Sex, Women and (Hu)Woman
By CHIKA UNIGWE
Special to USAfricaonline.com
USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
The Black Business Journal
One of my uncles, who is now in his seventies, took a second wife because his wife had produced "enough" girls. Since she had just a son and five girls, there must be something wrong with her. He looked around, and based on his criteria for recognizing the kind of woman that was sure to produce "dozens of sons", he married another woman. Many people supported him. After all, "it is not easy to stay with a woman who gives you only girls." In what I see as an act of destiny, the second wife populated his house with five more children: all girls.
Elementary biology teaches us that the sex of a child is determined by the male. He has the defining X and Y chromosomes and depending on which one fuses with the female's X chromosome, then you have a boy or a girl. For the spiritualists, the sex/gender of a child is determined by God or gods.
Hence, one would think that with both science and religion excluding the woman from taking the blame, she is home free, right? Wrong.
One of my uncles, who is now in his seventies, took a second wife because his wife had produced "enough" girls. Since she had just a son and five girls, there must be something wrong with her. He looked around, and based on his criteria for recognizing the kind of woman that was sure to produce "dozens of sons", he married another woman.
Many people supported him. After all, "it is not easy to stay with a woman who gives you only girls". In what I see as an act of destiny, the second wife populated his house with five more children: all girls. Now that his age-mates are resting and letting their children look after them, he is still running around to provide for his young children.
It is easy to dispel the story of my uncle. He is in his seventies. Surely, the younger generation, our generation of Nigerians are more educated, more tolerant, more civilized ( with all its implications) to behave in that manner. Surely, theses things do not happen anymore. Well, as the famed comedian Chika Okpala aka Zebrudaya of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) fame would say, "fa-fa-fa-foul!"
It seems that no matter how much females achieve, the quest is still on for the son/sons. Only recently, a good friend of mine who has been married for five years was sent out of her marital home.
Reason? Take a wild guess. You hit it right on the head. She failed in that all too important task of producing a heir. She has two beautiful, intelligent girls. Apparently, beauty and intelligence count for nothing when a family's name is at stake. Afamefuna, a name which approximates to "may my line not die" is still a popular Igbo name.
Sadly, my friend does not get as much sympathy as one would expect in this age and time. Our generation of Nigerians tell her such things as , "men will always be men." "You should have encouraged him to have an affair. Maybe that would have give him a son and kept you in your marital home." "He should have waited for the third baby. That might have been a boy." Implied in all the comments, even while seemingly blaming the man for his impatience after only two children, is that his action is justified .What happens to the fact that the Y chromosome is available only to the male? What happens to the belief that God decides who gets what? What happens to the fact that females are as important as males? That both the male baby and the female baby are expelled from the womb of a woman? Reason, science and religion are all dumped on a heap and trashed.
It is up to us, this generation of Africans, to fight for our
rights alongside our human rights. We should strive to stamp
out this kind of oppression ( as well of course, as other forms
of oppression). No child deserves to be made to feel unwanted. And no
mother should be made to feel inadequate because of her baby's
Unigwe, an aulmnus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; KU Leuven and UC Louvain in Belgium, has recently joined USAfricaonline.com and USAfrica The Newspaper as Canada-based contributing editor and columnist. She is the author of 'Teardrops', a collection of poems, and her short story, 'Touched by an Angel', was broadcast on the BBC World Service.
This, her first column for USAfricaonline.com, is copyrighted and archiving on any other web site or newspaper is unauthorized except with a written approval by USAfricaonline.com Founder December 8, 2001
By Ndubuisi Obiorah
Sat Dec 08, 2001 10:48:30 AM US/Central
Re: USAfricaonline.com: Sex, Women and (Hu)Woman Rights. By Chika Unigwe
Great stuff, Chika.
Do you have any ideas on how we might go about eradicating this mentality? Also, how would you respond if I suggested to you that, more often than not, it's the man's female relatives - mum, sisters, aunts - who egg him on in marrying a second wife?
It is often these female relatives who take it upon themselves to
disparage and denigrate the wife for not producing a/enough male
child/ren and then to physically attack and eject the 'girl-child
producer' from the matrimonial home.
I speak from the personal experience of some of my male relatives but, of course, I realize that this personal anecdotal evidence cannot be universal to Ndi'Igbo, (and other parts of Nigeria, or indeed the entire African continent). But I am most curious as to your ideas on how we can eradicate this problem.
