Young women and marriage: 3 conversations we keep having

She Hive Accra

Some days ago on a road trip to IITA Ibadan for my company’s annual retreat, there was this huge debate between what I have chosen to call the new school modern family values enthusiasts and the old school traditional family values enthusiasts, over married women and their career choices/decisions.

It was a long and interesting conversation, voices were raised, opinions flew back and forth, words were exchanged (although with no ill intents), feelings and sentiments were bruised, perspectives were vehemently challenged and even faith was questioned. At the end of the trip (and as such the conversation), there was no victor and no vanquished, proving (yet again) that:

Opinions are formed over time, experiences and the accumulation of a body of knowledge and it takes more than one heated conversation to get people to change those opinions.

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Back to the reason we are all gathered here today, I think that because of my age, most of the conversations I have with family, friends, acquaintances and even colleagues are pivoted around, you-guessed-right! Marriage. So, while we talk business, entrepreneurship, career and our shared ambition to take over the world, we should also take a moment to address the pink elephant in the room.

So, tag along while I attempt to dissect some of the concerns we  young women have when it comes to the institution of marriage.

The validity of aspiring to marriage

With Chimamanda Adichie’s 2013 TED talk (made even popular by Beyonce’s inclusion in the song, Flawless) finding its way into mainstream culture and conversations, we women are gradually being liberated from that flawed conviction that marriage is the gold standard and a ‘mark of success in life’.

While this can be called progress in some ways, it also has its downsides. Hold on, let me explain. The feminist-driven academic and journalistic culture celebrating today’s “liberated” women, also in some ways, seeks to suppress a natural need for family that most women have.

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In recent times, there has been a blizzard of anti-marriage sentiments shared vocally among the female folks especially across social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. And this is largely because most of them do not want to be seen as aspiring to marriage but hand on heart – and this is quite controversial. I do not know of one woman who does not want to have her own husband and possibly children to come home to after a long day at work.

When discussing the issue in an open and public platform, most young women would be quick to put up an air of indifference with respect to marriage but get her alone and the story would be entirely different. There, I’ve said it! (But let’s not forget that this is an entirely unscientific view based only on my circle of friends, acquaintances and interactions with random people).

Therefore, my take on this issue is rather simple: as much as marriage is not the holy grail of womanhood, I think wanting to be married and subsequently aspiring to it, is valid! As such, you are allowed to be intentional about it, as you are with work/business. (For more on this please try reading this from Dr. Meg Jay). 

The dichotomy between marriage and work

In 2011, the COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg made a statement that went viral;

The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry.”

I only came across this statement last year and it was insightful for me because it reaffirmed a conviction that I have always held and still hold; that the man I marry would take me one step closer to my biggest dreams. Before going further, I should clearly state that I have nothing against stay-at-home mums.  On the contrary, any woman who readily gives up the fancy skirt suits and board meetings for house cleaning and grocery shopping has my respect.
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However, I do not think that marriage and even motherhood has to be a stumbling block on a woman’s pathway to progress. Society typically expects the woman to lean back and make only those career moves that are convenient for her status as a married woman but that does not always have to be the case. Family is a collective and shared responsibility placed equally on both the man and the woman even though both have to function in different capacities. With proper planning, communication and understanding between partners, I believe it is possible for both to raise a decent family without anyone’s dreams or goals suffering for it.

This is where Sheryl’s statement becomes important. Because for this to happen and for this system to work, you need a man who acknowledges the validity of your dreams, believes in the weight of your ambitions and is ready and willing to support you towards reaching your goals regardless of what that ‘support’ might involve.

So yes, married or single, you are allowed to aspire to heights unimaginable in your personal and professional life and marriage if done right, would serve as a catalyst and not a distraction.

Knowing when enough is enough!

There are reports that say that every fourth Nigerian woman suffers some form of domestic violence in her life time. The worst forms of these are usually battering, trafficking, rape and homicide. And it seems only sensible that I lend my voice to this recurring social menace that is plaguing our society, the institution of marriage and women in particular. This is however not to say that men do not suffer domestic abuse or to disregard that possibility.

On this issue, there really isn’t so much I have to say that would be entirely new to you but this, LEAVE! If you unfortunately find yourself in an abusive relationship, before you consider any other solution or any form of therapy, get yourself out of that situation and environment. No man is allowed to hit you out of love or in an attempt to discipline you or for any other reason that you may want to let yourself believe.

Run A Way CampaignSo, for the young woman whose boyfriend angrily shoved her aside and slammed the door on his way out after she informed him of her decision to enroll for another master’s program, for the mother of 2 who got slapped because she scolded her son for spilling fruit juice all over his school uniform, my advice to you is simple. LEAVE!

