibid, Adu, 2008, 2009, Aina, undated).
Further it is surmised that the socio economic advantages men have over women are due to their claim for greater intelligence. In scholarly studies about the variability of intelligence between men and women, it has been concluded that this decision is culturally and socially based, not biological (cited in Adu 2001). Gender inequality is evident in several aspects of social relations, such as work relations, legal and marriage inequality and masculine ideals, gender stereotype and sex (Shaw, ibid). In scholarly studies about variability of intelligence between men and women, it has been concluded that this decision is culturally and socially based, not biological. Most cultures hold preconceived theories about male attributes and view the other gender through stereotypes. For instance, Africans believe that women are weak in strength, inconsistent in thought, and actions and altogether misplaced in the achievement of projects. African feminist language, scholars (Aina, 1995, Kolawole, 2000, Shaw et al, 2001, Akonai, 2000, Kauffman, 1989) agree is derogatory, repressive, and suppressive. It is no surprise therefore that verbal stereotypes such as oro obirin ni, (in Yoruba: a woman’s word), obirin bi okunrin (a macho woman), ori aku (igbo; consumer of husbands wealth) etc are all derogatory terms used in describing women in different cultures across Nigeria. Olowo ori mi, considered a positive statement in praise of a husband in Yoruba language is translated, purchaser or owner of my head (bride price), this connotes the cash value of the woman and succinctly promote inequality through a suppression of any intent to be equal in any form with her husband. Stereotyped categorizations ensure the woman is limited in achievements and relegated to the background of society. Stereotyping is giving negative attributes and terminology to other racial (gender inclusive) or ethnic groups in an attempt to push up or depict ones group as better. Deploying ideologies, culture and metaphysical practices has never been more victorious in gender struggle (Fatoye, 2017: 1). African derogatory ideologies on women are inhuman and unjust asserted Fatoye(ibid). Women are perceived to be properties and this have been thoroughly enmeshed in peoples mind (ibid. Stereotyping is a process used by individuals to simplify the world and make it somewhat predictable...most people find it hard to believe that gender is constantly created and recreated out of human interaction, out of social life; and is the texture and order of that social life (Shaw and Lee, 2001: 121). Shaw and Lee (ibid) recorded that, in Europe, the care of children and the modes of dressing now cut across sex.
“You really cannot tell by the dressing what gender a child belong to and often times than not the man on the subway is seen with a tiny baby in a carrier on his chest. Public care of children by men is no more a thing of shame.
Traditionally in Africa, men and women are not allowed to play similar social roles. The adoption of western civilization though impacted on social habits, the practice and usages of stereotypical languages and attitudes dominate social relations between sexes. Personality characteristics, feelings, motivations, and ambitions flow from these different life experiences, so that the members of these different groups become different kinds of people. This process is embellished and legitimized by religion, law, science, and the society’s entire set of values. The spatial separation of women and men reinforces gendered differences, identity, and ways of thinking and behaving (Coser, 1986). Gendered people emerge not from psychological or sexual orientations but from the exigencies of the social order, mostly, from the need for a reliable division of the work of food production and the social (not physical) reproduction of new members. Political power, control of scarce resources and if necessary violence, uphold the gendered social order in the face of resistance and rebellion (ibid). It is further noted that these stereotypes serve the ideological needs of both an andocentric structure of power by not just describing these power relations but justifying them (ibid). In the submission of W.J Thomas, if people believe something to be true, it will be true in its consequences. It is the belief of this author that African gender language and believe is repressive, suppressive and derogating. Even praise songs are coined to ensure dominance. African male chauvinism ignores, denigrate, rule, repress, oppress and suppress women. Women in Nigeria have been overexploited and relegated to the lower ladder of the social categorization. Women subjugation is not derived from any nature inferiority and is mostly traceable to religious credence. Both the bible, traditional religion and the Quran give superior value and position to men. Women are so indoctrinated by tradition that they (in most instances) have accepted the position of second fiddle. Interestingly institutional sexism has crippled women ambition and delimited their achievement. Women are stigmatized and precluded from vocational, political and social responsibilities. Socialization relegates women to the kitchen child bearing domestic chores responsibilities.
