Twitter is where young Nigerians settle scores, and at the top of the scoreboard are gender wars.
Gender wars are all-encompassing and can range from social interactions between men and women in domestic settings to the corporate world and everywhere in between. While the conversations are always dicey and fiery, what we cannot deny is that every exchange is a vote on the patriarchal values upheld in Nigerian society.
The fight for equal rights for women has to a large extent come to represent patriarchy as flawed and evil. And while speaking to the condemnation of the system in its entirety might be overkill, these wars are often symptomatic of a divide in views centered on social interactions and existing values in the society and how they affect different genders.
A Tale of Two Women
In April and June respectively, the opinion court of social media tried the cases of fitness model and influencer, Natalee Barnett, and actress and producer, Funke Akindele. While prosecutors and public defenders put up a good show (read: jugular gulping word combat), the high of social media violence is often a distraction from the important and progressive conversations. With Barnett stirring conversations on consent and Akindele on the reversal of traditional matrimonial home ownership, the salient issues were relegated to the back seat while energy was directed at scoring opposition points.
A Long Walk to Consent
In April, UK fitness model and influencer Natalee Barnett took to Twitter to express discomfort over an alleged invasion of privacy by a young man at the gym.
Barnett’s shared video of their interaction at the gym sparked arguments about consent, male-female interactions, and personal space in shared spaces.
I was working out in the corner and a man randomly came and attempted to shove a mat underneath me because it’d ‘be more comfortable’. If he asked whether I wanted it I wouldn’t mind but I think abruptly doing so and invading my space is weird even if you are just ‘being nice’. pic.twitter.com/NMqSSpRZFp
— nataleebfitness (@nataleebfitness) April 27, 2022
This quickly birthed a string of posts, both real and concocted, of situations where men who were in a position to help women in obvious need refused to and instead pretended to respect their personal space. Weeks and months after, posts fantasizing about women getting hurt are still replicated and further validate women’s fears and struggles for equality. But this supersedes the issues Barnett brought up being labeled a “women’s problem.” It reflects our society’s attitude towards minorities and disadvantaged groups that punishes them for speaking against the behaviors that make them feel uncomfortable and alienated by society.
— MOSLEY (@Mide_MD) April 30, 2022
This woman is deadlifting very very badly and I want to advise her on her form. But she’s recording her session. I’m not tryna end up on a tiktok
— w⚓️ (@kwasi_29) April 30, 2022
If she dies she dies lmaooooooop pic.twitter.com/yiw6ASVzDW
— AKA Muddy Waters (@RueLowkey) May 5, 2022
The concept of consent isn’t new. What has continuously evolved are the domains in which it is sought after. Consent has references in physician-patient relations and has also existed in biblical, political, research as well as social, romantic, and sexual relations. With an increasingly integrated world that’s been made especially possible through media accessibility, status quos are changing, and minority groups whose voices have often been quelled and unheard are taking the opportunity to express their needs and opinions.
In turn, alternate views are challenging norms, and—in the nature of established authorities to fight for continued relevance—pushback is ensuing.
The fire on Barnett’s post was a debate on whether or not her private space was invaded. But the line between invasion of privacy and acceptable social interaction is the elusive notion of consent.
In their book The Ethics of Consent: Theory and Practice, bioethicist Franklin Miller and political philosopher Alan Wertheimer described consent as “a basic component of the ethics of human relations, making permissible a wide range of conduct that would otherwise be wrongful.”
However, while it is not a new phenomenon, consent often remains quite an anomaly in social interactions, particularly towards disadvantaged groups.
We often mistake consent to be a one-off process, but years of human interactions suggest otherwise—with a common view pointing to a process that follows voluntariness, informativeness, and competency. There is no simplifying it, but perhaps looking at consent as a means to preserve self-determination would promote its appeal in both formal and informal social interactions.
What It Means to Be the Wealthier Spouse As a Female in Nigeria
When news of actress Funke Akindele’s separation from her husband made the rounds on social media, the conversation quickly shifted from the actual event of separation to mulling over the eviction of her husband from their home.
News like this is quite common; couples separate, and one spouse is forced out of the home. But what makes this case peculiar on social media was which spouse held the power of eviction.
In Nigeria, it is much more commonplace for women to be the ones expelled from their shared homes after a divorce. But when this gender norm is flipped on its head, an onslaught is launched against wealthy women, their capacity to be leaders is questioned, and solidarity calls ensue for men to marry below their wealth range and avoid independent and wealthier women.
Ironically, women in heterosexual relationships have always been expected to marry into higher economic classes, but with the gender wars that ensue on Nigerian Twitter, men are now also encouraged to marry higher or partner spouses that are on par with them economically. But what happens when the social status quo that accompanies this type of balance is upended and more men begin to wear the shoes typically reserved for women, and vice versa? What does being an independent and wealthier woman signify for the future of conventional Nigerian heterosexual partnerships?
One thing is for sure. It appears that what is good for the goose is not good for the gander.
An Accommodating Outlook on Challenged Norms
Change is often difficult, especially when it costs us privilege. But maybe instead of standing tall on the shoulders of inequitable norms, we should interrogate the sources of social conventions and our beliefs that underpin them.
Barnett and Akindele’s experiences gave us a chance to have frank discussions about how we can better understand and adapt to the expanding nature of consent as a society, as well as come to terms with what may become a new norm as more women rise through the ranks of society to become financially independent.
We may never reach a consensus. However, to make any positive change, I reckon from experience we must be willing to live through the discomfort of the process and hold ourselves accountable as partners in creating a society where equality is fostered.
Tarinipre Francis is a Nigerian writer and budding journalist who delights in exploring views that are often muffled and speedily forgotten. She is spurred by her environment and believes that the writer does not choose the story, but that the story chooses them, so she allows herself to be led by stories. She previously worked as the Communications Officer for AWWAS and H2H Photography, sister organizations that sought to combat the culture of silence surrounding abuse by assisting victims of abuse in finding healing through creative expression and telling African stories through photodocumentary, respectively. She currently works as a freelancer and ghostwriter, and publishes her works on Medium when she finds the time. You can find some of her work on Medium.