Patriarchy: a Source of Fear, Denial, & Violence
In Jude Dibia’s Walking with Shadows, the construct of patriarchy in modern-day Nigerian society reveals itself in its all-too-familiar way as homophobia, gender roles, and the notion of a household rear their redundant and globally-recognized heads. What makes Nigerian patriarchy unique (to some degree) is the particular way that violence seems to play a pivotal role in how individuals deal with being “different” in their society. What I especially took notice of was the deeply-seated internalization of the patriarchy that many of Dibia’s characters seemed to hold.
Let’s start off with Adrian: married with one child, living in a lovely home with house-help on Ikoyi (one of the more affluent areas in Lagos), and has a stable career that he seems to be respected in. Adrian also claims that he unconditionally loves his wife, Ada, and he has never betrayed her in their several years of marriage. Yet as the reader gains more insight into Adrian’s past, it seems that Adrian has always felt like an outcast, unloved by his family, and someone who prefers to keep to himself. Despite having male lovers in his past, Adrian at some point in his life made the decision that he would ultimately live a straight and safe life and that would do him just fine. There’s no arguing that he’s in denial, especially with an ending that takes Adrian’s life into a complete 180 degree shift so that he can finally be himself.
Next up is Ada, the loyal yet shy wife of Adrian who had never had a lover before him. In her personal thoughts, the reader sees Ada evaluate her own feelings of betrayal as she comes to the conclusion that Adrian having past female lovers are completely reasonable, but just one male lover years before their meeting equates to betrayal. Ada also tries to understand how Adrian could satisfy her with such passion, yet she no longer accepts him as a lover with this new-found knowledge. And even when the underground gay-husband-pretend-wife community reaches out to her, she still reacts with hostility and plain rejection of having any association with them.
Lastly there is Abdul, who is an openly gay Nigerian living in Nigeria with his partner, and who advocates for Adrian to be true to himself. Yet, Abdul fiercely denies any need to express his sexuality outside of the safety of his home as Adrian poignantly points out. Abdul still lives a double-standard in his life in the face of the patriarchal society he is otherwise involved in.
In all three of his characters, Dibia portrays a visceral sort of denial and rejection, as if all three of these characters psychologically must make these denials in order to live their lives safely and seamlessly. Antagonizing the conflict rather than passively circumventing it seems to be the obviously wrong decision.