Quest for a male child not exclusive to Igbos
By Julius Irozuru <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sunday, 9 Dec 2001 23:16:50 -0600
Chika Unigwe wrote on USAfricaonline.com that "It is up to us, this generation of Africans, to fight for our women's rights alongside our human rights. We should strive to stamp out this kind of oppression ( as well of course, as other forms of oppression). No child deserves to be made to feel unwanted. And no mother should be made to feel inadequate because of her baby's sex."
She raised a legitimate concern. However, I am of the view that it is a cultural thing not a human rights issue. We should be careful in adding to the mutilation debate. If I may, let me illustrate from a personal experience.
My sister, educated in her own right and with decades of exposure here wanted a son badly. When she had the fourth child and was told it was a girl (her fourth girl), she could not hold back her shock and disappointment. Unfulfilled, she did not give up; she went through the adoption process. Her husband, a medical doctor, does not care.
This cultural issue is not limited to our society. Only recently
Japanese citizens had been openly expressed concern as to
whether their young queen would have a son or not. She fulfilled that
society's expectations and everybody was satisfied. Accordingly,
before we jump into the bandwagon of another human rights crusade, we
should keep things in proper perspective. God bless.
Irozuru is based in the Dallas-Forth Worth area.
Chika responds to Irozuru:
When a "cultural thing"oppresses my right as a woman , it becomes a human rights issue
Where do we draw the line between human rights and woman rights? When a "cultural thing"oppresses my right as a woman , it becomes a human rights issue for me. I am after all, human. We should not let oppression hide itself under the cloak of culture. I have not said that we should call on the Western world to spearhead the campaign for us( with all its implications and connotations).
I suspect that that is where your distaste for the term, " human rights" lies.I know that while we ( Africans, generally) may like to watch Jerry Springer, we are not in the habit of hanging our dirty laundry in public. What do you mean by "joining the mutilation debate?"
I steer away from the term, "mutilation"because it is laden with value judgment. Why is female circumcision "mutilation" but not the male? Why is female circumcision mutilation, but, breast enlargement is not? The list is endless. Having said that, when circumcision is forced on one, it is a violation of human rights.
When the circumcision is needless, and the circumcised want it eradicated for various reasons, then why would we not join? As to your brother-in-law, there are always exceptions to the rule. My point is that many African cultures, especially the Igbo tradition, encourage the reverence for sons. In my village, a woman who has her third consecutive son is entitled to an entire goat.
What message does that send out? I do not remember making the point that the desperate yearning for a male child is limited to any particular group of people. I am sure it cuts across cultures, but to varying degrees. However, who was it that said that charity begins at home?
It's neither sexist not violation of women's
rights to have multiple wives
By Soronnadi Nnaji <email@example.com>
I do not see the issue of an Igbo man taking on multiple wives as sexist or as a violation of women's rights. This is eurocentric lingo. Women in contemporary Igbo culture are never forced into marriage. True, there may be pressure to do so just as there may be pressure on the man to marry. Another angle to the same issue - what about certain unmarried women who are willing to become additional wives in order to have children. These are women with degrees and hold well paying jobs. Are they self-exploiting? Others of these unmarried women are adopting babies, happy to add.
In days gone by men took multiple wives for prestige and to demonstate wealth, to obtain helping hands on the farm, and/or to have male children to perpetuate the family name. I believe that the first two objectives are not in vogue in today's Igbo society.
For the third objective, if there is an understanding between the man, the senior wife/wives and the incoming wife who is anybody to try to legislate the practice even from the population control view point as in China. Time and contemporary circumstances, such as the economics of rearing the children from such unions, are significantly reducing the frequency of such multiple wife-taking. However, the cultural angle still remains.
The objective is very powerful particularly for an Igboman with the strong cultural belief that he must have a son to perpetuate his name. Such belief nothwithstanding some of us who find ourselves without male children have invoked another aspect of our culture for solice - the understanding that 'Chi na enye nwa' --"God is the One who gives children."
Like most fathers who already have daughters, I was hoping for a
male child when my third child was on the way. The child turned out
to be a girl and I named her 'Ninikanwa Nkechinyerem' - What is
greater than the child God has given me.' And this is a very viable
solution - a change of attitude/mentality regarding the need to have
a male child to perpetuate ones name.
Nnaji is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Florida A & M University and Florida State University
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