Thursday, June 9, 2011

This is Oyibo Land - Where being single isnt a stigma

We were having a meeting in Hannah’s room the other day.
I notice Hannah has a new ring on her finger (I remember her talking about a relationship anniversary last week. So I ask ‘new ring?’, and she says yes, boyfriend just proposed to her. While I was drooling over her be-ringed finger(a gendered response), Rhoda at the other end of the table after congratulating her announces matter of factly ‘Hmm, I am not planning on marriage in the next 5 years’. She says this is so firmly and confidently that I don’t doubt her. And me, Nigerian girl that is fasting, praying, kneeling by my bedside every night crying, 'Lord, don't forget me’ I'm a bit shocked. I want to ask ‘why’ but I guess the question should be ‘why not’.
Welcome to Oyiboland where people do not define themselves nor are they defined by a wedding band or their fertility.

Scene 2 – This was at Loh’s birthday party that I went to back in March. Her British brother after surveying the messy room of kids said aloud, ‘I don’t think I am going to have kids’. Lawdy, the Nigerian ladies nearly lynched him. ‘Are you not a Nigerian?’ ‘Our brother has gone mad’, ‘It seems you are dating an Oyibo woman, if not where would you get such a hackneyed idea from’. When I rushed to his defence, a pointed glance at my unringed finger by one of the ladies made me thread softly…..very softly. See intimidation! Lol.

Scene 3 – I met an older course mate of mine recently on a train. We chose to sit together and an interesting conversation ensued, about hereditary diseases, children, adoption (he told me he was adopted). Somehow the question got around kids and the high cost of education, and he said how that wasn’t a worry since he and his wife of 15 yrs didn’t have kids. I asked why and he said they weren't interested.

Scene 4 - I attended a Church spring cleaning session last month. Partnering with me to polish the brass was a sprightly cheerful lady called Rosaline. During our conversation I got to find out she was 79. She didn’t look a day over 65. But more than that my nosey parker -“Nigerian assuming that every adult female should be married with 20 grandkids especially at her age”-self asked her about her husband. She chuckled and answered ‘Oh I never got round to marrying’. End of story. As for me, I furiously polished the candle stick in my hand blushing with embarrassment. Truth be told, it is probably harder to find a ‘single woman in her 60s’ in Nigeria than to find a needle in the haystack.

Don’t get me wrong, there are millions of women in the west who want the whole marriage enchilada too. They are depressed about their single status. About not being married. But, the huge difference is that society is not adding to your headache. Their marital status isn’t stopping them from getting jobs, attaining the pinnacle of their career, attaining political significance, becoming role models of the society. They are not being singled out for prayers at wedding receptions, in churches, single summits are not being held for them. They are not being asked questions like ‘How is your husband?’ (for the young woman who looks old enough to be married), Or ‘How are the children?’. Which leads to embarrassed answers of “I am not married” or ‘I don’t have children’ which then leads to prayers and/or criticism.
A fallout from that is that Nigerian women hide their ages unlike their western counterparts. If your age is public knowledge, it leaves you open for censure. The day you say ‘Nigerian men are unromantic’, someone will snidely remind you of your ‘advanced age’. (See how Genevieve Nnaji’s comment about ‘wanting a man with a personality of Johnny Depp was received).

Western culture extols individual choice above all, when you marry, who you marry is a personal choice.
As an avid reader of historical romances based in Western Society, I realize that it wasn’t always like this. Women had Best Before dates for marriage too.  Remember those stories of aristocratic Britain where the debutantes (16 -18years) were presented at court at the start of the social season? The sole purpose of course, was to launch them into society so they can be noticed by eligible bachelors ;). If after 2 seasons you haven’t been married off, you are dubbed an old maid and hidden at home (old maid is prolly 20 years of age). Queen Elizabeth abolished the ceremony in 1958...Go Lizzy Go! Guess she was a feminist in her own way?

