Chimamanda Adichie got us flustered a few days ago in her long letter or article to her friend on how to raise a feminist. I read the whole piece twice. It was an interesting read. However, some parts of the long piece generated a debate. I would not be quoting her out of context by bringing this excerpt out. I do with a complete understanding of her missive.
She wrote and I quote, “Seventh Suggestion: Never speak of marriage as an achievement. Find ways to make clear to her that marriage is not an achievement nor is it what she should aspire to. A marriage can be happy or unhappy but it is not an achievement.”
“We condition girls to aspire to marriage and we do not condition boys to aspire to marriage, and so there is already a terrible imbalance at the start. The girls will grow up to be women obsessed with marriage. The boys will grow up to be men who are not obsessed with marriage. The women marry those men. The relationship is automatically uneven because the institution matters more to one than the other. Is it any wonder that, in so many marriages, women sacrifice more, at a loss to themselves, because they have to constantly maintain an uneven exchange?”
She tells the mum of a new baby, her friend, to ‘Never speak of marriage as an achievement. Find ways to make clear to her that marriage is not an achievement nor is it what she should aspire to.’
Here are my thoughts.
- Chimamanda is not some random lady
If some random lady in some street in Itamarun, for example, writes the above to a friend, I’m absolutely sure I probably would not hear of it talk less of read the letter. Even if I write that to a friend, it will not generate any discourse or draw anyone’s attention. But Chimamanda is not some random lady in Itamarun and Chimamanda is not Juwon. So when Chimamanda coughs, we hear. If she writes two lines we read it. Whatever she says goes a long way in shaping mindsets.
Why? I checked Wikipedia.
She is a Nigerian novelist, a nonfiction writer, a recipient of MacArtthur Genius Grant award. She is referred to as “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors [that] is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”
Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003), received wide critical acclaim; it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction (2004) and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (2005).
Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), named after the flag of the short-lived nation of Biafra, is set before and during the Nigerian Civil War. It received the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. Half of a Yellow Sun has been adapted into a film of the same title directed by Biyi Bandele, starring BAFTA winner and Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor and BAFTA award-winner Thandie Newton, and was released in 2014.
Her third book, The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), is a collection of twelve dazzling stories that explore the ties that bind men and women, parents and children, Africa and the United States.
In 2010 she was listed among the authors of The New Yorker′s “20 Under 40” Fiction Issue. Adichie’s story, “Ceiling”, was included in the 2011 edition of The Best American Short Stories.
Her third novel, Americanah (2013), an exploration of a young Nigerian encountering race in America, was selected by the New York Times as one of The 10 Best Books of 2013.
The video – The Danger of a single Story, she did with TEDGlobal has more than eleven million views.
Need I say more? Google her name. Check Wikipedia and see more for yourself.
I listed the above to score why a statement like that, from her, would draw attention. Take all those successes or accomplishments away and whatever she says is just nothing, zilch, gibberish and would not hold water. But, with all those feats, victories, triumphs and international recognitions, her words become powerful and they resonate.
“A basketball in my hands is worth about $1. In LeBron James’ hand, it’s worth about $300million. It depends on whose hand it’s in.
A tennis racket in my hand is worth about $2. In Roger Federer’s hand, it’s Wimbledon Championship. It depends on whose hand it’s in”
It’s the same basketball, it’s the same tennis racket, but the difference is in whose hand it’s in. And what determines the weight of that hand is nothing but their accomplishments over time. It’s the effort they’ve made in the darkest hours, sleepless nights when no one knew their names, consistency in the midst of failures, doggedness when nothing seemed to be working. It’s their staying power against all odds. And at the end it paid off.
Linda Ikeji would not blog any of my articles and I shouldn’t be offended, truly. And if I really want her to feature me, I better be willing to part with some huge cash. Why? Who am I?! But if Chimamanda simply writes ‘Jesus is Lord’ on her Facebook page, all the bloggers in Nigeria will blog it. Why? It’s Chimamanda Adichie – she’s a household name! This thing is not rocket science. It is what it is. That’s life. So, deal with it. If you pay the price, you will reap the benefits. And it doesn’t happen in a day. Her accomplishments are the very platform her fame and celebrity status hinge on. She worked for it. She deserves the attention she is getting. Without these victories she would be just like any other girl from an Igbo family in the city of Enugu who schooled in UNN. But the victories made the difference.
And I couldn’t let what she said slide as a result.
- I appreciate the feminism cause.
