For a significant number of Nigerian women I have spoken to, conversations
around marriage and wifehood began long before puberty. Ideas of wifehood were woven as jokes into everyday conversation
by family friends with a gaggle of sons in tow, as the kitchen was deemed an important room through which girls received their right of womanhood.
The problem with these conversations, apart from the prematurity, is the
assumption that all girls grow up into women seeking marriage. This is not discrediting the many women who are fulfilled by the union but rather to spotlight the women who are burdened by singular ideas of womanhood that dominate the cultural, social and religious discourses of womahood within Nigeria.
The pressure to adhere to this line of female identity, intensifies from the age of
roughly 21, growing more hysterical as a woman approaches and passes the age of
30. Women who vocalise a lack of
immediate interest in marriage are initially dismissed and eventually pitied for their singledom no matter the personal contentment the choice to refrain from transitioning to a “Mrs.”, brings. That a woman can be happy outside of marriage and possibly children is a concept that remains difficult for many to comprehend, to an extent because the raising of children
outside of marriage is viewed as a taboo.
The problem with this belief is that it continues to fail the many homeless children born in Nigeria, especially with
the high labour mortality rates in the
country, where Nigeria is ranked second worst in the world after India, but I
digress. In a twitter thread inspired by an ongoing conversation regarding whether or not a father must take permission from
his daughter’s husband before gifting her extravagant gifts, upcoming writer Eloghosa Osunde, makes the comment, “…people don’t know what to do with
unmarried adult women. It’s an unsettling *phase* for men.
Who owns her? Who do we speak to/report her to when she “misbehaves”?, who do we ask for permission?”
This is a great position as it looks at ideas of female ownership and how women choosing to step outside thebonds of belonging to someone, break the status quo. I choose to highlight this because of a conversation had with a recent 28 year old homeowner, whom I shall simply refer to as 28.
For 28, purchasing a home, unmarried,
sparked a great deal of conversation, with
aunties and uncles she rarely speaks
to, calling to advise her against such a
man-scaring act. “Growing up, there had
always been comments about me going
to my husband’s house, but I never took
it seriously as I had other goals and
had always received great support from
my immediate family when it came to
my career development.” To say that
the backlash came as a shock to 28,
would be an understatement. It is not a particular aversion to marriage that drives her but rather an understanding that she will be ok should entering the union never work out for her. Having grown up in
such a supportive space, the censure of outside voices was both alarming and aggravating. This is because her parents were wholly supportive of her personal growth and also because having people dictate how her hard-earned money was to be spent struck her as extremely
It takes very little sleuthing on mogul, Linda Ikeji’s social media pages to see questions in the comment sections about her relationship status. Her immense success is still nothing as she continues to operate as a single unit.
These comments fail to take into account the fact that she is desiring but not desperate for marriage, choosing to wait for a desired partner rather than fall to pressure.
Choice and the idea of the picky woman is also a shaming method a number of women I conversed with have come against. Conversations about female compromise and reduction of idealism is a tactic used to force the idea of marriage on women.
35 year old, corporate executive speaks to me about the conversations had with family, friends, religious leaders
and strangers, spotlighting her attitude as the reason for her singledom. They have all failed to accept her stating a lack of desire to be married as a concrete enough reason for the direction her life is taking. “I have been told to emulate the spirit of so many specific women in the Bible to better help chances of marriage I do not seek, as though there are not women in the Bible who served whilst single, as though the elect Lady in 2 John, didn’t run a household with children seemingly without a husband.” That the church is complicit in pushing the narrative that the sum of a woman is marriage and motherhood is undeniable.
The number of services aimed at searching singles outweighing any other type of specially curated service is alarming to 26, who confessed to having to reduce her church attendance to get some peace. For 26, the unrelenting advances of men became too much of a problem, especially those who upon discovery of her lack of desire to get married, took her on as a challenge: “I could no longer go to church without someone introducing himself or being introduced to me by a church member. The Pastor and leadership team often call me for a chat that very quickly veers off into a conversation about my stance on not wanting to get married. In many ways I know this is my mother’s doing but are they sheep? Do they have to follow her voice?”
This mindset of asexuality and even homosexuality in women as curable issues has unfortunately led to many instances of sexual assault on women – a conversation
that we, as a nation, need to have.
Recently turned 30 year old, doctoral student is in something of a different situation, as she wants love and partnership without the confines of the marital institution. She says: “I love the idea of love and partnership but the whole institution still irks me and I don’t think our generation is really built for the conversation that long lasting marriage requires.” I wanted to disagree with the second part of her statement but a saunter into the comment sections about relationships on “Nigerian Twitter,” showed me how easily miscommunication happens. However, I remain hopeful that twitter conversations are nothing more than false bravado by a small number of the population but there is no data to backup my idealist belief.
30 year old’s dream of building a safe community for Nigerian women that allows them freedom of expression, mobility and finances pushes her academic pursuits. Pursuits which have caused her family to question her eligibility to attract a man, after all, “no man wants an over-educated woman.” But with an undergraduate degree, two Master’s degrees and a doctorate on the way, she is uncompromising in her personal pursuits for the possibility of a man.
Knowing concretely what is wanted from life does not mean that the women I conversed with and women across Nigeria are not bothered by pressure to conform
to idealised femalehood. The bother stems from having to repeatedly plead a case on an issue that bothers everyone but yourself. The reality is no matter how solid and confident women remain in their choices to walk away from traditional expectations, there is still a stigma
society places on them that prevents open conversations about “extended singleness” as a normative, possible. To tackle this issue, there needs to be a dismantling of
the strict linear perceptions had on the way life is to be experienced. The micro-management of identity needs to be tackled, the ‘how’ is a path I cannot solely dictate.