Mother and wife, two words that I have always associated with prison bars.
Growing up as a girl child in Nigeria, both words signified so heavy an expectation from a woman, than I could ever see myself parting with graciously.
I wasn’t a typical child, I was headstrong, and very observant at an early age. I was stubborn. My nicknames were Iron Lady and Margaret Thatcher. Legend has it that at 3 years old, I crushed an iron cup in my hand in revolt against being forced to eat a meal that I had refused. I questioned everything. I was never comfortable with being told what to do, I needed to know why I should, and if it didn’t make sense to me, I would resist doing it. I cared little about being categorized as “troublesome”, I was always insistent on being heard because I knew even then that being outspoken, being decisive, was not a negative thing. I felt misunderstood.
So I watched and observed and realized very early the connection between being an acquiescent female child, and a good wife and mother.
“You never listen Doreen, your husband will throw you away!”,
“ If you don’t learn how to shut up, you will never find a husband Doreen!”
I heard that constantly growing up from the women that surrounded me, and so the idea of being a wife and mother became abhorrent to me. Is this supposed to be something I aspire to? Losing the core of me, just so I can be pleasing to another person? Who is this grandiose soul that is so deserving of my silence? Why would anyone need another person to be less of themselves for their comfort? If that was what a wife meant, you could keep that.
“ I don’t care if I EVER get married Aunty, I DON'T CARE!”
And I meant every single word. I don’t believe losing who you are is anything to celebrate. And all I heard and saw was that there was an expectation of a woman to do that, in order to become a wife and mother.
We have such an obsession with the word “good” when it comes to women. Even women who identify as feminists, are still self editing to be “good feminists”, acceptable to everyone, not too extreme. Being “good” as a woman, is such a celebrated concept in our society. Girls are automatically judged as illicit from childhood, impressionable, quick to sin, so we are trained early to avoid it at all costs. We must be absolutely perfect to belong in the category of “good”. To be a bad woman, well, that means you are just human. A woman with vices that she is comfortable sharing with the world. Well I am just a human, who wants to be free to make decisions that will not always be perfect, but will be real and frequently self gratifying.
“If you want to get married, you better stop acting like a child and grow up! Watch! all your friends are now growing up and will start getting married Doreen and it will only be you left!"
What is your definition of growth? Because my definition means to ascend higher, to keep striving to reach the greatest expression of yourself. Why is there any expectation for a woman becoming a wife, or a mother to leave behind the core of who she is? To assume universal qualities and behaviors foreign to her? Who says that method works?
What does it profit a woman to become a wife and mother, and lose her self?
The best version of a woman is always her own unique self. Anyone pretending to be something they are not, will never be as true and as valuable to the world, as they would be by simply being themselves. Everyone deserves to experience their true selves, at every level of their lives.
Why let yourself die, while you are still alive?
We all deserve to fully express ourselves, instead of playing a role to fit in with society. There are so many women who feel invisible in their own lives, they are wives and mothers who cannot recognize themselves anymore, they remember fondly who they used to be.
“I used to wear short skirts, and dance and dance..but I am a wife and mother now, so I have to carry myself differently”
As we reach different stages of our lives, we naturally leave certain things behind, we change as we age, we do that to fit our current lives. This is expected. However, there are certain things uniquely us, that liberate us and make us happy. We let them go because of guilt, because we are not “supposed to” anymore, even though those things harm no one. We do it because we are afraid of being judged by society.
“How can she still be attending this and that? Isn’t she a mother??”
“ Wow, I am shocked her husband would let her do a thing like that, I guess their marriage is different”
Women find themselves constantly editing themselves to be acceptable to society’s standards of a wife and mother. We worry about our behavior negatively influencing our children or embarrassing our husbands. We worry so much, we sacrifice ourselves for their own good. Meanwhile, men are free to be who they are, they can remain boyish up into their 40s and 50s, their behavior isn’t expected to reflect on their children’s outcomes. Society creates allowances for men time and time again, while depending on women to put on a “good” face for society.
Women are varied, we have different expressions that make us unique. It is truly a tragedy to ask women to all collectively share in just one expression. The world is so much more beautiful with the diversity of different cultures, imagine how much so it would be if women were free to openly be the different spirits that we are. Being ourselves, shouldn’t be categorized as “bad”, it shouldn’t automatically define us or imply our self worth. Women who are comfortable with their bodies, who enjoy their sex appeal and wear fitted sexy clothing, shouldn’t automatically be assumed to be bad people or bad parents. In what way can that be possibly relatable? But in this society, it is.
Internalized misogyny guides our perception of women. We are harder on women for being human, somehow we have become accustomed to the sacrifices of women, that we erroneously assume that every woman is strong enough to tap out of enjoying life.
We must handle it, a woman who is given an inch will take a mile, so we must restrict their humanity, until they themselves can't even recognize who they are.
So we become dedicated to being as good as society governs, we let our own human expressions be suppressed so we can become the perfect prisoners of societal standards.
It should not be so.
Women who enjoy engaging in activities that are not traditionally associated with “wife” and “mother” should be free to be, and still be considered good people and good parents. Have we bothered asking if the children are happy?
Newsflash: That is a more accurate measure of good parenting.
Some of the most miserable and abused children are living in the strictest and most traditionally parented homes. Our children will be more enriched by having happy mothers, who have self autonomy, who are comfortable teaching their children through just living, who embrace their uniqueness, who don’t hate themselves or their lives, who enjoy their unique quirks, and most importantly, who are not ashamed of being themselves. How wouldn’t it be more beneficial to children, especially teenagers to have parents who they can come to with their problems? Who won’t respond back to them with some cliche parenting book or religious preachy advice? A lot of teenagers can’t relate to their parents in anyway, because their parents are literally robots too busy fitting into society's version of good, rather than connecting to the humanity of themselves when they were younger and seeing it in their children.
Now that I am older, I see so clearly where it is we have gone wrong. And I want everyone to come on this journey with me. To realize that it is up to you to create the life you want for yourself, and it is up to you to keep living it on your own terms. They will try to stop you, and they will talk, they will criticize and they will attempt to shame. However, it is your life, and they don’t pay your bills, so why should you care what they think? You are not bothered about what they do in their own homes? So clearly their own way must not be so great if they have all this time to worry about how you are choosing to spend yours.
Today, being a Wife and mother doesn’t seem as scary to me, I have come to peace with it. I realize now that nothing can ever stop me from being myself. I am so amazing at it, why I would I willingly choose to be anyone else? It was the guiding factor in choosing a partner, and if a time came, where being myself was threatened, I know without a doubt, that I would always choose myself.
Words by Doreen Caven
Doreen is founder and co-editor of TGLM.