Fathers, Be Good To Your Daughters.
Let me tell you about the time my father slapped the stupid out of a boy on my account:
I was about 12 years old. At school, we tended to have a gap week or two, between when we completed our exams and when we received our results. During this period, we didn’t have classes, but we were still expected to attend school. As Nigerians like to say: ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.’ Well, ‘devil’s basket’ was what the idle minds of my 8th grade class came up with that term. Devil’s basket is a game, sort of a blend between truth-or-dare and musical chairs. All the participants write naughty things on pieces of paper (either daring someone to do something or asking them to answer a question truthfully) and place it in a hat. The hat is passed around with music playing, and whoever happens to be holding the hat when the appointed DJ pushes pause has to pick one of the pieces of paper and do what it says.
On the day in question, a boy in my class was asked to pick a girl he had a crush on and touch her breasts. Let’s call him Peter. Peter pointed at me, and all the other boys started egging him on. I said something along the lines of “you wouldn’t dare,” assuming he wouldn’t think of trying something so crazy.
I thought wrong. Peter walked up to me, touched my breasts, and walked away, with all the boys cheering at him. To be fair, Peter was a teenage boy who was scared of losing face in front of his peers. Furthermore, a simple and unequivocal “No!” from my end would have been more beneficial. My mouth fell open in shock after he touched me, and things were a bit of blur after that. I packed my things and started walking. Never mind that school wasn’t over and we weren’t allowed to leave the premises till the closing bell had been rung: I walked all the way home, straight to my parent’s room, and right to my father’s side.
“Daddy, a boy touched my breasts!” I reported.
My father immediately sat up and screamed: “Who did that to you? What is his name?”
I do not recall in detail what happened after that, but I do remember that in less than an hour, Peter was in my living room, and had received three solid slaps. My father was fixing to slap the taste out of his mouth but my mother restrained him. In that moment, my father was not a man battling cancer, a pastor, or the regional director of a Christian media network—he was simply a protective and pissed off father. This was the first and only time I ever saw my father that angry.
To my father’s credit, once he calmed down, he realized he had handled the situation poorly. The very next day, he drove to my school, asked Peter for his forgiveness and they hugged it out. Peter and all my classmates were stunned. In Nigerian culture, it is quite rare for an adult—an adult male no less—to apologize to a younger person. But something my father often said and showed me was this: there is a difference between a man and a male. The former involves character, the latter, mere biology.
Through that incident (crazy as it was) and countless other experiences, my father instilled in me the notion that my body, mind and spirit are valuable. In his personal life, I watched my father treat all the women he encountered like Queens. In his professional life, I witnessed him use his platform to speak passionately about issues like domestic violence. My father is one of the main reasons why I have zero tolerance for nonsense and 100% confidence in my worth. In 15 years, I had more of a father than many women ever will in a whole lifetime—a privilege I remain cognizant of and grateful for.
I wonder how different the world would be if more women had the experience of having a father like mine? Fathers who affirmed, validated, defended and protected them. Perhaps they would choose to stay in abusive relationships less often. Perhaps they would report sexual assault more often. Perhaps we would have more women leading and leaning in. Perhaps the world would be filled with more self-esteem and body positivity. Perhaps this is why John Mayer sang, Fathers, be good to your daughters / Daughters will love like you do.
One of the most common misconceptions about the women’s rights movement is that it is about hating or bashing men. While every movement will always have flawed persons who act in its name, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Gender equality cannot be achieved without the full support of men. Many years ago, when I conducted research on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), I observed that communities that encouraged the active participation of men towards discouraging the practice, experienced greater success. The United Nations has also recognized the importance of men’s involvement towards promoting gender equality. For example, in 2014, UN Women launched the #HeForShe campaign: a solidarity campaign geared towards engaging men and boys, as agents of change for the achievement of gender equality and women's rights. You can read more about it here.
If you are a man reading this, I want you to know that women need you. In our personal and professional lives, we need you. Or as Emma Watson (UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador) put it: Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.