“We’re expecting your wedding invitation soon o!”- an “Aunt” from church
“Sister, when you and your sister get married, please don’t forget to invite us”- security personnel at the airport in Lagos
“God must give you your own husband, I claim it for you!”- Tomato seller at the Oniru Market
“When you’re in your husband’s house you_____” - Almost every female family member I know.
While all of this was (seemingly) well intentioned, can a 23 year old woman just live her life without people talking about marriage? Asking for a friend...
Marriage is a staple in many cultures, and in most African cultures, it is a top priority. In Nigerian culture however, it is worshipped. On any given day, just doing a quick google search of the word “Aso-ebi” will lead you to an instagram page (or 10) telling you about the most recent wedding, followed by a hashtag.
In Nigerian culture, weddings are a big deal. They’re a symbol of pride specifically for a woman. In many cases, a woman is not “respected” and is often deemed a “small girl” without a man by her side to supposedly make a woman out of her.
Since I live in Lagos (Wedding Capital), not a week goes by without talk of “(insert name here)’s Aso ebi” (fabric) or without being asked whether I’m “making anything” for (insert name here)’s traditional wedding. What seems like every other day, a family member or friend is changing their display picture on whatsapp to a photo of them posing outside of a church, post-wedding or leaning on a lavishly decorated table at Eko Hotel, or any given event hall. Don’t get me started on the hashtag trend and how I spend about thirty minutes trying to figure out what part of the hashtag is the bride’s name and which part is groom’s.
Our weddings are so notable that even Buzzfeed had to get in on it. In the age of social media, weddings seem like an even bigger deal because now people all over the world can get information about a wedding and essentially live stream it, via outlets such as Snapchat and Instagram.
While trying to manage the pressure of what shoes to wear with that very interesting aso ebi that (insert name here) chose for her wedding, those of us who are not married and are “of age” are feeling another kind of pressure. Sometimes, it feels like all Nigerian parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are programmed to start asking about this very elusive “marriage” at a certain time because unfailingly, after walking across the stage to get their master's degree or getting that promotion, (what feels like) every Nigerian young adult/twentysomething year old often hears “next is marriage” or “I hope you will now settle down!”. I vaguely recall being reminded that my bride price would increase, once I’m able to bag my Master’s Degree.
Now going back to an earlier stated point. Marriage increases credibility for many women within many cultures in Nigeria. For some reason, a woman’s life doesn’t have value until she gets a ring on her finger. If for some reason, you’re over 30 and aren’t married, you become the prayer point of parents and the topic of Friday vigils.
I always find myself thinking back to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” TED Talk, where she told the story of how an acquaintance who was presently unmarried wore a wedding ring whenever she attended conferences so that people would show her “respect”.
People who were once small girls, are now “women” and “respected” once they get married. Now nobody will talk to her “anyhow” and now her enemies won’t see her back (translation: she won’t be a failure in their eyes). Ultimately, this a result of not only patriarchy, but inherent misogyny.
What it really boils down to is ownership. For some odd reason, it’s difficult for people to understand the notion of self-agency for a woman. No, she must go from her father’s house to her husband’s house.
Everyone plays a role in perpetuating these dangerous ideals. Patriarchy and misogyny/misogynoir are inherent in basically every culture, but it just manifests in different ways, depending on the culture.
So.. now that you’ve passed the test and gotten married, a new pressure arises, one that can be potentially dangerous.
These now respected women are often encouraged to behave in a way that suggests that number one: their marriage is perfect and number two: will not “bring shame” to her family. Our obsession with pretense and what our enemies will think quite often drives married women into difficult situations. The obsession with being a ‘Mrs.” forces women to go through all sorts of abuse from not just her husband but his family. Many women who leave their husbands and seek solace in their family members are often sent back to their homes, being told that “this is my husband’s house” or “my dear, you just have to endure”.
In other cases, a woman may be getting abused but won’t say anything because once again, what will her “enemies” say? Think back to earlier this year when Tiwa Savage, also known as the “Beyonce of Africa” was publicly shamed by her estranged husband. Even her close friends in the public eye admitted that they had no idea that Tiwa was being emotionally and mentally abused.
Although I highlighted quite a bit of bad, there is a whole lot of good, from our collective culture to our wedding ceremonies themselves. Within our collective society, whether we utilize it or not, we do have many people who we can rely on and who will ultimately defend us in the case that we can’t do so ourselves. Not to mention, our traditional ceremonies that take place pre-church wedding or court wedding are so unique and show our still very rich culture.
Now, I’m not saying this to chastise women who don’t speak out about abuse or even just everyday qualms in their relationships. I’m not saying this to suggest that all 173+ million of us (as well as the diaspora) are obsessed with weddings or promote abuse.
I’m also not giving any non-Nigerians, the authority to be experts on our culture after reading one piece.
What I am condemning is the culture that focuses so much on a certain title and image and leaves the reality of such a huge task like marriage to deal with itself.
I’m also not saying that I won’t be purchasing (insert name here)’s aso ebi for her Igba Nkwu (Igbo traditional wedding) next month, either.