The paper considers African stereotypical language and attitudes and believes as hindrance to gender participation and an inhibition to development with a focus on the Nigerian example. The paper proposes that negative cultural traits and values need reorientation for development to take place. The relative population of women to men necessitates their contributory importance to development. The paper is subsequently divided into conceptual considerations, sample cases of gender stereotypical languages, attitudes and believes across Nigeria, implications for development and the way forward.
RACISM AND FEMINISM: A CONSIDERATION
Feminism connotes being soft, passive, domestic, nurturing, emotional, dependent, sensitive, as well as delicate, intuitive, fastidious, needy, fearful, etc. (Shaw and Lee, 2001:115, Akonai, 2000, Kolawole, 1989, Aina, 1995). Gender scholars (Kauffman, 1989, Shaw and Lee, 2001:115, Afonja and Aina, 1995) agree that these are qualities that keep women in positions of subordination and encouraged them to do the domestic and emotional work of society. To be feminine is to speak, walk, look and act in certain ways, the quality of being a drag queen, the taken for granted affections of femininity (Kauffman, 1989). Femininity varies across cultures and groups, Asian Americans women are quoted as passive and dependent because they have to deal with societal stereotypes (archetypes). The traditional archetype is soft spoken, and seductive. To Shaw and Lee (ibid) a key aspect of femininity is its bifurcation of channeling into two opposites aspects. These aspects are the chaste, domestic, caring mother or Madonna and the sexy, seducing, fun loving playmate or whore i.e women you marry and women you have sex with.
Contemporary femininity especially in this era of globalization has boldly moved into areas that were traditionally off limits (ibid) Shaw and Lee noted that today’s ideal woman is definitely more androgynous than the ideal woman of the past. -smart, competent, and independent, beautiful, thin, and sexy, yet also loving, sensitive, competent, domestically and emotionally healthy. These they (Shaw and other) conclude are the integration of masculinity with traditional feminine qualities, while retaining much of the social script. In line with this they asserted
The contemporary ideal woman is strong, assertive, active, and independent, rather than soft, passive, fearful, delicate, and dependent……., she has not completely shed her domestic, nurturing and caring dimension, however, or her intuitive, emotional, and sensitive aspects. These attributes are important in her success as a loving and capable partner to a man, as indeed are her physical attributes concerning look and body size. (Shaw and Lee, 2001: 116).
It is not surprising that scholars (Shaw and Lee, 2001, Pereirra, 2001, Afonja and Aina, 1995) conclude that, in many ways, contemporary feminist tends to serve both the capitalist economic system and individual men better than the traditional, dependent, domestic model. With good emphasis, Shaw et al notes (ibid: 123) in any social institution, gender is a process of creating distinguishable social statutes for the assignment of rights and responsibilities. As a process, gender creates the social differences that define “woman” and “man”. in social interaction throughout their lives, individuals learn what is expected, see what is expected and act and react in expected ways, and thus unconsciously, simultaneously construct and maintain the gender order (ibid). Gendered norms and expectations are enforced through informal sanctions of gender inappropriate behavior by peers and by formal punishment or threat of punishment by those in authority should behavior deviate too far from socially imposed standard for the woman or man note Shaw et al (ibid).
A consciousness of the “other “ is the basis for stereotypical attitudes and words. Stereotyping is an oversimplified idea of the typical characteristic of a group or person. It is a natural process used by individuals to simplify the world or make it somewhat predictable. It is a concept that explains the mindful and purposeful categorization of “other”. Others in this paper refer to the female (woman) as different from male (man). It involves the use of derogatory words about this “other”.
Shaw et al further insist that,
It is basically a feeling of superiority towards the feminine. It is affixed opinion about gender disparity and categorization, a predisposition to react unfavourably towards members of a particular sex. These ideas are usually unfounded and based on rumour, gossips, traditions, (oral or otherwise) appearances etc. It is the use of abusive or derogatory word to describe the other gender. This believe is culturally and socially based and the follow-up attitude is learnt and passed from generation to generation. Stereotyping is a kind of discrimination, a type of racial segregation that is based on relegation through verbal onslaught or mannerism, characterized by the use of derogatory or abusive language. Gender stereotype is dehumanizing and it is a bane to unity and development. Unity can only be achieved when there is acceptance.
Racism is practices that segregate and derogate. The term “race “is based on the premise of biological and physical differences. Racial differences are more in the mind than in the genes, superiority and inferiority associated with racial differences are often socially constructed to satisfy the socio political agenda of the dominant group (in this instance, the male gender). According to Rob (1995) the concept of race included any group of people which held them to display inherent, heritable, persistent or predictive characteristics, and which thus had a biological or quasi biological basis.
