The Dearth of the Happy Single Woman…

10311875_10152378608419914_2083483899_n

Anu Verma

It was just before spring, in the winter of 2012, I heard Anu Verma speak for the first time in our all women gender class at the Institute of Development Studies, Brighton. I had seen her severally and for most times, I admired her because just like me, she mostly adorned her traditional attire, the Indian Salwar kameez in cold England.  Over time, she became even more remarkable; her passion for single women issues shined through her questions and contributions in our small group sessions. I appreciate Anu Verma, I think she is pretty and brave but I was very weary of her arguments which presented Single Women as a relevant category for marginalized persons. I was weary because I wondered if the experiences of being a single woman could be conceptualized as marginalization.

Being in my early 30’s, I have been single for quite a while. In my part of the world, this status certainly comes with more unpleasant than pleasant experiences.  On the pleasant side, my status has opened unique doors of life to me and strengthened my individuality. But there are loses too. On the altar of marriages, many valuable relationships are slaughtered; I have lost the individuality of my friends to marriage. I feel strategically isolated by married friends who litter their conversations with stories of their husband and sometimes children but rarely of themselves. For comic tickles, our girlfriends when engaged like to display their trophy rings to spite, at the cost of seeming disabled in one hand 🙂 .  Over time one becomes a sex prey for married men, and ego booster for single men. As a single woman, I tread carefully, walking on eggshell amongst married colleagues lest I get personal and excite their partners negatively. Pressure from family and friends can be stifling; I am reminded that a lonely old age is staring me in the face. To make it worse, the social identity constructions of a single woman lacks dignity; she is either a whore or unlucky in love. All my other achievements crumble like cookies every time I hit the speed bump question; are you married, why are you single, when is he coming forth…?

All of these experiences though psychosocially disturbing and indeed destabilizing could not justify my being a voice for single women as my friend Anu Verma. I often wondered if other single women had similar experiences. Will they be unashamed to openly identify with these experiences, or be willing to hold extended discussions on these phenomena? I have been unable to write or identify with Anu’s cause because I felt this issue will be easily derided as idiocies.

Despite all, I have been a happy nullipara, never-married single woman, who is not ashamed to flaunt this status and the dividends therein. Between heartbreaks, pressure, ridicule, distress and the pain we humans  feel, there is a moment of rupture. Amid my fractured lines of rupture, are busted marriage myths that has liberated and strengthened me from living under this marriage pressure that always hanged like a heavy mist over our lives. But such freedom and happiness do not go unchallenged. Indeed my confidence in my status was challenged when my right to shelter was severally denied, not because I had no money, but because I was single and not married.  All these years, being single seemed like a social problem that has no name, but my inability to rent a house in Ibadan (a Semi-Urban town in Nigeria) gave it a name; Marginalized! In that moment of discrimination, I realized that Anu had a case and I was willing to research more on other people’s experiences.

My search led me to many extensive works done by a fantastic woman, Jill Reynolds (RIP). Her book ‘The Single Woman, A jilldiscursive investigation’ contributes to the understanding and experiences of the stigma attached to the Single Woman Identity.  Learning from social diversity, the experience of being single differs and has critical intersections of gender, culture, religion amongst others. For single women in the developed world, it might mean being a wo-man without man, living a man free life, suffering social drought and having less sex. But for women in developing countries like India, Pakistan and others, it means a denial of basic human right and a threat to survival.

10299227_10152378608119914_1173550979_n

Anu Verma working with women Sangathans of Rajasthan in relation to intersections of marital status,caste and religion.

There are no United Nation’s Conventions on this issue, but there are interests expressed by groups and individuals. With the support of Action Aid Gujarat, Anu’s research paper also made a strong case for India’s Dalit Single women. Titled We are told we have rights…but where are they! , this research chronicles a reflection on the life threatening experiences of exploitation, hardship, chronic poverty, lack of education and livelihood opportunities for these women as life with dignity becomes their major struggle. Their threatened well-being, loneliness, shame and vulnerability reminds us of the need to make them an agenda in literature.

