A woman’s wolf

“Homo homini lupus” or in its unabridged form “Homo hominis lupus est,” a Latin proverb meaning “A man is a wolf to another man” first appeared in 195 BC in the play Asinaria by Titus Maccius Plautus. To date it is widely referenced when discussing the horrors of which humans are capable, albeit generally taken at face value, the full phrase “Lupus est homo homini, non homo, quom qualis sit non novit” (“One man to another is a wolf, not a man, when he doesn’t know what sort he is”) mostly forgotten in favour of the portion which focuses on man’s darker nature.

It was this phrase that inadvertently came to mind when I was watching episode 10 of ‘Ask Funmi’ entitled ‘Why are women so mean to each other?’ – media personality Funmi Iyanda’s YouTube series. Ironically, in the comments section of one of the blogs which featured the episode, a commentator had written, “Looking so so different these days. I believe she got a nose job asides lightening her skin obviously.” Not wolfish per se, but definitely mean. Incredulous that all this person could see was Iyanda’s complexion and her nose, I scrolled on to more sensible comments.

“Why do women seemingly hate one another, let me try armchair psychology,” wrote an anonymous reader, before breaking down the reasons as people’s hatred towards each other, not peculiar to only women, poverty which breeds “a feeling that everything is scarce even the things that are not scarce”, thus making some hate those they believe to have a better chance at these scarce resources, and my favourite, “We raise our women to not be the totality of themselves; when all women do is judge themselves in relation to men, the options of self-expression are limited. They can’t help but hate the next person that is seeming competition. A woman who’s living her life and creating her opportunities doesn’t have time to hate others.”

Upon reading this comment, I couldn’t help but reminisce on the late-night conversations my good friend Lami and I used to have during the time I spent in Lagos. It often began with a daily frustration, whether it be the irate gateman or the know-it-all driver, the receptionist who woke up from the wrong side of the bed, the ‘divalicious’ D-list celebrity who’d given one or the other, or both of us attitude, – whoever it was that had tried to sour our mood and steal our joy daily but failed to do so as we were resolute not to let anyone spoil the Lagos living sisterhood we had dreamt of for so long. As small minds discuss people, and great minds ideas, we’d often move from the person to the peculiarities of the human mind.

One of our favourite people to discuss was a young lady we both had to work with who had decided almost at first sight that she did not like either of us, and it was clear for all to see, from her snide remarks behind our backs or blatant belligerence to our faces in meetings. While one-on-one she had the most superficial charm so make-believe that only those with a high emotional quotient could see through it. Intuitive to a fault, I sensed very early on, she was one of those who would say “God bless you” out loud while hissing “God damn you!” between her teeth.

“Why so much hatred?” I recall asking Lami in one of our late-night chats. “Sinem, you don’t understand. She probably doesn’t even know why she hates you, or she hates me. It is so ingrained in her from the day she was born to compete with her sister, the neighbour’s child, the girl in grade 5… You don’t know how she felt when her mum would tell her, ‘Why can’t you be as good as your sister?’ or ‘Why can’t you get straight As; does Jumoke in your class have three heads?’ or even today when she goes home, ‘Why haven’t you found a husband yet? Girls your age have kids in primary school. The problem is, in our culture, girls are raised to compete from the moment we are born; at home, at school, at work, at finding and keeping a man that by default they see any woman as competition.”

“Competition for what?” I asked, “We are not even in the same lane…” Then I remembered growing up with an uncle who often pitted his daughter against me. I recall when I had been accepted for an MA at a British University, his immediate reaction was to tell my cousin if she wanted he could send her to the US for her postgraduate degree. In that instant years of put-downs made sense. This grown man had always seen us, two girls similar in age, as competition. In his mind, each time he said something hurtful which made me feel a few inches smaller, his daughter was gaining in height. Even though we had different strengths, and truthfully hers far exceeded mine.

The problem is no matter how many of us there are raised with self-confidence to see and accept their worth and stay in their lane, happy to outdo their personal best only, outnumbering us are those who were raised with a verbal whip constantly cracked over their backs to outdo whichever female was considered the competition at any one time for an unknown prize, raised with the notion that all other females are competition to be defeated, the notion that there are scarce resources, whether it be As or banking careers or eligible bachelors to be snapped up and any competition along the way must be demolished. The problem is, as long as we are confined by the cultural norms that push parents to raise girls competitors as opposed to collaborators or confidants, women will always be the wolves dining on each other. And that is why, in my opinion, women are so mean to each other.

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