It was heartwarming to see so many Nigerians rally to support Hilda Baci/Bassey’s quest to break the Guinness Book of World Records’ record for the longest time spent cooking. Even me sef, I was on tenterhooks waiting for her to break the record. I would have been disappointed if she hadn’t, I was that invested. I am happy for her and I applaud her tenacity and vision. Like so many other Nigerians.
However, in the midst of all that celebration, there have been others looking for ways to diminish her achievement by attacking her in different ways. I shan’t give them oxygen by amplifying their comments – often sexist and misogynistic – but it is sad to see a young woman who channeled her passion into an impressionable feat being hurled the kind of insults that have been thrown at Miss Baci.
I am reminded of going for an event in Atlanta where a Nigerian physician, a woman, was being honoured for some outstanding achievement in her field, and the MC made sure to let everyone know that the woman was a Dr Mrs Somebody, and then went on to remind everyone that it didn’t matter what degree or what heights a woman reached, she always had to submit herself to a man. And that if she didn’t have a husband, nothing she achieved mattered. He capped it off with a tasteless, sexual joke and many of the men applauded, laughing ka ka ka like people who’d just been told the best joke of their lives. It was disgusting.
The idea that a woman is nothing without a husband is as nonsensical as it is false. I am married, and happily so. You won’t see me trash (a good) marriage but it’s not an achievement that women must aspire to. And it is certainly not a commitment that is more highly valued than a woman’s professional successes.
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I am convinced that the instinct to diminish a woman’s achievement comes from a deep sense of insecurity and inferiority complex. No man who is satisfied in himself, who doesn’t feel threatened by another’s success would seek to belittle a successful woman. For such insecure men, without the perceived superiority their male hood gives them, they have nothing left and so they play it up all the time. My father had a driver who had the same instinct. When one of my social aunts bought a car, he was quick to announce that he wasn’t impressed because she wasn’t married.
In the words of the great Toni Morrison, if you can only be tall because someone else is on their knees, then you have a problem. A successful man, confident and secure in his own accomplishments celebrates successful women. Their success doesn’t make him feel small and doesn’t hurt his ego.
The men that feel threatened by the success of women need to work on themselves. They need to be truthful to themselves and figure out what aspect of their lives feels incomplete and then, rather than sit and seethe, actually do something about it. I can’t imagine that there is anything worse than envy brought about by a low self-esteem. No matter how much you talk someone’s achievements down, it would not make them less real, and it would not make you any more successful. Na you go suffer.
And the suffering isn’t always only psychological. Years ago I knew a man who wouldn’t marry the girl he loved because she was career oriented. She was a medical student and was vocal about her ambitious plans. This man complained that biko, there couldn’t be two captains in one ship (or some such rubbish) and broke up with the young woman. He married a woman who was neither his equal intellectually nor in age. Years later, the woman is still showing him what is meant by “do not be unequally yoked.” He complains that she lacks class, cannot hold a conversation and doesn’t understand him. Every single day they fight. Before nko? He lost the love of his life for good all because he felt intimidated by the fact that she was ambitious.
Congratulations to Hilda Baci for the tenacity the single-mindedness that has seen her break an incredible record. We are all proud of your achievement.