Feminism is about equality. My wife’s thesis for her Masters was ‘The impact of gender inequality in a contemporary organisation.’ I was involved in that research work from the beginning to the end. It was an eye-opener and it was liberating too. And she got a good grade for it. It would be insulting to pen Feminism down to who cooks or washes dishes, who bathes the baby and who doesn’t. That is so juvenile. Feminism is more serious than that. ‘Feminism is for that woman that has been denied her promotion at work because she’s married with kids and considered could not balance work and family together. Feminism is having equal number of women in board rooms and top management in all organisations. Feminism is for that girl that has been raped and made to feel it’s her fault because of the way she dressed. Feminism is for that widow that has been cheated out of her inheritance by greedy male relatives. Feminism is for that girl that has been told she has to be circumcised to stop her from being promiscuous.’ Feminism is breaking the glass ceiling like Hillary Clinton did (or is doing, and I am seriously hoping she wins. You don’t want to know what that would do to the girl child).
Feminism is a level-playing field. That she has the same opportunities, politically or economically or even culturally. That she deserves same chances in education and employment. That the fact that she is a woman does not make her inferior or less important. For these, I’m a feminist. If you talk about who to cook, bathe a child, do school runs, wash dishes, all I will say to you, man or woman, is Grow Up!
However, you cannot be enjoying the benefits of inequality and be campaigning for gender equality. Till now, women’s soccer is still separated from men’s. And last time I checked, men still play five sets in tennis and the ladies play three. Again, He who made them from the beginning put nine ribs in men and installed seven in women. So, you wonder, what’s all the fuss about?
- Marriage was instituted by God.
Marriage was here before any of us. And it will still be here after we’ve all done our terms. It’s an institution created by God. Our philosophies cannot change its principles, our ideologies cannot ruin its sacredness, and our sentiments cannot lessen its power. Society may thwart it, rubbish it and ridicule it all they want, it is still the one and only way God gave us for procreation. Baby-mamas, Baby-papas are all proof that there is an ideal. And if you really want to get to the root of murder, you should ask the blacksmith who made the machete. If you want to know about marriage, you need to ask the One who created it. Because in the beginning it was not so.
He said a man shall leave and cleave, it’s a big deal! Look in the scroll, He said ‘not one will lack her mate.’ It’s a big deal! He said marriage is honorable. It’s a big deal!
No king on earth, no lord, no nation, no master formed the institution. God was the creator. God was the mastermind behind the institution. And if you do not acknowledge that and respect His authority over it, I have problems listening to what you have to say about it. Let’s wait till you come up with your own creation.
- What is achievement?
When we gained admission into tertiary institution, our families celebrated, wined and dined. We called it Matriculation. They repeated same after we spent 4, 5 or 7 years and we came out with a certificate. They gathered family and friends, it was Graduation party. The matriculation was an achievement, and so was the graduation.
When Professor Wole Soyinka became the first African, not Nigerian, to be honoured with a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986, the continent celebrated it. It was an achievement. It took effort. It took courage, it took skill.
Bukola Elemide produced her first album, Aṣa, and won the prestigious French Constantin Award in 2008, where she was voted best fresh talent of 10 singers or groups by a jury of 19 music-industry specialists in Paris. You know her as Asa, (but she is the sister to the cousin of the senior sister to my father-in-law, whatever! We are sha related.) She was received back in Nigeria with celebrations.
Chimamanda Adichie’s exploits, in the literary world, which I listed above, are huge achievements. And they continue to be celebrated till today.
When Super Eagles come back from any championship with a trophy, local or international, what do we do? We celebrate. Because it’s an achievement.
Any success, victory, triumph, accomplishment, achievement goes with celebrations. It’s like we all come together and agree this is a feat and so we must dance and party to celebrate. So I wonder, isn’t that the reason people celebrate when two persons decide to get married? Or else why do we gather family and friends together for the union? Or why do we hold celebration parties or receptions? Or why do we call it a wedding ceremony if it’s not an achievement? Or why do they even issue the magnificent marriage certificate? Why? I’m not saying it is, I’m just asking why do we celebrate and do all that if it’s not.
Or is Chimamanda saying all that noise and partying isn’t necessary, Chinwetalu should just pack her things when she is ready and go and live with her boyfriend (because we may not be able to call him husband unless it’s official)? Really? She should just wake up one day, tell her parents she is leaving and move in with her guy? I will like to know, if we should ‘never speak of marriage as an achievement. Find ways to make clear to her that marriage is not an achievement nor is it what she should aspire to,’ how should we speak of it?
Secondly, achievement is relative.
If in an entire village, you came out as the first person to have a degree, the whole community would laud your accomplishment and if possible give you a chieftaincy title. It did not matter if in the next village close by there were degree holders in every family. As far as your village was concerned, you’d made them proud, and for that they would make noise about it.
For a first time author, no feeling on earth could be greater. It does not matter if she knows other people who have written twenty or thirty books. That one book she finally got published would be her greatest feat ever. And she would sure do well to spread the news to any and everyone around. What you don’t place value on, you can’t get virtue out of.
