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  • So I would like to start by telling you about one of my greatest friends,

  • Okoloma Maduewesi.

  • Okoloma lived on my street

  • and looked after me like a big brother.

  • If I liked a boy, I would ask Okoloma's opinion.

  • Okoloma died in the notorious Sosoliso plane crash

  • in Nigeria in December of 2005.

  • Almost exactly seven years ago.

  • Okoloma was a person I could argue with, laugh with and truly talk to.

  • He was also the first person to call me a feminist.

  • I was about fourteen, we were at his house, arguing.

  • Both of us bristling with half bit knowledge

  • from books that we had read.

  • I don't remember what this particular argument was about,

  • but I remember that as I argued and argued,

  • Okoloma looked at me and said, "You know, you're a feminist."

  • It was not a compliment.

  • (Laughter)

  • I could tell from his tone,

  • the same tone that you would use to say something like,

  • "You're a supporter of terrorism."

  • (Laughter)

  • I did not know exactly what this word "feminist" meant,

  • and I did not want Okoloma to know that I did not know.

  • So I brushed it aside, and I continued to argue.

  • And the first thing I planned to do when I got home

  • was to look up the word "feminist" in the dictionary.

  • Now fast forward to some years later,

  • I wrote a novel about a man who among other things beats his wife

  • and whose story doesn't end very well.

  • While I was promoting the novel in Nigeria,

  • a journalist, a nice, well-meaning man,

  • told me he wanted to advise me.

  • And for the Nigerians here,

  • I'm sure we're all familiar

  • with how quick our people are to give unsolicited advice.

  • He told me that people were saying that my novel was feminist

  • and his advice to me --

  • and he was shaking his head sadly as he spoke --

  • was that I should never call myself a feminist

  • because feminists are women who are unhappy

  • because they cannot find husbands.

  • (Laughter)

  • So I decided to call myself "a happy feminist."

  • Then an academic, a Nigerian woman told me

  • that feminism was not our culture

  • and that feminism wasn't African,

  • and that I was calling myself a feminist

  • because I had been corrupted by "Western books."

  • Which amused me,

  • because a lot of my early readings were decidedly unfeminist.

  • I think I must have read every single Mills & Boon romance published

  • before I was sixteen.

  • And each time I tried to read those books

  • called "the feminist classics,"

  • I'd get bored, and I really struggled to finish them.

  • But anyway, since feminism was un-African,

  • I decided that I would now call myself "a happy African feminist."

  • At some point I was a happy African feminist who does not hate men

  • and who likes lip gloss

  • and who wears high heels for herself but not for men.

  • (Laughter)

  • Of course a lot of this was tongue-in-cheek,

  • but that word feminist is so heavy with baggage, negative baggage.

  • You hate men, you hate bras,

  • you hate African culture, that sort of thing.

  • Now here's a story from my childhood.

  • When I was in primary school,

  • my teacher said at the beginning of term that she would give the class a test

  • and whoever got the highest score would be the class monitor.

  • Now, class monitor was a big deal.

  • If you were a class monitor,

  • you got to write down the names of noisemakers --

  • (Laughter)

  • which was having enough power of its own.

  • But my teacher would also give you a cane to hold in your hand

  • while you walk around and patrol the class for noisemakers.

  • Now, of course you were not actually allowed to use the cane.

  • But it was an exciting prospect for the nine-year-old me.

  • I very much wanted to be the class monitor.

  • And I got the highest score on the test.

  • Then, to my surprise, my teacher said that the monitor had to be a boy.

  • She had forgotten to make that clear earlier

  • because she assumed it was ... obvious.

  • (Laughter)

  • A boy had the second highest score on the test,

  • and he would be monitor.

  • Now, what was even more interesting about this

  • is that the boy was a sweet, gentle soul

  • who had no interest in patrolling the class with the cane,

  • while I was full of ambition to do so.

  • But I was female and he was male,

  • and so he became the class monitor.

  • And I've never forgotten that incident.

  • I often make the mistake of thinking

  • that something that is obvious to me is just as obvious to everyone else.

  • Now, take my dear friend Louis

  • for example.

  • Louis is a brilliant, progressive man,

  • and we would have conversations and he would tell me,

  • "I don't know what you mean by things being different or harder for women.

  • Maybe in the past, but not now."

  • And I didn't understand how Louis could not see what seems so self-evident.

  • Then one evening, in Lagos, Louis and I went out with friends.

  • And for people here who are not familiar with Lagos,

  • there's that wonderful Lagos' fixture,

  • the sprinkling of energetic men who hang around outside establishments

  • and very dramatically "help" you park your car.

  • I was impressed with the particular theatrics

  • of the man who found us a parking spot that evening.

  • And so as we were leaving, I decided to leave him a tip.

  • I opened my bag,

  • put my hand inside my bag,

  • brought out my money that I had earned from doing my work,

  • and I gave it to the man.

  • And he, this man who was very grateful and very happy,

  • took the money from me,

  • looked across at Louis

  • and said, "Thank you, sir!"

  • (Laughter)

  • Louis looked at me, surprised,

  • and asked, "Why is he thanking me? I didn't give him the money."

  • Then I saw realization dawn on Louis' face.

