Moil and Matrimony


 Minna Salami brilliantly and succinctly captured the essence of the news dominating our discourse during the last week in April in that one tweet. It WAS draining. Between ‘Becky with the good hair’ and a phantom Nigerian husband-eater known as Edible Catering, the façade that marriage always ends in happily ever after if you’re rich and pretty enough took a black eye.

I have my misgivings and reservations about certain aspects of Beyoncé’s Lemonade, but I would never hesitate to admit that it is a very necessary – and dare I say important album. Whether Beyoncé is actually the wife of an adulterer or not, she was telling someone’s truth, and truth telling is an often painful necessity.

On the heels of Lemonade, Tiwa Savage (who, in an ironic twist, is often described as ‘Nigeria’s Beyoncé) found it necessary to use her voice to discuss her husband’s infidelity in vivid detail. In response to Tunji ‘TJ” Balogun’s Instagram rant where he accuses Tiwa’s mother of witchcraft and Tiwa of committing the ultimate African offense – not cooking for her husband or asking if he was hungry (a crime so odious that it caused him to contemplate suicide)- Tiwa took to the internet for a one-on-one interview with revelations about her husband’s cocaine use, larceny and general propensity for being a man-whore. She had covered all this up for years in order to present a false picture of a united and happy family unit. She did this because it is what is expected of all African women.

Tiwa admitted that she would have kept up the farce had it not been for TJ bringing their private life into the public eye. However, unlike Queen Bey who was largely feted and supported for her production, a voyeur’s delight by all accounts, Tiwa found herself subject to ridicule, scorn and venom. Listed among her offenses are that she didn’t pray hard enough for her marriage (someone actually asked whether or not she’d seen War Room!); that she should have been more “civilized” in her response for the ‘sake of the child’; and that she has taken TJ’s “manhood” from him by revealing his fiscal irresponsibility and flagrant disregard for Tiwa herself and their son. In short, she should have kept on pretending.

Some people even blame her for not getting out of her two-year marriage sooner. Naturally, there are those who also blame Tiwa for not sticking with the failed marriage longer. What saddened me most is the number of women…patriarchal princesses, I call them…who came for Tiwa’s neck because she didn’t play the game as dictated by the misogynist’s code. It’s too convoluted a mess to unpack, wherein she’s simultaneously blamed for covering up her husband’s numerous offenses and now for refusing to shield him any longer. What they are really mad at is that she has chosen life, and chosen to live it more abundantly untethered a substance abusing husband.

At the end of the day, that the marriage between Tiwa Savage and Tunji Balongun failed is Tiwa’s fault, according to African society. Not the fact that her soon-to-be ex-husband is a coke head. Not the fact that he was screwing another woman in a hotel while she was miscarrying his child on a sound set in another country. Not the fact that he stole from her and has never purchased a single diaper for his son. The marriage between these two failed because Tiwa Savage didn’t come home from performing all night on stage to boil rice for her husband.

There must’ve been something in the air this week. It was like a river dam burst and we were swimming in a deluge of tales marital woe. I encountered a number of women who have suffered quietly through the indignities that their husband’s (or boyfriend, in one case) have subjected them to. Some of them will stay with their tormentors because culture and shame demand them to. One will have to stay with her tyrant overlord because the choice has been taken from her. And with their permission, I will tell their stories, changing only certain details to protect their identities.

Why is it important for me to do this when I have what most would consider a relatively healthy marriage? Why should I even care? It’s because the reason(s) that these women feel the need to embrace a culture of silence has a harmful spillover effect into other areas of the Black female existence beyond marriage. This is not just a celebrity problem. Tiwa and Beyonce spoke/sang the truths of many women. And it’s also because I have compassion for these couples; not just the women. I feel pity for both people trapped in unhealthy relationships because they feel beholden to unrealistic expectations and cultural norms that serve no one, really. It’s also because these women were brave enough to determine their personal breaking points and chose to tell someone about their unhappiness. And isn’t that the first step to reclaiming your freedom? Confessing the truth about your present reality?

There’s a quote about truth that I ran across the other day, and I think it’s fitting in this post-Tiwa Headscarf Lemonade sipping era. It says:

“The truth never hurts unless it ought to and sometimes it’s a powerful wake-up call for all concerned. There’s never a really good or special time to decide to tell the truth – the time is all the time. “ – Howard Tullman

I’ve been struggling with how to narrate these stories, and I’ve concluded that the best way is with their own words. First up: The Night Nurse’s Tale.