It is in this wise that special attention is given to stereotypical attitudes with peculiarities for gender. Such stereotypes are culturally created and sustained in ethnic Nigerian groups. Several historical linguistic group in Nigeria use words that are derogatory, separatist and demeaning to refer to the female gender in the attempt to show male superiority and further subjugate women to ensure they remain docile. African derogatory ideologies on women are inhuman and unjust noted Fatoye (2017:1). Women are perceived to be properties and this has been thoroughly enmeshed in peoples mind. The female gender has been the most exploited the most under privileged, the worst abused and the most relegated segment of the society. Although women comprise a majority of the population, they nonetheless are often treated like a minority group assigned a definite place in the societal order, denied access to careers and power in the public arena and viewed as dependent, weak and submissive by nature (ibid)
SAMPLE GENDER STEREOTYPICAL LANGUAGE ACROSS NIGERIA
Gendered people emerge not from psychology or sexual orientations but from the exigencies of the social order, and mostly from the need for a reliable division of the work of food production, and the social (not physical) reproduction of new members (Shaw, ibid). Most people find it hard to believe that gender is constantly created and recreated out of human interaction, out of social life (ibid). It is further reiterated that, the important point that gender is central to shaping our lives, show that much of what is gendered we do not even recognize, it’s made normal and ordinary and occurs on the subconscious(ibid). In traditional African culture, the woman cannot head a family unit. In most African society, there is professional segregation; men do not embark on the same trade with women. Their apartments are separated; she cannot also participate in certain religious festivals such as the oro cult and some egungun(masquerade) cults. In traditional Yoruba culture, the woman is not allowed to sit at the village council. Most African states are patriarchal.
Negative cultural traits must necessarily be changed for a better future. In the average Igbo cultural milieu, a female from birth is relegated to the mothers shed (Mkupe) and no female could visit the male shed uninvited. Ezeaku vividly portrayed this (1990:105)
The husband’s apartment is called the obi, while the wife’s is called Mkupe. There was wall with one small gate separating the husband’s obi and the wife’s mkupe. The main entrance into the compound brought visitors into the obi. The obi is very important and sacrosanct. Movement is therefore restricted, conception was possible only in the obi.(ibid)
In line with this she emphasized
In other words, the difference between femininity (passive, dependent, intuitive, emotional) and masculinity (strong, independent , in control, out of touch emotionally) are made to seem natural and inevitable despite the fact that gender is a social script that individuals learn …….many of the skills and practices associated with gender involves privileges and entitlements …. And limitations (ibid, 110)
African cultural and religious believe derogate the woman. In Nigeria, ethnic plurality was a colonial arrangement, as several ethnic nations were forced into a lopsided contraption that Britain created for administrative convenience. A traditional patriarchal society, this artificial contraption matured into a pluralist divisive society that has continued to use prevalent factors (ethnicity, political and religious unacceptance etc.) to maintain separation and promote disunity. In this disunity however is found an interesting function of unity in gender stereotype. The wide conception of which translates to derogatory language use.
President Buhari of Nigeria, in a reply to certain political castigations over Aisha’s (the first lady) public statement /comment insisted her place was in his bedroom and the kitchen. Interesting sample cases of stereotype language across Nigeria are sampled below.
Oro obirin ni- a woman’s word.
The sentence is considered of little value because it is spoken by a woman.
Obirin lasan lasan- a mere woman - this is to belittle or push down.
O o mo wipe obirin ni e- Does it not occur to you that you are a woman.
This is to let the woman know that she is going too far.
Obirin bi okunrin- Macho woman.
Olowo ori mi- this is considered a positive statement in praise of a husband in Yoruba language and it is translated, purchaser or owner of my head (i.e payment of a bride price is to purchase a property),
Ori aku- consumer of her husband’s wealth.
Nwaanyi o me ole- of what importance is a woman or what can a woman do. This connotes little value in social contribution or is of little achievement.
E kwesiri ihu nwaanyi anya karia inu olu ya-a woman is better appreciated as an object or a woman is to be seen and not to be heard.
Onodu nwaanyi bu n’usekwu- the place of the woman is in the kitchen.
Kama mmanwu umunwaanyi, si mmanwu aputala ma ncha- instead of a woman in a masquerade garment, it is better there is no masquerade at all.
