The burden of life gets heavier as you get older, and as a woman, I can boldly say it gets even heavier for me. Depending on where you did or are doing your own growing up, the burden also takes a different dimension. Growing up as a Caucasian woman in Europe or America is considerably different from growing up as a Black woman in the same settings.
Stepping it all the way down to my experience, growing up as an indigenous Nigerian woman could and would do things to your mind. Given the deluge of trials we face; the judgments, the expectations and the opinions, most of them so subtly baked into the cake of everyday life that we are barely aware of their impact, it is amazing that we can still walk upright.
We are expected to be long-suffering, not to complain, live right, marry early (or on time, whatever that is), be humble, submit, keep to your place, present your husband with your virginity on the night of your wedding, also should be adept at pleasing him in bed (lest he seeks it elsewhere due to your failure to please him). That is quite a tricky one; arrive as an unspoiled virgin, also well experienced enough to please him maximally.
The list could be quite long. Even when you’ve met all or most of these demands, and you step up to be counted as worthy, you could still be blamed for being in the limelight (remember, stay humble and subtle, so you don’t outshine your husband).
We are expected to be long-suffering, not to complain, live right, marry early (or on time, whatever that is), be humble, submit, keep to your place, present your husband with your virginity on the night of your wedding, also should be adept at pleasing him in bed
By nature, girls start noticing significant changes in their bodies between the ages of 10 and 14. This could be earlier in some cases. While boys are dealing with voice change and early morning wet dreams, girls are grappling with breast development and menstruation. We all know which of these groups of changes could be more dramatic and unsettling. Consider the trap of teenage pregnancy with all of its’ lopsided stigma. Conservative Nigerian parents that give you all the warnings and scolding but never give you the education or awareness to navigate the minefield of teenage sexuality. A Society that willingly forgives or even glorifies male sexual recklessness while stigmatizing the girl for the result of the said recklessness. I can safely estimate that more than 50% of teenage pregnancy and childbirth leads to the teenage mother dropping out of school, while almost 100% of the males involved go on to lead their normal lives like it’s just Tuesday. If the girl is lucky to have a male child, she might get an occasional look in from the family of the father, but if it turns out she had a girl then the abandonment is swift and complete. That in itself is another level of the gender insensitivity in our society.
All the options open to the teenage girl are riddled with stigma and judgment. If she terminates the pregnancy, the churches come for her with judgment and condemnation. If she has the baby and gives it up for adoption, she is condemned for lacking maternal feelings. She might even get in trouble for child trafficking these days. If she keeps the baby, she is often abandoned by her parents to fend for the baby by her unemployed self. Luckily an elderly man (who just lost his elderly wife) might be looking for a companion, and they will live happily ever after.
The underground path to ‘normalcy’ for these girls is when they’re able to detect early enough that they are pregnant, secure a quick and completely clandestine termination of the pregnancy and sneak right back into society with a guilt ridden mind. This guilt lives with them all life long, and is often reopened like a fetid ulcer by preachers every Sunday or thereabouts. This is all assuming that the termination was safe. It often is not. That’s a topic for another day.
Marriage is another huddle. Before, during and after – each period presents a peculiar kind of challenge to the woman. Depending on your level of education, the pressure to get married kicks in at different times. If you’re in the university you would have bought some time for yourself. Once you start nearing final year, the questions start flying from parents, aunts and other ‘concerned’ family and friends. The pressure they put on you somehow finds its way into your relationship (if you have one going on) and you find yourself hanging on every word that remotely sounds like a proposal from your boyfriend. Watching his knee, keenly for any sign of bend. ‘Babe what are we really doing’ becomes a regular opening line of your late evening conversations.
Marriage is another huddle. Before, during and after – each period presents a peculiar kind of challenge to the woman. Depending on your level of education, the pressure to get married kicks in at different times.
Is it not quite odd how your once very close friends start distancing you the moment they get married, or even about to. Some may even have gone to the village to do introduction and other initial rights before you get to know they’re getting married.
You are told to slow down on this your career pursuit so that you don’t scar the men away. We actually heed that. Some of us hold back from buying a car or renting a good comfortable apartment, so we could look humble and available (more like look within reach). Success of the woman is scary to the men. Why are we called the weaker sex again? Just asking for a friend.
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The advent of social media has put a whole new twist to this pain. Couple-goal-picture-perfect scenarios are constantly on display. Everyone is quick to share their best moments. There’s every reason to suspect that this is not their everyday life, but that’s besides the point when it comes to social media lifestyle. Know your selfie angle and use it, that’s the point.
