This past weekend, I got mad to the point where I shouted at an older man. This is significant because I am Ghanaian, and a well brought up one at that. Ghanaians accord elders with respect, and if we can help it, we do not publicly exchange words with them. But over the past weekend, I was pushed, and I got so angry that I snapped. How did this happen? The older man in question had been asked by my father to cut down a palm tree which stood on our compound, but at one point, he entered the living room shouting shouting “BEEma a OwO fie ha wO he?” (where is the man of this house).Hearing this a few times made my blood boil. To provide some perspective, let me say that the word “BEEma” is twi for man, but there is a way in which that word can be used which inherently makes it more than a noun, and forces it to become a superlative adjective, something superior, an appellation if you will. I wouldn’t have cared if our wood-cutter had been calling out to my father; what irked me was that he was calling for my twelve year old brother.
First, I could not for the life of me imagine what it was he needed a man to do for him. What could he possibly need from our home or need to ask someone that only a man was fit to do? I felt that in calling for “the man of the house”, he was establishing, and perpetrating the erroneous view of the man as a superior entity, as something special, as something other than just human. A stranger had entered our house to teach my brother to assume superiority not for having accomplished anything but simply by virtue of the fact that he sports a protrusion in his groin and I wasn’t going to have any of it.
Second, being the eldest child in the family and my brother being the youngest of four children, I felt personally violated. It seemed to me that even though our Ghanaian society honors seniority, this man was suggesting that if he needed something, the older women were somehow not capable of providing him with it, and that somehow regardless of how mature one is, manhood should always be placed above maturity.
Third, I felt that perhaps I am old and strong enough to reject these powerful roles he was projecting onto us, but I feared that my younger sister, twelve years my junior was still impressionable. I feared that she might actually start to feel diminished. That she might be silenced, and so I had to act, to remind her that there was nothing inherently special about being male; that a man, like a woman, was to be evaluated on his actions and achievements only.
Finally, I had to remind the wood-cutter to forget his preconceived notions and look at the reality. I told him that in our house, we were all treated the same. I mentioned to him that I was yet to meet a man who was better than any woman in our household. I also warned him that if he did this all the time, he should not do this in our home where women could do, and indeed performed all of the roles that had traditionally been seen to be male roles.
He was really surprised, offered some unsatisfactory apologies and left. I was still fuming, but I managed to call my siblings and explain to them what just happened. While trying not to break my brother’s spirit, I clarified to him that being a MAN was not something to boast of. It is a state, just like being a woman is a state, and therefore there is nothing of pride inherent in that state.