It was not the first time she was saying it, but it hit me differently this time. I was on my way home from the Lagos Airport and had been dropped off at our residential estate gate, not too far from where Evans, the kidnap kingpin, lived.
From there, my wife said someone would be on hand to take me home.
I was not expecting her because it was evening. I knew she would be preparing my favourite meal of amala and vegetable soup, a ritual each time I get back home to Lagos after weeks of being away at work in Abuja.
So, when the car pulled up, I was surprised to see her behind the wheel. She seemed happy to see me but I could tell from her brow that she had had a long, tiring day.
“Why are you the one driving,” I asked. “Isn’t there anyone else at home who could have come to pick me up?”
“In my next life,” she replied, “I will be a man!”
I didn’t know whether that was referring to me or to the dudes at home who may have dodged her request to come for me. Over time, I have learned, in marriage, to listen keenly to the things not said.
Of course she had made this same point in jest many times before. I have also heard a number of women say it in serious conversations. But this time, there was an edge to her voice that gripped me. I took a deep breathe before responding.
“Do you think, seriously, that being a man could have made any difference?”
She said she thought so; that on the whole, men have a much easier ride through life. When we get home, for example, she will return to the kitchen to continue her work, while I will take off my shoes, maybe have a shower, and put up my feet while dinner is served.
Of course, I’m exaggerating my domestic “tyranny.”
She reeled out all she had been through since morning from hurrying off to the farm to staying in touch with the store to monitoring her business, and from sorting out a special meal request by our first daughter to ensuring that she was back on time to get my amala and vegetable soup ready.
A woman’s life is one long, endless drudgery shared between family, friends, fools and work. It could sometimes get very complicated if there’s a husband in the picture.
I saw the point but in a different way. We absolutely cannot quantify the joy that women – and mothers – bring to our lives and the sacrifices they make to keep us happy and content.
Our lives would be miserable without them even though there have been times when I wondered whether it might not have been less complicated misery.
But I don’t think my wife – or any other woman – needs to be a man in the next life in order to find satisfaction in this one. We don’t need to trade places, I think.
I know we are configured differently and that hormonal differences/changes can cause significant outcomes in attitudes and relationships.
But I think that culture – and I use the term broadly to cover religious beliefs and practices – has by far the greatest influence on how we see our world, our role in it, and what we think of the future.
My wife grew up in a generation where the woman was brought up not to regard herself as equal to the man but to see herself as a cast in a supporting role.
The man is the head and lord of the manor. This was not only received wisdom, it was expected that every mother (or parent) had a duty to bring up the male child into this heritage; a heritage which also consigned the girl child to play second fiddle as the only guarantee to true happiness in the ultimate destination – a married life.
The media has not helped matters. Marketing and advertising gurus portray girls as softies and play things, while generations of literary icons have perpetuated the stereotype.
Popular music has been just as guilty. Think of such lines as, “50 billion for di account o…Versace and Gucci for your bodi o, baby….” The woman is the toy or the prey. But who says I don’t need 50 billion naira in my own account?
The struggle to break the mould has resulted in a rat race.
Well, the chicken is coming home to roost in form of burnout women, maladjusted men, dysfunctional relationships and broken homes.
No woman needs to bother about being a man in the next life. Nor should any man wish for a sex change in expectation of greater fulfilment as a human being.
What we’ll have to start doing from this life is raising our boys differently and letting our girls express themselves beyond the scarfs, ponytails and pink ribbons. It’s not only the organs that define our gender that make us what we are; it’s also the values we embody.
Punctuality, hard work, consideration, respect and honesty are values that transcend gender, and children who grow up with such positive values are unlikely to become bigoted later in life.
Even if this long talk is useless to those who can’t get over their chauvinism or those who think that the testosterone is the measure of all things, I can only hope there’s still someone out there who just wants to make the most of life’s most precious gifts: our individuality and diversity.
Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview magazine and board member of the Paris-based Global Editors Network