Gender constitutes a corpus in academic discourse, especially in the humanities. For inexplicable reasons, women become very emotional and irritable whenever the topic is raised particularly those who prefer to be identified as feminists. Therefore, I try to avoid the topic as much as possible. I have my convictions about gender but I will rather keep them to myself, reserving them for research and academic commitments. Two weeks ago, gender was the last thing on my mind when the MTU Vice-Chancellor instructed all lecturers in the university to start teaching the students via online channels following the COVID-19 lockdown. For a university with a world- class ICT facility, it was quite easy. Pronto, the reality of working from home dawned on me.
Some days later, shortly before concluding a class “Introduction to Drama and Theatre” I gave the students an assignment that required them to write a short drama with the title ‘The Tragedy of COVID-19’ with ten characters – China, USA, UK, COVID-19, Africa, Italy, Germany, Spain, WHO, and Stimulus. After I explained to the students what they were required to do, one of them, a girl, said she had a question. The whole class was quiet because she was always silent in class and generally reticent. “Please sir” came her sonorous voice, “in the list of characters, what gender should COVID-19 be, male or female”? I wasn’t expecting the question and for some seconds, I had no immediate reply. Given the seriousness in the student’s voice and also her gender, I was careful not to fall into a waiting trap.
Well, I told the students that our time was over, promising them to continue with the topic in the next class. Suddenly, there was a mild noise in the virtual class, the students pleaded and begged me to continue the class for another thirty minutes. And so, the two hours class continued. I told the students to decide the gender category of COVID-19, whether it should be male or female, and the debate began.
First, I called the girl who asked the question to give her opinion. “Sir, I think COVID-19 should be male. The virus is inconsiderate and full of deceit like some male characters. It starts with innocuous cough and sneezing, but beyond that façade is agony and death. Also, the virus is impervious to criticism like many men in authority who are not affected by criticism. They don’t read or listen to the people. They do whatever they like without gauging the pulse of the populace just like the dreaded virus”, she concluded. Shouts of “Sir, Sir” tore through the platform.
Every student wanted to say something. I gave another girl a chance. I wanted to hear what these young female students had to say. She began. “Sir, for us to situate the exact gender category of the virus, let us examine all the negativity inflicted on humanity by male and female species because the virus is all about negatives. For example, many male politicians in Nigeria, who make up to 95% of all politicians in the land, are responsible for the hardship in our country. They come like the symptoms of COVID-19, they deceive, they lie, they completely fool the people and when they assume office, they inflict pain and poverty on the people. Therefore, I think COVID-19 should be male”. There was uproar on the platform. I gave another student a chance, this time a boy, a very outspoken student who always reminds the class how he would want to be a reporter with CNN to accurately report all the issues in Nigeria to the world. “Sir, I think COVID-19 should be female. This is because it does not have a cure and nobody understands it. Women generally do not have a cure and nobody understands them. Now, because of COVID-19, everybody is at home. Women make men stay at home or go to work. Men generally obey women even though men won’t admit it, now the whole world is obeying COVID-19 like we all obey women. Talking about corruption, women are also corrupt. I remember a certain petroleum minister in this country who enriched herself and abused her office.
Again, sir, women account for the downfall of many men. Let us remember what Delilah did to Samson in the Bible, exactly what this deadly virus is doing to the world now…but” He was immediately cut short by the female students. Again, shouts of “sir, sir” tore through the platform, everybody wanted to give an opinion. I gave another girl a chance. “Sir, COVID-19 is a male because some men never keep their promises. The virus is very unreliable like most men. Some politicians in Nigerian claim to have integrity. They promised to be in power for one term, but now, they are still in power after one term just like COVID-19 is extending its stay around the world”. The female students clapped. This time, I permitted a boy who is obsessed with protest literature. “Sir I think COVID-19 is a female because the virus is beautiful and has a female-like hairstyle.” There was general laughter. “Again sir, I also think it is female because it likes to travel a lot like most women. Also, it has made many male world leaders feeble, speaking from both sides of their mouth.” There was more uproar in the class.
Finally, I decided to give another girl the last chance to speak. “Sir, without any shadow of a doubt COVID-19 is male. I say so because most men have destructive tendencies like the dreaded virus. For example, many men in places of authority are using the incidence of the virus to scam the people, claiming that huge sums of money have been shared when people are dying of hunger. No one can convince me that 100 billion naira has been shared in Nigeria within the last week. Many people are ravaged by hunger. I agree that money has been shared but certainly nothing near that amount of money. It is only wickedness that will motivate anybody to siphon public funds using COVID-19 as an excuse. Sir, there is a state in the South-East of Nigeria where workers have not received salaries since January 2019. A man is the governor of that State. He is surely an agent of death like COVID-19.
To me, the virus is male and there should be no argument about that”. The class was by now on fire, but I wanted to end the class because I had another class in 30 minutes. One boy passionately pleaded with me to allow him to talk before ending the class. “Sir, I agree with the girls that COVID-19 should be male. Men have caused more havoc in the world than women. So let us designate the virus as a male character.” There was total pandemonium in class. The girls cheered, the boys protested. Many more boys wanted to talk but I had to end the class. And so ladies and gentlemen, what gender category should COVID-19 be, male or female?
Dr. Adiele teaches in the Department of English, Mountain Top University via [email protected]