The “Good wife”

What makes one qualified to be labelled a good wife?

Most of our beliefs are shaped by society’s expectations. We have been conditioned since childhood to conform within a certain set of rules, as women, in order to be identified, picked or otherwise “chosen” by men so as to earn the title of not only a wife but a good wife at that(apparently there is a difference). Traditionally, as we approach our thirties, we start to panic and by we, I mean women. Society heaps pressure upon pressure for us to settle down, get married and procreate. Our parents stop giving subtle hints and go straight for the jugular. Everyone starts insinuating that there must be something wrong with you if in your thirties you are unmarried and have no offspring. We are consistently told that we should ask for little and accept less. We’re labelled gold-diggers if we so much as dare desire partners who are financially stable.And we’re regularly told that the things we desire are out of reach, that we should just find a man willing to marry us and we will “grow” together. The underlying suggestion is that we should lower our expectations if we hope to find/ keep a man.
As a young, independent African woman, I used to think all those were myths. I would blaze my own trail. As I approached my thirties though, I started getting those side glances, aunties dropping hints like’time waits for no man’ and ‘you still haven’t met Mr.Right?’ Looking at those married aunties and peers did not make me want to get married at all. They looked worn out and defeated,somehow resigned to the fate of being “the good wife”.The definition of a good wife according to them,is the pillar that holds a man down, devoting her life to proving her worth to him regardless of how badly he treats her,the pay off being carrying his last name and bearing his offspring.The man is free to come and go as he pleases, no questions asked, and their consolation is that he still comes home to them at the end of the day. Surely that must mean that they are special,right? Marriage,mind you, doesn’t necessarily mean that you get a ring and a piece of paper from the government(this you must earn) . Mostly what we are referring to as marriage in this context is someone visiting your parents to introduce themselves and thereafter promptly installing you in their house.

There’s a reason marriage is a social concession for men but a social achievement for women.And maybe the reason is that these relationships were never intended to be mutually beneficial. I am reminded of a friend and former schoolmate who once came to crying and dejected. She got “married”( read installed) by a man soon after we cleared campus. She shared stories of how he beat her incessantly almost to the point of blacking out on a daily basis. All because she was no longer contributing to the financial pot in the house any more and also because she was “unable” to give him a child, therefore,she was useless to him as far as he was concerned.The thing is, when they met,she was working in a big NGO earning a lot of money.A University graduate unencumbered by the burden of being a single mum as most ladies tend to be by the time they finish campus(myself included).He was sure he had hit the jackpot! He hurriedly arranged to make a social call to her parents and after the usual introductions and a small token he installed her in his house as his wife.Fast forward a few years later, her contract was terminated and she was unable to get another job even as the savings swindled. Almost overnight,she became a burden. While initially, it did not bother him that she was unable to conceive, now it became a source of constant fighting. By the time we met and she narrated her ordeal to me,she was depressed and felt utterly worthless.I offered to host her in my home for a short while to give her a soft landing so that she could either find a job,or go back to her parents home. After a couple of months of hosting her,I had a talk with her and requested her to go back to her parents home seeing as jobs were not forthcoming and it was becoming increasingly difficult to feed her as well as my children much longer without taking away from the kids(I was a single mum by then). That’s when things turned ugly and she accused me of breaking her marriage up!She packed her stuff and tearfully went back to her husband. It tore me up that she made a decision to go back to a bad situation,rather than face her parents and relatives and let them know she could not take it anymore. Apparently, she had tried to confide in her mum about the abuse before reaching out to me,and the mum told her that is just how marriage works.

I have nothing against marriage, by the way,seeing as I am married myself.But I believe that if women are going to get married anyway, knowing the demands society puts on us both as women and as wives, we must do so under the best circumstances for us. Marriage already requires a lot from the woman,at the very least, it should be mutually beneficial.If we keep allowing ourselves to be convinced that love is all we need, that a piece of a man is better than no man at all, we’ll continue to accept relationships that lack purpose and reciprocity. Marriage is about sickness and health, yes, good times and bad, absolutely. But marriage, at its core, is a legally binding agreement intended to offer equal social benefits to a team of two people who agree to work together for the betterment of themselves and society. It’s not a charitable act and it’s certainly not favour.I hope we continue to raise a nation of strong women who know their worth and are not afraid to ask for their fair share.As a mother of girls, I plan to empower them to achieve what we have been told over and over again is impossible for women.