A masquerade is an African religious symbol of the ancestors, thus it cannot be represented by a woman.
Nwaanyi si na inyuli mamiri elu di mfe, ya nyuile ka a hu ya- if a woman says to urinate is easy let her try it.
That is to say-The male achievement is not a mean thing.
Duk da mace, da batada miji, bazatayi alfani ba- any female without a husband can never be proud.
Aljanna matar tana krkachi mijinta – the heaven of the wife is at the foot of her hushand.
Mace da bata kula da kanta, ma he banzane- any female that cannot keep her virginity is useless.
Matar bayu ne-ga namiji- females are servants to their husbands.
Mata mai yare diowa bayide yara ba- a woman with a lot of female children has no child at all.
Mata de yana yi fada de maza ba ta de- a woman that fights a man does not have respect.
Mata de tan a yi abon a na tab a wayo- a woman that is independent is not wise.
Mata mai zonubi be ka ma ta sega wage de a na adua- unholy women cannot enter the house of prayer.
GENDER STEREOTYPICAL LANGUAGE: A FORM OF RACISM
Historically, Afonja (2007) noted, female subjugation to men is not traceable to any nature inferiority, but traceable to the age old dominance of men. African inferior conception gives credence to inferiority as wives, mothers, home tenders. Harry laid emphasis to this when he noted,
While literature and philosophy are essentially an attempt to find the world anew on human liberty, ….women are so molded and indoctrinated by tradition (African)that they are prevented from assuming the status of being with liberty(in Fatoye, ibid:2).
Fatoye(ibid) further commented,
A conspiracy is kept alive which implies that woman by nature lack creative genius. Tradition locates the confining role of women within their allotted life space and this accounts for their political orientation and institutional sexism that find women crippled by the socio economic position assigned to them, as different from men, who have been allotted more versatile positions, including in politics…….
The juvenile(infant) and adult socialization stigma, which takes place in traditional African societies where women are stigmatized and defined in terms of wifehood, and motherhood roles to the preclusion of other vocational and political responsibilities and exposures (Stacy: 1981 Cited in Fatoye, 2017:2)) is also a function of this traditional categorization. Further Stacy (ibid) noted the kitchen bond, child bearing socialization process, which begins early in life for girls and women ,also frees men from domestic chores and allocates to them more challenging outdoor responsibilities(e.g Politics). This is further ingrained by the use of peculiar linguistic functions that indoctrinate women in docility and sustain their subjugation. When the society refers to a woman as one who consumes her husband’s wealth, it certainly connotes the little relevance of her need to contribute to family finances. Also obirin bi okunrin- is to show that such a woman is going beyond her expected boundary of achievement, and making an incursion into an expected male domain.
In Africa, women’s role is culturally ingrained in society’s cultural ethos. This is further engrained in socially assigned roles and emphatically rooted in linguistic assigned forms that further engrain gender roles and attribute respect accordingly. In some Nigerian cultures, a male child is taught to see himself as more important and as leader to an adult female. He will grow up to believe that the female gender is weak, docile and subservient. In some cases African traditional religion, Islam and even in ordination of priests, Christianity promotes gender bias. Racial stereotype cuts across attitude, language and believe and it is culturally ingrained. Racism enlists ‘others’ as inferior and is a learned attribute, it is not biologically grounded. Racism is also engrained in negative social interaction and foul language use, it is attitudinal and sociological. Nigerian gender stereotypical use is therefore obviously a form of racism.
V. IMPLICATIONS FOR DEVELOPMENT
The scholarly claim among social scientists, policy makers and international agencies is the claim that the emancipation of women is the major solution to the problem of development. The concept of gender and development emphasizes the equal stake of both men and women in gender balance and equity. The major focus of this paper is the idea of the social roles and their impact on political, educational and environmental development within Africa. There are several factors that limit women’s participation in societal development and sustainability. Such are constitutional, legal, regulatory provisions, and their applications, socio cultural and economic constraints, organizing time to allow for women participation, while leading a family and professional life, information dissemination by the media, and culture. Culture is a bane to women carrier development. Culture places different behavioral expectations on men and women and how these expectations affect individual’s reactions to gender issues.
