“No woman is woman enough to make you leave your home.”
While others elect to see Toke Makinwa’s On Becoming clouded by the controversial personality of the author, this article seeks to appraise it as a work of literature embodying social consciousness; the reality of what African women go through in marriages with unfaithful partners.
Like books written by most female African authors, its main focus is on marriage, family and relationship which is usually the forte of a typical African woman.
The narrator, Toke Makinwa is a Nigerian from Ondo State and a Christian background. Her traditional Yoruba culture like most African cultures is patriarchal and upholds the importance of the family with the mantle of leadership falling on the man.
Unlike some other Nigerian families that relegate women to the background, in the Makinwa family this is not so as the narrator’s fondest memories of her mother is as an educated, enterprising and valid contributor to the home. Thus the narrator grows up with a consciousness of not limiting the scope of the roles she can play in the society to only a wife, mother and daughter but as a career woman with a job that contributes financially to the family and society at large. The narrator goes as far as to encourage economic independence in women, according to her;
I was thankful for financial freedom, and I wondered about the millions of women out there who didn’t have the choice of moving on if they were in bad or unhealthy marriages…To stay with someone who abuses you emotionally or otherwise because you have nowhere to go must be another level of torture. Women need to begin to work more, save more… (p. 102)
In the African setting, the family is regarded as the bedrock of society. This is because the value system of the society is handed down and preserved through marriage and family. This is why society sees marriage as the most important achievement of a woman. It doesn’t matter if she’s rich and famous, if she’s unable to attract a man enough to have him marry her, then her achievements are useless.
In On Becoming, not only is the African woman expected to get married but she is expected to stay married irrespective of whatever happens. According to Big Mummy;
…most men had vices that their wives had to deal with. It could be anything from drunkenness to mismanaging money, womanizing or working too much and neglecting his duties as husband and father. (p. 100)
So despite the narrator’s “success” as a wife tolerating her husband’s excesses, she is finally confronted with his child outside wedlock but finds it difficult to let go because of the shame associated with being seen as a failure at marriage;
The shame of failing at marriage brought what I imagine to be a rare form of pain. First, you have to deal with the shame that your lover exposed your life to someone else. Then there is the fact that you have failed at an institution that has existed since forever. Your beauty, degrees, job and everything else don’t earn you any points in this situation. (p. 83)
Also as “the prevalent African mindset that tells a woman not to give room for another woman” (p. 82) is a real issue;
My former landlord and his wife also called for an ‘intervention’. They found out I moved out and so they reached out to me. We met, the husband with Maje and the wife with me. She said to me, “No woman is woman enough to make you leave your home.”
For the narrator, self awareness is the key to the objective viewing of her choices which inevitably leads to her social and emotional development and freedom from a cheating husband. Thus, she is armed with an education, economic independence and qualities such as courage and persistence which opens an avenue for freer expression of self and enables her take charge of her life and destiny.
Her choice of getting a divorce goes against the grain of the African society and allows the other woman win. But for the narrator, it is a choice of being true to herself which springs from an awareness of who she is and what she wants to achieve in life without the undue influence from others.
I struggled for a long time...Was I a weakling for moving out of my home? Maybe, but it felt necessary. It was clear that if I didn’t change the pattern that had me running in circles, I would be stuck on the rollercoaster for a very long time…I chose to build myself up again and take it one a day at a time.
I started to tell myself that I wouldn’t accept blame that wasn’t mine. I couldn’t be blamed for someone else’s choices, but I was responsible for my reactions. So I started to work on those reactions, telling myself that I deserved to be treated right…It was only then that smiles, hugs or stares from strangers stopped bothering me so much. There was no reason for me to feel ashamed. (p. 101)
Thus, through self-consciousness, the narrator is able to assert herself and get out of a toxic marriage. The diction of the book is simple, the author elects to use language which can be understood by the majority of the audience she hopes to reach.
This audience being other women who are suffering states worse than hers in their marriage or relationship. The message is simple and clear, ‘you don’t have to stay on in a bad relationship for fear of what people will say or think.’
Kelly Chikezie is a writer and literary critic. You can follow her on Wattpad @bohemian_skarlett to read her latest story ‘Hearts In Ashes’. To contact, send a mail to email@example.com or follow on IG: @bohemian_skarlett