Patrick O. Odey
Department of History and International Studies
University of Calabar, Calabar
Men have been roundly indicted whenever violence against women is mentioned. This has notoriously drabbed the African society as patriarchal and misogynous. While not absolving the culpable men, some women have at different times in their lives experienced a lineal or cyclical mobility from being preys to predators. Their hands are either seen, voice heard, or both in the violence against fellow women. It is in this light that this study reflects on some of the instances where women are preys and predators using the Yala women experience of Cross River State. Some of these include: widowhood practice and inheritance, broken/failed marriages or relationships, choice of spouses, women trafficking, and socio-economic factors. The study argues that an institutional overhaul, comprehensive approach towards addressing violence against women, and proactive gender enlightenment campaigns in both rural and urban centres by the government, faith-based groups, civil society groups, and the traditional institutions will forestall women’s predatory activities against fellow women. The study adopts Edward Azar’s Human Needs Theory and John Dollar, Aubery Yates and Leonard Berkewitz’s Frustration-Aggression Theory of Violence to examine women-women discrimination in Yalaland.
Keywords: Yala, Preys, Predators, Misogyny, Women
A Congolese proverb says, “A single bracelet does not jingle.” Granted that it takes two to tango, its takes, more than one bracelet to produce a sound. It becomes misogynous for men to be condemned whenever gender discrimination is mentioned or discussed. The men are singled out, tried, and convicted. Even within academic circles the corpus of literature on women and what they suffer is rich with all the woes of the woman by the man with very scanty reports on what women do to themselves. Gender discrimination involves what men do to women, what women do to fellow women, and what women do to men. Chinweizu’s prologue started with a stabbing statement, that in the last couple of decades, feminist propaganda has sought to persuade the world that women are powerless in society and that men are natural oppressors of women. It claims that wives are subordinate to their husbands in the home; and that, outside the home, the men have excluded women from political, economic and cultural power (9). Dissecting the female power, Chinweizu puts it into three phases- motherpower, bridepower, and wifepower in explaining the ubiquitous shadow of female power over a man (14). The motherpower is exercised at the cradle, bridepower preparatory to marriage and the last form of power exercised in marriage.
Consider these brief instances, if a woman is kicked out of a marriage or relationship, a concubine and/or sister/mother-in-law is(are) behind the scene, when a widow is disinherited and forced out of a deceased spouse’s property and branded a witch, a woman or group of women are involved. It is this worrisome lacuna that this paper attempts to contribute filler. Yala as used in this paper refers to the Yala-speaking group of Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State.
The study adopts two theories to examine the women’s predation on fellow women in Yala. These theories are, Human Needs Theory and Frustration-Aggression Theory of Violence. The Human Needs Theory is espoused by Edward Azar, is a variant of the Protracted Social Theory which argues that, the most obvious ontological need is individual and communal physical survival and wellbeing. Individual and communal survival is contingent upon the stratification of basic needs. In the world of physical scarcity, these basic needs are seldom, evenly or justly met. Whilst one group of individuals may enjoy satisfaction of these needs in abundance, others do not. Grievances resulting from need deprivation are usually expressed collectively. Failure to redress these grievances by the authority cultivates a niche for a protracted social lack of parental/spousal love, educational/occupational opportunities could trigger predatory actions against fellow women who may have been perceived to have benefitted what the aggressive woman is deprived or making demands of. Closely related to the Human Needs Theory is the Frustration-Aggression (F-A) Theory expounded by John Dollard, Aubrey Yates and Leonard Berkervitz (1939) is a variant of socio-psychological theories that links frustration to aggression. The theory argues that an individual is prone to be frustrated and aggressive when some unpleasant interference in the attainment of set goals from either internal or external causes. Aggression from frustration maybe targeted at the source of frustration or another thing or person. Women maybe frustrated by some powerful men or fellow women and their aggression may not be targeted at these powerful sources but at some innocent fellow women as daughters-in-law, sisters-in-law, mothers-in-law, female colleagues, female house-helps or sale-girls, among others. The following are some of the instances of Yala women’s predatory activities against fellow women.