  • The man believed that whatever money I had

  • had ultimately come from Louis.

  • Because Louis is a man.

  • Men and women are different.

  • We have different hormones, we have different sexual organs,

  • we have different biological abilities.

  • Women can have babies, men can't.

  • At least not yet.

  • (Laughter)

  • Men have testosterone and are in general physically stronger than women.

  • There's slightly more women than men in the world,

  • about 52 percent of the world's population is female.

  • But most of the positions of power and prestige are occupied by men.

  • The late Kenyan Nobel Peace laureate,

  • Wangari Maathai,

  • put it simply and well when she said:

  • "The higher you go, the fewer women there are."

  • In the recent US elections we kept hearing of the Lilly Ledbetter law,

  • and if we go beyond the nicely alliterative name of that law,

  • it was really about a man and a woman

  • doing the same job, being equally qualified,

  • and the man being paid more because he's a man.

  • So in the literal way, men rule the world,

  • and this made sense a thousand years ago

  • because human beings lived then in a world

  • in which physical strength was the most important attribute for survival.

  • The physically stronger person was more likely to lead,

  • and men, in general, are physically stronger.

  • Of course there are many exceptions.

  • (Laughter)

  • But today we live in a vastly different world.

  • The person more likely to lead is not the physically stronger person;

  • it is the more creative person, the more intelligent person,

  • the more innovative person,

  • and there are no hormones for those attributes.

  • A man is as likely as a woman to be intelligent,

  • to be creative, to be innovative.

  • We have evolved;

  • but it seems to me that our ideas of gender had not evolved.

  • Some weeks ago, I walked into a lobby of one of the best Nigerian hotels.

  • I thought about naming the hotel, but I thought I probably shouldn't.

  • And a guard at the entrance stopped me and asked me annoying questions,

  • because their automatic assumption is

  • that a Nigerian female walking into a hotel alone is a sex worker.

  • And by the way,

  • why do these hotels focus on the ostensible supply

  • rather than the demand for sex workers?

  • In Lagos I cannot go alone into many "reputable" bars and clubs.

  • They just don't let you in if you're a woman alone,

  • you have to be accompanied by a man.

  • Each time I walk into a Nigerian restaurant with a man,

  • the waiter greets the man and ignores me.

  • The waiters are products --

  • (Laughter)

  • At this some women felt like, "Yes! I thought that!"

  • The waiters are products of a society

  • that has taught them that men are more important than women.

  • And I know that waiters don't intend any harm.

  • But it's one thing to know intellectually and quite another to feel it emotionally.

  • Each time they ignore me, I feel invisible.

  • I feel upset.

  • I want to tell them that I am just as human as the man,

  • that I'm just as worthy of acknowledgment.

  • These are little things,

  • but sometimes it's the little things that sting the most.

  • And not long ago, I wrote an article

  • about what it means to be young and female in Lagos,

  • and the printers told me,

  • "It was so angry."

  • Of course it was angry!

  • (Laughter)

  • I am angry.

  • Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice.

  • We should all be angry.

  • Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change;

  • but, in addition to being angry, I'm also hopeful.

  • Because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings

  • to make and remake themselves for the better.

  • Gender matters everywhere in the world,

  • but I want to focus on Nigeria

  • and on Africa in general,

  • because it is where I know, and because it is where my heart is.

  • And I would like today to ask

  • that we begin to dream about and plan for a different world,

  • a fairer world,

  • a world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves.

  • And this is how to start:

  • we must raise our daughters differently.

  • We must also raise our sons differently.

  • We do a great disservice to boys on how we raise them;

  • we stifle the humanity of boys.

  • We define masculinity in a very narrow way,

  • masculinity becomes this hard, small cage

  • and we put boys inside the cage.

  • We teach boys to be afraid of fear.

  • We teach boys to be afraid of weakness, of vulnerability.

  • We teach them to mask their true selves,

  • because they have to be, in Nigerian speak, "hard man!"

  • In secondary school, a boy and a girl, both of them teenagers,

  • both of them with the same amount of pocket money, would go out

  • and then the boy would be expected always to pay,

  • to prove his masculinity.

  • And yet we wonder why boys are more likely to steal money from their parents.

  • What if both boys and girls were raised

  • not to link masculinity with money?

  • What if the attitude was not "the boy has to pay"

  • but rather "whoever has more should pay?"

  • Now, of course because of that historical advantage,

  • it is mostly men who will have more today,

  • but if we start raising children differently,

  • then in fifty years, in a hundred years,

  • boys will no longer have the pressure of having to prove this masculinity.

  • But by far the worst thing we do to males,

  • by making them feel that they have to be hard,

  • is that we leave them with very fragile egos.

  • The more "hard man" the man feels compelled to be,

  • the weaker his ego is.

  • And then we do a much greater disservice to girls

  • because we raise them to cater to the fragile egos of men.

  • We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller,

  • we say to girls,

  • "You can have ambition, but not too much."

  • (Laughter)

  • "You should aim to be successful, but not too successful,

  • otherwise you would threaten the man."

  • If you are the breadwinner in your relationship with a man,

  • you have to pretend that you're not,

  • especially in public,

  • otherwise you will emasculate him.

  • But what if we question the premise itself?