Since I‘ve been here, I haven’t thought of marriage as much as I did back in Nigeria. Why? Cause nobody asks me those stigmatizing questions above. Nobody cares :))

Just saying…..

31 comments:

  1. Ginger ooo when are u gonna guest blog for me?!! hian! Hian! *long nollywood hiss* :P
    It's so annoying how nigerian society places the huge burden of getting married on a woman! its almost like single ladies are somewhat lesser than their married counterparts. that's why there are so many women in abusive or bad marriages in Naij at the moment. abeg, i like how they dnt make marriage a huge deal in the west.

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  2. You are so right. We don't have to deal with the pressure girls in Nigeria have to deal with. Although, if i'm totally honest, if you are part of the Nigerian community no matter where you are, you will be pressured by well meaning Aunties.

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  3. Wow and I thot the guy married for 15yrs with no kids was weird, apparently the woman of 79 is even more shocking to me!

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  4. Ginger... I couldn't help but crack up real loud when you said... "And me, Nigerian girl that is fasting, praying, kneeling by my bedside every night crying, 'Lord, don't forget me’ I'm a bit shocked"

    The thing is getting married and having kids where we come from is serious business o. If you are not when you are deemed to, you are in trouble with the community. Indeed, people here in the western world don't care...

    - LDP

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  5. Ginger, thanks for calling attention to this issue. When I lived abroad I didn't worry, now I am looking over my shoulder and trying to keep my suitors interested. I have been the butt of jokes of my family members about my 'refusal' to get married as they claim. Anyway, my consolation is that it will get better.

    All in all you are a fantastic blogger jare :-)

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  6. Loved it. When i was in my early twenties, i was plump. I remember people asking me 'How are the kids?' I didn't wear makeup then and carried myself like an older person (yup). i got so tired of telling them i wasnt married that i began to say, 'Oh, they are good and so is their father'.
    The pressure in our society is fierce. Girls do the unthinkable to keep men now. Once you are 25, everybody is asking when you would get married and saying 'Time is going o' Ladies go to prayer houses not to seek for a carreer boost or long life but for a husband. Any husband. Some of them get men that don't care about them, cheat on them, who doesnt even provide for them. Yet they breed kids that they cant really take care of on their own. Thats what the society wants to see. A married woman. They say, it makes u responsible.
    Marriage is a good thing but people should allow God to have His way in their lives. Young women should pray and just continue with their lives and not let the pressure get to them. it aint easy but hey, you have to really try.
    Gings dear, I am sorry about the 'looonnng thing' Lolz

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  7. "...marital status isn’t stopping them from....attaining the pinnacle of their career,....becoming role models of the society." a life of essence is not dictated by marital (or kids-bearing) status.

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  8. LOL @'......one of the ladies made me thread softly…..very softly. See intimidation!'

    As usual, an insightful post.

    Yes, marriage is not the ultimate prize for ladies over here. Even when they do marry, divorce is an easy option.

    I guess it's because the society is set up in such a way that a single woman can survive independently. Again, the existence of old people's homes and pension plans means people do not need their kids when they grow old.

    Great post

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  9. I ....LOVE...this..post!

    I wonder when we'll get to a place in this country where marriage isn't seen as the beginning and end of a woman's life. I find it highly irritating. Someone told me recently that I was 'ripe' for marriage. Ripe! Like I'm a fruit or some thing. *slow long hiss*

    Good one Ginger.

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  10. @Kitkat: now that we have resolved the problem oya, come and take your hiss back! and give me a nollywood kiss instead :). you are right about girls egtting into basd marriges just to satisfy society.

    @Sting - tell me about it. I have made friends with a few and the search for a partner for me is already on. smh

    Hi Gee and Welcome. They've shocked the weirdness factor outta me lol. The thing is I try not to ask anymore.

    @Le Professeur - wetin I go do? No be to pray? Serious business you say, its high time we change that line of business. Marriage is not what will make Nigeria better.

    Thank you Jyoti!