Maternal-filiation with Children
Mothers are naturally attached to their sons. The birth of a son is a treasured gift to the mother, whose place in marriage is consolidated and secured. This explains the fanfare that heralds the nativity of a son to every family irrespective of the professed creed, educational and economic background of the family involved. This bond that starts from the cradle to the grave, Sigmund Freud describes as Oedipus Complex. The Oedipus Complex is a derivation from the Greek Literature Sophocles’ King Oedipus. This psycho-analytical evaluation of the relationship between children and parents of the opposite sex- while the love between the child with the parent of the opposite sex is so strong to the point hatred for the parent of same sex borne out of jealousy, in the classical case of Oedipus incest and regicide were committed.
Contextually, this Freudian theory enunciates the filiation between children especially sons and their mothers from infancy to adulthood (in marriage). At infancy, the son is loved and treasured because his nativity does not only gladdens his father’s heart (with the satisfaction of having a heir apparent) but consolidates his mother’s position in the family- nucleated (monogamous or polygamous) or extended. As an adult, the son in the eyes of the jealous mother is the husband and father of the mother. The son must be under the mother’s protective wings against the manipulations of other women- wife, sister(s) and mother-in-law.
The fear or phobia of loneliness when a son gets attracted to another woman, younger and more beautiful naturally ignite the canon of animousity. Anthonia Yakubu describes this animosity thus, “But mothers sometimes experience a feeling of isolation whenever their sons get married; they feel that the attention and affection of the sons, the “small husbands” would shift to a competitor, younger and more beautiful. But, one might want to ask: what is the basis of comparison? (13). A mnemonic of the Freudian theory is instructive, “Little boy → mother → another adult woman For the female: Little girl → mother→ father → another adult man” (13). The mother’s power and attention to the aggressive mother ought to remain unrivalled by any woman. And for peace to reign, the wife must accept her as the mother of her as ene oluole (literally meaning mother of the house) after all in Yala, marriage is contracted not just between the couple. The mother-in-law’s estimation of marriage is conceived to further the mother-power because marriage in Yala like elsewhere, is a union between the families of the couples and not the family of one.
It is this maternal filiation that Chinwenzu calls “Motherpower” (108) which takes charge of a “boy-child at his birth, when he cannot contest it. Luckily for him, it is the protective mode of female power, and has a benign texture. However, at puberty, motherpower begins to wane, though its grip on him never completely vanishes while he lives” (108). Giving credence to the influence of women/mothers on the world through their children and spouses, the inspiring lines of William Rose Wallace’s poem The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Rules the World is instructive,
Blessings on the hand of the women!
Angels guard its strength and grace.
In the palace, cottage, hovel,
Oh, no matter where the place;
Would that never storms assailed it,
Rainbows ever gently curled,
For the hand that rocks the cradle
Is the hand that rules the world.
Infancy’s the tender fountain,
Power may with beauty flow,
Mothers first to guide the streamlets,
From them souls unresting grow-
Grow on for the good or evil,
It is this mindset that predisposes some Yala mothers (like others elsewhere) to influence spousal choices. Daughters of very close family friends or from the dreg of the society are led into a maternally-teleguided relationship. The reason is, to sustain dominance over the son and daughter-in-law economically, socio-culturally, psychologically, and even their sexuality is not spared. The natural course to matriarchy in order to exercise sovereignty of the nest, Chinweizu reveals that the female “exercises bridepower in order to win wifepower and motherpower for herself. These latter powers she hold conjointly in her ultimate position as married mother or matriarch” (109). In Yalaland, the girl-child dreams of becoming a bride/wife in a household wherein she asserts her authority as matriarch. It is this mindset that may have propelled some matriarchs to insist that their control on their sons remains unrivalled especially by the daughter-in-law vice versa since both at sometimes exercise control over the womb, kitchen and cradle.
From the control towers of the womb, cradle and kitchen, Yala mothers/wives exerts influence on their sons, daughters and spouses in terms of spousal choices for their children. Here the mother’s love (genuine or otherwise) affects the choice of future partners and the subsequent attitudes. Mother-daughter relationship to a large extent shapes her daughter’s attitude towards men/husbands. An informant disclosed, “you see what I am passing through, I don’t want you to fall a victim to this, therefore, don’t give your man any space to hurt you” (interview 10th March, 2018). Gregory Onah reminiscences an entrenched philosophy in marriage necessitating divorce, in dutu in drehu ni (interview). This saying literarily means that a married woman only gives her buttock and not her head. The implication is that, some wives are advised by their mothers or relatives to quit a marriage because what they perceive as ill-treatment to their daughter or loved one is not worth the trouble. This often shows a lack of commitment in marriage, degrading it and facilitating early divorce. While discussions like this could help the younger woman, it may hurt her relationship because she might decide to be in the offensive in her relationship. This is because, the men in her life and that of her mother’s are not the same and their circumstances in terms of socio-economic and psychological conditions varied. This has ruined spousal relationships and sometimes maternal leading to domestic violence, divorce, depression, alcoholism, prostitution, and death.
