I remember being in the university outside of Nigeria and meeting fellow African men who would ask me within the first few minutes of our acquaintance, “can you cook?” That inquiry was never met well because I truly did not see the relevance. For one, I thought it was awkward and very forward coming from a complete stranger. I wondered if the next question to follow if I replied cordially would be “can you wash clothes and carry twins inside you?”
However, one fateful day I indulged my interviewer, since the library had now become a place for house girl application processing. And your guess was as good as mine- he was another hungry man who saw Nigerian food as a miracle that could only come out of blessed women. I told him to use his hands and brain because that’s really the starting point to cooking. After a couple more days of him stalking me, he disappeared. Yeah, he was a creepy one but how about the others who were not as creepy but as clueless and even condescending?
The expectation for women to know how to cook in our culture generally as Nigerians is high. Such expectation on the other hand, does not exist for men which is where the problem lies. Why should a grown up be incapable of providing nutrition to their bodies on their own? That sounds more like a child to me! It baffles me how many men can eat a house but cannot fry a proper omelet without turning it to crisps or soaking it in oil. Whether you are a man or a woman, it is an important and I think, necessary skill to have.
In most Nigerian homes, when the mom needs help in the kitchen, only the girls are summoned. And the dads do not move from their thrones as such activity is not even made for him. I have heard some awful comments that have emanated from this silly ideology that women are made for the kitchen. A popular Nigerian singer (who has even shown off his chef skills in the past) once mentioned that he was hungry and the responses baffled me. Most people told him it was time for him to marry because he’d have a live-in cook! I also overheard a very intelligent young man say it would be a shame for him to make his own lunch because he was married. Or was it the time the disgruntled male divorcee was reporting his ex-wife on social media and said “some days I’d cry for food because my wife would not cook”. Come on dude! Get it together, for real.
Cooking is not a petty skill for the less privileged. It is a skill that requires much intelligence and craft and is not limited to any gender. Most of the world’s greatest chefs are men. Majority of the biggest culinary geniuses have been men. The tastiest jollof rice, pork chops, okra stew I ever tasted have been prepared by men. I also find it super sexy when a man can cook too because I know I’m not a babysitter but a partner. So why do so many Nigerian men view it as something so low that it belongs to the “weaker gender” (or isn’t that what they refer to us as?) Hysterical.
Men are not exempt from kitchen activities, especially cooking. It is a very rewarding feat. Do not completely leave your nutrition in the hands of others. Cooking is a form of nurturing and sharing which we must admit our Nigerian men may need to double up on. Maybe our parents’ generation did things a certain way but things are different now. Gender roles are no longer binaries as they used to be. Women are breaking boundaries, so should men. Women cannot keep evolving but having to live with men who are comfortable with mindless tradition.
In the words of Anne-Marie Slaughter, “we need to re-socialize men… men have to see caregiving as cool”. We can start by erasing that wacko mentality that domestication, including cooking is only meant for women. It is a survival skill that is just as important as making money, or building shelter or procreating, yes.