Woman, 2016

A Man Is Not A Mirror

We barely make it through the door when a “good day, sir” catapulted itself in our direction. The welcome is an inviting contrast to the sweltering heat we just narrowly sought shelter from. Though the welcome was not for me.

by Stephanie C. Nnamani

I think nothing of it. After all, in the presence of my father, it is very evident who the elder is. As Nigeria’s tradition would have it, the elder will almost always be acknowledged and thusly favoured first. I also think, perhaps it’s a man-to-man expression of respect. I need no effort convincing myself that I am reaching, but I assure myself there is comfort and truth here.

So, I remain.

My thoughts are quickly interrupted by the sound of the female attendant behind the counter to his left, “good afternoon, sir! Welcome.” Again, it is as though I am not there. We ask for the designer, citing a friend’s recommendation and are directed upstairs. We make our way up the stairs, into a room with what appeared to be two Women apprentices. “Good day, sir” and “you’re welcome, sir” clash in the air in a chaotic chorus. It is followed by a nod and subsequent, subtle curtsy to underline the greetings. As though they weren’t enough.

Again, I am not there. Hell, if I’m there!

We are informed the designer we seek is not in for the day, and are immediately directed into a neighbouring showroom. Three men are just around the corner before scattered in front of the entrance. All three harmoniously greet, “welcome, sir!” One of them, the oldest I believe, managed eye contact and a “welcome, ma!” But it was calculated to coincide with my dad’s turn so as to examine the remaining space on the building’s 2nd floor.

I say to myself, “it’s better than nothing,” all the while, imagining a lifetime of “it’s-better-than-nothings”. Fulfilling? No.

The relationship between Nigerians and formalities is perhaps one of the most evident to those native and foreign to the culture. We also hold a reputation for impeccable insulting, but that’s beside the point. Greetings are riddled with “ma” and “sir” seemingly more than anything. The more, the better. Failure to enter a room and not greet anyone is an immediate revelation to one’s absence from cultural norms and customs. But my personal experience begs me to wonder to what capacity does this serve to communicate the sociocultural understanding and placement of the Woman.

The idea that feminism is a western “thing” and therefore should neither garner consideration nor hold weight over day-to-day practises of African, though more specifically, Nigerian culture, is a vile, venomous disservice. The irony in calling Africa the Mother while undermining and often overlooking the Mother voice through a dismissal of feminism, in Africa.

But it comes without surprise. It has long roots in the patriarchal structures extended by its colonisers. Roots that were designed to create a power dynamic that was sure to not only create divide, but to marginalise the Woman.

A well-mannered, subservient, cooking, praying, fertile woman, is a desired woman. A long list of a Woman. Anything remotely outside the norm arouses questions, though more accurately concerns and insults, pertinent to one’s self-esteem and confidence.

In short, one bold Twitter user felt strongly enough to express,

“culturally, Igbo women do not wear nose piercings. So, when i see one, i start to measure her self esteem and confidence.”

Generally, I do quite well to ignore comments lacking in intellectual dexterity like this one. I’d much rather allow people the fundamental right to stew in their own stupidity. But I could not resist. And I was not alone. Because he was soon sobered to the idiocy of his statement through a barrage of reprimands.

The exchange made one truth readily obvious: you will find that a man’s confidence is rooted in his belief that a woman’s confidence begins from his approval of her.

Man believes himself a mirror. He believes himself the chief Architect and determinant of a woman’s value.

And why wouldn’t he? When men exist by default, and society’s design is such that we are conditioned to reinforce ideals that produce and perpetuate such misplaced sense of entitlement.

The Woman, an afterthought, remnants of raw materials from which man was formed. A woman on her own exists (for the male gaze). A woman with a man, any man, whether it be father, husband, brother, falls into his shadow. Her presence, absorbed into his. What is left after acknowledging him is thereby reserved for her in a manner that inspires questions about the reality of Her presence, identity, existence.

A man is not a mirror is an enigmatic, albeit poetic sentiment that lends itself to the dismantling of patriarchy. Every time the Woman decides to love herself, see herself, she must go around the world; go around a man, love him and “lose” him.

Or more accurately, discern that their failed connection was neither the beginning nor end of Her. There was more Woman, more worlds, more.

A man is not a mirror. You do not look to him to see You. You exist simply by your own merit. It is not useless to contemplate nor challenge your placement in society. Do not be discouraged. We resist because we know there’s a Rise that awaits us at the end of our resistance.

What I believe is most corrupt is that in the event where the Woman seeks to do so, her efforts are dismissed as maniacal and baseless. And I say it is no wonder the term, maniacal has its prefix in man.

I say: it is no wonder I write a man, and the Woman.

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Words and visual are my own.

All Rights Reserved, 2017.