However because we are humans and we are never satisfied, we push for more. We throw parties for a first degree but would not necessarily throw for a second or third. We make noise about the first book but would not necessarily do so for the second, third or fourth. But, that still would not take away the fact that the first feat was an achievement.
I understand and agree ‘we condition girls to aspire to marriage and we do not condition boys to aspire to marriage…’ but the way to solve the anomaly is not to discredit the institution just because you want to create a balance. I know it’s upsetting how parents spend a decade training the girl child how to be a wife and never for one second sit a boy down and school him on how to treat and respect a lady. The balance would be to get boys signed up to prepare for marriage too. The solution is to chart a course that would make men see marriage as a covenant that is just as important to them as it is to the womenfolk. That would be feminism. Discrediting the institution because one party is overlooked is just bias and shortsightedness.
I also understand and agree if you want to encourage single girls out there not to waste all their energy waiting for a man to marry them. I understand how society is warped in making a girl look incomplete because she has no Mrs to her name. It’s exasperating. However, we cannot disparage marriage because we want to make some other people FEEL good. We cannot belittle the institution of marriage and downplay the love certain couples share just because we want single ladies to feel better. It’s like I have to damage your accomplishments in order that I may make my status look good. I have to run you down in order to make me feel high. More like I cannot find joy in being me, so I have to ridicule you, criticize your choices and by that validate my status. That’s just preposterous.
What then happens to two sisters where one is married and the other is not? Does the married have to feel guilty for her status and refuse to celebrate just so the ego of the single can be massaged? Do the parents have to deny her the festivity just so her elder sister is not slighted?
What’s wrong in celebrating what you have and have achieved and also accepting myself for who I am? The beauty of another is not the absence of your own. The success or achievement of another does not deny your own. That I succeed in A, does not mean you are not holding your own in B, C, D and F. I consider A an achievement, you consider B, C, D achievements too. I celebrate yours, you applaud mine. You accept your B is not in any way inferior to my A. And I agree that my A is no better than your B. Isn’t it possible for us to be like that? A people confident and complete, whole and secure.
See, we may not all get married (and I really wish we all do, but that’s a discussion for another day) but to castigate those who are or belittle the union or disregard the feat just to make others feel better, that’s just bias. And that’s not what feminism is about. I know it’s better to wait long than to marry wrong, regardless He that made us in the very beginning said, ‘it is not good for man to be alone.’ I dare say, I believe Him.
We can come together and fix our twisted society. We can rally and demand better from our boys and men. We can consult the Manual, bring out the principles for a godly marriage and demand that men and women live up to it. We can discourage or speak against the unnecessary pressure society put on singles that makes them rush into marriage. We can do a whole lot.
But to sell me gory stories about marriage because of the sad past you’ve had, that’s hogwash. Don’t befuddle me with how bad men are just because one man was unfaithful to you. Don’t peddle sad tales you see on CNN or social media for the main purpose of discouraging others from taking the step. There are good men out there. Good men that make other men step up their game. Faithful men that are devoted to their partners and are truly happy in their marriage.
You only need to divorce the old lies you’ve been sold and marry the truth. You need to stop being suspicious of every happy couple you see around; doubtful of the joy they exude, wary of the love they share just because of your chauvinistic tendencies. There are good men out there!
We are all born into relationships and marriage is, surely, a good thing to desire.
- Final words
If winning the 100-meter dash and toppling Usain Bolt is what is topmost on your life goals, see to it that you do it. And when you do, celebrate. Soak in all the attention and take selfies with your fans.
If becoming the President of your country is what keeps you awake at night, work your butt off and make sure you attain that height. When you do, throw a party.
If being a good mum makes you happy and gives you fulfilment, please go ahead and be the best mum ever. It is an achievement.
If your desire is to be a good wife and you are doing so fantastically well at it, Kudos to you sis. It is an achievement.
If after waiting a long while your knight in shining armour finally arrives and sweeps you off your feet and walks you down the aisle, Celebrate sis. Do not, I repeat, do not let any sour person kill your joy. It is an achievement.
On your journey to joy and bliss, you can look around and enjoy the beautiful horizons and amazing landscapes. Dance at each bus stop. Let not your quest for more rob you of what you have at the moment. If having a college degree is your dream, and at the moment A’Level is all you can boast of, friend, celebrate. There are many who would do anything to have what you have. Do you have your eyes set on getting a PhD? Not bad at all. But you can still dance that you have a degree and a Masters. Are you praying to God to have sons and daughters surround your table, in the meantime be glad you have a husband you are on that project with.
We may not be where we want to be, but, hey, we also are not where we used to be. That movement, that effort, that progress, no matter how insignificant others make it look, is a great achievement. And it’s okay to dance.
Photo credit: Google images