and male status
dominate public and domestic aspects of social life according to certain
learned patterns of behaviours. However, these are not homogeneous; rather
there are several forms of patriarchal relations which operate at different
levels of a society. In other words, my usage of the term patriarchy here
concurs with Koopman Henn's when she cautions that:
we fail to analyze patriarchy in all its economic and political dimensions (as
well as its better studied ideological/cultural aspects), we may not recognize
the full extent of the advantages it confers on the patriarchal class. Without
such an understanding we are unlikely to fully appreciate the multifaceted
nature of the class struggle which must be intensified if women are to develop
and participate in more democratic and egalitarian social and economic
relations with men (1986: 23).
is possible, therefore, to analyze patriarchal relations from the point of view
of their significance in the historical understanding of, for example, the
relations of production in a given social formation. In doing this we can
grasp the material basis of persisting practice, and the raison
d'être of its 'oppressive' social and economic
relations between men and women. This conceptualization is also useful in
analyzing how experiences of male domination are symbolically expressed in
day-to-day interactions in any specific historical context (Bourdieu 1977:
us consider three mundane examples of these points:-
throughout the Cameroon Grassfields it is considered a sign of utter disrespect
for younger men to sit in the company of their elders with legs crossed.
Persons who do this are not only reprimanded but can be cursed by those who
have been so treated. Sitting thus is viewed as an even a more serious abuse
if it is committed by a female, irrespective of her age and status.
a married woman should on no account refer to her husband by personal name in
private let alone in public. A wife should refers to her partner as '
or she uses his title, if he has one. The reverse is the rule whenever the man
makes reference to his spouse: he uses her name directly.
let us consider the treatment of the chicken gizzard. Across the Cameroon
Grassfields and beyond, it is taboo for a woman to eat a gizzard. In ordinary
parlance it is a 'male thing' and, hence, it symbolizes honour. So
when a woman slaughters a chicken, if the husband does not see the gizzard in
his dish, he will reject the meal. The man can even beat his wife without
sanction from society. If a woman is single, a widow or separated, she is
supposed to give the gizzard to a man irrespective of the latter's age.
But he must be a close relative or somebody she admires and respects. One of
the beliefs which surrounds this practice is that any woman who eats a gizzard
may lose her fertility. Men still uphold this cultural prohibition, even in
often complained about this practice. One described it as 'an
old-fashioned practice meant to subordinate us'. Men always replied that
'we cannot break the tradition'. On one occasion at a meeting of a
rotating credit association in Yaoundé one of the women present retorted
'nowadays there are even packs of frozen gizzards in the supermarkets.
If I bought some and prepared them for myself, how will my husband know what
had been going on in the kitchen, since it is women who do the cooking of the
family meals?' All the other women burst into laughter and applauded her
for this remark, but all the men (including this author) turned to look at each
other with expressions of utter surprise and disgust at her boldness on their
faces. The fact of the matter is that she had made a pertinent point which
challenged this aspect of the patriarchal system.
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