Marriage-the most important indicator of a young female status or simply put the ultimate goal of a young woman’s life (words from my aunt to me after I once quoted) Mandy Hale in her book: Life, love and a dash of Sass, stating: “Single is no longer a lack of options – but a choice. A choice to refuse to let your life be defined by your relationship status but to live every day unapologetic ally happy and let your Ever After work itself out.”
As daring as her words sound, the above statement made by my aunt is one many Nigerian single ladies would have to listen to as they mature into single-hood when they get to face the social stigma from women/mothers of an older generation who are benighted to this new identity.
Centuries ago, women were raised with the Ernest expectation to be married and to strive to stay married all their lives. The idea of pro-longed marriage is considered unacceptable (and should not in any way be a thought) in any Nigerian society and/or permanent non-marriage should never be considered as it would be regarded as a taboo except in the case of spiritual celibacy or women betrothed to ‘spirits’ as the voice of the gods (Otite 2006). None the less, transforming changes have occurred on the 21st century single lady (She is better referred to as a lady because she has rebuffed the ‘woman’ status which expects her to take up dichotomic roles as a mother or wife) by challenging the nuptial norms with an increase in population from 3.4 percent in 1991 to 11.7 percent in 2006. In Nigeria’s major metropolis Lagos, over 70 percent of women between ages 30 and 55 have never been married according to a deduced report by Ntoimo and Isiugo-Abanihe (2014) from National Population Commission (2009).
who is the Single woman In Nigeria?
The above question can never go without being asked in a social gathering where this topic is discussed. Although there are various categories of single women. In the west, the single woman identity is grouped into various social class (a) the widowed woman of any age as long as she is still open to marriage, (b) the divorced woman of any age. (c). The single woman who has not been married but has a child and (d). The single, never been married with children woman (Taylor 2012).
However, for the purpose of this study and as it relates to Nigeria, the single women/ladies to be discussed are the latter, the single and never been married women between the ages 28 and over. Albeit, the pressure to be married builds from the age of 25 nevertheless, the need for them to be delivered of the ‘spirit of singlehood’ does not start till they are 28 and over.
The term single girl/ woman according to popular culture emerged in the 60s as an agreeable term for spinster; it describes the young unmarried (working class and/or well learned) woman in her twenties and/or thirties as youthful, and playful. A period regarded as a second period of adolescence between school life and married life and the term helps to resist the pressure of marriage and raising kids.
The Nigerian single woman lives in the harsh reality of mothers preparing their daughters for marriage while yet in school, self-help books advising single women on how to prepare themselves for marriage as that is the ultimate goal in life to religious leaders praying against the demonic spirit of singleness and holding ‘power packed’ deliverance programs which in the long run makes them wealthier than their followers to older women in the community advising these single yet learned ladies to learn a skill to attract the male. As she turns the big 30, single (and educated) women in Nigeria live with a frustrated reality created by a societal gaze for not being married before the beginning of their third decade De-Silva (2000) this ideology is confirmed through a popular proverb in the Igbo speaking part of Nigeria which says: ”A woman’s glory is her Children and to have children, she must surely have a husband” (Uchendu 1965).
Scholars like Collins, Ntimo (2014) described the Nigerian single lady of the 1960s as a small and marginalized demographic and still is till this day, a shift from the small marginalised to a marginalised majority. They are women who control almost a quarter of the country’s economy through their will power and entrepreneurial prowess. Sadly, they are usually grouped with people living with sexually transmitted disease(a disease that needs immediate cure to avoid contaminating other single or future single ladies) or in other societies where they are grouped as being under a spiritual attack- an attack that needs to be redressed through deliverance.
Unlike the single lady of the west who is taught to be confident and stand up for what she believes in, to be independent, acquire education and strive to attain a career goal, the Nigerian single woman on the other hand is expected to go through all forms of education to make her smart and intelligent for her husband to be proud of; dis-regarding her fundamental human right to personal liberty as written in Nigeria’s constitution of 1999.
Despite Nigeria’s involvement in the Millennium development goals and the current social development goals on gender equality and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, there is still a strong patriarchal gaze by members of the society on femininity and in this case, single women which Budgeon (2016) reiterates as an agency where women within a neo liberal and post feminist discourse make choices that are questioned by culture and societal ideologies- these ideologies restablishes the agency of heterosexuality.
Why Are You Still Single?
