The Lion and the Jewel focuses on the competition to win Sidi's hand in marriage, which makes the play, in a sense, a battle of the sexes. As such, the play asks a number of questions about the nature of each sex's power: why men or women are powerful; how they became powerful in the first place; and how they either maintain or lose that power.
The men who fight for Sidi see her only as a beautiful prize to be won; Baroka and Lakunle value Sidi for no more than her beauty and her virginity. Meanwhile, the men in The Lion and the Jewel are valued by others (and value themselves) based on what they can do or have already done. Lakunle, for example, values himself because he's educated and he seeks to bring education, modernity, and Christianity to Ilujinle, and Baroka’s value derives from his role as the Bale of Ilujinle and his responsibilities to keep his people safe and build his image by taking many wives and fathering children.
To both Baroka and Lakunle, Sidi is a jewel—a valuable object capable of teasing and annoying the men, but an object nonetheless. Lakunle wants Sidi to marry him so he can better perform modernity by taking a modern wife, one who wears high heels and lipstick. Similarly, Baroka wants Sidi to be his wife and complete his harem. While it's unclear whether or not Baroka will keep his promise that Sidi will be his final wife, she too will be the jewel of his wives. To both men, then, marriage to Sidi is a status symbol and an indicator of their power, virility, and the superiority of their respective ways of life (modern versus traditional). Further, the end of the play suggests that what Lakunle wants from Sidi (a modern wife to make him seem more modern) doesn't even require Sidi specifically; by immediately turning his attention to the next woman who dances at him, Lakunle indicates that while Sidi may have been an appealing prize, he can accomplish his goal of having a modern wife by marrying any woman up to the task. This reduces women in general to objects who must simply play a part in the lives of their husbands.
The idea of reducing people with little power to objects, however, works in reverse as well. When Sadiku believes Baroka's tale that his manhood (virility) is gone, she dances gleefully around a statue of Baroka and chants that women have won the war against men. She knows that Baroka's position of power in the village is tied to his ability to perform sexually and produce children, and she believes that when this specific power is gone, the rest of his power will also disappear, leaving his wives (who are still capable of performing sexually and bearing children) victorious. In this case, when Baroka appears to have lost what gives him power, he's reduced to being represented by an actual object (the statue). However, the play suggests that there's a great deal of difference between Baroka's weakness being represented by an object and the fact that women are literally treated as objects. When Sadiku dances around the statue of Baroka, it's important to note that she cannot celebrate her victory publically. She can celebrate in private and taunt a representation of Baroka, but she cannot taunt Baroka himself. In contrast, Sidi, Sadiku, and other female villagers are teased, taunted, and demeaned to their faces throughout the play. They're grabbed, fondled, raped, and told that they're simple and backwards because they're women. The male characters don't have to privately taunt inanimate objects; their culture, regardless of how they engage with modernity or tradition, allows them to reduce women to objects and treat them as such.
Men vs. Women ThemeTracker
Men vs. Women Quotes in The Lion and the Jewel
Lakunle: You could wear something.
Most modest women do. But you, no.
You must run around naked in the streets.
Does it not worry you... the bad names,
The lewd jokes, the tongue-licking noises
Which girls, uncovered like you,
Draw after them?
Sidi: ...Is it Sidi who makes the men choke
In their cups, or you, with your big loud words
And no meaning?
Well go there. Go to these places where
Women would understand you
If you told them of your plans with which
You oppress me daily.
A savage custom, barbaric, out-dated,
Rejected, denounced, accursed,
Excommunicated, archaic, degrading,
Humiliating, unspeakable, redundant.
Retrogressive, remarkable, unpalatable.
Ignorant girl, can you not understand?
To pay the price would be
To buy a heifer off the market stall.
Baroka merely seeks to raise his manhood
Above my beauty
He seeks new fame
As the one man who has possessed
The jewel of Ilujinle!
Like the foolish top you think the world revolves around you... fools! fools! it is you who run giddy while we stand still and watch, and draw your frail thread from you, slowly, till nothing is left but a runty old stick.
For though you're nearly seventy,
Your mind is simple and unformed.
Have you no shame that at your age,
You neither read nor write nor think?
To think that once I thought,
Sidi is the eye's delight, but
She is vain, and her head
Is feather-light, and always giddy
With a trivial thought. And now
I find her deep and wise beyond her years.
The old must flow into the new, Sidi,
Not blind itself or stand foolishly
Apart. A girl like you must inherit
Miracles which age alone reveals.
Dear Sidi, we shall forget the past.
This great misfortune touches not
The treasury of my love.
But you will agree, it is only fair
That we forget the bride-price totally
Since you no longer can be called a maid.