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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Must Read ~ African Moms: Be Patient with Your Unmarried Daughters by China Okasi

I read this article today by China Okasi, a Nigerian journalist and thought, "Oh my! This makes too much sense not to share!" Read, then scroll to the end for my two cents. 
(CNN) -- Moms everywhere like to ask their unmarried daughters dreaded questions like: Why are you still single? Are you married yet? Anyone catch your eye? Especially around Valentine's Day.

Sure, we've seen Carrie Bradshaw agonize over the issue, watched Bridget Jones' awkwardness around it, heard Amelie's lamentations au Francais, and we've even heard from the lovable Mindy Kaling vis-a-vis her Indian-American perspective. But, we haven't heard the modern African woman's story.

Being an unmarried African woman in her childbearing years is like being a manicurist with a hand tremor: very odd and rather tricky. She is expected to marry early and marry well.

African mothers, then, are in a deep crisis. They immigrated to the United States with the hopes that their daughters would get a good education and fulfill the American Dream. But they never considered that, along with having all that modernity, their daughters would, like the rest of America's young, empowered women, be so "late" in marriage.

Granted, African moms are not alone in their hopes. But still, some of them seem particularly affected. What shall they do?

Well, first, they might accept that their daughters have not just a "double consciousness," as W. E. B. Dubois termed it, but rather infinite consciousnesses, complicating their very blackness. If an upper middle-class girl has one or more African parents, for example, she has likely schooled in the United States or Europe -- maybe even a generation after her own parents have.

And she has likely spent a fair amount of time in London via Lagos, a common lifestyle practice for those of formerly colonized African countries. If she has lived down South, say in Texas, for some time, she has likely acquired a George Bush twang for survival sake. If she has taken up a neuroscience residency in Boston (which, of course, she must, if she is African), she might now sound like Matt Damon's sister. And the minute she wins an accolade in some not-so-diverse department (which, of course, she must, being African), she'll be labeled the "first African-American" to have done so.

In short, she is global. If she is living in a melting pot like New York, she is global on steroids. Naturally, global girls outgrow such local traditions as arranged marriages, dowry and bride price, which have not been exclusive to African tradition (see the English period drama, "Downton Abbey") but have certainly lingered longer in homes of African descent.

African moms need to accept that globalism has allowed their daughters to know the world better, and as a result, seek partnerships more wisely. This process of self-determination takes a tad longer to form than setting up an arranged marriage.

Thankfully, my mom, educated in America, a New Yorker and rather global, has not been as insistent on marriage with me. But it seems like only yesterday her older sister, my aunt, warned about the dangers of waiting too long, or being too educated, to be married.

Really, if you've watched Maggie Smith's blunt character, Lady Violet Crawley, in "Downton Abbey," you have watched my aunt. Despite being an accomplished woman who acquired a Ph.D. later in life, she praised my graceful exit from my doctoral program. I'd just turned 21 when I'd chosen a rather eccentric doctoral study. In her words: "What man would marry a 20-something-year-old Ph.D.-holder?" It would be too intimidating to men.

"I'd do better to tone it down a bit," she suggested. Which brings me to my second plea to African moms. If you want your daughter to be as happy or happier than you have been in marriage, it makes no sense that she should dumb down the colorfulness of her character, the boldness of her spirit and the fire that made her the "first African-American" this or that in order to appease those who are potentially intimidated by her.

If you'd never match a conservative Christian with a flagrant porn star, it's not clear why today's educated woman should edit herself in hopes of attracting a feeble idiot. Yes, she'd be married, but then she'd live only to repress herself for someone else's ego -- and what kind of message would that be for the children?

You see, dear African moms, global girls need global boys. Not intimidated ones.

We can sit and try to make sense of why one kind of match would work or not work for a global girl, but we must concede that love is messy and unpredictable. Love is not like your daughter's medical career with a blueprint to follow, or like a GPS map that can calculate the distance between Addis and Accra.

Yesterday's woman wanted marriage. Today's woman wants love -- and marriage, if it turns out that way. Olivia Pope's character in the TV series "Scandal" spoke quite unapologetically for today's woman when she said: "I could probably give all this up, and live in a country house and have babies and be normal. I could. But I don't want to. I'm not built for it. I don't want normal and easy...and simple. I want...painful, love."

Extraordinary love? Sometimes, dear African moms, that process is just a little more complicated than marrying your cousin like in the 18th century. So, you'll just have to be patient.

