As we come to the conclusion of this series, it’s my fervent hope that the narratives that these women have shared will motivate each of us to do some serious introspection and become more contemplative about our personal choices. Not just in the realm of romance and marriage, but in other areas of our lives as well. I hope it will cause us to think about what we ought to tolerate.
During our dinner conversation, the Night Nurse expressed the notion her ‘cup was full’. Exasperated, she would repeat the phrase again and again as she recounted how she was made to sit on her own front porch like vermin, or how her son becomes sullen every time he is left in the care of his emotionally attached father. She interprets a full cup as the inability (and unwillingness) to take any more of what she has been dished out in here marriage. Yet curiously, her religious convictions preclude her from leaving this fruitless endeavor. Some people would say this is foolish, but as the Night Nurse said, this is her choice.
We began this saga because Tiwa Savage made a series of choices and was savaged (insert quip about puns) for them. Like the Night Nurse and the other women profiled, she examined her cup and ascertained what volume it could accommodate. Her course was to end her tender marriage and to admit that it was a mistake to marry TeeBillz in the first place. Either instance provides an important lesson about choices: It’s okay to admit your mistake in choosing an incompatible life partner. And since it takes two to marry, it will take a commitment from both parties (not just a ‘praying wife’, who so many Africans tend to fault for the collapse of a marriage) to ensure its success. It is obvious in Tiwa’s case that her husband is not interested in preserving their union or its sanctity, or else he never would have placed his wife and their child in harm’s way by borrowing 45 million naira from a ruthless mafia and/or potentially expose Tiwa to a buffet of venereal diseases, courtesy of Edible Catering.
That Tiwa was able to speak so dispassionately about her situation in a society that is not only male dominated, but absolves men from even the most basic of responsibilities is to be applauded and congratulated. The tragedy of the existence of the African male is that he has been made to believe that the sum of his worth is tied to how much money he earns. His manhood is inextricably linked to a paycheck. It has become the ONLY marker he can use as the measure of his success. And when he finds himself wed or dating a woman whose career allows her to eclipse his earning potential, he is unable to cope. Instead of collaborating with his wife, the African male finds himself in competition with her. And in order to keep the peace, women find themselves compelled to dim their light in order for their spouses to shine – or worse – not shine at all. Encouraging silence about this convoluted arrangement plays a big factor in obscuring the accomplishments of women all over the continent.
Culture of silence
In a spirited Facebook exchange earlier in the week, a now former friend of mine spitefully castigated Tiwa for speaking out about the litany of insane things TeeBillz has done during their marriage, determining in her sage opinion that Tiwa should have spoken up and left long before. Oh really? When would have been the ideal time?
“When she had the miscarriage and he didn’t pick up her calls,” she said smugly. “That should have been the last straw.”
But why? Why not when Tiwa found him doing cocaine in the kitchen in the early months of their marriage? Why not when she discovered that he had a third baby outside of the two he had already declared? Why did the miscarriage HAVE to be the point when she decided her cup was full? What gives anyone the right to determine when a man/woman choses the day of their liberation?
The fact is, we never would have known any of these salacious details because Tiwa – like so many other celebrities in her league – fight very hard to keep incidences like these out of the press. It’s damaging to their brand. This is not just a celebrity quirk. Most, if not all Africans are concerned about their brand…except we call it the “family name”.
The visceral need to protect the family name has done irrevocable harm to communities all over Ghana, for instance. I’m fairly certain this phenomenon is not peculiar to our West African nation. If a girl is raped by her father, what do we do? Shuttle her away (but not before she’s received a good beating and shaming for allowing herself to be raped) in order to protect the family name. Visit the comments section on GhanaWeb if you doubt it. If a member of one’s family is mentally ill or physically deformed, what do we do? We lock them away or chain them in a hidden room in order to protect the family name. Even something as mundane as a career choice has consequences for one’s family name/brand. I know of a man who became a white man’s whore and lives with his mother in a beautiful house the white man built for him. She knows that her son is essentially a prostitute, but it’s never spoken of. After all, she has a place to lay her head at night. The stories that she tells people about her son are outrageous because they are so opposite from the truth, all in an effort to protect her brand.