Ntimo (2014) is of the opinion that some of the major determining factors for women to stay single is their dogged drive to be economically empowered, financially independent and their strive to gain a higher education. Other determinants are: their preference of a partner which to older women is considered as being too selective, the experiences of other women who have or are facing domestic violence and cultural practices around marriage. A rise in the single woman identity is beginning to threaten Nigeria’s traditional culture of matrimony of the early years. This could become the first in many steps in 21st century post-modernity (Ntiomo and Uche 2014).
However, in the west the single woman is usually encouraged in her day to day life as she ensures for a more dominating hetero-patriarchal lifestyle (Collins 2013). The west has through the media commercialised the single woman identity by celebrating singlehood through movies like Bridget Jones and female pop singers who are more audacious about their single identity.
In African societies, Singleness as an identity is perceived as an irregular way of life that needs to be redressed. It is in the light of this, older (married) women have subjected to labelling the single woman as cursed or under a ‘spiritual attack’ and in need of deliverance. Albeit, Karl Marx opines that religion is the opium of the masses, I stand to reiterate that Religion is the opium of the Nigerian woman.
That been said, i would like to further buttress on the rationale of single hood amongst women especially as it pertains to Nigeria by briefly discussing on three major factors Giddens (2006) believes are reasons women are still single in their ‘limbo period’.
Education: With a population twice the size of Ethiopia and Egypt which are said to be the next biggest countries in population and size, Nigeria faces a deficit in her education sector as the number of intakes in the tertiary institutions alone have risen from 15,000 in 1970 to 1.7 million students per year in 2012 (UNESCO Institute of Statistics). Due to this deficit, parents who can afford to send their children to private schools and in most cases overseas do so while unconsciously introducing these students to globalisation at a young age. Isuigo-Abanihe (2004) claims that the introduction of globalisation to students and in this case, young women coupled with the culture shock of independence and economic opportunities they have been taught and seen for themselves in western and/or private institutions has helped to change their perception to married life. Women look forward to a life of independence, a post feminist sensibility where they have been told by scholars like McRobbie to ‘dream big’, pursue independence and livelihood. It is in this vein that most women/ladies chose to get jobs, pursue a career and have a sense of belonging before they make the ultimate decision to be married Berg-Cross et al (2004) further reiterates that women’s decision to be married reduces when they have a comfortable means of livelihood.
Education and individualism (backed up with narccissism) are usually sustained by economic empowerment; it is said that these factors all in one are reasons why single women increase their standards and expectations on an aspiring partner (De-Silva 2000). It is often said that Nigerian women are taught from birth to be prudent spenders which in this case entails single women consider it an insult on them to spend over half their lives in an ivory tower without being giving the opportunity to practice their taught profession. Sigel (1995) believes women in this educational category are of the school that expects reaping after sowing.
Social and Cultural Factors: This factor forms the basis of this study as i stated earlier and further in chapter 2, Nigerian single women face the pressure to be married by members of the society. simply put, there is a male/patriarchal gaze influenced by femininity(Oderinde 2002). A typical Nigerian man is groomed to seek certain prevailing norms (patriarchal family structures)of gender and ideology in a prospective partner. Meanwhile, Nigerian women are expected to be dependent and docious, economic or financial independence are traits that portray masculinity, any form of financial independence shown by the woman is often regarded as degrading or a conscious way of emasculation in the marriage markets. Omokhodion (2009) adds that older women and men alike consider this attitude a taboo in most Nigerian societies as the man is always to be seen as the provider unless the woman is ready and willing to give all her accumulated wealth to her proposed partner once they are married.
A recent research by Dykstra and Poortman (2010) showed that an increase in a man’s financial and economic resources boosts his chances of having a partner at what ever age he dims fit whereas, it decreases the possibility for women to be married.
In light of the above, many women would rather chose to be single and maintain their self-acquired wealth, be complacent than to be pliant, as stated in chapter 2, the culture shock most student immigrants face when they find themselves in a new and ‘holistic’ environment that debunks all the traditional ideologies increases women’s choices to stay single. Another social reason why women remain single according to Ferguson and Wakaranja (1987,2000) is due to conflicts and children being raised in dysfunctional,divorced or separated families. the interest to be married was lost at child birth considering the marital experiences the child has been open to. the negative effect of a parents divorce or separation can affect a girl’s (daughter’s) decision to be married. Studies show that daughters raised in a single parent household tend to be single for longer times than their counterparts from a family with both parents either due to responsibilities or the joy they attain from singlehood. In most cases, Forsyth and Johnson (1996) opines that it is for fear of having a dysfunctional home like their parents Hakin (2010) adds by saying it is a fear of ‘history repeating itself’
Urbanisation/Media Influence: Many modernisation theorist like Giddens theorise that modernity and urbanisation stand as a factor for singles to remain unmarried in which Giddens(2006) describes as a structuralist theory of Distantation: separation through time and space,Dis embedding: break down of social and geographical barriers and reflexitivity that expresses personal views and ideologies- modernity has helped to create self identity for single women. With the media accepting to sell a post feminist lifestyle through media content, Nigerian women have been made to believe that what is shown on screen is the lifestyle lived by women in Hollywood they intend to adore(Ritzer 2008). Through the help of the media and most often urbanisation, single women in Nigeria chose not to be confined by traditional beliefs rather, they have chosen to shape themselves to who they are and who they hope to be. Western movies like sex and the city portrayed single women as sexually adventurous and financially independent. However, urbanisation has been found as a reason.
