Gender Roles in African Relationships

by Folasayo Dele-Ogunrinde

With “Some” men, It’s all about “What can you do for me”? (Read: “How can you make me happy, how can you love me, feed me, support my career, fulfill my sexual needs, propagate my genes, cater to my family, respect me, respect me, respect me!, because I am the boss of you, and generally be at my beck and call 24/7 with limited or no reciprocity on my part”).

Permit me in this case, to personalize portions of this essay as a means to illustrate my point. I was in a fairly new relationship with this Nigerian guy several years ago, dating across country. He was to pay me a short visit after a while. And I, considering myself a pretty good host, naturally, stocked the fridge was with all sorts of delicacies, even going to find some of the hard to get African food in Seattle where I lived then. I also took some time off work during his visit, and prior to his arrival cooked up a storm that my entire neighborhood was smelling of iru, ogiri and nkan nkan. A few days after his arrival, I had to resume work. He was craving catfish, and I lived in a city known for some good fresh seafood. I told him I knew exactly the place where to get the freshest catfish, and I could pick some up on my way from work, though a drive away. This was back when I still toiled for corporate America working 12 odd hours a day. After work, I drove 90 minutes in heavy traffic to get live catfish. He was excited.I got home after 9pm having left at 7am that morning. Too tired to cook the fish, and having to prepare for a presentation the next day, I merely seasoned it and preserved it in the fridge. Next morning, on my way to work, I asked “home boy” if he’ll like to have the catfish for lunch, I told him it’s all prepped and ready to be put it in the oven, he nodded a sleepy yes, and off to work I went. When I returned later that evening, cat fish was starring me in the face as raw as I left it in the morning. I asked him why he hadn’t cooked it, he just went eerily quiet, at ignoring my question. I persisted, “I thought you wanted to eat catfish now?, did you decide on something else” (as there was plenty of cooked food in the fridge). I was further ignored. Again, I pressed, “Did you eat anything today”? Silent treatment. After much query, I realized that he had expected I was going to dash down from work in the afternoon to cook it, or wake up an hour earlier than my usual 6:00am to cook it before going to work. Here is someone on a visit who watches CNN all day while I’m at work, simply to stick in a “ready to cook” food that HE alone was going to eat, (as I don’t fancy catfish myself) but which in defense of macho effrontery he wouldn’t do. He said “He didn’t come to visit me to cook”. This was a guy who had regaled me with how his culinary skills can beat mine any day during the “toasting phase”. Then it hit me…Ah ah!, he’s one of those “I can cook, but refuse to cook in the presence of a woman type” – (You see, it takes a while sometimes to detect this trait in a guy). As the Yoruba saying goes” Ebi ni o pa ‘jesha to lohun o j’eko Oyo, tebi ba pa Sule, a j’obo (Non-literary translation: He wasn’t hungry enough, or he would have sorted himself out). You guessed right!, Cat fish was not on the menu in my house till he left. Nor was anything cooked that wasn’t already cooked prior to his visit or readily available. Yes, go ahead, I am a mean ….(expletive)!!.

On the other hand, was another Nigerian friend of mine who couldn’t cook to save his life, but he will never sit crossed legged in front of the TV while I sweat it out in the kitchen. He would chop the onions, check on the rice, set the table whatever he needs to do, or simply just hang around the kitchen just for the company.Knowing his mind-set, if he had wanted to watch TV while I cooked, I would at this point be OK with it, because he had no expectations, and guess what, cooking for him was a joy, I gave more than he expected, and he appreciated it, there were no domestic issues. There was never any reason to resent what I did.

If I even sense the slightest expectation on a guy part when it comes to my domestic skills, I’ll simply resist. I’m not your maid. If a guy comes to my home and expects as his God-given right my culinary services, he can have a phone book and I’ll even let him use my phone. Pizza Hut cooks, so does Olive garden!. And guess what, they’ll deliver and even throw in some napkins”, and I’ll be glad to pick up the tab. Again, feel free to call me a mean …(expletive).

You see a man whose friends comes to visit and he immediately commandeers his wife to the kitchen to wait on them.I’m not saying asking politely, I mean gives orders!.A dear friend (one of the few mature African male I know) once said when his male friends visit his home, he prefers to personally go to the kitchen and cook for them. He doesn’t want them to see his wife as their waitress. He clearly demonstrates before his friends that they need to respect his wife, and that to him is an extension of their respect for him. He would be in the kitchen assisting his wife…”Some” men will say he’s a fool, but his wife appreciates such simple gesture, and he reaps the benefits.

A real man does not have to be asked before he assists his wife. He knows what to do, and he does it. The domestic system becomes fluid. All parts of the sum does what needs to be done to create an effective system of domestic co-habitation. It doesn’t make a man a weakling. Sure, I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that SOME women find a man showing his domestic side quite alluring, as I’m sure a women who proves her merit in what is traditionally a man’s role equally turn SOME men on. “Some” will say that’s hogwash. Maybe.

Not every man or woman is a good cook, that’s fine, and some women don’t even want their husbands hovering in the kitchen, that alright too. What is not alright is when it becomes a battle of the sexes. Whoever can, should cook. And the one who does is not the others’ “Maid”. Meanwhile, should some of these “My shadow wouldn’t grace the entrance of a kitchen” African men be married to “Oyinbo” women, not only will they become domesticated by force, they will enslave themselves to her “majesty’s” service should she also want breakfast in bed – every morning!. While also bringing home the bacon, they’re making the gravy.

