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Women and societal pressure on marriage

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The world celebrates International Women’s Day today and though It would seem that progress on the plank of women’s emancipation has lowered the relevance of ‘women’s issues’ so to say, as equality between genders in terms of rights, opportunities, talents and achievements are generally being recognised, we need not look too far to see how much the system of male glorification still perdures, upheld by hoary ideology and gender stereotypes that manifest among others in the existing societal pressure on Women to get married at a certain age to be seen as whole or complete. In this wise, there was this recent conversation I was privy to between a married lady with two kids and her unmarried friend. After telling the married one about her plan to consider pursuing a master’s degree on completion of the national service year, it was as if a ticking time bomb suddenly exploded in her as she retorted even with palpable agony on her face:  “That would take a few more years! Don’t you want to get married?” Apparently, as far as our married friend and a lot of people like her are concerned, it is absurd for any girl to think that she could pursue academic or professional goals without thinking of Marriage or getting married first!  We, however, had to assure her that it was not impossible for the single friend to try to fulfill both tasks within those years. But she was still unconvinced, “don’t wait too long.

Obasanjo deserves his accolades ― Buhari

There’s no time again o and besides all the good guys will be gone by then” she added cockily. So, it would seem as if the new logic is that you either compromise on your ambitions, or you run out of time and lose out on marrying a ‘good guy.’ Needless to say, nobody has come out with what the definition of a‘good guy’ entails. Be that as it may, it is the case that many of us girls have had variations of the above conversation with several people as marriage takes the center stage of the perceived life of any girl as far as the society is concerned today. Indeed, at the personal level, I could report that I have been questioned much more about my relationship, engagement, or wedding than my education, career plans or related accomplishments. Similarly, surveys have shown how millennials are 177 per cent more likely to feel pressure to get married, compared to other generations — a pressure that tends to fall more on women throughout their adult lifespan due to a range of reasons, including wanting family and kids to pleasing their parents and other times, this pressure is deeply rooted in culture and gender stereotypes.

No doubt given the accomplishments of women emancipation in the last couple of decades, we would have thought that our society ought to have evolved past such gender pressure, but the reality is that young women today are still implicitly taught that the only way to succeed is to find a husband and fulfill our “nurturing” role in the society. To put it differently, families believe that men should develop promising careers in order to support the whole family; but on the other hand, even when parents are proud of their daughters’ academic achievement or excellence in workplace, they still regard ‘marrying a perfect man and living happily ever after’ as their daughters’ ultimate goal. As a consequence, women, especially when they hit 30 years depending on the culture , are constantly reminded that their biological clock is ticking, and that they “should” be focusing on finding a partner and settling down, rather than dedicating their time to their careers, relationships, or simply embracing life without society-imposed commitments.  In an attempt to fulfill this pre-destined role of the ‘married woman, it is not uncommon to find marriage at the top of the prayer request lists in religious circles and in that case, places of retreat and prayers are popular destinations for women seeking divine intervention for among other things, a worthy suitor.

It has to be stated nonetheless that we have nothing against the idea or institution of marriage here. In fact, the whole society should be concerned with people having healthier unions as the society would be the better for it  would when relationships are good or even just good enough given that couples and their kids would reap many benefits from such,  The real problem, however, is the patriarchal norm that this attitude toward marriage perpetuates in the society such that marriage has come to define success and accomplishment especially for the girls such that they are shamed when they do not follow this misplaced societal construct.  Marriage is supposed to represent the beginning of a beautiful journey, but our society has successfully turned it into a race, in which no girl wants to be left behind even at the detriment of self fulfillment and worth. For one thing, getting married should never be put in a higher regard than the academic and professional successes that women work hard to attain. This is because  one doesn’t have to have a brain or a special skill to get married as it only requires having a willing partner. However, getting into school, graduating with a degree and pursuing a career path do require actual hard work which hard work could even produce higher level of satisfaction and contribution in marriages contracted outside of the undue pressure of societal patriarchy on girls.

In the final analysis, there is no silver bullet that can instantly eliminate all oppression of women. Nevertheless, exposing how patriarchal systems and their norms are being perpetuated today will enable us to more effectively challenge and dismantle them. Therefore as we join the world to celebrate the international Women’s Day today, the society as a whole needs to re-evaluate what aspect of women’s lives we put the most value on to combat the hard and soft power of patriarchy, so that we can build a world in which gender equality can actually be established and sustained, — a culture of equity, where women’s worries would not focus primarily on getting married and making those marriages work, but rather their own self-fulfillment and vocations as part of their wholesome societal roles.

  • Yakubu is of the Department of Mass Communication, Kogi State University, Anyigba.

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