Akanna Okeke: No Woman Belongs to the Kitchen!

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Recently, comments made by two influential Nigerian men could lead us to believe that a woman’s place is in the kitchen.  One advised men not to marry women who cannot cook; the second blatantly declared that his wife belonged to his kitchen.  Their comments may have been influenced by culture; cultures that assign roles to men and women based on what society deems fit.


Before the Second World War, the roles played by men and women, in society, were distinct.  The wives stayed home while the men went out to labour and brought home the bacon, which the wives gladly cooked –in the kitchen of course.  During the war, however, the men were sent off to fight while the women gradually took their place in factories, producing bullets and other ammo that were sent to the men to use.

The men returned from war to a shocking reality where the women were performing the roles they had previously performed –and were doing so very well!  Suddenly, where they had always thought the women belonged wasn’t so anymore.  This was coupled with technological advancement where the gap, caused by physical strength, between what a man and a woman could do was bridged.  This all happened in the West, of course, but globalization brought it down to the developing world.

The roles to be played by men and women in society have been confusing, mainly because we focus on activities rather than principles.  We say women cannot drive, until they do. We say women cannot lead organizations, until they do.  We say women cannot work construction because of the heavy lifting required, until they can –thanks to technology!  All these are activities that can be carried out by anyone with the right tools and equipment.

Could there be things that women are equipped to do that men aren’t? Could we possibly take a cue from how they are built?  Childbirth is not an activity for men.  Women will always be responsible for this and will always need input from the men. Two women can’t produce a child together, the same way two men can’t.  The man does the planting and the woman fertilizes, grows, nurtures and gives back to the man.   That is the principle to take away.  A man could come up with an idea, run it by his wife and she fleshes it out, gives it life, adds colour to it and gives it back to the man.  That’s her strength! Why don’t we focus on our strengths?  How effective would organisations be, where women are Creative Directors –adding life to ideas suggested by left-brained men?

Women are generally more emotional than men, who are more logical.  They speak in terms of how they feel at the moment while men speak in terms of what they think.  These are both strengths.  People may forget what you say to them, but they never forget how you made them feel.  The emotional tendency of women makes it easy for them to empathize with people and make them feel good about themselves.  This helps them in child-rearing, to instill self confidence in their children and in leading organizations, to meet the emotional needs of their employees.  They however need input from men to provide a logical perspective of things, as leaning far onto the emotional could result in people-pleasing and self indulgence.

The principle here is that of leadership.  Imagine a leader of an organization who can make tough, logical decisions that make the organization more efficient.  By his side, he has a partner that influences his decisions by encouraging him to take account of people’s feelings and well-being along the way –making the organization more effective. These roles are best played by those who have the strengths –the natural inclination –for them.  A synergy between men and women brings both efficiency and effectiveness to whatever institution they lead –be it a family, a firm or even a country.

Women wield immense influence over men. That’s a fact, and I would dare say it’s a principle –a timeless truth.  Leadership is influence and the logical person does better in positional leadership because it is clear to him that this is what he is. His position defines his roles.  The emotional person, however, performs best behind the scenes; wielding her influence through the man who is bound (by nature) to listen to her. So, if you think your family is solely led by a man, think again; if you think your organization is led by a man, think again; if you think your country is led by a man, think again!

This is why it is important for he who says that his wife belongs to his kitchen to pay attention to what his wife is saying because, like all women, her persuasion can build a nation or tear one down.  This can be done even from the kitchen where you relegate her.  It is not a joke when they say that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”.  It is surprising to hear another give the advice of men not marrying women who cannot cook; because most of the stories in the book he reads portray the men as doing most of the cooking.  In fact, one even used his cooking skills to persuade his brother to give him his birthright!

A woman does not belong to the kitchen; she belongs wherever the man is because their roles are complementary and not conflicting.  The confusion has stemmed from a focus on the physical attributes alone, and not the principles behind them.  Physical strength hardly differentiates a man from a woman anymore, in terms of activity. Technology has come along to make life easy for both genders.  This has got men so confused about what to then use their physical strength for, that some of them now use it to show their wives who’s boss in the domestic arena.

The principle behind physical strength and build is one of protection and provision.  The more logical person should protect the other emotionally.  That physical strength also translates to emotional strength and stability.  The physical build portrays women as receivers and men as givers.  Things just work out better when the man goes out of his way to provide for the woman, even what she can afford; it makes both parties feel better.  And we know that what is given to a woman, she brings to life, nurtures and presents it back: a house becomes a home and beautiful clothes and shoes become an elegant woman by your side for the world to envy!

This nurturing principle is also derived from the upper-body of the physical build, where babies feed from to become strong adults.  This is why she loves the kitchen; it is to her a symbol of her nurturing capacity.  She uses it as a tool to add life to people, to feed them, to nurture them and if the need arises, to persuade them!  A tool is all it is; a tool that can be used by both genders for the same reasons; a tool that should be used by both genders so that when one decides to use it, at that point, the kitchen belongs to them and not them to the kitchen.

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