    @Mamuje - blushing. Thank you Luv. lol@looking over your shoulder and trying to keep suitors interested. As if its not bad enough, that one has to bear the emotional baggage of broken relationships, it is made worse by family members blaming you for letting 'the catch' slip away. I think 'It' getting better has to start with YOU/US.

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  11. LilyJ- I am laughing but I can imagine your pain at the questions. Luckily I rarely get asked cause I don't look plump and fertile :).
    Marriage makes you responsible - hmmmmm. I guess they mean between housekeeping and minding a husband and kids, you wont have time to delve into questionable activities. So, a single girl, who because of her status is able to run a business contributing to the lives of thousands of people isn't responsible? Whacked I tell you.
    Darling you are welcome to write an epistle. I will always read :).

    @Rethots - Its been a while!! Missed you. Marital status doesn't mean a life fulfilled.

    @NIL - Thank you. You make a valid point, about the old age benefit pension which ensures that one can age gracefully even if alone. But, I also think ladies need to get themselves out of that marriage trap and become more strategic with their finances at least in our developing world. Buy that property, Invest, buy that car, travel, do what makes you happy rather than spend all your money on asoebi or on one underachieving boyfriend just to get him to marry you.

    @Mimi B - LWKMD. You be ripe paw paw na. Never you mind them, norrin do you! We'll get there, but only when we celebrate ourselves. Thank you dear.

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  12. My dear, that's Naija for you o! And like someone said, whether you're in Naija or abroad, once you're in a nigerian community, they'll look at you that way.
    As far as I'm concerned, marriage is the not the 'be-all' and 'end-all'. We are made for God, to serve Him and love Him. If He calls you to do that in marriage, well and good. You can still serve your God as a single woman. I wish the Nigerian society could understand that and let women be.
    Great post, gal!

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  13. lol @ "I furiously polished the candle stick in my hand blushing with embarrassment"...

    You are quite right about the not so subtle differences in the Nigerian/British society...there's certainly no pressure on older single ladies or married women without children here in the UK...everybody is allowed to be themselves and not be defined by their marital status or how many children they have.

    Good one Ginger...this post really made me see your funny side.

    Have a lovely weekend.

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  14. Mehn!! I think i need to relocate lol!!! But the Nigerian community will intimidate you into marrying still oh lol. But this is a difference i never really thought of. Nice one babe!

    Adiya
    http://thecornershopng.blogspot.com

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  15. Kitkat said it all. I really don't get why being single at a certain age is a stigma in Africa especially Nigeria. I am in my mid-twenties and am not in a serious relationship yet.
    I don't like kids as well, Geez they are so annoying!
    Nice post Ginger.

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  16. Hahahaha! you whacked the nail right on the head. I commend single ladies above 35-40 who are living in Naija and putting up with all that stigma of mature spinsterhood. I say, marriage is not by force for everyone. It doesn't necessarily have to be the thing you do when you're done school/work. People need to take life one day at a time, do what's best for you - not what society is trying to force down your throat, literally!

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  17. oh Lordy girl. you get me started on this, I could blog / comment till tomorrow. I am with you though. I have stopped calling, emailing or even talking to family / friends in NIgeria, becuz the pressure and the tension 4rm the marriage issue don become 'intimidatin'!

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  18. Its true, the only person that bothers me about marriage and children is my mum back in Nigeria. No one here is the least interested...except fellow Nigerians...and this is why I try to avoid Nigerian gathering jor!

    Thanks for sharing another excellent piece. You see, unlike in Nigeria, women are respected over here because they fought for it. :)

    Mena

    http://efemenaoreoluwa.blogspot.com/2011/06/scandal-in-blogsville-treating-latest.html

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  19. Well, I remember I was nearly lynched by this blogger sometime in Fall 2010 somewhere in South-West England for taking a position similar to this one. Now that experience has once again proven a great teacher, I want my apology letter hand-written, sprayed with the choicest perfume and lip-stamped :D

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  20. @Anyaposh - you got it about the stress older single girls go through in Nigeria. Its heartbreaking.