I have a few male friends who can’t tell what a frying pan is, if one hit them over the head.You can see they make an effort but fail miserably at domesticity, either because they’ve not been socialized that way, or they just don’t have the chops. They may even ask the women in their lives to show them how, yet they fail. Sometimes, these class of male friends have asked me to help them “arrange” something when they need to entertain. But the difference with the ones I oblige is that they ask politely, with no expectations whatsoever. And I’m glad to do so out of love, I’m sure the same way they would oblige me should I ever be in a financial bind and need bailing out if I ask them politely, NOT because I’m a woman and EXPECT that I deserve to have men take care of my financial needs, but because they will do so for me as a friend who have earned their trust and respect in other areas.

“Some” men feel that the ONLY way to win a girl’s love is by impressing her with his wealth, status, job ALONE. Personally, I find that a huge turn-off. Thank God, not every woman has a price tag. I’m not against wealth, I think money looks good on most people, and it can (sometimes) certainly make life and ones relationship more enjoyable. But when the layers of the bearer comes off, and there are major character flaws like lack of integrity, loyalty etc, it’s a dud. It’s an insult for a man to think that because he’s so and so, he can, and should be able to get any woman. If a woman breaks up with a man who everyone (including himself) considers a “good catch” (

Read: High 6-figure salary, status conferring profession, family ties to old money etc), she is said to be “crazy”.People are forgetting that the novelty of money and status will eventually wear off, and they are not the ones who will live with the man, nor will they be around to douse the fire when the scorching flames of a bad relationship consumes her.All the wealth in the world cannot make a “bad guy” good. How I wish more women will acknowledge this.

There are men, who think that sex is theirs for the asking, and for the taking. They prey on young impressionable women who sometimes are at a loss for what to do in economically harsh climates like that which obtains in most African Countries, so they succumb to these unscrupulous monsters. I’m not making excuses for “bad behavior”, and no, not all women who “give generously” are saints either, ( Article: Gender Roles in African Relationships. The problem with “Some” Women) but the wanton sexual abuse of women, sometimes of those young enough to be grand-daughters by some African men is so abominable. Yet, when a woman sleeps around she’s a whore…but theirs is a conquest.

“Some” African men believe they have the exclusive right to be the “chooser” in a relationship. Women have to be the ones who parade themselves before him so he can have his pick. “Some” don’t believe that a woman should have the privilege to choose them. That is a male’s exclusive right. This goes back to the days of virgins being paraded bare breasted before men who will then pick their brides…And if a woman is not married by a certain age, “She has been left on the shelf” What makes men (or society) think she’s not the one who hasn’t chosen a man yet?. Any wonder why a lot of African women are now opting to date outside the race? A lot of these women have discovered that there is an alternative to the “typical” African man and his overblown ego. What makes the over marriage-able aged African man think that he has not indeed been left on the shelf? – What makes him think he’s not an “old male”?.

The role of manipulating fertility to conceive in relationships should be a joint venture, yet you see “Some” men completely abdicate this responsibility to a woman. They refuse to participate in what they believe is the “messy affairs of women”, yet act shell-shocked and sometimes even abusive when she “inconveniently” gets pregnant. Not all women necessarily “deceive” a man to concieve, sometimes, yes, that is the case, but it is often not. Yet, “Some” men will put the blame squarely on the woman, forgetting that it’s his responsibility as well to prevent pregnancy, and he may even force her to consider an abortion. If both couple have an understanding about fertility and conception, they can work though the sometimes difficult – if unplanned situation – together.

The issue of child care is where “Some” men will absolutely draw the line. “Some” will even go to extremes to be absent in the first few months of their children’s lives, conveniently going on “business trips”, taking that long desired course abroad or finding some other lame excuses to not be around for the sleepless nights of the first few harrowing months of a baby’s life.Yes, papa didn’t change diapers, I know, but we live in a different time, and for those in the Diaspora, a different reality. Both parents need to be hands-on with child care, and by that, I don’t mean the 5 min pat on the back before settling down comfortable on the recliner way down in the sound-proofed basement to block out Juniors’ cries while you catch up on the latest sports stats on ESPN.Maybe there’s something the penguins can teach us (Film: March of the Penguins).

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Anonymous July 2, 2006 - 1:42 pm

Took the words right out my mouth. The level of expectations from Nigerians men is ridiculous. Like you said, i am going to cook regardless not out of duty, but out of love. They don't get it, and when you try to explain it to them,"u've become americanized." They wanna have their cake and eat it to. A woman who works all day and also waits on them. If they really want it the way it is back home, well lets do it the right way. You take care of all the bills while i stay at home all day.

Anonymous June 30, 2006 - 2:28 pm

Paul Adujie,

you're here again!!! always seeking to grab attention. Why don't you let others be the judge of your articles on whether or not it is fair and balanced. Do you really need vaidation that badly? Grow up man!.

Dr. Fadal June 29, 2006 - 5:30 pm

Excellent write up. Your approach may be general in style, narrowly restrictive but yet true and valid. The parochial leaning does not in anyway devalidate the points and concerns you raised. You spoke well.

Dr. Fadal

Reply June 29, 2006 - 1:30 pm

I wish I had your wit and charm when it comes to dealing with some hapless Nigerian men. Forget the documentary, hold a seminar, charge us Nigerian women a pretty sum and tell us how it's done sister. You are a gem among stones for standing up for the rest of us. More palm oil to your elbow.

Paul I. Adujie June 29, 2006 - 11:37 am

I worry about the generalizations about Nigerian, nay, African men… gender inequalities are serious issues… but a great disservice is being done… by those who engage is feminist crusades generalizations and exaggerations… for a fair and balanced view on gender equality (a global perspective) please read:

An African Wife-An African Husband; Without African Values Written by Paul I. Adujie


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