Womb-power and Sex Preference
Closely related to the Oedipus Complex is the preference for male children. In a polygamous family setting, sons are prized assets and their mothers endeared to their fathers. To the contrary, sonless mothers and those the society called barren are derided and scoffed by their counterparts according to the degree of their disadvantage. The womb controls the man in two significant ways and times- as a fetus, the womb provides habitation and as an adult, the womb influences spousal choices before and during marriage. A woman may interlope in a relationship with pregnancy (womb) using that to sway the man’s choice. Also, the inability of a wife to bear sons, may push the man outside to another woman whose womb’s power is superior. Polygamous marriages are sometimes contracted due to either childlessness or sonlessness. The other woman with the power of the womb (ability to bear male children) dominates the barren woman (in this context childless or sonless). Thus, the bearer of sons is precious to the man and exercises control over him unlike her opposite, who becomes an article of scorn to her fellow woman/mate. The latter is contemptuously treated as a looser in competition (when marriage especially polygamy is competitive). Identifying the unhealthy competiveness of polygamy resulting in colonial disapproval, Kirk Arden Hoppe among other things says, “co-wives might compete for a husband’s resources and attention” (225). Chukwudifu Oputa gave instances of women’s discrimination and fellow women in terms of sex preference of children,
Mothers who are themselves women rejoice more at the birth of a son than at that of a daughter. They regard the birth of a daughter as a disappointment, as an event, which if it cannot be prevented only has to be tolerated… At home mothers show an obvious preference for and favouritism towards and bias in favour of the sons. If the family budget is tight the chances are that the boys will go to school while the girls are left at home to vegetate, helping the mother at home and praying for a husband to come their way… (Oputa in Onyeneho 408).
Buchi Emecheta’s heroine Nnu Ego once thought to herself when challenged by the impending challenges of polygamy, “What greater honour is there to for a woman than to be a mother, and now you are a mother- not of daughters who will marry and go, but of good-looking healthy sons, and they are the first sons of your husband and you are his first and senior wife…”(119). The first wife is accorded respect by virtue of her position in a polygamous marriage. This respect and position is consolidated if she is the mother of the Oyi reya onoghron (first son). She loses this position/respect from her husband (most times on the prompting of his mother and female relatives) and mates if she is sonless and worst if childless.
Women not Supporting Women–
Women in the power game were consigned to deliberate anonymity by the men. Aleta Wallach reported that “males, not the “law” created a world in which women were never intended to share power. Males used the “law” to confer “upon women, inferior status and upon men, pre-eminent status” (Howe 12). The feminist position of Wallach failed to examine the women enforcers of this discriminatory law. Most women irrespective of their educational attainment have been inferiorized in all ramifications of their existence. Women have been determined enforcers of the discriminatory scripts by men. A psychological explanation is advanced, “women’s moods are quite unpredictable, which makes it difficult for them to support one another, especially in an office environment or in the market place (Opara and Ore 2016).
The unsupportive nature of women to the wellbeing of fellow women in Yala may stem from jealousy. These women are from different socio-economic strata of the society with different experiences in life that predisposes their actions and reactions. Some attitude of some shows that what “I passed through others will” (Omari Adoga, interview). On grounds of anonymity, a serving nurse recounted her experiences in the profession. “Nursing would not grow because of the attitudes of some female nurses. They get neck-deep in trivialities, ‘why is a junior nurse wearing a uniform made of lace material’”(interview). She continues,
A female Director of Nursing Service (DNS) in Cross River State turned down my request for transfer on marital grounds simply because her own family is very far from where she is working. Should that be the case? I was thinking the problem would have been with my senior male colleagues. As a matter of fact, it was my Head of Nursing Service (HNS) that drafted the letter I took to a fellow woman (who is a mother and grandmother)” (interview).
