“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 is (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 communities. It is top priority in most African communities, and worshipped in the Nigerian community. Randomly searching on Google for the word “Aso-ebi” will lead you to an instagram page (or 10) telling you about the most recent wedding, followed by at least 10 different hashtags.
In Nigerian culture, weddings are a big deal. They are a symbol of pride specifically for a woman. In many cases, a woman is not “respected” and is often deemed a “small girl” when she is not married.
I live in Lagos (aka Wedding Capital), and there is not a week that 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. It 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 ( insert event hall here). 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 people all over the world can get information about a wedding and essentially live stream it, via outlets such as Snapchat and Instagram.
While dealing with the pressure of matching shoes with Aso Ebi, those of us who are not married and are “of age” are experiencing a different kind of pressure known as The pressure to settle down brought about by our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. It is almost like they are programmed to ask about “marriage” immediately they see us walking across the stage to get a master's degree or after getting promotion. Many young adult Nigerians often hear statements like “Next is marriage!” or “I hope you will now settle down now!” after achieving career goals. I vaguely recall being reminded that my bride price would increase, once I was able to get a Master’s Degree...basically reducing my Master’s degree to a point on a checklist for a man. If you are over 30 and are unmarried, you become a prayer point for parents and the topic of Friday vigils.
Like I previously stated, Marriage increases credibility for many women within many cultures in Nigeria. People who were once seen as 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). For some reason, a woman’s life doesn’t have value until she gets a ring on her finger. I always think 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”.
I blame patriarchy and inherent misogyny. Patriarchy and misogyny/misogynoir are inherent in basically every culture, but manifest in different ways, depending on the culture. There is this idea of ownership when it comes to women in Nigeria. For some reason, it is difficult for people to understand the notion of self-agency for a woman. A woman has to go from her father’s house to her husband’s house, enforcing the idea of a woman being seen as property.
It is unfortunate that the pressure does not end here. Now that you have passed the test and have gotten married, a new pressure that could be potentially dangerous arises.
These newly “respected women” are often encouraged to behave in a way that suggests that
- Their marriage is perfect and
- They will not “bring shame” to their families.
Our obsession with pretense and what our “enemies” will think often drives married women into difficult situations. A woman may be getting abused but won’t say anything because of what her “enemies” will say. 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.
The obsession with being a ‘Mrs.” forces women to go through all sorts of abuse not just from her husband but also from his family. It is also unfortunate that many women who actually leave their husbands and seek solace in their family members are often sent back to their husbands, and are told to just endure.
I’m not saying this to chastise women who don’t speak out about abuse or even everyday qualms in their relationships. I’m also not saying this to suggest that all 173+ million of us (as well as the diaspora) are obsessed with weddings or promote abuse. 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.
Eyek Ntekim is the Founder and Content Creator of afrikanrising.com, where she uses her experiences to shape discussions on all things beauty, love, social justice, self-love, lifestyle, God, and more. Eyek is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Strategic Communications. Eyek is passionate about cosmetics, womanism, and all things Beyonce. You can find Eyek on Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Facebook at @afrikanrising
Seydou Keïta Photographe