LOUD WHISPERS: Cooking, Cleaning And Praying
I am at that stage in my life now when many young wards around me are getting married. I have a lot of young men and women who have come to me with their prospective brides and grooms, seeking my blessing. I usually have the same set of questions for the potential couples. The first question I ask is not ‘Where is he/she from’? it is ‘What does he/she do?’. Our parents’ generation was very concerned with where their future in laws came from because from this they could deduce character traits peculiar to that tribe or ethnic group. It also helped their investigative skills, because the said family would be fully analysed to determine their suitability as in-laws. For many of them, this was a deal breaker. My late mother-in-law did not want any of her children marrying someone from Ijebu or Abeokuta in the South West part of Nigeria. In her opinion, the people from Ijebu and Abeokuta were too ‘money conscious’, ‘showy’, and ‘westernised’, as opposed to the more conservative and reserved people from ‘up country’ Yorubaland such as Oyo, Osun, Ekiti and Ondo. Thankfully, none of her children tested this to its limits, they all safely married from suitably ‘conservative’ parts of Yorubaland. The day I first met my future mother in law, there were a lot of people in the house. One of my husband’s sisters had just had a baby and the family had gathered for the naming ceremony. In spite of the fact that there were so many people around, my mother in law still found a way of getting me alone to ask the question ‘Where are you from?’ When I told her I was from Ondo State, next door to Ekiti State, she heaved a visible sigh of relief and said, ‘That is very good’. I suppose she had been dreading a confrontation with her son over the origins of his future wife.
When I introduced my intended husband to my parents, my father was more concerned about his future plans and asked the ‘What do you do or are planning to do?’ questions. When my mother was asked to say something, all she asked her future son in law was ‘Where are you from’? Over time, most of these ethnic stereotypes have been set aside. These days we have many young people marrying across tribal, ethnic and racial barriers. While families might of course have some initial reservations, it is no longer the life or death issue it was when I was young.
Last week the revered Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God gave some advice to young people who are thinking of marriage. For the young men, they were advised to marry women who can cook well and pray fervently for at least an hour every day. Young women were advised to marry men who had jobs. A number of people have contacted me to ask what I think about this advice. In thinking about how to respond, I reflected on my own experience of being ‘prepared’ for marriage by my parents and my own hopes for all the young people around me, my biological and non-biological children alike. My parents prepared me for marriage in different ways. My mother took the conventional route. I was taught how to pray, cook, clean, wash and manage a household. I could pound yam and cook Egusi soup, though never as good as my mother’s, but good enough. I even learnt how to cook something which she never got the hang of – Moin Moin. My father taught me that I had to be self-reliant. He would say, ‘When poverty comes in, love flies out of the window’. He taught me how to exercise independent judgement by forcing me into arguments, just so I could take a position, which he would then critique, all in a bid to ensure that I would always be able to think and act for myself. My mother would throw up her hands in despair and say, ‘No one will marry her if she is too talkative and opinionated’. My father would say, ‘She will be fine. She is not an idiot and she is not going to marry one’. My father was right. When the time came to think about choosing a husband, I wanted someone who would not be intent on breaking my spirit. I was looking for someone who would nourish it and enable me to grow, just like my father had done.
So for those young men and women who are debating the advice of Pastor Adeboye, for whatever it is worth, here is what I think. I do not believe in expectations that perpetuate gender stereotypes. If you are a young woman thinking of marriage, you should have a job. You should be able to bring something to the table to support your marriage. You should never enter into marriage with the expectation that your husband will feed, clothe and pamper you all the days of your married life because he is the man. Even if your future husband is a ‘One percenter’, you will be in for a rude shock if you have unrealistic expectations. There are times in most marriages when one income is not enough. It is also not just about the money, it is to do with your dignity and self-respect. You can certainly make decisions on how to pursue a career or livelihood taking into consideration the needs of those around you, but you should be comfortable with that decision and own the choice. If a young man tells you, ‘I don’t want my wife to work’, run! Run as fast as your legs can carry you. That statement has little to do with loving you and wanting to take care of you. It is about power and control over you. You should also look for someone who is willing to pull his weight around the house if you don’t want to end up bitter and frustrated.
If you are a young man looking for a wife, not only must you have a job as Pastor Adeboye has advised, you should also be able to do some things around the house. There are many household tasks – cooking, laundry, gardening, cleaning, ironing, school runs, children’s homework, and so on. Is your wife supposed to perform all these tasks alone? If you are unable to undertake some of these tasks (or at least draft in someone to help), how long do you think it will take before there is a strain on your marriage? I hear a lot of people say things like, ‘But my mother did all those things and my father did not have to do anything’. Is that entirely true? Our parents’ generation always had someone around to help. There was always a member of the extended family around who helped do household chores in exchange for an education or vocational training. Some families were polygamous, so even though this is not an endorsement of the practice, it eased the burden of some women. In my view, one of the main reasons why marriages today are under threat is the consistent refusal to come to terms with the realities of today’s world in which gender roles are no longer set in stone.
This is why, when young couples present themselves to me, I ask questions about the emotional, spiritual, financial, and professional preparedness of both parties. When I ask the question, ‘What do you do?’, I want answers that can assure me that financial struggles will not overwhelm the young couple. My father refused to allow my younger sister to marry until she had a job. The fact that her fiancée had a job did not matter to him. I refused to consent to the marriage of my niece who is like a daughter to me until she had a job. The question, ‘Where are you from?’ that used to preoccupy the older generation, is now, for me, a much broader question about the character, values and principles that have shaped you along the way. Who are you as a person? Do you have the right temperament and generosity of spirit to share your life with someone?
Do you come from a family or tradition that encourages and rewards enterprise, resourcefulness and progressive ideas, or are you from a background that is more concerned with crushing spirits and enforcing negative gender stereotypes?
When my husband and I were living in London, with no outside help available, we adapted. He does not cook, the best he can do is warm food in the microwave. He however made up for it by buying the groceries and using the washing machine. We both travelled a lot for work and had a child to bring up, but we never had any fights over who did what. I could give many reasons for this – love, communication and respect, and they would all be true. It is however important to stress that we did not have unrealistic expectations of each other, and we were sensitive to each other’s needs.
My message is not for young couples only. It is also for my peers who are now parents of children who are married or preparing for marriage. Before you get all excited about the Aso Ebi and how many guests you are inviting, ask the hard questions. Your daughter needs to have a job or a source of income before she gets married. Your son not only needs a job, he also needs to be able to pull his weight around the house. As for being able to pray, both of them should be able to pray. On the day of judgement, everyone will answer to their God separately.
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Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com
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