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
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