Beware The Snare of Pickmeism

Lagos Island market. Image: Adaku Nwakanma

It is a hot Saturday afternoon and you’re out shopping on Lagos Island in Balogun market. The traders fling their wares in your face, wiggling them like electronic snakes as you push your way through the mammoth crowd. “Tiri tiri hundred!” someone shouts, and instinctively, you take stock of their wares to see what could pass for that amount. A stray hand grabs you as you make your way down another path lined with slant, wooden stalls, and louder voices still beckoning unto you. But then, you hear a voice — indistinct at first, but growing louder as you move closer: “Ladies! Tell me what you can cook with N500!”

The voice belongs to a dark man, not more than five foot seven, in green, red, and yellow ankara-patterned shirt and trousers. His feet which once held shiny black leather sandals are covered in harmattan dust, and the dampness underneath his armpits has left dark, big circles achieving permanence. The midday sun ensures sweat sticks to the back of his shirt as well. He waves his hands frantically as he talks, revealing a spare tire slightly sprinkled with dark coily hair as a small audience — women of all shapes, sizes, and ages — gathers around him. If you doubted what women old enough to be his mothers were doing trying to prove to this man that they could whip up okra soup and pounded yam with that amount, you would have cast away your doubts once you saw a woman, obviously not a frequent market goer, step down from her vehicle and join the increasing crowd. You drop everything you’re holding and join the ruckus.

If the scenario painted above sounds far-fetched, it’s probably because it is, physically. In the social spaces we inhabit virtually, however, it occurs everyday in the form of well-meaning intentions and “simple advice” to the ladies. With the half-assed theory that “I have sisters and mothers whom I wouldn’t want to follow the path of damnation,” some men convince themselves that they are on a mission to save women from their insecurities and bad decisions.

Ensconced in faux care and a dash of superiority, the internet is flooded with a myriad of questions that reassure women seeking for validation that they are still appealing to whatever fad the average man now finds attractive. It used to be that men would find and buy hairstyles and weaves that their women would look good in, but with the boom of the natural hair industry, and the shift in how women approached their hair and skin, so did they not hesitate to inform us on how their preferences too had changed.

“Can you go a day without make-up and still look beautiful?” one man shouts from a self-imposed podium of authority until his beards become dehydrated. “You may have beauty, but do you have brains?!” another one asks, mounds of flesh bouncing and heaving with each laboured intake of breath. Intriguing is the number of women lined up, eager to answer and prove to these men, and men in general, that yes, in these changing times, they still keep up and are aware of the preferences and standards of men they do not know. Even more so is the adoption of this oddity among themselves: “No one will like this picture of me because I’m not naked,” they cry knowing fully well that the man, and his cohorts, are ever ready to dole out their congratulations and approval in the comment section, and to disparage anyone else who calls them out on their well-intentioned bullshit.

There are a lot of image and self esteem issues that women deal with as a result of a society bent on making its women fit into the mold of the liked, respectable, good woman. Expectations such as those enforced in the workplace, and even by love interests, where light-skinned women are chosen over dark-skinned women are prevalent, leading to the explosion of women in the validation — and sometimes, survival cycle — bleaching their skins. It is also in the looking down on those with kinky, spirally hair who are outrightly called “unprofessional” at work while relaxed hair, silky and straight weaves are seen as mature, age appropriate, and professional. The ability of a woman to save and not be a gold digger and not exploit her husband’s finances give her the title “Home Maker,” all with the assumption that she does not have her own money to spend. It is embedded as a judge of character to the extent that a woman’s finances, if they exist, can be — and is often — monitored to ensure it does not surpass that of the husband so that these performative dynamics remain in place.

But I think about role reversals. What advice do men repeatedly get from women or do they not need any? Most advice, I think, consists of lame jokes on how to handle or avoid certain types of women, and the occasional handout on body hygiene which has the capacity to impact others around. There are no questions asking if men still feel manly with small penises, rather there has been affirmation that women indeed like, and sometimes prefer, average-sized penises. Nothing, also, about if men feel handsome with balding heads, or can simultaneously have money and brains. If any un-manliness exists, it is sure to be brought about by the standards other men impose on themselves.

But what is in harmless advice after all? There should be competitions held for men to find the clitoris, to find who can change a diaper in 60 seconds, or stop a child from crying in 20. I bet that, at the very least, these will have tangible positive impact on the women in their lives.

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Adaku Nwakanma

Adaku Nwakanma

I write about digital product design.