I’m not saying that every married woman is unhappy. I AM saying that marriage was not created to benefit women.
Let’s review the facts. The entire institution of marriage is based on the religious and Western idea that women are property of men. Look at European royal families. Princesses were married off to men to form alliances between states and kings, whilst being precluded from any ascension to Head of State. Hence, the women’s purpose in marriage was to connect the men in their lives by bearing boys to be raised as future kings/princes, and bearing girls to be princesses used for further alliances between said men. Wealthy families have done similar and the industrial revolution, and the gilded age made it worse. Unfortunately, little progress has since been made to reduce the chattel-like status of women transferred from ownership by their fathers, to ownership by their husbands. At my very own wedding, the priest explained the concept of “wives as envelopes”; i.e. vessels with no intrinsic value themselves, except the protection and conveyance of things of value from one person to another. Talk about timing. I really should have left at that point.
Do your research and you will see that marriage as we know it, was originally created so men could make claims on women’s bodies and their offspring in what was already (sensibly) a matrilineal society. The most specious evidence of this ownership (without being scholarly) is that wives take their husband’s surname and immediately and completely discard theirs. Most children born outside of Kenyan, Ugandan and Portuguese naming conventions (even in unmarried couplings) also take the name of their father. Reinforcing again that the woman and thus all her offspring, are deemed property of the man. The majority of people think it is good for women to change their names, and half in America think it should be made a legal requirement, citing that women must do so to prioritize their marriage and their family ahead of themselves. This is just one of the many ways women are expected to die to self as the most critical means to preserving their marriage. And if the marriage doesn’t work, they didn’t ‘die’ enough. Through marriage, society has whitewashed the ownership of women, and put the burden of acceptance of such ownership on the women. Many West African societies were mostly patriarchal long before colonialism. However, the introduction of Christianity, Islam and imperialism starting in the 15th century informed these views on marriage tremendously.
Why do women accept this? Yes, marriage offers some protections to women, and plenty for the offspring. Except, if women were treated as equal human beings in other areas of life then they would not need/seek the protection of marriage. Thus, marriage as a tool for protection is a convenient way to bypass real societal change (where women are given the equal access to rights and privileges due to ALL human beings) while also ensuring nothing changes. There is even the devious propagation that women, (who by the way, have been raised to covet marriage and thus view it as the most important hallmark of the beginning of their lives), actually WANT to be owned. Sure. It’s like being born into an English speaking family, raised to speak English, and then being told that you speak English because it’s what you always wanted. Today, people try to rationalize the rising number of divorces by saying that the institution of marriage is broken. I hesitate to use the word broken because the institution functions exactly as intended (see paragraphs 3 and 4 above). We use similar words to reflect on evils like slavery from the 1600s.
I cannot find data on divorce in Nigeria due to the stigma attached and the lack of a sample size, though separations increased by about 14% in 2018. However the marriage stories are tragically always the same. Women in marriages are usually left in financially precarious positions due to decisions made that prioritize her husbands financial stability over hers. Thus, she is left open to financial abuse. Which is usually better than getting divorced, a regularly catastrophic situation. All of this is exacerbated by the marriage penalty and the children penalty women face. Case and point, this recent twitter thread reflecting real Nigerian men’s reflexive sentiments about women given opportunities for advancement. Meanwhile men being married and having children is a boon to their careers. The idea being that 1. The men must be ‘responsible’ since he is supposedly financially providing for someone else and 2. The women will make the mens lives stable and the allow them dedicate more time to work.
With all this evidence, even the ‘protections’ given by marriage for women are tenuous at best. Yet it is so entrenched in our governments and religious tenets that the vast majority of people see it as a signifier of respectability and vital to a full life. Meanwhile, for half the population it is a generational curse.
The solution is a revolution that overthrows both patriarchy and capitalism. But most people including women are satisfied, (happy even) with the status quo. Those that aren’t happy, are not prepared to go down that road to liberty (myself included).
Photocredit: Introverted Black Girl podcast