Today, I sat in the parking lot at my local grocery store and watched a woman get away with being unreasonable.
From my vantage point in my car waiting for Omawumi’s In the Music to finish playing on the radio so I could go into the store, I watched this woman clearly undercut a guy who was backing into a parking spot. Funny thing is, the parking lot wasn’t even full. In fact, she drove through an empty spot to get to the spot the guy was quite obviously backing into. I think he may have bumped her car a little as he reversed. I sat there and watched as a small crowd gathered while the woman uttered those words many an irate woman utter:
“Is it because I am a woman?”
To be honest, I may have uttered these words myself. And having just seen a viral video of a man threatening to kill a woman because she politely asked him to re-park his car at a restaurant, I am reminded of the real threat men can be simply by virtue of their gender. Heck, as I write this, I am sitting in front of my mirror while my male hair stylist attends to my hair. I happen to be home alone on this occasion and so I have left the door ajar, and have surreptitiously placed a knife out of sight but within my reach. Not because my stylist has ever behaved in an untoward manner, no. If anything, he has always been deferential- “Yes ma, no ma, okay ma, may I come in ma.” But having heard of, and experienced my own horror stories, having the blade there gives me some comfort.
Also, and I am saying this because it needs to be said when one writes a piece as this, I am as feminist as they come; and I do believe we still have a long way to go in rolling back the effects of years of systematic oppression and marginalisation of the woman. I believe that reparation must be tangible and deliberate, for true equality to be achieved.
This woman was clearly in the wrong. The man was obviously furious and exchanged a few heated words with her, and then tried to walk away. But this woman literally body blocked him- which was an interesting sight, as he was several heads taller than she was- and refused to let him go. She then proceeded to assault him verbally while the man stood there fuming. He would turn around and turn back; clench his fists and then put them in his pockets. I had no doubt that if it were a man standing in front of him, he would’ve engaged physically. A security guard who’d witnessed the entire fiasco tried to wade in, but when the woman turned her tongue on him, he retreated quickly, but not physically- he just stood there with his mouth shut. Another woman tried to step in and calm the offended lady down, but offended lady wasn’t having any of it. Between thrusting her small body in the face of the man, shouting “You must fix my car!” and telling anyone else with a differing opinion to shut up, she seemed to be having the upper hand. The unsuccessful peace-making woman left after a few minutes. For a passing moment, I considered stepping in myself, but I remembered that I live in Lagos so I stayed put. Every true Lagosian knows that you don’t go putting your head in another person’s quarrel. Unless it is violent, and in that case, you call for help. Lest you end up with a broken head and a tale for your grandkids.
The stalemate continued, and even though In the Music had finished playing, I couldn't move. Another woman, this time taller than the man, drove into the parking lot, saw a situation of a woman seemingly being harassed, and decided to come to her rescue. She listened to what the woman had to say, didn’t ask for the man’s side and began raining curses on the man. She however had the physique to go beyond verbal abuse and threatened to “finish you here” whilst moving her palm in a zigzag fashion, across the length of his torso, in that characteristic way Nigerians do, to tell you that you are nothing.
I looked at the quiet security guard and all the other men standing around and I could see in their faces: “Na because she be woman.” I could see in the way one of them patted the man on his shoulder in solidarity, feel him saying to him, “leave her, na woman”. Most loudly of all though, I could hear from the unreasonable woman’s voice that if it were I whom she had cut off, the conversation would’ve been markedly different. There was something about the way she was thrusting her body in his face- as if begging him to touch her so that she would have true cause- that told me she was only persisting because she knew she would get away with it.
By this time, the man looked beat down, and I wondered; this human being was getting away with being unreasonable, and other human beings could not call her out because said human being was a particular gender.
As I walked past them, into the grocery store, I couldn't help but question, if in freeing the oppressed, in a small corner somewhere, an oppressor wasn’t being birthed.