Just before I started writing this I thought of a scene in the Princess Bride. To summarize: A man kills his enemy by acclimating his body to poison by tricking him into drinking a non-lethal amount and increasing the dosage over a long period. That is what many women do with patriarchy. You take a small amount every day, from a very young age. Then one day you can take it and feel no immediate ill effects, then try and get everyone else to drink it because it has ‘worked’ for you.
Soon after I decided to write this I saw someone say that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was not a radical feminist and the only reason Nigerians think she is radical is because relative to them she is. On an absolute scale, many consider her moderate, at best. I am one of those people as I see her views as either common sense or not going far enough. This is not to pick on her, she is important to our advancement. The problem is you. If more women weren’t so invested in their own oppression we wouldn’t need so many Chimamandas and those more (and less) radical than her dragging us to a sensible world.
There are many ways this societal self harm occurs. This time I will focus on marriage. Marriage is objectively bad for women. Married women make less than unmarried women, even when controlling for other factors. While married men make a lot more. The unspoken assumptions which proxies this are: men are the primary breadwinners of their homes and need every dime, while women’s salaries are ‘supplemental’ and thus dispensable (if married), or must be moderated on her behalf so she doesn’t drive away suitors (if unmarried). All this on the premise of maintaining the status quo and not threatening any mans ‘superior’ status. The woman’s happiness is more indicative of the health of the marriage than the man’s. Consequently two thirds of divorces in the United States are initiated by women. This is despite women taking a larger hit financially relative to their former partners after a divorce. Yet despite this they end up happier and the men less happy than they were when married. Divorced men want to get coupled again while women are significantly more ambivalent, despite societal pressure being greater on them. Divorced women lose weight and get healthier.
Despite my links to peer reviewed studies many women reading this will scoff for various reasons. Least of which is that I’m an unmarried man that exists mostly outside the pressure to get married due to various life circumstances. Despite anecdotal evidence and peer reviewed studies, why are women so invested in this institution that it’s extremely difficult for them to even consider questioning it? A big part of it is social conditioning. From a young age girls are told to do XYZ otherwise they’ll never get married. The implication being that if they don’t behave a certain way they will never be validated in the eyes of their loved ones. Never validated in the eyes of society at large. It is internalized and spreads into every aspect of their lives. Some interrogate and analyze it, making their own decision whether or not to invest in that thinking. Most do not and see it as stepping stone to adulthood, validation etcetera.
This leads to the equally nefarious second problem. Women ignore all the signs that marriage is bad for them because it gives women social standing. Men too, don’t get me wrong. I already cited married men make more than single men. For women it gives them validation. They aren’t “whole” until marriage (and children). They are treated with less respect, less deference, less cache. They accept, or don’t care, that this life they’re aspiring to is only accommodated by the presence of a man. That they aren’t actually respected as a woman, only as a man’s woman. That’s the individual fear of divorce. It’s not that she’s single and alone. It’s that she won’t be respected by society because she’s not paired with a man. More than that, she’s been rejected by one (even if she is the one that initiated the divorce).
Then there is the third prong of the pitchfork. Nigerians have so absorbed the westerners culture that we’ve convinced ourselves that Christianity (and Islam) is our cultural legacy. Marriage in the Abrahamic religions preaches that women are made from men, and has women to submit to men. This is drilled in our heads from infancy. From my admittedly male perspective, it comes off as women in those religious texts being subordinate to men. Most men definitely behave that way and because the texts tell them to; women do too. However, our culture is not those books. We’ve lost ours for the most part. Igbo women pre-colonial times were generally more equal to men in inheritance and marriage matters. To the point of having same-sex marriages of convenience (and sexually too, though that’s for another time if she lets me write again). Yoruba women had governmental roles. I’m being reductive, yes. At the same time this subordinate role we tell ourselves is our religious mores is ridiculously convenient for men.
The societal fear mongering of divorce is because if a divorced woman does well without her former partner, other women might want to get divorced. They might do well too, since the marriage was literally hurting their financial and health prospects. If this happens the entire world view these women had invested in the institution of marriage comes crumbling down. Women are (statistically) unhappy in their marriage, their mother was, their sisters, aunts, friends all in regular marriages are too. The problem is that regular marriages are bad for women. Yet they tell their daughters to behave properly or they’ll be single. Or that feminism is bad because it makes women…(any multitude of ridiculous things that are said). They pressure their single friends to date, harangue their nieces. This spreads to pressuring men. Leading to men and women unsuited for each other long term to be together indefinitely.
Men are also unhappy in marriage, but marriage works out better for the man overall. The institution involves having a wife doing the cooking, cleaning, having sex on demand, dealing with domestic staff, hosting and so on. While he just has to go to work, come home and eat meat. Maybe even play with his children if he deems it fit. Even though he’s not fulfilled in the relationship, he has what everyone says he should without much effort, fantastic. The wife on the other hand just trudges along taking care of the children and her husband for no thanks. Everyone tells her this is how its supposed to be. She tells herself this is how it’s supposed to be. She tells everyone this is how it’s supposed to be. The marriage narrative has her so self-unaware of her misery, lack of social life, lack of sleep, and her career and health are damaged on the altar of “being married”. At least at the market they attend to you before the single ladies.
The first step to dismantling patriarchy is men doing their part. We created it after all. The second step is women deconstructing why they are so invested in the very structures made to keep them subjugated.