Situating Dalit women in Manusmriti system (a prescribed code of conducts for Hindus), some disturbing verses were quoted;

 ‘By a girl, by a woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house… her father protects her in childhood, her husband protects her in youth and her sons protect her in old age; a woman is never fit for independence’ (Manusmriti V.174 & X.3)

10299197_10152378608124914_1238874614_nThe quote captures the tough patriarchal society these women are up against. The normalization of this perpetuates the continued isolation of this category of Dalit Women to the margins of social structures for the sin of being unwed women. Collective action enacted in the Dalit Single women group/Sangathans  is helping. In India, they now have 7 states/provinces with more than 80,000 single women association striving for social change with their own movement.

My scope of enquiry was extended to literary fiction. How have writers presented the single woman character in their work? Are writers reinforcing the stereotypes or challenging it? Can I clearly find a single woman character in literature who is admirably happy, and whose source of unhappiness is anything else but a man, marriage or children? This was a challenge as I suffered a dearth in the severe drought of such characterization. The plots of many literary works focus on single women’s struggle to find lasting love, or manage love and its heartaches. Their lives are woven around men, clinging on the happily ever after myth that begins with being the woman in white, ending with them finding love or beginning a new life after being unlucky in love.

150px-Womens_Room_coverUnlike their western counterparts, African women writers, though very militant with their feminist writings, also align with the above plots as seen in our review of the models of femininity in Africa’s popular fiction. Marylyn French, a renowned feminist whom I admire, authored her novel ‘In the Women’s Room’ in 1977. It was described as an influential novel of the modern day feminist movement. Yet, the major character Mira Ward is a conventional and submissive young woman in a traditional marriage; we are entertained by her divorce and gradual feminist awakening. The story of Mira and many others may be captured in the voice of ‘Amaka’ in ‘One is Enough’ by Flora Nwapa:

 ‘… I don’t want to be a wife anymore, a mistress yes, with a lover, yes of course, but not a wife. There is something in that word that does not suit me. As a wife, am never free. I am a shadow of myself. As a wife, am almost impotent. I am in prison, unable to advance in body and soul… I don’t want to go back to my ‘wifely’ days. No, I am through with husbands.’books (1)

But the question that the character Nnu ego in ‘The Joys of Motherhood’ by Buchi Emecheta asked God is the same question I am asking writers.  She said;

God, when will you create a woman who will be fulfilled in herself, a full human being, not anybody’s appendage?” she prayed desperately. “After all, I was born alone, and I shall die alone.

Why do writers of popular fiction invalidate happy single women characters? Is it a tale sign that books with such characters will be unaccepted or perhaps make poor sales? Considering the role of writers in influencing development, it is disillusion and myopic to promote false dichotomy. As children and teenagers, we had no one model of a happy single woman in the press, media or even in our school books. We have all been educated to become the woman in white and just marry, but the reality of our present day lives contradicts these models.

goingsolo2-385x584According to Eric Klinenberg’s ‘Going Solo’, there are more single people today than anyone could think. In fact, being single is the world’s biggest social change in the last 50years. This is true with huge possibility of being a continuing trend in the coming years. The alterations of lives and social impact this will have in future are unimaginable.

Let us remove the covers and blinders that are obscuring reality; there are lots of people out here who by choice are single, living fulfilled lives with no plans for marriage. We must acknowledge that we are first a person, before anything else.  Not everyone will be married and if we are to marry, life’s trajectories are different, so are the ravages. Many will be single for longer than others. No one is married all their lives, hence there is a time to be single. How can a society ensure the psychosocial well-being of persons living single either as a phase or permanently? How are we protecting the human rights of those whom marriage does not fit their lives? How do we as individuals hold them in honour and give them a better worth?

If I smell your thoughts, my writings may stink of anti-marriage views, I am not anti-marriage; I detest social conventions which do not appreciate that life’s trajectories are different for each one. While I agree marriage can be good, the over-privileging of marriage and long-term partnerships in our society contributes to the marginalization of persons like the Dalit Single Women, among others as Anu’s research and other literature captures.

