Over the past four, five years, social media has been awash with feminist theories, agenda and what not. The push for the “weaker sex” to step up and make their mark in a male-dominated world has gained momentum, and I dare say it is one of the staple discussion topics you could find anywhere on the face of the earth. In order to ascertain and understand the extent to which feminism has taken foothold in Africa most especially in Nigeria, we have to take a cursory look at the societal views of marriage and the duty, responsibilities and the perception of the girl-child.
In the Northern part of the country, child marriage and its concomitant health issues have become so commonplace. In many other parts of Nigeria, most especially the Eastern region, the general belief is that a woman’s viability for marriage is as temporary and fleeting as a ticking time bomb. To that end, once a woman attains puberty, she is fit to get married, and such belief has transcended ages, solidifying into a norm. Little regard is had as to their mental and emotional readiness to provide and receive marital companionship, as these girls get shipped off before they reach the twenty five year mark. As such, the modus operandi for marriage generally took on an air of transactionality, as opposed to the normative view wherein two individuals who have come of age decide to be together without any form of external influence or undue pressure. Throw in the ubiquitous economic hardship prevalent in the country, and then you’d find out that marriage between two people of the same age, or perhaps two people close to each other in terms of age is a distinct impossibility, at best a rarity. Such marriages are most of the time implicitly condemned, because it is believed that only a man who is considerably older than the woman would be mature enough to handle a much younger wife. It is also believed that a much older husband should have made enough money to take care of his new family at the time of marriage. Again, it is humbly submitted that it is perfectly within bounds for a woman to desire a much older man, especially one who is financially solid enough to provide for the new family. It is her life, so it stands to reason that it should be her choices which will reign supreme. It is destructive however, where these choices are made on the strength of a desire fuelled by societal pressure.
At the risk of sounding like a personal opinion at this point, it must be noted that this belief completely neutralized the idea of getting married for the sake of companionship, replacing it with the need to bring forth children, which is considered paramount in these parts. Young couples in relationships get separated because the society prevents them from getting married on the grounds of immaturity, mostly on the part of the male in such relationship. While it is generally believed that a woman is eligible for marriage at the onset of puberty, a man either has to get to a certain age or make huge amounts of money to qualify. It is understood that a man needs to have a means of livelihood before he can lay claim to a woman for marriage, rather it is poisonous when he has to jump steep and unrealistic financial hurdles in order to get married. Some married couples started their marriage with meagre finances, from where their financial fortunes improved astronomically.
At the root of this structure is the orientation for the girl child, starting with her family. Many of them have been indoctrinated into the belief system that the biggest achievement of their lives would be finding a husband and having children not too long after. They are also taught that the males their age are in no way suitable to be husbands. If the girl child just commenced secondary education, then she would be told that her husband was already in the university, a surefire way of mentally conditioning her towards marriage to older men. While this cannot be said to be fundamentally improper, it has the effect of stifling the girl child, who more often than not is attracted to males around her age. Most girls are trained to be what is known as “wife material”, a term colloquially used to refer to a woman who is viable for marriage on account of her behavior and homemaking skills. On the other hand, the male child would grow to be termed “husband material” when and only when he has made enough money. The discrepancy as to the parameters of viability for marriage for both sexes is established and imbued into the children during their period of adolescent growth.
Where the male child grows up only to be judged by how much money he has made and the level of success he has attained, it follows that he would want nothing else but to make money so he can have all the attention from the opposite sex. Conversely, where the female child is judged by her homemaking and behavioral skills which border mostly on her docility, agreeability and chastity, it is discovered that many young women who do not have the personality traits aforementioned would have to take to pretence to find love and acceptance for marriage. In Chimamanda’s words, such standards make women “turn pretence into an art form”. In a society where boys readily express themselves sexually and where acts of sexual irresponsibility by boys and men alike are easily forgiven, forgotten and consigned to the dustbin of history, reverse is the case for the girl-child. She is quickly vilified, cajoled, demonized and from that point onward, she is regarded as unsuitable for marriage or a relationship. Where the male child grows up to be financially successful, the sources of his income are most of the time inscrutable, unless events necessitating questions thereto arise. Where the girl child makes money, the first port of thought for most of the observers and even her family members would be that she made the money through commercial sex work or related activities like courtesanship. While such accusations prove to be true on some occasions, it must be stated that such courtesans are mostly women who believe that prurient activity represents their greatest opportunity to acquire wealth. It also stands to reason that the above belief takes its root from the belief most likely put into these women at a young age that a rich man is all they need to attain success. Sexual harassment and Sexual exploitation experienced at a young age remain factors which induce them into acting in this manner, but this shall be discussed elsewhere.
From the aforestated, it is the resultant effect that most young girls hardly know, or can effectively communicate and articulate their desires and see them achieved. Most girls go into marriage without having a modicum of pure knowledge as to the workings, the dynamics, the implications and the expectations arising from marriage. Hence, they come to find out that the systematic indoctrination they underwent was nowhere near enough. Social Media is replete with stories of young women lamenting their lot, openly expressing their regret, most of which could have been prevented if they knew what marriage really entailed.
I was privileged to visit a tribunal set up by a church (name withheld) to mediate in marital cases. More often than not it was clear to see that the marriage was built on very wrong foundations, which is often because both parties are actually oblivious to their real roles in the marriage are. Consequently, because of the manner in which our society is structured, the woman ends up the victim. While men who are divorced easily move on with their lives and pick up the pieces, women who are divorced hardly ease into life as a divorcee, because they are mostly stigmatized as not being able to keep their home.
Many girls are ill-equipped to weather the storms of marriage. Many more are confused as to what they want in a man to whom they would be married to. Just as Man is a product of his past, these girls have been taught from infancy that marriage is, and will continue to be the best a woman can get; that it is her ticket to societal respect and acceptance as a woman. In stark contrast to the words of Martin Luther King Jr., they are not judged by the content of their character and their overall contributions to the advancement of the ideals of the society. Since we teach our girls to aspire to marriage, it is wondered why we do not teach same to our male kids. The end result is a generation of girls running towards marriage, and a generation of boys and men running away from it. In essence, this imbalance created by societal miseducation boomerangs on the female folk, who according to renowned feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, are engaged in a life-or-death rat race over the attention of men, thereby rendering them desperate and making them unwitting prey in the hands of salacious hunters and religious houses who exploit them to devastating effect. Worthy of note is the pressure for newly married ladies to give birth in order to solidify their spot in the husband’s family. So imperative has it become that most girls get pregnant before exchanging nuptial vows.
Women have proven over the past centuries and millennia that they are most likely pawns in the game of humanity. It behooves on us as a society to educate the coming generation of young ladies as to the right norms, beliefs and values. We need to tell our girls that menopause comes at forty five, not at thirty. We need to teach them to realize that their lives never depended, has never depended, and will never depend on a man. To that end, we need to tell them to stop being scared of excelling, for fear that no man would love them or even get interested in the least. Let them build mansions, buy cars, excel in their given professions and enjoy all that life has to offer. That is exactly what feminism stands for, the opportunity for the girl child to make her way in the world devoid of gender bars and unwanted societal influence. A man who wants a woman would never mince words no matter her status. Same should apply to women.