It’s pretty regular for people to associate the past with being more sane, more organized and essentially better than the present. The Good old days. Closer to home, there is an understanding being perpetuated that marriages in the time past, the unions of the 60’ to 80’s were the periods where there was still some semblance of purposefulness in the union. More often than not, on social media, there is the pervasiveness of scorn on this generation on how they have soiled the fabric of society’s smallest unit.
The facts first, human nature is relatively constant within its range of variables i.e. the nature of men and women haven’t changed outside these variables within and outside the scope of marriages. Also,society has constantly changed and presently the internet and social media are the biggest tools for that change. Cultures and values also change due to the changes in response of people to established or accepted rules of relation or engagement.
I think the predominant factor that has changed in marriages in contemporary Nigeria is the response of women to the previously established societal equations of marriage. We are in an era of information overflow due to the internet and social media. The world has never had it this good. In time past, how and where to get information was the challenge. Now, the challenge is to filter information for specifics and interests. So what has this meant for the Nigerian woman?
Women have learnt to come on their own in a previously misogynist Nigerian culture. They have begun to understand that gender as a basis for seclusion is really a serious issue. They have learnt that in a world where mental capabilities is now the deciding factor, they have as much possibility of attaining peak level just like the male folk, and all these have shifted the mentality of women to challenge the established role of women in Nigerian marriages. Women now understand that they are just as valuable in the echelon of things. They want more space than was afforded to them in the past, more control than they previously had and in effect the responses have changed.
In time past, a man hitting a woman didn’t elicit the same type of response it would elicit now. Even if it did in the communities where it happened, there was no social media to harmonize the uproar and speak against it. The woman of yester years was isolated in her own marriage experience. The immediate society pervaded on yesterday’s woman to remain in her marriage against all odds to make it work regardless of the issues faced.
The society made it seem like, outside marriage there was no place for a woman’s in terms of social value. She stayed back, “because of her children”, “so that peace can reign”, “because men will be men”. These reasons don’t hold so much water anymore. To the yesterday woman, being married was an achievement that society could truncate all other achievement for. The narrative has changed.
Domestic violence has always been present in the Nigerian marital context. What has always been present too but is giving way is the culture of silence which many misunderstood for bliss. Day after day on our media space, women of yester years are telling their stories; Stories which couldn’t be told yesterday, finding their voice today. There have been nice stories, but there have also been as much dark stories. So essentially, the behavior of people in marriages haven’t changed, just the responses.
Moving forward, what can be done? Divorce/separation numbers are rising, multiplying.
Foremost, responsibility has to be understood in the present context. Yesterday’s man had society on his side. Today, that too is changing, being fought. Today’s husband has to understand that responsibilities for his actions and inactions in marriage would not be shielded by the clout of the woman choosing to “stay in her husband’s house”. More often than not, the woman had to overlook and reluctantly forgive the shenanigans of yesterday’s man due to the reverence society conferred on marriage. But for the man, society reversed this rule. He had no obligations not to be divorced, not to for example throw a cheating woman out of his house. His House. Now women can have their own houses and do not need to shuttle or choose between staying at their husbands’ house or fathers’ house.
The limits of Nigerian women to aspiring in society, is not at the level of the contemporary world, but the limits are being pushed everyday in present day society.
Another point of reference is dependency. Dependency is the wheel of control and total dependency usually culminates to total control by the providing party. A quick example, notice how the control parents have on their children wanes immediately they start earning their keep? Yes the same rule applies in the marriage context. A good percentage of yesterdays women were more dependent on their spouses than a good number today. Men must understand this and deduct that the control, men of yesterday society had on their women was due to a misogynistic culture coupled with relative dependence of yesterday’s women on their men. Society’s changing.
As I earlier pointed out, society is evolving. Culture in its characteristic is both dynamic and shared; else it’s not culture. This is a subtle reminder to those who would want to discard this argument on the basis of their idea of a “static culture” of Nigerian or largely, African Marriage. It is not out of place in our everyday conversations to hear a phraselike “it’s our culture for a man to dictate in the home”, or “two captains can’t run a ship”.
It is the people of a society that determines a culture and cultural values could be shared, acquired and transferred. We have to accept that the marriage culture is changing. The defined norms of yester-years are being challenged and only those who wish to operate their unions in the context of these new terms or those that have explicit conformists of the past ideas as partners would thrive in this cultural revolution of the Nigerian Marriage.
Chris Izu Okafor is a storyteller, scriptwriter, content developer and Chinua Achebe aficionado. When he’s not reading, writing or pontificating, he listens to Fela and watches Instagram skits- a lot more than his data would normally allow.