Women, Men and Marriage

How Women Are Taught to Chase after Men and Marriage

“If any female feels she needs anything beyond herself to legitimate and validate her existence, she is already giving away her power to be self-defining, her agency.”

-bell hooks

Interesting, similar events have been taking place in two of my favourite local dramas, Uzalo and Greed and Desire that got me thinking. In them, we have women who had been in dating relationships with these men and fell pregnant during the relationship. The guys promise and see to it that they marry their girlfriends “to do right by them and their families” but before the lobola negotiations the women miscarry. The women become gripped by fear and decide to withhold the tragic information from their soon to be husbands because “if he finds out I’m no longer pregnant he won’t marry me anymore”. So they fake their pregnancies and adopt children masking them as their own. The men marry them with impressions that the women are carrying their babies only eventually to find out that it is not so as their marriages progress.

In as much I don’t condone what these female characters had done (lying is just a huge deal breaker for me), I found my heart bleeding for them. I do not entirely fault them with the way they handled their miscarriages. Because I believe that as a society we have created this symptom that is only the surface of the greater problem.

We have created such unlevel playing fields between relationships amongst heterosexual men and women. Women will pull all the strings that they can to get a man to give her a marriage proposal. As women, we will fight, sweat and even act out of character just to obtain the last name of the men we love; because it is women’s ears that marriage has been preached to louder than it has been to the ears of men.

A woman will give, often without hesitation, a man many chances than he would ever give to her. Because it is women who constantly scurry at the feet of men in eager desperation, slaves to our ambitions to marriage. And it is the man we must submit to for he has everything that the woman has been taught to achingly long for- marriage. And the superiority of men in relationships is exacerbated by the reality that it is them who decide if the dating relationship will move up into marriage or not.

Marriage is not an achievement by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Source: Adichie’s Powerful Essay on Raising a Feminist Daughter from Vagabomb

So it is us women who will put up performances of our lives, in hopes to be picked for the greatly envied and endeared position of “wifey”. Articles and books containing many rules, tips and tricks on “How to Get My Boyfriend to Propose to Me Sooner” flood the internet and bookstores. And boy do we women pull some gymnast stretches to get that ring on our fingers.

And what about the men?

Unfortunately, a great disparity persists in the relationships between heterosexual men and women. Women are conditioned to esteem marriage much highly than men. I read the following extract on Vagabomb by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and she articulates this sentiment succinctly,

“We condition girls to aspire to marriage and we do not condition boys to aspire to marriage, and so there is already a terrible imbalance at the start. The girls will grow up to be women obsessed with marriage. The boys will grow up to be men who are not obsessed with marriage. The women marry those men. The relationship is automatically uneven because the institution matters more to one than the other. Is it any wonder that, in so many marriages, women sacrifice more, at a loss to themselves, because they have to constantly maintain an uneven exchange?”

Marriage for men is an afterthought, something they’ll consider once they are done “being boys” and fooling around. But for women, marriage is, unfortunately, something that serves as a testament to our worth. We are taught to view marriage as a reward for being raised as good and noble women, worthy to be bestowed the title of wife. Why do you think society gives so much respect to a woman who is married over her unmarried counterpart? Let’s think about that for a moment.

Funnily enough, as I was writing this post, a friend told me about a woman’s seminar centred on…guess what? Yep. Centred on how women can get a man hooked on them. And this in itself highlights the rhetoric that we have shamelessly propagated as a society. The idea being that if a man is not committing, then there’s certainly something the woman is not doing right and needs to do it ASAP. In hopes to change the “ball game” of her relationship. As women, we have spent so much time and energy performing our lives out to coerce commitment out of men who probably do not even want to commit, to begin with. We bow down before men who will never even bend down for us. And it breaks my heart how this whole set up has made us act foolishly.

