In Nigeria, marriage is held in high esteem and a premium is attached to anything marriage-related.
A good marriage might ordinarily be an achievement, but the African society adds extra premium of importance to it. For this reason, when a man hits north of 30, the pressure heightens as the patriarchal world now wants him to be ‘responsible,’ after allowing him to sow his wild oats.
For women, it is worse. Society already holds women to a higher moral, and emotional standard that men are mostly not held to. The standards of piety, home-making and ‘responsibility’ never stops for women, but it gets heightened by the demand of marriage. Society even adds the unwarranted layer of, ‘you will be someone’s wife one day,’ to make women conform to conservative moral and behavioural standards.
Marriage is good, marriage is bliss and marriage could complete people and give them a required extra dimension of fulfillment, peace and balance they never knew they needed.
However, when women turn 25, that chatter heats up like water at boiling point, spilling over into unhealthy doses of pressure.
Women get pressured into thinking they need to marry and that the purpose of their life is to be someone’s wife. When a Nigerian woman is not married by 30, she gets treated like a leper, regardless of any other achievement she has in her life.
The online community has also made itself a ground to foster that narrative with the ‘Shiloh’ rhetoric which aims to say women will be begging for husbands at the famous annual Winners’ Chapel program.
We do not understand the concept of freewill when a woman genuinely wants to stay single or not just jump into a marriage even when she desires marriage.
Then, society does not end there, it wants to make women conform to the standard of a lack of social and even professional life. Any woman that doesn’t conform is called names and judged in the court of public opinion.
The respect on a married woman
It festers when society respects married women more than unmarried women of the same age. To society, marriage confers a new air of respect..
Any insult to a woman with a giant rock on her ring finger is met with the very outrage-infused query, usually worded as a shout, “Somebody’s wife?!”
On her Twitter account in 2018, co-host of I Said What I Said Podcast, Jola Ayeye narrated how some of her married friends would get off commitments from their families. She tweeted, “My married friends take advantage of Nigeria's foolish patriarchy by using their husbands to lie and get out of family obligations they are uninterested in.”
It’s not just about a respect for a married woman either. The Nigerian society has an unspoken standard for married women that only gets mentioned when a married woman flouts these rules.
Emem Udodiong is an entrepreneur, married for 29 years, “The society (being a man's world) expects women to always be the one at home to raise the kids and take care of the home. My take on this is that the home is the first school and so needs proper planning by both parents.”
The unspoken rules
In order to be seen as befitting of the respect and status conferred on a woman by marriage, society expects Nigerian women to do the following;
1. Unconditionally obey their husbands, even when he stifles them
2. Never pine for divorce because ‘nobody will remarry a divorcee’
3. Not go to clubs, parties and gatherings without their husbands because, ‘it’s a bad look,’ – that also means not drinking alcohol, especially in public.
4. Sacrifice for their children – one of such sacrifices could also be a professional life, especially when the Husband asks for it
5. Dress in only a certain way befitting of a wife and mother. Meaning no ‘revealing’ outfits.
There are many more of these stifling rules. But then, we can trace it back to…
African morality and the influence of colonialism, religion and culture
While Nigerian history is littered with strong women like Madam Efurunoye Tinubu or even Madam Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, they were exceptions to the rule in a male-dominated world.
Before colonialism, African women had power and freewill. Women led wars, women had power, wealth and influence. Through colonialism, Victorian Era principles were instilled in Africans. Prior to their arrival there were strong African women like Queen Amina and so forth.
When colonialism hit, women were still largely seen as the weaker sex that could only handle a few duties, while the man was seen as the breadwinner. Women were required to obey their husbands, sometimes with threats of punishment – not just in Africa, but even across modern-Western cultures, then known as modernist empires, made and broken by war.
Aside from that, women were required to be virgins, men had no equivalent.
The institution of marriage in Nigeria is not only patriarchal but also very limiting. Many women have had dreams they couldn’t go after because of marital duties. Others just wanted fun but fun for a married Nigerian woman isn’t exactly embraced.
There are exceptions though. Udodiong says, “Somehow, I was lucky to always have my younger sisters/my mum or helping hands around so I maintained my tempo and sometimes, my spouse and I slept out.”
Tomisin is a working mum who has been married for two years. She is an employed fun loving mother to an infant boy. She says, “Of course, the society has crazy and unrealistic expectations. All we’re trying to do is break the glass ceiling that limits mums.”
Morality and religion have also played parts in ensuring Nigerian mums are more or less shackled to traditional roles. Christianity and Islam, have projected mothers as the ideal housekeeper of the home whose sole purpose in life is to take care of the home.
Being a deeply religious nation, many Nigerian moms have forced themselves to fit into this box and doing away with their personal ambitions, goals and dreams. These standards can also be said to inform the ingrained practice of treating women like fragile, breakable and overly emotional beings.
During a recent interview with Pulse musician Seun Kuti said, "I am more for things that have equal gender participation, but I want us to remove all the subjugation (religion) that we learnt from Europeans from our society.”
Gradually, we are seeing some Nigerian women not fitting into the mould prescribed for them by religion.