One of my most instructive novels by a Nigerian woman is Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta. It is a novel that serves as a reminder that financial independence, emotional fearlessness and removing the need to stay in situations that harm women, are all things that women must have.
In Second Class Citizen, the main character Adah was the breadwinner of her family. She sent her husband to school in the United Kingdom, cooked, cleaned and even supported his family back in Nigeria.
Now, her being a breadwinner will not have been a negative thing if her husband appreciated her efforts, made plans to build himself so that the burden was not on her and actively contributed to childcare and housework.
The reverse was however the case. Her husband Francis beat her up. He cheated on her to the point that the women in the building they lived in had to write her a letter asking her to see that her husband left them alone. He did not contribute to the housework and to make matters worse, he was continually failing his exams. Matter of fact, he never passed the exams needed to become an accountant.
Adah’s story may have occurred in the United Kingdom in the seventies. That said, she represents multiple Nigerian women even in today’s world who bear financial burdens and face domestic violence and not an ounce of appreciation.
She represents the women who carry the bulk of domestic labour, run multiple businesses alongside a 9-5 and still have to deal with a husband using her money to cater to outside girlfriends.
She represents the woman whose husband uses her money to fund his family members; family members who think he is the one behind the money and who may even go ahead to insinuate that she is a selfish woman who is “eating her husband’s money alone”.
Adah’s story also represents the women who may not even be married. She represents the daughters who are made to pay school fees for her brothers and male cousins but who are still denied the right to land and proper inheritance. The daughters who are told that male children are more useful because they get to carry the family name even as she comes from a supposed husband’s house to take care of her aged parents. Even as she may be the one bankrolling the funeral of a father who never had a kind word for her because she was born female.
It is not uncommon in Nigeria and indeed other African nations to see men excused from domestic labour on the grounds that they are providers. It is also not uncommon for lots of homes to have women and daughters regardless of marital status contribute financially and split the bills.
What is sad, is that most men will only recognise a warped form of “equality” when it comes to finances. Ask them to also contribute to childcare and all of a sudden you have forgotten that the head of the house is too elevated to touch baby poo.
Ask them to actively support their wives so that she can reach the highest point of her dreams and then they remind you that you were married to make their own life comfortable. Watch them also make efforts to sabotage your career dreams and clip your wings. Watch them become abusive because they fear that women having any degree of self actualisation will make her become someone who cannot be controlled and will see his sexist faults enlarged.
But why does any of this occur? Why the double standards? Why is it that working women are constantly asked how they juggle motherhood and career while men are expected to contribute next to nothing? Why don’t women receive praise for financially contributing but are instead encouraged to hand over their entire salaries to men who do nothing but play video games all day?
Speaking with Anthonia, she says that it is due to how men tie their self worth to their finances. In her words: “I don’t know how exactly to put this in words but I think one reason why women attribute their success/wealth to their husbands is so that their marriages won’t crumble.
It’s crazy how many men tie their self-worth to their ability to provide. Take that from them and they’re nothing. That’s why they feel so threatened when they can’t. Their wives know this, so in order not to “emasculate” them, they have to pretend to need their coins and shillings.”
For Lethabo, the shaming of financially stable women can also boil down to jealousy. To quote her: “I think that most traditionalists (both men and women) still loathe the idea of a salary-earning woman because of the possible freedom, although sometimes minimal, that it gives the working woman. In addition, most working women are able to have some form of say in the running of their household and many men hate that. While they silently love the fact that they (men) are not solely responsible for the financial burdens of their homes, they hate the say that that money affords their women.
Other women don’t necessarily hate celebrating working women but their envy is misdirected and they tend to find ways to minimalise the contributions of working women, usually by pointing out things that such women may not have such as children or husbands.”
When asked to give her opinion, Marylyn explained that in her experience, women give and may even be the ones erasing their contributions.
In her words: “I think the reason is because they don’t want us to know that they’re defying the rule that they have set through the patriarchy that the men always have to be more financially stable and better off than the woman.
My mum runs a school and believe me when I say that when I was working there, about 80% of the children’s school fees was being paid by the mothers and it was still these women that brought and picked up their kids everyday from school almost all the time too.
The thing has always bothered me because when I still see these families outside, the women still give their husbands credit for what they did themselves. Only few don’t hide it and it brings us back to the fact that women also help men get away with their nonsense.”
So long as we live in a world defined by gendered roles and expectations, it shall always be the norm to erase women’s efforts when they do the supposedly “masculine” role.
We must strive to create a society where young girls do not have anxiety where money is concerned such that they limit their money making abilities out of fear that it would repel a partner from contributing.
Angel Nduka-Nwosu is a writer, journalist and editor. She moonlights occasionally as a podcaster on As Angel Was Sayin’. Catch her on all socials @asangelwassayin.