Sunday, September 24, 2023

Why True Feminism Must Include Cooking Conversations

There is a tweet that has stayed with me due to its simplicity and directness. Tweeted by Sope Lartey, a writer and animator, it said: “I’m a feminist of the ‘small things’. The cooking. The date paying. The proposal”. 

I often think of that tweet when I see tweets or statements that imply that conversations on financial independence, women relying on men financially, women proposing relationships and even cooking are tired and over flogged topics.

The people who say the above to African feminists especially, often say that there are “bigger” issues such as girl’s lack of education and Female Genital Mutilation. To them, focusing on ‘who cooks egusi’ does not matter because it is trivial compared to girls dying from infections or girls being denied education. 

The people who say this also are often privileged ‘progressive’ men and women who can outsource cooking and washing to often poorer women. This is such that a feminist woman refusing to do house chores for a lazy husband makes them question her feminism and sometimes even ask: ‘Is it that deep?’.

If only they can see the irony in speaking about domestic violence and girl’s lack of education but still going ahead to downgrade the importance of who does the cooking and domestic work in the lives of young women and even older women.

Girls who are not even married in the rural areas often lose out on studying properly because they are made to cook and clean at a higher disproportionate rate compared to their male counterparts. 

This is such that because girls are often viewed mainly through the lens of how well they must cook for a man, more attention is placed on grooming her to be a wife and mother.

The result is that even when she is privileged and has a university degree, if her kitchen skills are not up to the standards of an even clueless in the kitchen husband, she is shamed by others and asked why she wants to study further for, say, an MBA.

She may even know how to cook, but will still experience shaming and the possibility of having her education stopped if she cannot cook a particular meal that her prospective husband likes. 

For some women, cooking has led to their death by both rich and poor husbands. Some women have been killed because their husbands did not like the way they made pap. In some Igbo towns in Nigeria, some women have been killed by their husbands because they ate the gizzard. 

The defence of such husbands is that the gizzard which is uncoincidentally a very nutritious part of the chicken is reserved for the males in the family. In yet both Igbo and other parts of Nigerian and indeed African cultures, some women have been killed for “not cooking rice properly” and for not giving “two pieces of meat”.

Some other women who were even breadwinners have been killed because they stayed “too long at the shop” or at the office and didn’t cook their husband’s dinner.

It is therefore ironic that those who say cooking is not as “important” as FGM and education, cannot see how the conversation on cooking all ties into the overall conversation on women’s career growth and overall safety from violence.

Speaking with Chidera, a writer and feminist, she explains that the expectation of cooking from women, ties back to the general expectation and entitlement to women’s time.

In her words: “I wrote an article early this year or so about why cooking is a feminist issue. Women are being killed by their husbands for either not cooking or for not cooking to their taste.

Aside from that, expecting women to cook is like the beginning of the oppression and discrimination of women. It is the entitlement to women’s time and labour. Expecting women to take care of other people even at the expense of their health.”

Chidera went on to say: “Cooking is not something small or something to be overlooked. It is labour. It is time. It is energy.  It is said that women’s domestic labour around the world is over 10 trillion dollars. That’s a lot of money. So much to elevate women out of poverty. As a first daughter I had to fight that expectation. Stopped cooking and when I did, I cooked for myself alone or for the women alone.”

For Nana, a writer and mother, it was exposure to the violence women face that made her adjust her thoughts about the importance of cooking conversations.

To quote her: “Someone killed his wife because of pap in Niger state. And I must admit that I really used to downplay the whole cooking conversation till this very incident. It made me rethink my privilege. Like, really rethink it. I thought about it even yesterday.”

Nana continued by saying: “Yesterday,  it was my turn to cook but I was so tired so my husband made beans, my son made rice and I did one sauce with k leg like that. We were all tired but we ate it and all contributed and no one died.

And I remembered that Niger state woman that died because of pap.”

The truth is that there is no issue that affects women which is not important enough to be discussed. It may not be as important for one woman but for other women it is a matter of life or death.

Cooking must never be viewed as a trivial topic because it extends just beyond who cooks and goes to address the manner in which women’s dreams are sabotaged courtesy of loss of time and men’s entitlement to women’s labour.

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