why women chose to stay single on the basis of love as a primary factor in partner selection unlike the 18th and most of the 19th century where Nigerian tradition maintained a system of arranged marriage which made the older women and mother’s to marry early while love comes afterwards (Berg-cross et al 2004). Albeit, Ekiran (2003) recent studies show there in a massive decline in arranged marriages and parental controls in Nigeria. Single Nigerian women who have the privilege of travelling to the west for education and job opportunities embody the lifestyle and culture of the west while others watch,listen and engage with western media as the basis for the deserved life. Until recently, Nigeria’s media has been subtle in producing content relating to single women as it faced a dilemma of going against the sociocultural construct of Nigerians as it relates to single hood. However, it has indulged in producing comic based content on single women like the Nigerian version Bridget Jones Movie which some scholars like Ekiran (2003) would term as derision towards single woman identity.
Single Woman As A Problem In Nigeria:
As much as single ladies in Nigeria acknowledge the problem of being labelled by their mother’s, the media whose aim is to inform and educate has indulged in
Producing comic-based content in the form of sit-coms for viewers to laugh at the problem or overlook the problem by laughing it off. The media has helped to further increase the societal pressure instead of reducing it. Secondly, most single ladies of these generation are exposed to the western media, which as stated above, celebrates singlehood in a way that many single ladies have chosen this path of independence. For the purpose of this research, two sit-coms would be analysed: Before 30 and Skinny girl in Transit comparing it to 2001 Hollywood movie Bridget Jones Diary.
The single woman is regarded as irresponsible or a failure at self management for her choice of being single in a hetero-normative society. According to Taylor (2012) the single woman seldom seems to be completely reconciled to her singleness. Further positing that the media as a form of abject femininity views the single young female. For this reason, this project intends to reduce the problem of being shamed from older women to younger women. Advocate for the media to turn burlesque content to content that would make the find solutions to the social stigma faced by single ladies in Nigeria.
Right after neo liberalaist and post feminist have theorised that women need to bask in the euphoria for having a choice to live their lives outside the restrictions associated with the normative gender roles, the Nigeria single woman is thrown in to a state of trauma. A trauma not in any way caused by any of the known forms of abuse but the masculine subjectivity
One problem facing the Nigerian single woman is the fact that culturally, the society has created a construct by placing various emotional roles to both male and female gender: where masculinity expects that one should show courage, be rational, disciplined yet cool headed meanwhile femininity is expected to be submissive, compassionate, cheerful, dutiful, homely and embody sexuality. Most Nigerian single women at a point in their lives have to embody all attributes of both genders. Some part of Nigeria where patriarchy is at it’s peak, men are barely seen as bread winners. An example is the Efik tribe of the south-south part of Nigeria where men are to be revered and the women/ girls are meant to take up all responsibilities of their families.
Another problem facing single women is the non adherence to the neo liberal and post feminist culture being preached by the society. Girls are often advised from a young age to be educated. A popular saying often used amongst feminine groups is: ‘ train a girl child you train a nation’, however, this girl child is expected to restrict her ambitions or dreams as they would be inconsequential once she is married.
Single Women as Accursed: Post 9/11 introduced a new form of religious construct and media agenda especially around single women identity. being single is regarded as a curse and or a spiritual attack with church billboards holding revival crusades and deliverance seminars with morally objectifying themes such as: ”Give me my husband or i die!”,”this beautiful sister must marry”,Lord! where is my husband?”, ”Dear Pastor, who should i marry?”, ”Single’s bonanza: i must marry by force”, ”who stole my wedding gown?” As funny as most of these themes might seem, the society has fed into this propaganda and in turn traumatising single women with the thought of the bewitchment that comes with the choice of being single.
As a matter of fact, Nigerian Psychologist Abubarkar (2015) believes objectifying and pressurising single women to be married and the backlash from religious organisations with support from the media can cause a traumatic stress disorder in the near future.