If you didn’t know, media representation matters!

Headlines like this, should remind us of the LONG journey we have ahead.

Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is a top human rights advocate in Nigeria, and is the Executive Director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Center (WARDC). She is a notable person of influence in the fields of human rights and gender equality, and has been recognized as such, internationally. Despite, all her achievements, the interviewing website, thought that the headline – “I left my husband two days after wedding” – was the most appropriate. However, in some weird way, it was appropriate. Let me explain.

If you read the excerpts of the interview, you’ll determine that most of the questions being posed, were related to the work that Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi commits herself to. However, towards the end we see that the direction of the interview deviates into the subject of marriage. This is a favorite topic of Nigerian interviewers, but only when they are interviewing women.

The highly patriarchal society that we live in, burdens women with the chore of placing great importance on marriage and outward appearances. Never mind all the professional, academic or extracurricular achievements, what really matters is what your views on marriage and physical appearances are, as a woman. This is why, a professional interview, can derail so much so, that the interviewer poses the questions: ”At what point did you get married with all the activism you were involved in as a young lady?” or “How do you resolve issues when they come up in your marriage?” or “Describe your fashion style”.

Are men approached with these kind of questions? Of course not. That is because, we live in a society where the man is enough. His life achievements and accolades can be celebrated on their own, without him having to speak on his marriage or his outward appearance. His achievements and accolades are not just seen as mere adornments, acquired with the motive of making the individual seem more attractive, for purposes of marriage. But a woman’s achievements are seen as exactly that. Mere adornments. And because this is the way society perceives women, of course such a headline for a story would be deemed appropriate. Who would read this story otherwise? No one wants to hear about a woman who has made significant strides, with regards to ensuring gender parity in our laws and policies. No one wants to read about all the positive advocacy work that a woman is doing, in terms of achieving gender equality. That’s all background noise in the face of a woman’s true purpose: marriage and looking good. This is the reason why we don’t see many women in high level positions, in politics, agriculture, finance or energy – Sectors directly linked to the money and thus power. But we see an abundance of female make up artists, wedding planners, clothing retailers and hair vendors. This is what we as a society have resigned our women to.

A simple thing such as a the words used in a headline, has huge societal implications. In this case, this headline serves to bolster the aggressively patriarchal society we live in. The story may have been founded on good intentions (I’m sure the editor that “this story is really going to do something huge for women empowerment”), however, the decision to stray from the interview subject matter to marriage and appearances, simply affirms what we already knew: We have such a LONG way to go.

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