An aspiration to become an astronaut soon morphs into the drudgery of child-bearing and managing a home. A physically abused woman seeks solace in the law but soon realises it offers pain, a child needing protection from a depraved father.
These are few of the themes chosen by Joy Isi Bewaji, unapologetic feminist, writer and entrepreneur to illustrate the tragedy of patriarchy in the Nigerian society in her play, ‘Story of my vagina’, directed by Segun Adefila and performed by Crown Troupe in Lagos on December 27 and 28.
Bewaji a victim of verbal abuse on social media because of her uncompromising struggle for equality of the sexes, decided to take the fight to those who feel the only way to cut a woman down to size is to shame her body parts.
“I thought it was time we attack this idea of shaming the vagina for no reason,” explains Bewaji, “The vagina had nothing to do with the situation but it had to be thrown in because they feel it is what silences a woman, the minute you call her ‘Ashawo’ (prostitute), she is supposed to shrink,”
Bewaji said she decided to embrace this attack and make it something phenomenal where people can look into it and stop being ashamed because there is so much more to a woman than her body parts.
The Editor of Happenings online magazine and mother of two began a movement on social media through The Conversation, an ongoing series of debates on gender in Nigerian society. In November 2016, she published ‘StoryOfMyVagina’, a collection of stories revolving around the perceptions of the vagina and developed it into a play.
The thirty minutes play throws up issues of abuse of the girl child, societal pressure on a woman to abandon her career for marriage, sexual abuse in the office, shaming a woman based on her inability to conceive and subtly tells society that patriarchy thrives because even the women encourage it.
A collective gasps went up from the audience in the scene where a woman who ran to the local police station bruised and battered was told that justice has a gender preference.
“You came to the police station to report your husband for beating you?” asked an incredulous police officer.
“Do you know how often I beat my own wife? Do you know how many women are happy they have a husband that beat them?”
Godiya Makama, in her research paper on patriarchy and gender inequality published by the European Scientific Journal argues that the Nigerian society is patriarchal in nature which is a major feature of a traditional society. It states it has created a structure of a set of social relations with material base which enables men to dominate women.
Bewaji’s ‘Story of my vagina’ illumines the complex nature of patriarchy in Nigeria using music, drama and lightening. It sheds light on the very foundations of this structure in the scene where the news of the birth of a girl child is received with as much excitement as the news of a hen hatching a brood of chicks by the father.
Sexuality was addressed in a frank and brutally honest manner but it seemed like what to expect from a play audacious enough to use vagina in the title, in a society that cringes at the mere mention of a woman’s body parts.
The scene where three young men concluded that a girl who loves sex cannot make a good wife speaks to the sad reality of a society long fed on the potpourri of deception sacrificing reason on the slaughter slab of religiosity and crude traditional practices.
“The play hit the note on a number of things women have been fighting for a long time – violence against women, blaming women for rape, molestation, sexual harassment in the place of work,” said Alero Okorodus, a filmmaker who watched the play.
“I hope this play will reach lots of people and help them understand that the woman is not the competition but as individuals we are striving to become better and do great things for ourselves, just as the men in the society” Okorodus said.
A critical challenge in addressing the challenge of patriarchy and the stereotypes that promotes it is that many people are unaware or didn’t think it’s an issue worth their time. Segun Adefila, the play director needed convincing that these were key issues before he could get on board with the idea.
“The first time I read it, I was unsure because I don’t understand the idea of feminism. I am an African and I know that in the Africa I come from, women are respected. I don’t get this new thought process that says women are being abused in Africa but when the playwright helped me understand that there is gender politics everywhere, people are going through it and we are speaking for those people, that is how I got in,” Adefila told BusinessDay.