Now come with me, let’s step into a typical Nigerian marriage and see what we would find. We are inundated with responsibilities and expectations. In many instances the man wants to know that you can give him a child before he proceeds with the marriage rights. You know, he doesn’t want to find out after he has paid the bride price, that you are barren. Never mind that it actually takes two to tango. Yet again it is our responsibility to ‘give him a son’ as quickly as possible. This way we can stabilize our stand in his house. Again, never mind the fact that only the man can determine the gender of the baby. Who cares about such scientific trivialities?
Unofficial reports have it that three out of every ten paternity tests done in Nigeria came back indicating a mismatch or false paternity. Nigeria is said to be the country with the second highest number of paternity fraud test results in the world
So what do you do when you’re doing everything right and you can’t get pregnant let alone have a male child for him? Could it be that he is firing blanks? Could it be that his soldiers are not marching? God forbid you suggest this and wound his huge ego.
Now cue in the smart sisters wey sabi. These are the women that understand the intricacies of the situation, know the weight of expectation on their shoulders, understand the untenable nature of a reasonable dialogue. They take it upon themselves to ‘step out’ and do the needful. The man needs a child (preferably male), he also needs his ego intact. No worries. A sharp woman knows exactly how to take care of both demands. The only requirement is her ability to keep a secret, after all, only a woman knows the father of her child. When all is said and done; naming ceremony, child dedication and all, everyone is happy and fulfilled. Only one person bears one extra knot of a lifelong secret in her heart: me, the woman. But hey, don’t cry for me Argentina, the truth is we are built for rough terrains like a Ram truck. Remember, weaker sex and all that. Yeah right.
Our job is to make everyone happy, and we are good at it. This scenario above used to work to point perfection in the days before the advent of visa lottery, family migration and the attendant DNA paternity testing that is now wrecking havoc in families. The results are rolling in, each tale more sordid than the one before it. The wedding rings are flying through the windows in numbers. Per usual, we the women are at the epicenter of this new hurricane. Bring on the blame game.
Unofficial reports have it that three out of every ten paternity tests done in Nigeria came back indicating a mismatch or false paternity. Nigeria is said to be the country with the second highest number of paternity fraud test results in the world (behind only Jamaica). Unflattering as this data is, it should spur us to delve a little deeper into the root causes of the situation.
We are a hyper-religious society, so I’m slow to conclude that a majority of our woman are loose and of low morals. There must be something else, other than the fish, smelling in the kitchen. As often is the case, it’s quite easy to lay the blame solely on us and climb back atop our moral high horses as a society. A more cursory look at the problem might show some other possible contributing factors.
There is the issue of arrested affection. Many of us did not end up in marriage with the ones we truly love, due to tribal, religious and other such sentiments. The society puts such a high importance on marriage and at the same time puts so many obstacles on the path to a fulfilling marriage. He’s not from our tribe, he’s not Catholic, he’s not Christian. Please hurry up and marry, all your mates are married. No, not that one. Geez, it never ends. In the midst of all this cacophony of mind-noise one day you find yourself married to a man you scarcely know, can barely stand; but hey mama and papa are happy, so it must be good. God has done it again!
The mind, as we know, is a stubborn machine. It leads the body where it goes. That’s how we stay married to Ugonna, while carrying Dozie’s child. I’m not excusing it, I’m just explaining it. Male infertility is yet another factor in the paternity drama. As a people we hardly associate those two; male and infertility. No now. We almost think it oxymoronic, but it is really a thing. Our men rarely seek reproductive health services. That’s something we women have to do for both of us (as we do in about 78 other issues), while still bearing the brunt of the blame for childlessness in the marriage.
There’s yet another quite salient factor in play sometimes. Homosexuality. Our society so abhors homosexuality to the point of criminalizing it. The Church also labels it a mortal sin. How else can an innocent gay man live his life in peace than to go ahead and cloak himself with a wife. We the wives need the marriage, remember? He needs the front and the cover we provide, so a perfect arrangement is born. The children that come later are just but a good dressing on a well-baked cake. How and where they came from is besides the point. We take care of stuff, don’t forget. You can thank us later.
I could keep this going for a while, but we get the point already. We have done enough to earn adulation or some accolade (in the voice of Amo’shine), but all we ask for is respect. That you ‘take your feet off our necks’ (in RBG’s voice), it’s starting to hurt much. That you acknowledge us and all we do. That you give us a hand here and there, when and where you can. Trust our judgment and choices. Support our career choices and pursuits. Toast us in our sleek cars, don’t be scared. You can visit me in an Uber and we go out in my Venza, it’s still ok. Let’s define our own ways. Write our own stories as a society. Let’s rethink our old thoughts; we are of age enough to do so.
This is just but the perspective of an informed male observer. It pales in comparison to the real-life experience of real women. Who feels it knows it better.
Chukwuocha is a freelance writer