The other room and the theory of otherness

NIGERIA is in a dire economic strait at the moment. Most people continuously wear a very long look as the raging economic hardship continues to take its toll on the life of the average Nigerian. At times like this, to avoid the bubble bursting, something must of necessity happen to lighten the situation in order to save the people from running amok. Nature graciously picked the first family to give the most needed break two weeks ago. This happened when Mrs Aisha Buhari, while granting an interview to BCC Hausa service, made public her frustration with the way her husband was steering the ship of the nation by alluding to a hijack of the ship by some pirates in the presidency. Not to be seen as a weakling, the President wasted no time in telling the wife that it was no skin off her nose how he ran the state and that her business was restricted to the living room, the kitchen and ‘the other room’. Even when some zealous aides wanted to help the President manage the situation by explaining ‘what he meant’, he insisted in an interview in Germany that the wife’s assignment was as he stated. And the country had a laugh. What a laugh that was! The first family helped in no mean way to douse the tension in the nation with the comic relief.

Thank goodness that the first family seems to have put the issue behind them as Mrs Buhari, last week in Kaga, Borno State, while giving out relief items to displaced women in rural areas, said she was committed to seeing her husband succeed as Nigeria’s president. She made no mention of any cabal in government, neither did she speak of the over 15million people who had voted for the president asking any probing question. She said the administration had started making good the promises it made to the Nigerian electorate, and as far as she was concerned, that was okay.

But in spite of the seeming resolution of the first family’s disagreement, the issue generated by their faceoff has continued to simmer. Since the President spoke about ‘the other room’, it has become an anthem of sorts. People still laugh their head off whenever ‘the other room’ comes up for mention.

But it is a laugh at the expense of women because ‘the other room’ connotes something much more profound than the innuendo suggested by the coiner. In Philosophy, Sociology and most of the Social Sciences, referring to somebody as the other or saying somebody belongs to the other is a serious insult because it is extremely derogatory.

According to Wikipedia, “The term Othering describes the reductive action of labelling a man or a woman as someone who belongs to a subordinate social category defined as the Other. The practice of Othering is the exclusion of persons who do not fit the norm of the social group, which is a version of the Self. Likewise, in the field of human geography, the action term to Other identifies and excludes a person from the social group, placing him or her at the margins of society, where the social norms do not apply to and for the person labelled as the Other.”

Put in plain terms, saying that somebody belongs to ‘the other room’ is saying that the fellow belongs to the other class, a class which is below the class of the speaker.

According to Zygmunt Bauman, the notion of otherness is central to the way in which societies establish identity categories. He stresses that identities are set up as dichotomies, “Woman is the other of man, animal is the other of human, stranger is the other of native, abnormality the other of norm, deviation the other of law-abiding, illness the other of health, insanity the other of reason, lay public the other of the expert, foreigner the other of state subject, enemy the other of friend.”

Stressing this point further, Simone de Beauvoir said, in The Second Sex, “Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being… She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.”

To buttress this point, the President could not even condescend to conferring dignity to that other room. While he mentioned the other room by name, he left the world to decipher what he meant by ‘the other room.” And do not forget that the President did not say ‘my room’ but ‘the other room’. Any wonder then why the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, gave our President that look?