Let me tell you the story of Mama Uche. She was a dutiful wife to Baba Uche, and had been married to him for at least twenty years with four children. Almost every day of her life with Baba Uche, he told her how useless she was, how stupid she was and how she was no better than a donkey. Day after day, there was something Mama Uche did or said that did not sit well with Baba Uche. Sometimes she got beaten, slapped or kicked, it depended on Baba Uche’s mood or how much alcohol he had imbibed. It was the verbal and emotional abuse that was almost daily. Mama Uche often felt like a ghost haunting her own house. She saw her body moving around and wondered who that person was.
One day there was a family event, Baba Uche’s elderly Uncle had passed away, so the women in the family were cooking. Baba Uche went in search of his wife and found her with a group of women preparing meat. Mama Uche was sharpening a meat cleaver that would be used to cut the meat into sizeable portions for cooking. Baba Uche stood in front of her yelling, telling her how much of an idiot she was for not bringing him food to eat. The other women tried to reason with him and explained that no one had eaten yet, they were still cooking the food. Mama Uche was silent, she just kept sharpening the cleaver. Baba Uche kept up his loud rant, and included Mama Uche’s family members in his abuses. All of a sudden there was a loud thwacking sound, followed by screams and yells. Then people started running all over the place. Baba Uche was lying there in a pool of blood. What happened? When you pull something beyond the limits of its elasticity, it snaps. Mama Uche snapped.
We are all too familiar with cases of men abusing women in so many different ways. We have all grown up seeing the odd woman bash her husband around, but it was a rare sight. Sadly, these days, women are beginning to snap. They have taken enough lies, cheating, abuse, humiliation, depression, and deprivation. They have prayed. Oh, how they have prayed. They have gone up mountains, fasted forty days and forty more, they have done dry fasts for seven days and white fasts for twenty-one days. They have consulted Muslim clerics, pastors, traditional medicine men and attended one ‘empowerment seminar’ after another. They have been humble, quiet, hardworking, obedient, silent, all in an effort to ‘tame’ their husbands. Nothing has worked. The more they try the less effective they are and the unhappier they become. Then the coping mechanisms kick in, and the end results are usually the same – more unhappiness. Some choose extreme religious beliefs. Some fall into the hands of other men who can make them feel special or wanted for a change. Some drink more than they should. Others start taking medications to help them sleep, then other drugs to help with anxiety and if care is not taken, they graduate to stronger stuff.
In a society where men have such deep feelings of entitlement due to patriarchal norms and values, there is very little sympathy for women who are unhappy when their husbands treat them badly, particularly when it comes to the issue of infidelity. Religion, culture and tradition ‘allow’ men access to the bodies and emotions of as many women as they can afford or are comfortable with. This leaves women with having to make dubious choices. Stay and live in humiliation and constant stress? Or leave and face the stigma of marital failure and an uncertain future for the children? None of these choices are made lightly. And in all this, the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energies of women are stretched and pulled to the absolute limit. Till they snap. Over the past few years, we have seen cases of more women killing their spouses or murdering the children of their rivals. Homicide is a terrible thing, and anyone who takes the life of another has to be held accountable. However, do we ask ourselves, why do men murder their wives and why do women murder their husbands? Men who murder their wives do so in installments. It starts with threats, a slap, kick, beatings, and by the time the killer blow or bullet is delivered, the victim has died many times over. The women’s organisations, safe houses and police stations who deal with cases of domestic violence and spousal murder can provide details of all the cases they have worked on over the years for us to examine the patterns. Dead bodies of wives do not show up in a vacuum. Once healthy, vivacious talented women become corpses over a period of time. They dissolve slowly into the ghost Mama Uche sees, till it dawns on her that she is looking at herself. Yes, women kill men, and it is a terrible thing, yet we need to look at the body count.
I believe that women of all ages who are in a bad relationship should make a choice and live with it. If you want to leave, don’t look back, it could be the best decision of your life. What you should not do is stay in a marriage and endure it as a constant war zone. One day something will give and someone will be dead or in jail and the children will suffer.
Men should know that times have changed, and they need to be careful. We can argue from now till eternity about the rights men have under religion, tradition or convention to have more than one wife or multiple mistresses. In the Yoruba language there is a proverb that translates as ‘There is no woman who wants a rival, anyone who says so is pretending’. In the days of our ancestors, women gained a certain level of freedom when their husbands took other wives. The new wives would have to do farm work, house duties and bedroom calls. The older wives did not like it but they had no choice, so as a coping mechanism, they made it work. The anger, bitterness and resentment never went away. I have friends with all kinds of marital identities – married monogamously, married polygamously, separated, divorced, single, widowed, rich and poor. I have listened to them, cried with them, and prayed with them over their cheating, abusive, insensitive, dead beat spouses. None of these women has ever raised a finger not to talk of a cleaver in retaliation for all the abuse they have suffered. Men need to stop disrespecting women and depriving them of dignity. Women can pretend for years that they are okay with the behavior of their husbands, till they have a ‘Mama Uche moment’ and cause irreparable damage.
We live in different times. Many young people are fearless, and not in a good way. Marriage is a desirable institution, but it should not be compulsory for incompatible people. Let parents sit their sons and daughters down and have a conversation about the things happening around us now. Husbands beating and killing their wives. Wives killing their husbands. Men and women should be able to live together with mutual respect and understanding, and if it is not working, they can go their separate ways before the meat cleavers come into play. May peace reign in all our families and may the devil never make our homes a place of rest. Have a great week.
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com