Modern Women Are Defying the Odds to Marry for Reproductive Roles
Early marriage, especially for reproductive purposes, no longer fits African women
BY PATIENCE TINOTENDA MUTSETSE
"Modern African women are refraining from being solely identified through reproductive roles as they are holistically invested in building the lives they want."
BY PATIENCE TINOTENDA MUTSETSE
11 May 2023
The ‘self care revolution’ is evolving. From merely being intentional about prioritising one’s own mental, emotional and physical health, it has now moved on to defying the unrealistic gender expectations that deeply tie a woman’s identity to a socially sanctioned establishment: marriage.
In Africa in particular, the Millennial generation is witnessing an unprecedented transformation of women’s perspective on marriage as a social institution and personal decision. Modern women are increasingly overcoming the idea of committing to a dysfunctional relationship for social approval or validation. There is an intensification of passion to prioritise financial independence, personal freedom, mental stability, self worth, educational investment and career advancement over rushed marriage and child bearing. Contrary to Baby Boomers and Gen X, who demonised late marriage, Millennials are becoming insusceptible to hit the traditional milestone of marriage in their early 20s and conforming to society’s definition of women’s success. Modern African women are refraining from being solely identified through reproductive roles as they are holistically invested in building the lives they want.
In literature, Black authors are seamlessly portraying the detrimental effects of the prejudice and stereotyping millennials are subjected to based on their relationship status. Yinka, Where ls Your Husband, a contemporary novel by Nigerian writer Lizzie Damilola Blackburn, depicts the story of a thirty one year old British-Nigerian woman who is pressured to settle down by her mother and aunties. Despite being an Oxford graduate with a well paying job, a decent car and a house in London, Yinka’s life is deemed as imperfect because she is not married. When Yinka succumbs to the constant prodding from her overbearing family about being unmarried. She sets unrealistic goals to secure a relationship, which opens a plethora of insecurities and imperfections about her ‘unattractive dark complexion’, poor cooking skills, figure, short hair, beliefs and Yoruba speaking proficiency. As depicted by the story, Yinka is able to overcome feelings of inadequacy through therapy, and realises that her self worth is not determined by being called a mother or a wife.
Reflecting on this novel, l have discovered that my grandmother's generation had been succumbing to depression, post traumatic stress disorder and hypertension in their early 60s and 70’s due to the effects of early marriage. They were burdened with reproductive roles in their teenage years without experiencing the joys of transitioning into adulthood and without dealing with childhood trauma. Ascribing to patriarchal beliefs also compelled them to hold back their aspirations as they supported and built their partners careers. For the longest time, African women have been enslaved by the demands of unfair or unequitable burdens of unpaid care work and domestic work. Society has made them believe that you can fail at anything but motherhood and marriage, because nurturing families has been considered as every woman’s ultimate accomplishment.
Nonetheless, with modernisation, millennials have been exposed to progressive perspectives, precipitating the evolution within the dynamics of married life. Marriage has progressed into an entity that promotes building generational wealth, supporting each other’s dreams, collaborating on family expectations and fostering healthy relationships. The height of mainstream feminism has exhibited how explosive, overwhelming and oppressive early marriage can be for young women who are financially, physically and emotionally unready to start a family. And by breaking the silence on psychological effects of early marriage and sharing their lived experiences, the older generation are helping millennials realise that marriage doesn’t guarantee immunity against singledom. Statistics have proven that divorce rates are highest among couples in their 20s, who often rush into marriage to beat the biological clock.
Women empowerment has enormously contributed to the demystification of the term ‘late marriage’ or ‘delayed marriage’, a social construct that intends to control women’s autonomy. Lately, there has been a radical shifting of women’s perspectives on rushed marriage, especially among well established African and African American female celebrities who got married in their early 30s and 40s. The testimonies of Rita Dominic, Serena Williams, Mercy Chinwo, Sinach and Tasha Cobbs have proven that the idea that women are ‘best’ before the age of 25 is prejudicial, and has highly contributed to the deconstructing and unlearning the internalised idolisation of marriage even within the religious circles.
In an attempt to understand modern women’s perspectives on why modern women are defying odds to marry for reproductive roles, l spoke to Black women in Africa and the UK.
Fay, a UK based author and podcaster, shared her personal experience as a single woman who married young and divorced young too. She agreed to the fact that more women are opting to marry late nowadays, especially in the modern world. She went on to say: “ I feel this is largely because of technology, and the reduction of the stigma in most social circles. There’s also relativity with more women in the sense that there’s more of us who are not married in their 30s and it’s becoming normal. I also think that we are more educated and perhaps too aware, so we try to get with the right person before committing. Earning power has also been a big player because back in the day, marriages were a way out of poverty for some, who didn’t marry for love but for convenience. Times have changed, and people cohabit a lot more, delaying marriage even further. In a sense, it has its benefits because as a woman, you’re not operating under pressure, but there are also some drawbacks in this decision.”
I also spoke to Rudo, a UK based author, Youtuber and Afrolit book reviewer who concurred with the idea of late marriage being influenced by several factors: “Some people find it ideal to get married late because they prefer to have their finances in order and also to be a bit wiser when making the decision to choose a spouse. I would say it is very much a reality and practised by more women, the fact that we can choose whether we want to be married or not, whether we want children or not and also, wanting to love ourselves as individuals before committing. I believe being able to make the choice of marrying late plays a role. Keeping in mind that not all women want to, or can, have children. I think late marriage helps women by giving them time to really think about commitment.”
Meanwhile, Rumbi, a Zimbabwean seasoned social scientist and passionate feminist explained that the idea of late marriage comes down to the issue of independence and the will power to be self sufficient before getting married and committing, so that you can have a say in the union. In a bid to find space within the marriage setup, women are accumulating material power before committing so that can be heard. “There is a belief that a financially independent daughter in law or wife tends to earn more respect,” she said. “There has been a rise in the promotion of women empowerment and femininity, and most prospective suitors can not match the standards of modern women. Lately, the corporate world and social environment are becoming more accommodating and friendly for women to be successful before marriage. Women are not refraining from progressing because they are waiting for marriage. They have ceased to be social beings who are supposed to do their wife duty. Modern women are now more concerned with career development. There has been a shift from the African women who wanted to fit into that patriarchal society, to career women who have the freedom to nurture career development and personal growth. Modern women also now have the autonomy to outsource help and control their reproductive duties''.
Drawing back to the testimonies of young Black women about the intersectionality of marriage and reproductive roles, it is clear that early marriage coupled with marrying for reproductive roles in modern society is increasingly becoming unfashionable.