This culture of silence through concealment and lying seeps into every aspect of our society. It is why UN Peacekeepers in CAR felt/feel comfortable raping women and girls, because it’s easier for the latter to keep quiet and try to forget. It’s why no one really talks about corruption except in broad, vague terms. And it’s why Tiwa and the Sunday School Teacher and the Analyst have been silent about their duress until now. It’s not good for the brand, so to speak. No one wants to look like they are weak in the wake of a foe the seems unconquerable.
We talk a lot about male dominated society, patriarchy and how men protect this system to protect their privileges, but certain women have a huge part to play in the stagnation and regression of women’s rights too. These are the patriarchal princesses: women who have positioned themselves to directly benefit from the norms of a male dominated society at the expense of other women. They are essentially “Stephen the House Negroes”, but working on the side of chauvinism as opposed to suppressing Black people. Patriarchal princesses hate women. They hate the idea of gender quality and they are the most victim-blaming trolls you will ever encounter. It is the fear and dread of running into a patriarchal princess that keeps other women silent about their plight(s). These women are our mothers, aunties and hairdressers. They are everywhere.
A patriarchal princess preaches that husbands are our “sons and fathers” and therefore must simultaneously treated as both baby and lord.
A patriarchal princess assumes that if a man is cheating (even when she may the other half of the cheating equation), it must be because his wife is failing to keep up her “responsibilities” at home. She believes that it is a woman’s duty to give a man sex on demand; whether a woman is inspired to or whether he deserves the privilege of making love to her or not.
A patriarchal princess believes that a woman is a lesser being, and even though deep down this belief causes severe cognitive dissonance, she will go out of her way to shame and upbraid any woman who dares to live on her own terms. As was mentioned before, she hates the idea of women being free. She will tell you to watch War Room and insist that you submit to your husband’s insufferableness and then eventually blame you for not getting out sooner “if it was so bad in the beginning.”
Like Stephen the House Negro, these women are worse than white supremacists. They are the ultimate traitors. And like the indoctrination of white supremacy that is rooted in every Black person, all women have to fight the patriarchal princess buried within them if they want to live free.
The “African Context”
But why do the Patriarchal Princess and the culture of silence prevail in our societies? I believe it all boils down to a misinterpretation of what it means to be African: servile, superstitious and simple minded.
This is what we’ve been taught.
At his core, the African male does not believe he is equal (and certainly never superior) to white men, where ‘white’ is a euphemism for ‘not of Africa’. It’s the reason that we give all of our contracts to the Chinese and the Brazilians, though the buildings they erect and roads they design continue to crumble around us. For centuries, we’ve been indoctrinated to believe that foreign is better that it is encoded in our DNA. Foreign gods, foreign wine, foreign furniture. We can’t shake loose.
And yet it is the nature of men to want to dominate something…anything! And rather than dominate industry or enterprise, they have chosen to target women. The problem is, it is not in a woman’s nature to desire domination. We are conquerors by nature. Once upon a time, women were allowed to experience a much fuller human existence in Africa. We managed kingdoms and empires, we led armies, we built homes, we have always existed simultaneously with softness and strength. We did all of this while pregnant, on our periods, or in the throes of menopause. The sad reality is that a woman in 15th century Africa probably had a wider array of choices made available to her than her 21st century counterpart. (She certainly had better reproductive healthcare facilities.)
We have no sense of what it means to be truly African or have pride in our culture. We are living a phantom existence of archaic, frequently harmful, imported Western cultural norms that we’ve sprinkled shitor on and re-branded as “African”. For instance, rape was once a crime punishable by death. Now we anoint rapists as pastors in houses of worship in Accra.
Wrapped up in this sordid mix is the idea that to be corrupt and stupid is what it means to be “African”. This is the perfect environment for subjugation to thrive, naturally. That’s why Tiwa’s choice to speak up in this type of environment is an act of bravery. I hope it will be replicated.
In closing, congratulations to Tiwa. Congratulations to all the women who have decided to take their lives back and have re-charted the course of their destiny. Whether that means dispensing with a career or partner that was a hindrance – or whatever that personal thing was precluding you from living life more abundantly – hats off to you for choosing your day to live. And if you ain’t free yet, we’ll be here waiting to cheer you. It’s never too late.