    @Anonymous - 'Thank you Teacher Experience'!! lol. I am surprised that you say my opinion has changed...how pls? I haven't said I don't want marriage. Just happy that it is not on my front burner anymore :)

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  21. Is your point bordering on not getting married or not having kids?I remember you mustn't get married to raise kids.
    Now one question for you :Have u really turned down a marriage proposal for the reason of not wanting to get married or are u taking this position cos no proposals are coming ,are u resigning to fate?

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  22. I agree, one mustn't be married to have kids and it seems the Western culture respect those choices like I pointed out.

    The 'only position' I have taken is 'Nigerian society should stop stigmatising people (both men and women) based on their marital or fertility status. And No, I am not taking this position cause I am NOT engaged/married or cause I am anti-marriage.

    Lastly, marriage happens when opportunity meets preparedness isn't it? If you call it fate so be it.

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  23. An embarrassing thing happened in my office, a woman who is very accomplished and dedicated to her job, was speaking to a man and telling him how busy she's been and how she's been closing really late from work and the man, horrified, asks "well, who has been taking care of your kids" and she said she didn't have kids and you could hear a pin drop. It was like her other achievements didn't matter because of that one thing. It was embarrassing for both parties involved and it was uncomfortable for those of us that witnessed it. I just think people need to mind their business. I avoid asking people those questions just so I don't hit a nerve. It is essential for everyone to follow suit. This society just renders you inadequate if you've attained a "certain age" and you don't have kids or are not married. And I wonder who even set this standard?

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  24. A good number of my friends have never married. And a lot of my friends who are married are childless. There really isn't a stigma about it in America. The problem is that in societies where marriage is "expected", it takes away from a person's right to decide for themselves. My unmarried friends have had lovers, but not husbands or wives. They seem fine with it and why shouldn't they be?

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  25. Hmmm...I agree with the general sentiment that it doesn't matter "as much". But trust, it does matter. It just may happen a little bit later and may not be asked as often and as loudly as it in Nigeria.

    It's all good when you and your girlfriends are getting your advanced degrees, earning accolades at work, driving nice cars and having a fabulous time dating. But once late, late 20's, early 30s hit, it's not so cool anymore. Your friends start to get married and have children and your friendship changes.

    Your family members start to ask when are you getting married, people start to ask you when you are going to have children. Old ladies at church ask you when you are settling down. Your friends stop asking you to function. You start to worry about your eggs.

    There is definitely a stigma to being a single black woman in the US. You fall into the group of not being attractive enough, nice enough, slim enough to get a man. So you get used to it, and then you accept it and then when people ask you, you say, "oh, i never wanted to get married."

    Of course, this isn't everyone's story. The stigma is there. It just isn't expressed in the same way as here.

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  26. Bia Ginger, what have you been drinking. All these your words of wisdom sef na wah oh. You are all growed up!!!

    Anyhue, the last time I casually mentioned that Turtle and I thought we were too old to have kids - not that we did not want them - my sister started praying for me immediately. LOL.

    It really does not bother me at all anymore. Before I got engaged, years ago, I would have bouts of depression because I was alone, but I grew out of that when I realized my life was zipping by and I was not living it. I just stopped caring about what other people thought and made my own priorities.

    Thank goodness for that.

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  27. Even in oyinbo land you'll still be reminded-naija gatherings or in the church!! *sigh* at this my young age my mum is already somehow hinting me about my future.i'm taking medicine so you know its like a long number of years so at times when we are talking she would say "you know you can get married in medical school because at least you have B.sc already" i just laugh and shake my head.God save us..lol

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  28. ...Better late than never...

    You always crack me up with your posts and I totally agree that this stigmatization must stop. Why is it that our society sees marriage as a trophy or the next step after school? People are so under pressure that they marry for all the wrong reasons.

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  29. This post is one of the numerous reasons I love blogspot. totally following :)

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