I am by choice, a happy single woman who continues to negotiate her identity, refusing to allow society inject shame into her. I now understand the challenges of people like myself, but again because of my education, I feel the responsibility of my privileges compared to the Dalit Single Women. Thus, through this writing, I wish to validate the Dalit Single women.  I am saying they are not outsiders, they too belong here. Life is not an unaccompanied journey because you are single, you do not travel alone, I am with you.

Written by~ Adaobi Nkeokelonye

18 thoughts on “The Dearth of the Happy Single Woman…

  1. Ada you write so well!!! I too am a single woman by choice, and the life experiences that I have had up to this moment, have been possible because I am single; thus I move alone. There is indeed a time for everything, and one must not allow society to box us into their constructs of who and how a woman at a certain age should be. You do know that the only reason you were not allowed to rent in Ibadan is because you would either be a whore with men coming and going from your apartment, or you will he a bitter bitch who is resentful of everyone because she is unmarried. I celebrate you for the choices that you have made, and for the amazing contributions women like yourself; single or married continue to make to the discourse of being human, and being female, in developing societies.

    Like

    • Annie, You are very kind with words. Thank you. I remember you were one of the first to take on this issue humorously on your blog titled “How to find a Husband”. The funny thing is that the shame we are taught to have makes it even more difficult to discuss these experiences openly and objectively. I lived under that fear for a while but day by day, I find that there are more single women who are too afraid and ashamed to stand for their status in our society. Perhaps for lack of support, role models and someone to hold their hands. We advocate for a single society, and I believe that the bolder we become, the more we are able to strengthen people whom we can identify with. I am proud of you and thank you for reading always.

      Like

  2. Life is nothing but a product of evolution – ideas and human beings all evolve, but could be sped up by quality and accessible education to everyone in the society. In any patriarchal society, everything is usually designed to center around men, with women only recognized in footnotes. Marriage no doubt is good, because many people are product of marriages – a family is the smallest unit of any society. However, much of my concern is the unequal way with which men and women are treated when they both harbor the same idea, especially as to how to pattern their lives. For example, we often see bachelors in their 40’s and 50’s in our society, yet they do not attract the same number of gossips and headlines as their female counterparts. First, society “forbids” ladies from expressly asking a man out, as well as expects them to be reserved and not be too out in a relationship. Yet, at 25 or less, they are suddenly expected to have married. However, men who are given the liberty to flirt so to speak, could be single at 40, and society concludes that he probably hasn’t found the right girl to pick. Our society is dangerously patriarchal, and that is why we haven’t developed well. Most women have internalized these gender expectations, and even teach their daughters to strictly conform to them regardless of their education so that they could get married. This is sad, that ladies are taught to always aspire to marriage, and harbor very little ambitions. Today, when you are stuck in traffic in Nigeria, look out and you will hardly see any young lady driving a car to work. Most working single ladies do have the money to buy themselves cars, to enable them to comfortably commute to work and other functions, but they wouldn’t do so because such might send a threatening signal to her potential suitors that she is not a “wife material”. Female independence is seen as a taboo, and a threat to the male folk. Most single ladies wouldn’t rent an apartment close to their work places as guys would. Many of them have to live with their parents and travel far distances each day to work because not to do so, or if she rents an apartment close to her work place and stays alone, the society immediately concludes without proof that she is a whore, an “iron lady”, and one that will “kill” her husband. She is expected to live with her brother if she must rent her own flat so as to allay suspicion from people who should have no business with the way she leads her life. People feel entitled to stop her on the way to advise her that the skirt she is putting on will make men not to marry her. And so on. Now, because educated ladies are more prone to revolting against these patriarchal designs, they are often times seen as not possessing the features to make a good wife. Oftentimes, you will see educated men, go to villages to hunt for partners – they are more interested in girls without education who could sacrifice their self respects to satisfy their egoistic and masculine prides. All this happens because we have refused to welcome an open society mentality where everyone is given an opportunity to try his or her pattern provided that they are harmless to anyone. We see anyone who questions the status quo that repress us from developing as eligible for ostracism. For many people, we must remain the way we are, yet they desire a place where everything works well, but not ready to take steps to implement or culture a favorable environment. I challenge everyone to be more receptive with other people’s positions, because not to do so will be tantamount to dictatorship, the same idea that operated in old regimes which we all cried about. People must be treated on the basis of their character and actions, not on what they believe in or who they love, or how they want to personally pattern their lives. In a society where everyone is different both in psychology and biology, we will only be fooling ourselves, if we think that there should be only one view to everything.

