“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.”
Interesting and 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 men promise and see to it that they marry their girlfriends, “to do right by them and their families”. However, 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 to eventually find out much later into the marriages that it is not the case.
In as much I don’t condone what the woman characters had done (lying and deception is simply 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 in relationships between 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 more 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 they who decide if the dating relationship will move up into marriage or not.
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 more 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 counterparts? 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: 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.