I remember how I would beam with so much pride and admiration for myself whenever a guy I’d be in a relationship with would remark on how “marriage material” I am. Unaware, preying on my simple idea that my marriageability serves as an achievement for a woman. But funny how the whole notion of marriage material is only applicable to women. Men never have to fight to earn this title because it just does not apply to them, because it is not men who ever have to prove their marriageability. It is women; it is always us who have to demonstrate that we are worthy to be made queens in the man’s kingdom. And herein lies the unequal relationship power dynamics between men and women.

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5 thoughts on “How Women Are Taught to Chase after Men and Marriage

  1. Good morning Katz

    Great post there really enjoyed it and as you said we men weren’t prepared for marriage in the beginning once we have a good job a house and a vehicle then comes that aunt that will say now my son you missing a wife to turn the house into a home.

    I for one grow up whereby my dad would say “ntwana yaka nyala o nyele” which he further said get married and have unnecessary problems. To me i saw marriage as a curse because of the words saud to me by him. I never wanted to get married so that i won’t be the one living with someone for the rest of my life. Growing up you get to hear this stories of how a couple has been married for over 40 years and you begin to ask yourself that how come young couple today will only go till 10 years or less being married then and have people who have beem together for so long. Now that you have highlighted that for women marriage is perceived as an achievement to be recognised as someone who grew up in well respected family. And another thing for the young couple is that we hurry into marriage and have all those people gather to witness the love that you guys share bit my question is “do they know each other very well” have they actually been on each other nerves to trigger the other part that most people hide. The answer is “NO” hence relationship don’t last. But today i take something that will be a lesson for me and continue to seek the no in my questions to be a yes so that on the day i walk down the aisle and actually say “I DO” i should mean it for the next 80 years of my life

    Thank you once again for opening that eye that was closed by my dad…..

  2. Hi Katz

    Really interesting read. We are definitely brought up believing that marriage is an achievement that you get if you “behave well” growing up. Meaning, especially for us christian women, that you must know how to do house chores, how to be a godly woman and to also “keep yourself” for marriage whereas the christian men never have to keep themselves for marriage (well at least not pressurised as much as women). And whatever the history of the man and however way he treats you, you are supposed to be glad that he married you and “o mamelle jwalo ka mosadi.” As a result women often stay in abusive and loveless marriages because they have to do everything in their power to keep this reward of marriage and make it work. We would rather marry him and try to change him than to stand “ho bitswa lefetwa,” meaning we have failed as women because we failed to get any man to marry us.

    1. Hey Mpho!

      What you have highlighted is very important and thank you for bringing it up.

      Being a woman is quite tough because many of the expectations that are placed on us with regards to relationships are hardly ever placed on men. Society is constantly preaching to us about how to be good women and good wives, rarely are men defined by their relations to women. And I hope that our society will become more egalitarian, placing the same and fair expectations on both sexes. I think that’s a very important element in ensuring that relationships between men and women are healthier and more balanced.

  3. I was having the exact same conversation with my uncle a week or two ago. It saddens me that society raises girls to be wives but raises boys to be CEO’s, so whose wife am I being raised to be? After a certain age as women, black people will start labeling you as “lefetwa” if you aren’t married, which is literally saying that you’re passed by. This is how women end up in abusive marriages or with men that don’t care for them, we chase the title of wife to appease society to the detriment of our own well-being and that is problematic. The same thing happened with my sister, she forced her baby daddy to marry her when she got pregnant so that she wouldn’t be a single mother and looked down on by the church and the family and society at large, now she’s a married single mother and my dad is playing the role of father to my nephew, while her husband is a part time dad and it’s sad to see that society pushed her to marry a man she doesn’t love, that doesn’t love her, simply because of a baby. We need to start changing this notion within ourselves, and soon.

    1. Wow, thank you for sharing that Nthabiseng. What you have shared has opened me up even more to the detrimental, ripple effect this whole thing has and yet again it is women who carry the brunt of it all. And I completely agree with your sentiment that this notion needs to be changed, it is something that we need to urgently unlearn as individuals and collectively.

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