I have to admit that this is definitely not the easiest thing to do especially with cultural and religious beliefs that advocate total submission and endurance of whatever treatment a woman gets from a man or her husband, as the case may be. But understand that submission as admirable as it is, should also not put you in danger or harm’s way. Many lives and dreams have been lost to domestic violence and yours should definitely not be one of those. Because if he hits you once he would hit you again, if he ever does hit you, please LEAVE!

I’d conclude by saying that as women, we cannot avoid all of the conversations around marriage but what we can do is carefully moderate that conversation in a way that encourages an exchange of perspectives that is beneficial to us all.

So what is your narrative?

  • Single and conflicted as to whether or not you should be actively seeking out a life partner?
  • Married and tempted to quit your job because someone thinks you are not capable of making both work?
  • In a relationship where your partner would rather dialogue with his fists than words?

This is my counsel to you

It is OK to want to be married.

Your dreams are valid.

And if he hits you, even one time, please leave!

So, what about you? What are the concerns you have with respect to women and the almighty marriage? Share your perspective and let’s get talking!


About Jennifer Melah

I absolutely love conversations!

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6 thoughts on “Young women and marriage: 3 conversations we keep having

  1. I find it ironic that some of these women who are advocating female independence and the ‘you dont need a man’ discourse are the ones married with children.

      1. Why would this be your response to a claim like this? What research have y’all done to ascertain that this is the case? There is nothing wrong with the idea that women do not need men, and those women, in fact, exist. What we need to do is figure out ways to support women who do what to be in relationships /marriages with men, which is what this article tries to do. There are ways to do this without attempting to slightly bash women who say they do not need men. Come on now.

        1. Ama we don’t judge anyone’s opinions or responses to our articles. The whole intent is to spark dialogue and encourage conversation. To state that we are trying to “bash women who say they do not need men” is inaccurate because we wouldn’t have posted this article or the many other articles that encourage progressive values and free choice for women.

          Rae Talks shared her opinion and we thought it was an interesting one. Simple as that.

    1. Interesting comment. These women’s situations can only be ironic if one equates the idea of “female independence” and “you don’t need a man” to “You shouldn’t want a man” and “You should, by default, reject all prevailing family and gender role structures exist in my cultural/social context”. The crux of feminist discourse (which are being reduced to “female independence” and “you don’t need a man” by the comment) is that women are people, just as men are, and there should be no differentiation nor limits to the options/opportunities available to them because of their sex.

      The term female independence is used because options (particularly professionally and in terms of social status, i.e. in the public sphere of life) were often limited to women who were married, or their advancement was somewhat dependent on their ability to earn a level of validation from men. Prevailingly, men have not been subject to this, and their success or failure in the public sphere of life is based on factors other than women’s approval or acceptance. This is why patriarchy is problematic and oppressive. Thus, advocating for female independence may be a misnomer because on the surface it seems to negate how interdependent we are as humans in all spheres of life. However, being independent is really just about the ability to be seen as an individual human being, and being able to do the things you desire for yourself without having to mold yourself to the view of another person, and not face any penalty for it. Every person wants this right. Particularly, women shouldn’t NEED men in order to feel like worthwhile human beings nor worthy of progress in the public sphere. Progress in the public sphere should be dependent on their own agency, skills, etc. and not a husband or boyfriend. Naturally, women may need other people supporting them, but the people with the power/ability to propel women forward shouldn’t overwhelmingly be men or a specific group of people who have a limited perspective on what the human experience can be. Thus when the term “female independence” is used, it is this permission to be and to grow without bound that has been granted so freely to men, that women (and feminist men) are fighting for.

      With this in mind, if a woman has determined for herself through her own experiences, reflection, needs and goals that part of her reaching her full self-actualization–emotional or otherwise—is through having a “traditional” family structure with a male partner and children, she is perfectly free to do so. This in no way contradicts her feminism. While she didn’t NEED a man to be whole or make something of herself, she fully elected to share her life with one based on her sexual orientation, her desire for progeny, and whichever other factors were meaningful to her without any societal, cultural, political, or economic pressure. She WANTED him, and that does not negate her integrity while she fights for a world where she wouldn’t NEED him in order to earn money, be recognized and respected for her opinions, and accepted fully for her thoughts and choices as any human being. It would be naïve to assume that there are never subtle pressures in place to adhere to these norms—they certainly exist. And that is why the quest continues to create a world where she can have said independence.

      No two feminists (woman or man) will look alike. There is no defined “feminist lifestyle”.
      Advocating for a society where women do not need men in order to gain the same rights and privileges as men does not mean that women will not want them as partners—both publicly and privately. It’s about freedom of personhood, choice, self-actualization, and equal opportunity.

      In fact, vocally feminist women in “traditional family” structures and conventional gender roles being viewed as an irony, is just another symptom of our problematic societies.

  2. Interesting article and what about mothers who want their daughter to have an arranged marriage, How are girls are supposed to act/ react in that situation ? When a no, a complete explanation is not enough to convince them ?

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