Years ago, I read an article written by Bunmi Sofola, one of Nigeria’s foremost female columnists. The title of that article was, “If It Doesn’t Work Out, You Can Always Go Home”. I had cause to remember that article earlier this year when I read a similar one in Funke Egbemode’s column, Intimate Affairs in the April 28, 2007 issue of the Saturday Independent Newspaper. The article was titled, ‘What If He Has Low Sperm Count?
I had written a rejoinder to Egbemode’s article but never really thought of that subject matter again until recently when I was in Abeokuta. I was chatting with a friend of mine, Miss J. (not her real name) when she went into telling me about all the troubles her aunt has had to cope with from her husband. Long stories short, the husband is an unrepentant adulterer who as a result doubles as a serial wife batterer, and Miss J’s concern is that auntie dearie does not want to do anything about all this because she is concerned about “what people would say” as her pledge is supposed to be “for better or worse”.
It is not only women that suffer in marriages, men also suffer. But considering the body of experience that prompted me into writing this and the sort of socio-religious and cultural society I live in, I am essentially looking at this from the perspective of (most of) my sisters. Yes, I believe that the African society is ‘anti-women’ in many ways. In particular, the Nigerian socio-cultural, physical and religious environment is hostile to the female being. Our society treats its female with so much disdain that she is not usually taken seriously unless the bed is the subject matter or she happens to be as ‘inegligible’, insuppressible and therefore, ‘inevitable’ as Dora Akunyili and other unputdownable women. One only needs to look at the number of women who hold public offices in Rwanda as against their counterparts in Nigeria just to begin to appreciate how ‘tokenistic’ (for want of a better word) we can be with women in this part of the world. And for argument sake, how many times have you heard the term “husband battering” being used to discuss marital relationships? Who is it that society – depending upon prevailing circumstances – tacitly and brazenly gives the franchise for adultery and fornication to between man and woman both married and unmarried?
In her article, Egbemode related the experience, of a couple (in a movie) who discover, after years of marriage, that they could not have children because the husband had a case of irreversible low sperm count. To preserve the man’s pride and dignity and prevent his lineage from going into oblivion he convinces his wife to sleep with his brother who had a terminal disease and who will, according to doctors, die in a few months. This comes back to haunt the woman when, having been impregnated by her in-law, she is rejected by the same man whose face she had stooped to save because she is so ‘tainted’ that dear husband can not stand touching her. The writer had asked her readers if they would toe the same line as Mrs. Wife or pack and leave since most times that is what men will do if it is the woman who has the problem. In her analysis, she also raised concern about whether women these days, don’t go into marriages prepared to opt out almost as quickly as they go into them.
I, for one, believe that today’s women don’t deliberately go into marriages hoping to get out of them the very next day. Marriage, the way I see it, is in some way, like a business contract. Each party has his or her expectations for going into it. But what happens when such a union becomes incapable of meeting a partner’s ambitions and aspirations, big and small. Can it be all together wise for a partner to trudge on even when it seems that try as he or she may, it just won’t work? Should a woman remain in an unfair, unbalanced and unfeeling relationship whose myriad of problems she does not have the solution to because the solution is in the man’s head as conditioned by phallic symbols and only him can proffer it?
Yes, the matrimonial pledge, “for better or worse till…” should be respected and both parties to such a pledge are expected to remain faithful till… But at what cost should this pledge remain binding when sister faces the sort of situation the man and, in a lot of cases, the man’s family are subjecting her to these days? Shouldn’t the Holy Books and our judgmental selves understand with the woman if she decides to ‘abandon sail’? I am not advocating that, at the slightest provocation, a woman should jump on the next coach going home. However, we all know that there comes a time when that cup of patience, tolerance, endurance and whatever other virtues our mothers managed to pull together to stay (in)sane and in marriages and mock marriages (which a lot of the so-called marriages are) gets filled to its brim. At such times, our Guardian Angel (whoever he is) tells us it is over, finni, kaput, or whatever. But many culturally, economically, religiously and emotionally subdued and enslaved African and in particular, Nigerian women resist the prodding of this angel, just to remain faithful to a vow that may not be worth more than a replacement vow or just another promise (elsewhere, mind you) to a man as soon as the egocentric part of his chauvinistic side takes over.
It seems to me that we invoke the ‘for better for worse’ clause in marital contract only when the man is the threat to a union. Even as a man, I dare say that most times a man will Ben Johnson from the marriage and the woman if the physiological/medical conditions, as depicted in Egbemode’s article were in the reverse case for both of them. In other cases, the ‘best’ case scenario would see him, with the aid of his family and even friends get another woman to bring him the much sought-after fruits of the womb. And for the sake of the poor woman, where do we then put ‘for better or worse’?
Methinks that in that case, the woman is also welcome to pack and go home since it doesn’t seem to work. This is not simply because she must play the suffragette and exert revenge on men on behalf of other women. It is because she owes herself this much, as it is her divine animal right to procreate FOR HERSELF. Beyond procreation, it is also a woman’s divine right to pursue her own dreams as well as to fight to stay alive in a sound mind and body. And no vow, I believe, not even the almighty “for better or worse” should deny her this right.