The first time I came face to face with my personal male privilege, I was only maybe nine or ten years old. I was at home with my four sisters, who mind you were all three, six, eight and nine years older than me. Being the youngest meant being the designated errand boy, dishwasher, and fetcher of everything needed by my older sisters. I hated it, but it was my place and that was it.
Well, that late afternoon, my father came back and we all flocked to greet him as we always did. One of my sisters wanted to take his briefcase to his room but he stopped her. “Wait, I have something there for E (that being me).”
Our ears perked up with curiosity. My father set the briefcase down, opened it and picked up a single stack of bound five hundred Naira notes. “That’s for you, E.” He asked me to hold it a while and then give it to my mother for safekeeping. “It’s fifty thousand Naira.”
It took a while for me to stop whooping and yelling gleefully, clutching the bundle like a prized trophy. That was more money than I ever knew what to make of at that age, but even though it would be held by my mother, it was mine. Everyone shared my excitement. We all wanted to know why, and how I came into such a fortune and of course my sisters wanted to know how much they were getting out of my father’s sudden largesse if tiny little me got fifty thousand.
“Sorry, girls,” my father said. “Only E got the money . That’s his share of the property I sold to Samtex.”
“Why don’t we get any?” One of my sisters intoned.
Yeah, I wondered, why don’t they? Surely we were all siblings and they were older so if I was getting money because Daddy sold a house, why weren’t they?
The response? Because I was male. “He might be your little brother,” my father explained, “but he’s still a man.”
And apparently, only men were truly a part of the family. Only they owned a stake in family property. The women would marry off and be part of their husband’s house and any wealth they possessed would be dissolved into their husband’s name. It was all so well laid out that my sisters had nowhere to lay their obvious disappointment, so they folded it up and swallowed it into themselves. I remember the moment clearly.
I would like to say that I stood up for them and refused to take the money unless we all shared it but I was neither so wise nor so noble. I was, after all, just ten and did not fully grasp the extent to which that event demarcated my place in the family from theirs. If anything I was a little proud that for once it was me who was getting something that my older siblings were not. I quickly slipped into that mindset and role that male privilege and power often acquiesces to the women it subjugates: that of benefactor. I would buy them stuff out of my fifty thousand. “Anything you like,” I said, my face the picture of generosity. And I was sincere. I wanted to share. But now, with the wisdom of age, I wonder how it must have felt to receive trickles of what should be yours , and even that from the beneficence of your ten year old brother, simply because he was a man and you were not. I wonder because I still haven’t summoned the courage to ask. And to think I have plenty other stories like this.
It’s one thing to talk about the inherent misogyny of Nigerian cultures as if it’s a thing that you have no part in. It’s much more difficult when you bring it home. I took the time to think about it and I could remember dozens. And I’m a man, so there are plenty that I didn’t even notice. I’m afraid to even ask my sisters.
The bottom line is, allow women space to speak about these things. And when they do? Listen. Then commit to doing better for the current and future generation. We will all be better for it.