My two-cents
This topic is one of the 'touchiest' topics for young African female professionals like yours truly. For many young Nigerians who grow up and/or get educated abroad, it is tempting to adopt the more "enlightened" view of marriage, which is to marry for love, rather than security or tradition. I put the word enlightened in quotes because its simply debatable what is enlightened and what is not. Some of us, however, look for a balance- Marry for love + security + tradition AND try to do it before the biological clock expires. Personally, just like Okasi, I've heard it all, "slow down, you're intimidating your suitors", "a Master's? Why?", "You're next". Like I discussed in my 7 Keys to Finding a Good Husband piece, for most young African daughters, the pressure is ever-present from varied angles. Thankfully, never from my mother who's educated and in the international scene. But like I was telling my best friend earlier this evening, "why would I want to partner up with a man who's insecure enough to be intimidated by me?" That sparked an insightful conversation about the fragile dichotomy between being successful and trying to moderate it (or 'edit' it like Okasi calls it) just enough to not intimidate any man. Of course, there are women who fit the stereotype of using their education to be condescending to their husbands and power/career as an excuse to neglect their families. Case in point, Sanaa Lathan's character Andrea in "The Family that Preys". But there's a middle ground, an educated woman has an opinion because she is just that; educated. She won't say "yes sir" just to nurse your ego but a "good" educated woman won't just argue with you or discount your opinions; she'd have an intelligent conversation with you and hear your points while giving hers. Am I making sense?

AND then there are men who get intimidated all by themselves. Last summer, I overheard a conversation between a good male friend of mine and his friend. His friend said "ahhh why would I marry a woman who makes more than me? Who be oga for the house?" That same year, I met a man who was heavily interested in marrying me. However, with every conversation, I realized that he couldn't tolerate an opinionated woman. It seemed as if he'd rather spend an hour arguing over the same topic than accede or 'agree to disagree'. I couldn't even get a "I could understand your point of view" or "I see why you would say that but...". He made a conscious effort to immediately discount my opinions to prove that his was right, even on legal topics! Now, for a man who hadn't studied law a day in his life, you'd think he'd at least consider mine for a second, considering I spent an excruciating 8 years of higher education to learn the law. How could I marry a man who won't pause his ego long enough to listen to me? No bueno. That's the point. 

The man I say 'yes' to has to be secure enough in himself and his accomplishments to count my brain and accomplishments as a plus quality. In essence, he'd have to be my "global boy" and I can be his global girl. So yea, Okasi makes good points. But then, while I am a avid believer in extraordinary love, I disagree with Olivia Pope's idea of love as painful, difficult, devastating or leaving another woman the casualty of a broken home and a distracted husband. More so, as a christian woman, first and foremost, I know love to be patient, unconditional, pure, kind, unselfish and while it would often be toughly tested, it should be a secure place to be. 

Your thoughts?

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ije said...

Love this article. I have to share this with my aunty who makes it a point to ask me every week "Do you have a boyfriend?" As if my answer would be different from last week...As educated women, we have to date and marry "Wiser" ...I refuse to get married just to say "I'm married" and then be divorced a year later or stay in the marriage and be miserable. Women should be focusing on marry a man of God and doing it when it's God's time. Marrying a man that truly loves them and a man they love just as much. I think women are becoming less dependent on God's time for mariage and are focusing more on settling down before they turn 30. I can't blame them too much, the pressures of our culture can make us feel like a failure for not being married by a certain age. It's very sad actually. God help us.

Oma said...

So much sense! Love it! And so very well written Boo.
The problem with having an educated African Mom who seems to totally get it, is that she would agree with the points raised in this article... But will continue asking when you'll bring that YOUNG MAN home to meet them. Hehehe. It's infact something of an Oxymoron in itself. What I dread though, is that we might end up turning into our African moms. Directly or indirectly, we might put that pressure. Can we be as understanding with our kids as we expect them to be with us? I really do hope we can.

Princess R said...

Thank you ladies. You both make incredibly good points. On one hand, we love the culture. On the other hand, it remains the source of this kind of pressure. Ije, you're right- I know too many young girls in unhappy marriages or divorced after 2 years, just because they married to be married. Its sad. More so, no matter how educated our moms are, deep down, it is a source of pride for them to see their daughters married. Oma, I fear the same: Only that we might just be more tactful and undercover with the pressure we'll put on our own daughters. All we can do is try to remember what it felt like in our time. Maybe, just maybe, it'll help us be more understanding.

Unknown said...

This article hit the spot. I believe a lot of failed marriages in our generation have occured because women are in a hurry to "settle down" inorder to fulfil this societal status quo - graduate, get a good job, get a second degree, find a fine man, throw a wedding finer than the last wedding in your circle/church/community, have a baby shower after 9 months, and be a "resepctable married woman" in social settings, especially naija parties/churches.

In some families, girls grew up believing that marriage is the "final destination" - all there is to look forward to, and work towards. You hear things like "ukwu nwanyi bu diya" - "the honor of a woman is her husband" and names like "Enyidiya" - "husbands friend". Fortunately, the world has gotten better. More and more women and empowered to see that there is life without marriage, and thankfully we have examples of successful unmarried women.

I pray i wouldn't be one of such mothers that propagate this malaise. I pray for grace to teach my daughters that they can live happy fulfilled life with or without a marriage. I pray that my children will be wise enough to spot bad match from afar and run, and wise enough to identify a good match and embrace him. All this i ask o lord....

Princess R said...

Amen! You couldn't have said it better. I pray the same & more so, that the world will continue to expand its view to accomodate the reality that each woman has a right to determine what success & a "final destination" means to her life and accept her regardless of whether it is marriage or not.