It could be because I have many daughters that I find my blood boiling each time I see Nigerian men, social media influencers in particular, introduce controversial topics in the public sphere that affirm the misogynic nature of our society. Why are we always too quick to make women and girls the butt of our social media lampoons, couched in morally outraged terms that somehow cast men as saints?
Today, I am riled by two issues that are trending in the social media.
A group of jobless boys copied a very thoughtful investment tactic and transformed it into a pastime to advertise their broke lifestyle and demonize women in the bargain. Stingy Men Association, founded in Zambia, seeks to instill an investment culture among their members. Subscribers pledge not to give more than a certain amount of money to their women and to invest the rest to earn more. You would expect that as the investment grows, their women would automatically get more. What did our boys do? They cloned the Zambian idea only to corrupt it by making it a crime to give to their women.
Members used the old sixpence, a low value coin in Nigeria’s old currency, often taken as a gift with little or no value, to solemnly swear to … “never give shishi … to the other gender.”
The corruption of this noble idea from Zambia was, however, taken in the playful spirit with which the boys offered it, and everyone had a good laugh. This is more than one can say about another savage attack lightheartedly recently launched by a musician against women, Nollywood women.
Ruggedman – a musician in the twilight of his career – has lighted a fuse to ignite stereotypical Twitter bombs on Nollywood women. On February 5, he tweeted thusly: “My male actors in Nollywood whats going on? It’s just the females that are buying cars and building houses left and right. I wanted to come into Nollywood but at this rate, I am not coming again.”
Why did I feel offended? At the inception of Nollywood – and many decades later – it was a favorite pastime to launch moral attacks on girls who dominated our home TV screens and made us laugh and cry with the incredible talent they displayed on set. Inside this heady world of make-believe, however, danger lurked everywhere these ladies turned. Partly because of the desperation to land juicy roles, partly because of the paternalistic and misogynic system that rule the woods, and partly because the wealthy among us must be men where women are concerned, the goddesses of Nollywood came to acquire a reputation as women of easy virtue. It did not matter that men who wield economic and political power, inside and outside of the industry, were the antagonists, predators who dedicated time and resources to hunt for the females and wear down their moral resistance.
Pioneer Nollywood movies fed on misogynic content, casting married and single women as lazy, grasping, and dark-hearted. Invariably, the most popular actresses in the hood were those who popularized dark and sinister roles on the silverscreen. Very few female leads played heroines, philanthropists, and spiritual leaders, for instance. Rather, they were more likely to be seen as avaricious and amoral antagonists and witches. The young and pretty among them were considered by producers as objects of pleasure whose lives were made to revolve around movie sets and “the other room” where they “performed” for prime roles.
We realized how monstrous the Nigerian film producers became in September 2004 when they placed a wholesale ban on eight of the hottest stars.
We knew, but pretended that we didn’t, that male producers, directors, and their politician allies collude to trade key movie roles for sexual favours, the same way that university lecturers bargained sex for marks. The ban affected three of the most talented female actors, namely, Stella Damasus, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde, and Genevieve Nnaji.
This ban, however, turned out to be providential, a blessing in disguise, for the industry. It not only introduced new talents (such as Mercy Johnson), but also galvanized most of the actors on the ban list (men and women) to transform into producers themselves. Thanks to the 2004 ban, we have today a slew of creative works by female producers and writers that surpass prior works by their male counterparts – in popularity, cultural relevance, international appeal, and worldwide gross earnings. We watched approvingly as these Nollywood amazons fought hard to defeat the misogynic culture of Nollywood through the unparalleled talent they bring to their creations – until Ruggedman.
We shouldn’t allow Ruggedman get away with the attempt to return us to a past where achievements of women were downplayed and supplanted by the action of outliers (aka runs girls) who exist in every human endeavour.
Ruggedman should not get away with his lighthearted banter for a second, important reason. Whether we are talking about Nollywood, Hollywood or Bollywood, there are gender challenges that exist and present real hurdles for women. For one, there exists a gender wage gap where male actors earn twice as much as their equally talented or more talented female counterparts. Again, stories of sexual exploitation of women actors are told and retold by the men who themselves initiated the hunts to capture and despoil their prey, after which they regale their buddies with stories of how easy the hunts were. There is an element of truth to most stories of sexual harassment and assault in the industry.
Ruggedman regales us with a single story, the prerogative of aggressors and victors, as Chinua Achebe reminded us a long time ago. We should balance this story by saluting the Amazons who have delighted us with interesting movies with more responsible and respectable plotlines. I recall that even in that pioneer Nollywood era, we had a lone amazon in the person of Producer Amaka Igwe. She bucked the trend by delivering movies that awed and delighted audiences with their simplicity and beauty. Today, we see the lines falling in pleasant places for contemporary producers such as Genevieve Nnaji, Mo Abudu and Funke Akindele-Bello, to mention a few. We urge these amazons to continue to persevere, to play more positive roles for upcoming female artistes, and they will force the industry to respect and value the contribution of women to Nollywood’s growth.
In addition, we would like to hear their voices when men act true to type. It took women in the American film industry over 100 years before they took a firm stand to speak out against misogyny and sexual exploitation in Hollywood and the workplace. It shouldn’t take that long in Nigeria. With more women getting into the Nollywood driving seats as film producers and writers, we should see them consistently challenge female image stereotypes in their works, as they continue to create more interesting and culturally aligned productions that not only delight but also affirm the important role that women have continued since creation to play in the development of the human person. And to take a stand against us men, whenever we vomit misogynic messages in the public sphere.
• Anikwe, the publisher of Enugu Metro (enugumetro.com) is a veteran news
manager and public servant.