Monday, May 18, 2015

What is your Bride Price? How much are you worth?: The Value of a Nigerian Girl

Little Nigerian girls running around freely in their bright pink, yellow, orange, green dresses. Until suddenly, someone directs them to get on their knees and start gathering money. These little girls, not knowing how this may affect them in the long run, begins scooping up money. People dance nonchalantly, Stepping over these little girls. Sometimes catching the hem of their dresses with the soles of their shoes. The excitement and joy that fills these little girls eyes as they pick up all the money. They gather the money and transfer it to their moms, aunties, and grandmothers who then use this money to give change for people to spray even more money. The cycle repeats until 2 a.m. Or until a new set of little girls come and follow suit.  Throughout the night, these same little girls who are asked to bend over, crawl, and get on their knees are told to close their legs, pull down their dresses, and stay clean. 

These little girls get pulled to the side as some auntie takes a brush out of her bag to fix their “ messy hair". Auntie tells Amaka to " respect herself", because Amaka is a lady. If Amaka does not respect herself, then no one is going to respect her. Even though self-respect implies respect is determined by self. This idea of respect and virtue is hammered into Amaka's mind. Amaka is told that she needs to always look well-kept. For she is a girl, and girl’s do not get messy. Kene teases her and calls her ugly. He learned at a young age that girls and boys are different. And this difference creates a hierarchy. While he could play, get dirty, fall,  and be free; Amaka could not

Amaka is a collection of these little girls. 

Now a couple years have passed and these Nigerian girls have graduated. They now can serve food. Girls competing  for how many plates they can balance on one tray or how many plates they can hold in one hand.  They would eat last and only get small portions. The excitement and joy that fills these little girls eyes as they serve men and women of all ages and of course boys. It is a ritual, for if you are not always at service to others, what good are you ? What is your value as a little girl if not tied to the worth of another? These home-trained girls, they would grow up to be well-mannered, tame, and marriageable.

Amaka goes to Auntie Stella's house. For they always went Auntie Stella and Uncle Emma’s house after church on Sundays. They had a large house and today they had about 50 mouths to feed. Amaka, of course, went around asking if everyone is okay and if they needed anything else. Some said yes. Some said no. Finally, Amaka sat down to eat her own food. But before she could take a second bite, someone yelled, “ Ahhhmahhhkahhh!”. She turned to see who is it was and although she recognized his face; she could not remember his name. So she rushed over and said, “ Yes, Uncle”. The “Uncle” responded,” Can you please go in the kitchen and get me a knife?”. Amaka excitingly said, “Yes!” And ran to the kitchen. When she got back to the “Uncle”, he patted her on the back and said, “ You are such a well-trained girl, and someday a man will marry you.” Amaka smiled. She loved hearing those words. She heard those words a lot. Nice girl. Well-trained girl. Well-mannered girl. Marriage.Man. Man. Man. Man.

Amaka finally got a chance to finish her food. She knew what was next. Dishes. How she always found herself in someone else’s kitchen doing dishes by herself is somewhat a mystery. It could be connected why Auntie Stella always found herself cooking for over 50 people every Sunday. Or why a random “Uncle” asked Amaka to go get him a fork.

While I am lover of all things Igbo/Nigerian culture. I find myself questioning the type of messages we send our young girls. Last week I found myself in a kitchen doing dishes while everyone was eating, talking, laughing, and watching t.v.. A month ago ( at a baby shower)  I found myself asking everyone if they needed anything else or if I should make a plate for them.

I values hospitality and kindness but it seems the burden always falls on Nigerian women. We are always performing and serving. We are taught this message at a young age. A message that young boys never have to hear. Young boys are allowed to be carefree and young. They are afforded a childhood that does not consist of rules. Nobody polices how young Nigerian boys dress or act. Nobody has a talk with young Nigerian boys about what makes him marriageable.

While Nigerians stress the importance of respect and values, there is a distinct way that girls are taught about respect and their value. A Nigerian girl’s worth is always tied to her ability to serve and perform for others, specifically men.

*Topic shift *

This is why I am not surprised at the amount of memes, tweets, posts, or videos  ridiculing Nigerian women for being single. To be single, is to be nothing. To be single, is to be warranted no respect. To be single, is not a matter of choice but a matter of your ability to please and serve men. To be single, is to have no home-training. To be single, is to be difficult. To be single , is to be untamable.

To be single is an omen. If you are single, there is something intrinsically wrong with you that must be fixed. Or maybe it is to be Nigerian and woman that makes you wrong. Perhaps, it is only through the permission of a man that you become virtuous and right.

Many Nigerian men (like many other men within this patriarchal society) see women as tools to satisfy their wants and needs. Many Nigerian men do not see Nigerian women as human beings. They have been taught that a woman is to be at their service 24/7. Many women have internalized this belief and as such regurgitate the same patriarchal standards that men have created.

For the past years I have fully embraced being single ( although I have been in a relationship) . Even while in a relationship, I have spoken to the taboo associated with being single. I am the same person before, during, and after relationships. Today, I do not shy away from proclaiming that I am single and proud. Because I am Black, woman, and feminist, many people attack me for my relationship status. But I have fully embraced it. I find no shame in being single and I hate that Nigerian women are made to feel bad for being single.
Nigerian women are not allowed to be happy and single. So I embrace being happy and single. I embrace not tying my worth to anything but myself. I exist solely for me and that is hard to fathom when Nigerian women are not seen as human beings. It is hard for many people to comprehend because they have internalized that to be Nigerian and women is to be intrinsically wrong. Because this notion is internalized, many people do not even realize the ways that they harm Nigerian women with their actions and words. Many Nigerian men do not realize the hate they have internalized for Nigerian women.

By nature, our existence is wrong or taboo.

This is why from a young age, Nigerian girls are indoctrinated with ways to make their existence right.  This has a great impact on the self-esteem of Nigerian girls ( young and old).

Another way that I assert my humanity and liberate myself from what is deemed as  “tradition” and “culture” is by proudly proclaiming that I have no interest in getting married.

A Nigerian woman not wanting to get married, is unheard of. It is taboo. It is a curse. What else am I here for? If not to get married? What else am I here for? If not to satisfy the needs of a man?

At 24, I do not know whether I want to get married. I am not sure if I want a relationship in the way that society deems acceptable. What I do know is that I am an autonomous human being full of different interests and choices.  And today, I choose me. I choose to value myself and determine my self-worth. I choose to serve and please myself. I choose to exist for myself. I choose myself first. Always .


3 comments:

  1. This post brings to mind a family meeting which was called to address two issues; the domestic abuse of a relative, and my apparent waywardness. When it came time to discuss me, my uncle (the patriarch of sorts) presented the damning evidence; I had lived in his house for five months and never once cooked for him. NOTE: this uncle had a house help, a wife and two grown children living in his home. Also note; I was living in his house because my mother had died six months before I gave birth to my daughter, and so I had no one but his wife, my mum's older sister, to show me the ropes regarding raising a child. But his grouse, fully two years after the fact, was that I never cooked for him. El oh el.

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    1. I am sorry to hear that sis. Lol. That is utterly ridiculous. They don't realize how obtuse and shallow that line of thinking is. I cant wait until we can transform our culture and " traditions" to include our autonomy as women.

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  2. I just had a phone call with my mother right now and she said "your priority in life right now is to get married".

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