Cages of construct: the African reality and dream

An African city

Africa loves to adore its women as long as they fit perfectly in their cages of construct. African men love their women, as long as that woman is African enough. African women love their men as long as he can provide and take care of them. These women expect certain things from their men within certain constructs. We dream up these perfect gender roles that make no sense in reality.

I started watching a show called an African City on YouTube, it is about five African women, re-pats, trying to navigate their way through life in a bustling West African metropolis. The stories are interesting and characters have a certain charm about them. Kudos to the creator of the show for giving us five engaging women with enigmatic lexicon that often incite a giggle.

I told a friend about it and he hated the first 10mins, he didn’t like that all the women had done so far was rag on Africa. He kept watching though, and as I write this he is still watching. He is hooked he says, he loves the way the women talk. The show got us talking about being single in 21st century Africa. The rules of engagement on a continent that is supposedly rising. Issues that should command great presence in the national conversation but still finds its way to the bottom of the agenda in most African cities. Things like safe sex and finding a job based on merit.

You hear the crazy made up stats that it is easier to be killed by a terrorist than to get married or date after a certain age as a woman. I love those stats mostly because they get crazier everyday. This show tries to navigate this world of single and ready to mingle in Africa. A world where causal sex is great and abstinence is encouraged as well, a place that people talk about great loves and great lovers. A friend of mine once told me that when you are single in Africa, you get used to being invisible — these women beg to differ.

What got me interested in this show, wasn’t just the lexicon, or the delightful characters. It actually troubled me because it made me painfully aware the constructs around genders in Africa. In Europe it is alright to go dutch (these women say) on a date but in Africa men as expected to pay for everything. We joke about it all the time about these women who expect things from the men they date. His intellect is optional, thinking is optional so long as his wallet is available and the cards are platinum. Really?

Then there are the men. Who expect the women to be erotically beautiful and dutifully domesticated. The men who are happy to treat women both as goddesses to be adored, as well as sexual playthings. These women are mutually exclusive it seems. They will marry the goddess but not the playthings. The construct is quite laughable really. On my last trip to Nigeria an older gentleman told me: “in Africa we love our women, all kinds of ways. From the front to the back and sometimes on her knees.” It was disgusting and I pitied him, he is married and has three daughters. I worry for his daughters.

Modern African men don’t wear wedding bands apparently. When navigating dating in Africa, a friend gave me some sound advice, “assume everyone he is married until they prove you otherwise”. According to her, if you begin this way then it is a pleasant surprise when they are not — mostly they are she says. Men lie is the lesson apparently, something the women of An African City drive home.

These African gender constructs are so schizophrenic and complex that trying to meander your way through leads to questions and frustrations. What does it mean to be a man in Africa today? What does it mean to be a woman in Africa today?

Is there some maniacal genius to these constructs? If we imagine that they have one solitary architect. The creator watches as African men and women struggle with the confines of their constructs while fastening the locks on the cages with smiles and inconsequential remarks. Must be nice – not.