Women population has been estimated to about fifty percent of the world’s population. Out of the 939 million rural poor, women represent the majority that is 565 million (global development agenda). (Olusi cited IFAD). It is therefore necessary to have women’s contribution to development. Most Countries of Africa (including Nigeria) have failed to achieve the desired developmental goals of socio economic development and wallow in poverty due to women’s exclusion from participation (Fatoye, Ibid). Gender equity is a core development objective in its own right noted Ezekwesili (2005, cited in Fatoye:4).
Development is the ability to meet the needs of the society in spite of an increase in population. Development is the provision of basic needs such as drinkable water, good roads, electricity, good schools, jobs and wages that meet up with the international quota allocated for subsistence existence (UNDP, 1999). Scholars (Cole: 1981, Ayodele: 2005, Mohan et al: 2002, Nauja: 2009, Oladele, 2009.) agree that development implies a change, or movement, and is usually defined from a positive perspective through the concerted efforts of its (the society) members. Development, according to Adefolaju (Adefolaju, 2007) involves all facets of human life; economic, social, technological, and cultural. Todaro and others (Todaro, 1989, Mabogunje (cited in Aguolu, 1989), explain development process as involving economic growth, modernization, equitable distribution of income, national resources, and soc-economic transformation. It is focused on economic transformation and the eradication of poverty. It is a positive impact on the promotion of human rights and the rule of law. National development is a multi dimensional process that requires the intervention of the total population. The female population (which constitute over halve of the total population) are inclusive of this population.
In a patriarchal Nigerian society however, female contributions are limited by negative gender practices, one important aspect of which is stereotypical language use. The use of stereotype language ensures a woman remains docile, timid, fearful, limited in ambition and relegated to a particular socio political status of the society. Statistics on political participation in Nigeria show a figure of below the average involvement of women in political participation since independence. Women receive little educational opportunities in the northern part of Nigeria, where gender disparity is further engrained in religious practices. In the east, west and south, women are not allowed into certain secret societies such as the ogboni in Yoruba land and the Ekpo in the Niger Delta.
The question of gender parity has attracted the attention of international organizations and governments, this is more important with the acknowledgement of the Female as constituting a significant percentage of the world’s population. Several international conferences (such as the Beijing Conference) and agreements are further documented with the United Nations on gender equality. This notwithstanding the practice is a far cry from the situation in most countries of the world. Nigeria presents an atypical case. Gender inequality in Nigeria is institutionalized, culturally engrained, and linguistically promoted with gender biased language. This delimits the socio political and economic achievements of women in Nigeria and will negatively impact development, as women are considered to be higher in population.
THE WAY FORWARD AND CONCLUSION
There should be an elimination of discriminatory practices, the implementation of the ratified international conventions regarding discrimination of women in all spheres of social activity. Socio economic and cultural political inequalities should be eradicated, creation of cultural conditions favourable for equal participation is important. A Democratic distribution of labour in the home and cultural changes where relevant across tribal societies is an essential. Most importantly male allies are necessary to encourage gender mobilization.
Women need to be strong (against all odds) and resilient. There is need to do away with stereotypes, religion is not a good excuse as religion is functional to development, religion identifies women in Islam and Christianity as role players in development, for example, Amina, the wife of the prophet Mohammed was a successful business woman, Ruth and Deborah were notable women in the Bible and traditional Nigerian religions promoted women to notable political and religious functions (Efunsetan, the historical Iyalode of Ibadan, queen Amina of Zaria, Moremi of Ile Ife historical mythology).
There is need for opportunity to be made available for the actualization of female potential and genius. Nigeria is a far cry from achieving the desire development goal, the full inclusion of women in the development process will hasten the country’s ability to quickly come out of poverty. Challenges to be overcome scholars insist includes reduction in poverty, gender accountability, policy connectedness, implementation of the rule of law, macro economic reforms, corrective policy adjustment and public sector restructuring, fair family governance, skill development, information and value reorientation.
Before colonialism women were noted to perform historic roles and undertaken radical exploits in various areas of society, though with high negative social castigations, (as price of freedom e.g Efunsetan, the ‘’notorious’’ Iyalode of Ibadan slave trade era, Moremi of Ile Ife, Madam Kuti of colonial Egba historical antecedents, Madam Ekpo in the Aba Womens Riots of 1929). The world cannot continue to wait for Africa to come off age, it is relevant to put all tools to work and placing the woman in the right position by removing racial practices (through gender stereotype) is an important progress agenda.
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