If you haven’t been lost under a rock with no internet, chances are you have heard of the male ego. That little voice in the mind of the average man that tells him he is the best thing since sliced bread and all creatures of the earth must agree to this and worship at his feet. After all, he was crafted in God’s own image and everything else is just art for art sake or company for his comfort. The man wants to hear that he is the most brilliant being on the planet, he expects his word to be law and any act of challenge is impunity with a semblance to treason. You get the picture.
With these notions of the male ego dominating popular culture thanks to a blogosphere that will all but ask that we be castrated soon enough, the entire behavioural pattern of the male mind has been conceived as a product of our own active participation, without realizing that all human traits are merely adaptations to realities we come in contact with. You don’t think this is true? The let me tell you about the female ego.
Have you met the female ego? The one that wants to be the first thing you think of in the morning and the last thing at night. The one that expects you work for their comfort and will expect to be treated like a princess for the mere coincidence of owning a vaginal cavity. The one that expects to be written letters and poems, to be bought presents…you get the picture.
In simple terms, the human ego is simply the human’s idea of its own identity and as much as we like to think it is very much in our hands to decide this, much of the decision has been made even before we were born. It is in the images we have seen on screens growing up. The dynamics we have observed in our parents’ relationship, the culture we have been brainwashed by. It influences not only how we think of ourselves, but also how we think of others.
The problem with sexism isn’t that common sense doesn’t render it a simple no-brainer. It’s that as biological beings existing in liminal spaces, knowing better is one thing, doing better is another. When we hear the word ‘man’ or ‘woman’, there is no fixed definition in our mind. The dictionary will have us believing that language works because words exist with inherent meaning. But on close inspection, it becomes obvious that this is far from the case. Identification works my memory association. So when you hear the word ‘woman’, your mind travels through all experiences you have gathered relating to women, from the music videos you have seen with big booty ladies to that article you read on a woman being the first person to win the Nobel Prize in two fields. The end result based on your subjective lens is what you understand a woman to be. Same applies for man.
The problem with this biological trap is that in an ideal world we would all want to exist free of any identity trap. I for one will love to paint one hand with black nail polish and wear ankle bracelets sometimes (I tried this once. Let’s just say it didn’t go very well. And I was on Lagos Island). As humans we struggle to comprehend things we have not been sensitized to while growing up. It is the same reason straight men even when okay in theory with homosexuality will feel uncomfortable next to two men kissing. This isn’t as serious for women who tend to be more sensitized to same sex sensuality. In fact, a lot of women will admit to have some same sex curiosity. The same can hardly be said for men socialized more towards suppression of such to preserve the notion of masculinity.
When it comes to society, historically, men have been in a position of subject and women in a position of object. That is why the male identifies himself (ego) only in relation to the world while women often fall into the trap of identifying themselves in relation to a man (this is why you hear things like: do you know I am a married woman). From as far as Classical paintings on European culture (which thanks to colonialism and globalisation became all our culture), the concept of depicting women as objects in relation to men as subject has been present in society. The late writer and thinker John Berger touched heavily on this in his documentary series Ways of Seeing. You should see it if you have time and data, it’s free on YouTube.
From this picture, it is easy to say that historically, the system has been rigged against women, and to a large degree, that is true. But in the business of dialectic reasoning, these historical narratives have to be examined from the opposite angle of whatever popular view we have, and for this, I will like to call on Soren Kiekegaard, the Danish philosopher and father of existentialism. In his worldview, he believed life was a losing game and it was the role of the player to decide what loss they wanted. Flipping his quote on being married or single, I would say “Be a man and you will regret it, be a woman and you will regret it. Be a man or be a woman, anyway, you will regret it.” From this point of view, the position of subject is also a fixed position in itself and men have to be held up to it. So basically, a woman is expected to be an object and a man is expected to be a subject, both are expected to be something they have not expressly chosen to be. If I am to put this poetically, I will say the pain of the woman is to be always watched and never seen, the pain of the man is to be always seen and never watched.
In an ideal world, we would all like to be seen as existing in a quantum superposition of both subject and object at the same time, assuming whatever we choose without fear of reproach. Depending on your personal disposition and society, you might largely feel more comfortable being more of a subject or more of an object. None is inherently bad or good, superior or inferior. Those are just tags we have ascribed to our preferences. However, informed by our social conditioning we cannot help but think of ourselves the way the world has taught us to, and we do this to the opposite sex too.
Currently, a lot of the fight against sexism though well intentioned only addresses the symptoms of this mind state but does little to address the root cause. This is why even in the supposed developed countries where legally, women have equal representation; they still have to fight for equality. Being able to vote and having right to property or not being shamed from sleeping around are just offshoots of a deeper psychological problem that will take serious social readjustments to correct. As it stands, our sexist attitudes are more incidental than actively intentional and even when we don’t directly punish people for certain traits we expect, our withholding of reward serves as a punishment in itself. This situation affects both men and women in different ways. While I will argue that women still get the shorter end of the stick at least in Nigeria, a total solution will require the complete revaluation of both gender identities. It is impossible to completely dissolve the female gender cage while the male one is intact. The transactional relationship of the genders for reproduction if nothing else, will not allow this. The only option available is to push for a society where men are allowed to display traditional female traits and vice versa with women. This will give a broader spectrum of associated memories for us to for more fluid images of both genders, though I am unsure where this will leave certain classic roles like chivalry. I guess we really can’t have it all. Some things will just have to go.
In summary, what we think of ourselves and others is just a reflection of our conditioning and if it is to change, effort need to be put into changing the environment and not just expecting humans to ignore the reality they have been exposed to. As it is, we will fight anyone that challenges our worldview because it is the only reality we have known. It is not easy to teach people that their views are false or invalid. If all your life you have been shown birds only walking, seeing them in flight is hard to understand.