Monday, December 1, 2008

MOI: The Metamorphosis of the African Woman

So I know we all have a view on this one. I feel strongly about the mistreated woman who suffers/endures all for the sake of her children because that is what she is programmed to do - to LOVE and SURVIVE, to MEND and MAKE DO, to HEAL and MOVE ON. Half of the time, the "Mike" Okechukwu Ofili references in his article, is as much the product of a "managed" marriage as it is of a broken home. Every woman knows her threshold for emotional and physical abuse, and often, the children (or religion) are used by the African community to convince her to stay in an abusive marriage. Interested in hearing your thoughts on Okey's question: WHAT IS BEST? or rather, what is least damaging to woman and child?....

MOI: The Metamorphosis of the African Woman

The words hit me like a ton of bricks! Mike had what! I exclaimed
...Mike was the quintessential kid, everyone wanted to be like him. Unlike us Mike lived a liberal life; his stories were filled with sultry tales of adventures on the streets of Lagos. As a young teenager his stories sparked our interest. I got to know Mike personally as a student at my Mum’s after-school tutorial program. He always arrived in the latest car models and his clothes exuded richness. I often wondered why we didn’t have the same cool clothes as Mike or the same liberal freedoms as Mike. It was okay for Mike to stay up past midnight, but for us it was two death sentences in one. Firstly a beating from Mum and the other a sharp lyrical onslaught from Dad. But behind all of Mike’s riches lay scars invisible to our eyes. Product of a broken marriage, Mike was a victim of artificial love from two warring parents. Parents that substituted discipline with liberalism. Liberalism that left a wound hidden in Mike’s heart for years…
I heard the words come out from my Mum’s mouth, but I was too shocked to understand any of it. Mike had killed his father and committed suicide days after being arrested for drug possession. What pushed a child so sweet and so lucky towards these acts? I remembered the times I stayed up in bed early cursing at my parents for forcing us to go to bed early, but as I lay in bed that night, my heart heaved a painful sign of appreciation. I had what Mike never had, a strong and loving family.

Quoting “statistics show that only 1 out of 100 Indian marriages end up to a divorce…in comparison 50% of America’s marriages turning into divorce [break ups].” Due to the large rural population and incomplete records, the divorce rate in Nigeria is largely unknown, but I would estimate it to be close to the figures reflected in India. In Nigeria divorce is not an option, it was taboo looked down upon by religious bodies and traditional cultures. In our eyes marriage was permanent and I could understand why. Many times dissolved marriages created more and more Mikes in the world. Children groomed in an atmosphere of artificial love who ended up losing out on the defining lessons of life. So Nigerian couples tended to stay together in a bid to maintain an artificial family atmosphere for their children. Even when the husband was physically abusive to his wife, the woman held on to the marriage. A sacrificial act perpetrated to eradicate the creation of more Mikes in the world. But was the sacrifice necessary?

According to the September 19th Washington Post article, the divorce rate in New Delhi, the capital city of India has almost doubled. The main reason being the western cultural influence. An influence absorbed by thousands of immigrants that empowers its women to speak out against injustice “[In Korea] 66.7% of divorces in 2003 were initiated by women, compared to 30.6% by men.” Injustice that in Nigeria would typically have been looked at as a necessary sacrifice. A sacrifice that Elizabeth made for years as she was physically abused in her own home by the very same man that promised to love her for better for worse. But Elizabeth stayed. She fought hard but could never overcome the strength of her monstrous husband, who in unpredictable but intermittent emotional rage proceeded to beat her night after night. An act that occurred in the full view of her children and a nation slowly awakening to the rights of a woman. For nights she cried but culture and religion chose to keep quiet. Family members wandered around like they never saw the bruises or heard the cries…a norm in Africa now frowned upon by legions of Nigerian re-immigrants. It was in that same state that Mary found herself. What started out as an American dream for Mary turned into a nightmare, like Elizabeth, Mary was exposed to nights of physical abuse. But unlike Nigeria her new community chose to listen to her cries, chose to see her wounds and chose to stand up against her injustice. Using the power of divorce, Mary opted out of her nightmare. Taking with her a two year old child. Mary had overcome her abusive husband, but now had to overcome the world as single mother faced with the gargantuan task of raising a child. Mary tried her best, but like Mike another child was bred confused and lost, a cultural embarrassment to the elders of Nigeria and another ubiquitous by-product of a western culture saturated with divorce.