Widowhood could be described as a natural state in the life of the married following the death of a spouse. After all, when the union is been solemnized, couple agreed to live together till death do them part. The phase of widowhood referred to herein is that where the widow becomes a victim of physical and psychological torture from the relatives of her deceased spouse. Hauwa Shekarau, the national president of the International Federation of women lawyers (FIda), identified widowhood as a period of psychological, social, physical and emotional trauma for the widow. During the period, the widow maybe subjected to dehumanizing and degrading treatment (Report of the First National Widowhood Summit 29). Some women enter into this phase of their lives prepared while others are not that lucky. The prepared widow may have been economically, socially, and psychologically empowered to follow through the marriage to the point of widowhood while the other category is non-prepared either because of age, deceased spouse short-sightedness to get them empowered or some diabolical manipulations of in-laws. The impact the evil practices meted out to these widows varies according to the broad categories isolated above.
- N. Iffih expressed her disappointment on the subsisting absurdities that characterized widowhood practice in Africa after several decades of European proselytization of Africa and Africans,
Widowhood in Africa is a troublesome issue because of the humiliation and atrocities that are perpetrated on a woman on the death of her husband. This issue is as old as family life in Africa and the situation was unbearably horrifying in the remote past. Yet, today, it is still too bad to happen in Africa given the level of western education and Christianity already existing in the African continent. So many myths or unfounded theories are at the background of this. The most outstanding is the concept that any married man that dies is killed by the wife… (393).
To some families, a happily married couple irritates and nauseates in-laws (especially mothers and sisters of the man). The wife is accused of bewitching their son and brother with love portion. Their frustration often time is caused and heightened by the alleged denial of access to their son and brother or their inability to savour such marital experiences. The complaining women relatives (mostly of the man’s side) may be victims of failed relationships and single mothers whose vengeful mission is it to give the other happy woman a taste of failed relationships/marriage. After all, “what I passed through let her taste, eyinu go hoho ane?(will her own be different?)” (Akpana Ogar, interview). The anger of the alleged severed access gives credence to the Oedipus Complex. An informant complained bitterly over the treatment she got when her husband died,
My sisters-in-law had contrived all sorts of tales and machinations to force me out of my matrimonial home, they failed. When my late husband took ill, they wouldn’t come to visit him as expected if there was love, they would come around one of their male-cousins who shares the same compound with us. There they will sit and continue their devilish plans. They would ask derisively, “are these people still here?” “Has he not died?” Matters got worse when my husband passed on, they started peddling a dangerous tale that I killed their brother. That I prevented them from visiting him while he was sick. Imagin the hypocrisy, in death my husband has become their brother. It is terrible that fellow women would gang up against their kind. When are we going to get it right? (Anya Odey, interview).
The Yala women conspiracy against their kind through non-formalized groups like Onyo’pu(women married into the same family like the Umuada in Igboland) and Ene oluole(mother and sisters-in-law) “use the occasion of widowhood to settle old scores”(Onyeneho 409). These women are complicit in the confiscation and sharing of oja ugu (the property of the deceased brother) which included everything of the deceased except his liabilities– widow and children. It is the women in most cases that would remind the widow that “you are married, you don’t have anything from this property like me” (Onah, interview). They conclude that the deceased nucleated family had finished their phase of enjoyment upon the death of their husband and father and as such forfeits everything to them or risk their lives diabolically. When a widow is disinherited and driven out of her matrimonial home, it is either her fellow women in-laws that would move in or their husbands. Directly or indirectly, the women in-laws are involved as beneficiaries of this evil practice against their own kind.
From the foregoing, this study unearths aspects of women discrimination against fellow women in a supposedly patriarchal society. The lack of certain opportunities in life leads to frustration and subsequent aggression against the perceived source of frustration or on an innocent victim. It is against this background that women predatory activities against women were examined above. Why efforts are intensified on gender-based violence against women by men, attention too, is needed when women become both the predators and the preys. Form the family to the national levels, inter and intra-gender discrimination should be condemned and reinvigorated efforts at gender mainstreaming for national development involving family heads, traditional and religious leaders, schools, politicians and civil society groups are needed.
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