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The Cross of Marriageability

In Nigeria, feminists are women who are angry because they could not find a husband. They are women who hold picket signs and burn bras and never marry. They hate men. They have wild sex

Chimamanda Adichie - We teach girls to shrink themselves


In Nigeria, feminists are women who are angry because they could not find a husband. They are women who hold picket signs and burn bras and never marry. They hate men. They have wild sex with multiple lesbian partners.

African women are docile. They defer to their husbands and earn no money. They are not whole persons, but exist only through the identities of their husbands. They are not feminists.

In what was probably the most famous TEDx Talk of the last quarter, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie blew open these annals of Nigerian patriarchal ignorance. On a track from her latest Self-Titled album, Beyonce sampled a quote from Adichies talk, making her a household name even to those who’d never had a clue about African literature. The following is the quote from Adichie’s talk that Beyonce sampled:

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller.  We say to girls – you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man.  Because I am female I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important.  A marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support. But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men…We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.

Feminist: A person who believes in the economic, social and political equality of the sexes.”



More than two-thirds of Nigerian women are believed to experience physical, emotional and psychological abuse at the hands of their partners.  Many small girls are not educated because they are more immediately “valuable” to their family when “sold” into marriage. A Nigerian female walking into a hotel alone is assumed to be a sex worker.  Women are seen as the property of men. Even the woman walking alone into a hotel is defined through her usefulness to the male race.

“We teach women not to get raped, rather than teach men not to rape.”

Nigeria’s rape and domestic violence statistics are shoddy, because most of these incidents are believed to go unreported due to the stigma attached. Such victims are stigmatized because of the cultural pattern that allows women to be defined by their marriageability. A girl who has been raped is not marriageable. And in a highly patriarchal society in which a woman is more likely than not to be accused of infidelity when she discloses a rape, what is the incentive for that woman to seek justice? In a society in which an unmarried woman is looked down upon, pitied, what is the incentive to report a domestic violence incident or leave one’s husband? There is simply no room in our society to place value on unmarriageable women.

“A Nigerian female walking into a hotel alone is assumed to be a sex worker”

Unless, of course, we re-orient our boys. In her TEDxTalk, Adichie advocates for the rearing of a male child who is less insecure, less defined by his ego and his ability to oppress girls. She advocates for the rearing of boys who are comfortable with women of equal power, not only those whose false power depends on their ability to manipulate the power of their owners. Boys are not often taught to aspire to marriage, taught how to treat women correctly.

How would we do this?

Babatunde Osotimehin once told me the story of a childhood altercation he had with a young female cousin. When their argument became heated, he slapped her and she began to cry. He was seven years old at the time, and he was fortunate enough to have the kind of father who said to him, “Never, ever hit a woman. You must treat every woman as your mother.”

Currently he travels the world advocating for equal access to education for the girl-child.

Lolade Siyonbola
Lolade is an author, techie and serial entrepreneur. She is an MA candidate at Yale University where she is pursuing research on immigration, cultural identity and social health.
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