What should Mary have done, should she have sacrificed herself for the mirage of a quasi marriage? That question is answered with a startling “no” by Nigerian female immigrants to America. Who frown at the thought of staying in an abusive marriage. A thought that is often preceded with the mindset of an independent woman. A woman whose idea of marriage is one in which both husband and wife are equally responsible for the financial and social aspects of the family. But in the traditional definition of marriage that has never been the case. The man has always been marked as the head of the household with a woman there to support him. But this trend of female independence is fast engulfing the Nigerian landscape as the typical definition of an obedient African woman is now replaced with that of an empowered woman or as Fela Anikulapo Kuti would say an empowered sophisticated lady. In his upbeat hit song “Lady,” Fela takes a satirical look at this trend comparing and contrasting between a typical African woman and the newly evolving westernized African woman. In his song he portrays the African woman as one willing to accept the man as the master, but the “Lady” on the other hand is soiled with western influence and believes the man should wash plates and share in the household chores.

Excerpt’s Of “Lady” by Fela:
African woman go dance she go dance the fire dance
She know him man na Master
She go cook for am
She go do anything he say
But Lady no be so

So what is best? A woman that sacrifices herself to uphold a family, or a woman that speaks up against palpable injustice. I don’t know the answer, I wish I did. But as I stare at that girl swaddled in the warm linen of blankets with that glistened look in her eyes. I can’t help but think about Mike. Who shall we produce what shall we become? I don’t know but in the cold of the night I come to realize that part of the solution lies in me. The man.

Okechukwu Ofili
Copyright © 2008 Ofili Speaks, Inc. All rights reserved


Ms Sula said...

This is an interesting article, although I believe the author is using very wide brushstrokes to paint the stories. I understand the need to contextualize the situation but it seems to be suffering of a case of blanket statements.

With that said, I believe for every Mike (I have known some) there is a John who was raised in a "married" household with his father abusing his mother and ended up being as destroyed as Mike. Not in the same way necessarily, but destroyed nonetheless.

Mike's parents failed him. But they are far from being the poster child for kids raised out of a divorce. They are those (and I have known a lot) who end up being well-adjusted and functionning adults later on.

Mike's case then begs the question, how do we decide whose life bears more value?
Let's suppose for the sake of Mike, the parents stayed together. And the wife was being abused. Isn't this putting another life at risk? Another human being's happiness being compromised? How do we decide whose life is more valuable to save? An abused woman who is emotionally and physically broken is not a viable and functionning member of society. And that's a fact. It can only get worse. Unless the husband all of the sudden decides to become a responsible human being... which we know might very well not happen.
However, by divorcing there is at least a 50% chance that "Mike" will turn out ok.

My point being that an established situation i.e the beating should be dealt with first as opposed to a hypothetical one i.e Mike will turn out to be a druggy and a murderer.

A woman being beaten takes precedence and priority over the "perceived" lack of structure emanating from an eventual divorce. Single mothers is not a new situation. It's just that back then they were widows rather than divorced. If both parents are responsible enough, the kid still has a chance. A woman in an abusive relationship has none.

To touch on Fela's lyrics. I love Fela to death. I am sure he was referring to the confusion that (rightly) emanated from the women's lib movement for African women. There was and still is a great deal of confusion on what it means to be an "independent" woman or lady. It has nothing to do with outward appearance or behavior, ability to do certain things vs others, or even the bacon one can bring home. My definition is quite simple, an independent woman is a woman being recognized for who SHE is as a human being, to appreciate and realize all of her potential as a human being and to not be confined to a role or description that suits a segment of society.

And yes, I am an independent woman who happens to cook and clean as well.

Ms Sula said...


Sorry for the long-winded reply.

What AfroBeat really needs to be is a forum! :)

Jaja said...

a forum I second.


Should a woman stay for her children/religion or should she leave an abusive relationship?

My initial answer is to suggest that she leave as quickly as possible with children in hand. To stay is to suffer untolerable abuse and possibly ingrain in the children that such abuse is normal thus creating a cycle of abuse/submission that will only raise problems in the future.

That being said, I have seen many a woman decide to stay for the children and because of their religion. While I am yet to see a woman whose choice to stay did not eventually backfire, I have been told of some whose choice to stay ended up being the right choice for not just them, but their entire family. As a result, I must acknowledge the limitation of my take on the issue of abuse, clearly my stance would have been wrong for such women.

What i do know for certain is that my family does not accept or condone physical or verbal abuse and we take the necessary measures to guarantee that it stops.

Anonymous said...

@ Ms. Sula: thanks for the comments. Definitely am in agreement with you, the article is as general as can be. Not every child from an abusive marriage turns out bad, neither those every child raised in a good marriage turn out good. What am trying to argue is that a good family tends to produce better children majority of the time (not all the time).
Lastly as I said in my article, I have no idea what the right side is, stay in an abusive marriage or get out. But one thing I do know is that as individuals we can make a difference. As men we can make sure we are not lazy husbands or abusers at the same time we should also make sure we speak up for all those that are abused that have no voice to speak up for themselves =(

Anonymous said...

