A young female is unsuccessful without a man in Nigeria?

"...I am infuriated by the assumption that to be youngish and female means you are unable to earn your own living without a man" - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A humid night two years ago, sitting beside a male friend in his car, and I roll down my window to tip a young man, one of the thousands of unemployed young men in Lagos who hang around, humorous and resourceful, and help you park your car with the expectation of a tip. I brought the money from my bag. He took it with a grateful smile. Then he looked at my friend and said, “Thank you, sir!”

The Nigerian writer, 33, won major literary awards in 2005 and 2007

This is what it is to be youngish (early thirties) and female in urban Nigeria. You are driving and a policeman stops you and either he is leering and saying “fine aunty, I will marry you,” or he is sneering, with a taunt in his demeanour and the question so heavy in the air that it need not be asked: “which man bought this car for you and what did you have to do to get him to?” You are reduced to two options; to play angry and tough and to thereby offend his masculinity and have him keep you parked by the roadside, demanding document after document. Or to play the Young Simpering Female and massage his masculinity, a masculinity already fragile from poor pay and various other indignities of the Nigerian state. I am infuriated by these options. I am infuriated by the assumption that to be youngish and female means you are unable to earn your own living without a man. And yet. Sometimes I have taken on the simpering and smiling, because I am late or I am hot or I am simply not dedicated enough to my feminist principle.

I have a friend who is, on the surface, a cliché. An aspirational cliché. She has a beautiful face, two degrees from an American Ivy League college, a handsome husband with a similar educational pedigree and two children who started to read at the age of two; she is always at the top of Nigerian women achievers lists in magazines; has worked, in the past 10 years, in consulting, hedge funds and non-governmental organisations; mentors young girls on how to succeed in a male-dominated world; recites statistics about anything from trade deficits to export revenue. And yet.

One day she told me she had stopped giving interviews because her husband did not like her photo in the newspaper, and she had also decided to take her husband’s surname because it upset him that she continued to use hers professionally. Expressions such as “honour him” and “for peace in my marriage” tumbled out of her mouth, forming what I thought of as a smouldering log of self-conquest.

Another friend is very attractive, very educated, sits on boards of companies and does the sort of management work that is Greek to me. She is single. She is a few years older than I am but looks much younger. The first board meeting she attended, a man asked her, after being introduced, “So whose wife or daughter are you?” Because to him, it was the only way she would be on that board. She was, it turned out, a chief executive. And yet. She lives in a city where her friends dream not of becoming the CEO but of marrying the CEO, a city where her singleness is seen as an affront, where marriage carries more social and political cachet than it should.

Another friend is a talented writer, a forthright woman who makes people nervous when she speaks bluntly about sex, a woman who describes herself as a feminist, and who talks a lot about gender equality and changing the system. And yet. She earns more than her husband does but once told me that he had to pay the rent, always, because it was the man’s duty to do so. “Even if he is broke and I have money, he will have to go and borrow and pay the rent.” She paused, rolling this contradiction around her tongue, and then she added, “Maybe it is because of our culture. It is what they taught us.”

There is, of course, always that “they”. Two years ago, we were slumped on sofas in his Lagos living room, my brother-in-law and I, talking about politics as we usually did.

“I think I’ll run for governor in a few years,” I said in the musing manner of a person who only half-means what they say.

“You would never be governor,” he said promptly. “You could be a senator but not governor. They won’t let a woman be governor.”

What he meant was that a governor had too much power, and was in control of too much money, none of which could be left to a woman by that invisible “they”. And yet. I realise that 15 years ago he would not have said, “you could be a senator.” Civilian rule brought greater participation of women in politics and the most popular and most effective ministers in the past 10 years have been women. In the next decade, my brother-in-law could be proved wrong. In the next three decades, he will certainly be proved wrong. But she would have to be married, the woman who would be governor.

My first novel is on the West African secondary school curriculum. My second novel is taught in universities. One question I am almost always certain of getting during media interviews is a variation of this: we appreciate the work you are doing and your novels are important but when are you getting married? I refuse to accept that the institution of marriage is what gives me my true value, and I refuse to come across as silly or coy or both. The balance is a precarious one.

“Would you ask that question to a male writer my age?” I once asked a journalist in Lagos.

“No,” he said, looking at me as though I were foolish. “But you are not a man.”

Source: FT Magazine

7 comment(s):

Wow! I so love Chimamanda for this..

If i start writing now, I'll right an essay. So i'll keep it short.

Now barfing at the sillyness of comments like these from some women: "honour him” and “for peace in my marriage”. I hate it. I only accept it when it's reciprocal. Marriage is a partnership not slavery.

The level of sexism and ignorance in naija is quite shocking, limiting, and frustrating. It's one of the reasons why we are not moving forward as quickly as we should. Why should any woman have to assuage any man's ego? It's so silly. My goodness. Some men in naija give men a bad name.

And to the man/men who ask “So whose wife or daughter are you?, why doesn't anyone ask him "whose political toy are you?" Aaaaargggh!!!

I look forward to the day when marriage STOPS carrying more social and political cachet than it should. Hopefully I'm not dead by then.

But this is so true = The institution of marriage [WILL/SHOULD NEVER BE] what gives me/anyone true value. It's only 1 part of a person. If only people get that. Ugh!


Yes!.God made all HUMANS for a purpose. A wife (woman) has a mission to fulfill on earth,that is why she is created with a brain/mind/soul/spirit in a body, so does the husband to whom a wise wife would also revere and respect. Everyone should live their God-given purpose on earth and should not -by some man-made societal standards made true by an ignorant generation- kill the dream of another.Any man that suppresses the dream of his woman should be punished!!!.That male ego should be channeled to better things, his own fulfillment in himself. Strong words but necessary.This generation : Stand up! Selah!

I couldn't have said that any better than you did Shade. That man was so selfish to have asked his wife to stop appearing in the newspaper. Such request could have a detrimental effect on the woman's self confidence.

When you start limiting what a woman can do, you limit her belief in herself.

let men read this and for once channell their ego somewhere else, women are not slaves whose education end in the kitchen and bed. this was the topic of argument between 2 friends of mine, the woman is the roolin stone of the economt...

like chimamanda said, in 3 decades he would be proved wrong and that is because the invisible 'they' will have lost their potency or no longer be alive to dictate and the men of our generation are beginning to be open to gender equality only they dont want to fall short of the glory of the older generation so they enforce these rules of let-my-wife-be-as-anonymous-as possible even if it goes against their self convictions.... it takes time to get to the stage where the rest of the world is. anger wouldn't it neither will force.

Let women read this and for once channel their superiority mentality towards their opposite sex.
80% of nigerian women view a man as someone that suppose to be greater than them especially when it comes to the concept of relationship.

a nurse want a doctor or engineer as a husband, not a mechanic or carpenter.
the accountant want the manager, the primary school want a professor. etc.

women should understand that marriage is the basis of the society.., when your husband is of a higher status and you view him as superior to you. what message are you passing to your son, in terms of how a woman should be or view him

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