Growing up in an average Nigerian family where my mother did most of the cooking, I would say that African women are products of their environment. They grew in a home where their mothers stayed at home all day preparing elaborate labour- intensive meals. The pounding of yams in a mortar with a pestle, washing the leafs till its bitter taste dissipates and cooking the soup with firewood, charcoals or a kerosene stove.
Women struggle to be great cooks so as not to lose their partners to ‘better’ women. They struggle to be ‘wife material.’ A popular Nigerian term used to describe women that are very submissive, conforming and domestic.
Cooking has become an essential criterion for getting married, and sometimes, staying in a marriage.
In 2018, Ugandan President Yoweri Musevenir instigated a debate once on gender roles. He claimed that since his marriage, he had never stepped into his kitchen.
“It is now 45 years with Mama Janet, I have never stepped in the kitchen. That is how it should be,” he said to youth entrepreneurs in Kampala.
He brandished his view with a Ruyankore saying: The head of the home never goes into the kitchen.
In 2016, when Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari responded to a criticism from his wife by stating she belongs in his kitchen. He said, “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.” I believe most men want cooks as wives, like their mothers.
Society doesn’t grow weary in defining the role of women. Of course for ages, cooking was considered as a skill only women should acquire but thus was because in traditional communities, men were seen as the breadwinners and women were supposed to do the housework. Today, the lifestyle of people have changed; women work now.
I remember walking past my coursemates room at school; I heard his friend say, “Guy, you need to get married so you can stop cooking.” I dissected this sentence in my head for a while but it didn’t still sit well. It could have sounded a lot better if his friend had said, “Guy, you need to get married so someone can at least help you in cooking or do it sometimes.”
Do we spot the problem?
People get married for companionship, love or simply to fulfill religious obligations. However, getting married because one requires a woman to cook for him reduces women to domestic workers rendering unpaid labour.
Cooking is a life skill. There are other skills like swimming, dancing, writing, but cooking is a lot more important because when it comes feeding yourself, it is a daily occurrence. Cooking is a means of nourishing yourself and I believe it is a shame to depend on others to nourish your own body. Cooking has a huge effect on your health and wellbeing – takeaways from restaurants everyday won’t help. This may not be a big deal for most people but there is a huge advantage in knowing what you put in your body and how your food is prepared. Your takeaways might be prepared with vegetables or ingredients that contain harmful preservatives, you might also have to worry about how neat the kitchen is. You can’t be so sure unless you do it yourself – if you can’t afford to eat at the finest and exorbitant restaurants everyday. Are you really going to call yourself an independent man if you come home from a long day at work and you need someone else, maybe even your mother to feed you?
Women should stop internalizing the guilt that comes with not knowing how to cook. If you can’t cook, you could always learn. Afterall, everyone eats and it is a basic skill for human beings and we should all give it a try, even if we are bad at it. Boys and girls must be trained to be self-sufficient. Children will leave their home one day to study or set up a career. There are high chances that they might live alone and cooking is a necessary skill for their survival. Children must be raised in a gender-equal way. They should be exposed to all types of household tasks so that they can grow into adults who understand the concept of gender equality. If parents can start teaching their children to unlearn the gender role that girls should cook, they’d develop a long-lasting love for the kitchen as well as all the skills they need throughout adulthood.
My mother still cooks, but not as much as she used to. Why would she
do so when she has four young men that serve her great food?
By Chidera Ezeokoli