And yay to the forum...

Anonymous said...

What makes us human is having the choice to be who we are, the choice to realize our potiential to fullest and being in an enviroment that allows us to do so.

Staying in an abusive relationship clearly does not allow room for such development/realization of one's potiential. How can I be a good mother when I'm not a happy woman? I cannot give what I don't have, and since I don't have that enviroment to be human and all that I want to be, how can I give that to my child?

Like I've always said, we need to tackle this situation from the root by changing our mindset on what a woman (and in this case an african woman) is/should be.

PS: Misan, long time! How you doing? Mr Ofili, thank you for this insightful post!

Moody Crab

Ms Sula said...

@Ofilispeaks, thanks for bringing up the subject at all. It's a very noble thing to talk about things that are seen as uncomfortable. The most important thing is that it lets us share our views and opinions and for that alone, that article was spot on.

Please do share with us more of your thoughts and we'll be happy to participate. It's very endearing to see young Africans committed to the betterment of their continents. I am trying not to be disillusionned, it's hard but doable.

Keep up the good work!

libvixen said...

ur blog is great
keep doing wat u do best
cuz i loce it

libvixen said...

ur blog is great
keep doing wat u do best
cuz i loce it

Sherri said...

great post!even with the sweeping generalization and typecasting.

no woman or man(men are often victims of abuse too)should stay in an abusive marriage/relationship.

a high percentage of women remain in abusive marriages for economic reasons.
the increased rate of divorce in developed nations is a direct result of the laws allowing for equitable distribution of marital assets regardless of each parties's contribution and the vast opportunities available to women to attain financial independence.

it is possible to raise emotionally healthy and well adjusted children within and outside of marriage there are countless examples attesting to this. hence, Mike was a victim of bad parenting not divorce.

the solution?
i could beat about the amazon by stating how females need to be strong, independent and refuse to conform to society's gendermending,
how the culture in naija reinforces and condones violence against women and children and all that. (i just did!)
the bottomline is:

Nigeria need laws providing equal opportunities for females in all spheres of society.

females have to come to the full realization of their God given role as the molders and shapers of their societies.

a woman who has come to terms with her "womaness" knows she possess the ability to achieve her purpose.
knows she does not need a man to validate her and yet she is able to cherish her relationship with men.
knows she does not need to carry a child in her uterus to be a mother or to be validated.she knows she's a mother to all the children she will encounter in her lifetime.

she knows her worth and will not settle for less....

i could go on, i won't

there will always be the battle of the sexes, the reality is there is none supreme, but a symbiosis

thanks for this great post and taking a stand.

In my head and around me said...

Remember the Unabomber? He was from a solid family. Had a good education and a relatively good life and still ended up the way he did.

I have loads of friends that are the broken homes and are they turned out very differently from each other. There appears to be no winning formula. Could that be because even within some nuclear families, there are more issues than in a family with a single parent?

Having said that, I am a single mother and have great fears of what the damage will be on my child for not having her father in her life.

Nigerian Drama Queen said...

Great Article.
Like so many others have noted, this is not an issue with a straight forward answer. Every situation varies.

I know people who have stayed married to men who were abusive, and in the end, the marriage worked out. I also know people who have cheated death as a result of staying in abusive relationships/marriages.

I have several friends from broken families who have turned out to be amazing human beings. I know people who come from two parent families and have turned out to be basket cases.

I guess, every situation must be analyzed case by case. You bring up some great issues.

Jinta said...

i'm in love with sula, an independent who also likes to cook and clean (no man could have got away with saying that, btw)


Happy New year!

'Yar Mama said...

Happy New Year.

o.n.a said...

This is definitely a very interesting article and touches on a significant social issue that is often enforced by the 'well-meaning' society....To very briefly answer Okechukwu's question at the end...."what is best?"

I do not believe that a woman who sacrifices herself to uphold a family is mutually exclusive to a woman that speaks up against palpable injustice. To believe they are is to falsely assert that single women with children are not raising a family or do not work equally as hard to provide their children with the same love and care that they would if there was a father.

Furthermore, i believe within both situations a woman sacrifices herself - they are just different types. In one she may endure physical and verbal abuse, while in the other she endures possibly physical and mental exhaustion maintaining an acceptable lifestyle for her children with less support.

It takes two to tango and as much as there are strong women who can independently take care of their children, societies values needs to be reflective of such practices and should be more supportive of single mothers and fathers!

guerreiranigeriana said...!...don't know where to even, forum!...but i agree alot with what has already been said regarding generalizations and a lack of a winning formula...

Anonymous said...

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