    Like

    • William,coming from a man from Nigeria, I am very impressed with your articulations. You have observed it all correctly with no bias. Sadly It is the reality we find our self in. As a 19 year old girl, I have began experiencing marriage pressure while I knew of much older men that were living free and happy. That benchmark was hard on my young age and it kind of followed through until I busted it and felt free to accept that this kind of marriage does not fit my life and also to say that when it does. My heart indeed goes out to young women who feel unfulfilled and depressed because they are not married. I hope some day, their moment of rupture will come and help them take full charge of their life. More so, I feel for women in Countries like India and Pakistan, where marriage determines their well-being and human right. That your life should be under threat just because you are unwed, is absolutely mortifying!

      Like

  3. Its high time our societies stop the mentality that marriage is the only way for women to get respect and be happy, in Nigeria you see men physicaly and verbally assault a single woman but refrain from doing so to a married woman all because she is married but not minding if what the married woman did was much more than the single woman. Wmen should learn and accept the fact that we are complete on our own, and can be happy too with or without marriage. Marriage should be a choice a woman makes on her own free will, and not from sublimal pressure from society and family/ friends……. Thumbs up to one of the most captivating writers I know…#Adaobi.

    Like

    • Nkem you are making me wish I could blush. Thank you for reading. I agree with the privileges you noted that also makes women think less of them self without marriage. But hopefully we can help demand that human right of women or anyone is not abused as a result. Thanks again.

      Like

  4. Great piece Ada! I couldn’t agree more with you & other contributors. The case of the Dalit Single Women & many others affected in India & other countries in the region needs to addressed nationally as a human rights abuse.
    In our dear country, Nigeria, I often marvel at how much we have progressed since independence in the social sector & yet still far behind in gender equality. As a single & never married woman in my mid 30s, I have come to realize that I am fully responsible for upholding my dignity & rights and validating my worth as a single woman. As a people, we need to redefine our values and attitudes to ensure every man and WOMAN is treated with dignity & respect & given equal opportunity to excel & exist as fulfilled human beings. Due to societal & family pressures, many girls & women have married monsters, fraudsters or men they simply do not love just to ‘fit in’ & answer the prefix of ‘MRS’ to gain respect. The rising number of divorce, domestic violence cases & tragic deaths in marriage are evidence of our misplaced priority for marriage “at all cost”. Personally, I respect the institution of marriage & truly celebrate the good ones. However, the ‘modus operandi’ of some marriages we see these days leaves much to be desired (that’s a topic for another day, Ada). Perhaps, the unsolicited advise from people to single women is equally alarming. “My dear, just marry, there is no ideal man”, “Keep your head low, men don’t like women with a strong character”, or the more painful one, “Stop being choosy & just settle for one before it is too late” are a few examples of how society is perpetuating the notion that marriage should be endured & not enjoyed. I sincerely hope that we will create & foster a new Nigeria where single women are applauded for their achievements, supported through their journey, defended when they are treated unfairly & simply allowed to exist & thrive like any other human being.

    Like

    • Dear D, you have written so well. I admire you always and I am pleased you could identify with this experiences. As you said, the ‘modus operandi’ of some marriages and perhaps for instituting marriages for us here, is very problematic. However I am happy that the different choices that women like you are making will gradually nibble away these stigma and negative constructs attached to the ‘Single Woman’. In some way, I am glad to be at this age, and at this time single. Were it not so, I would never understand their plight or be privileged to write about it. Thank you very much for enriching our discourse.

      Like

  5. I would sincerely refrain myself from calling you a western puppet,but I am very sure you haven’t found the right man.
    Like circumcission saga,not only women get the pressure of marring and it seems more than 99% love it this way.
    You can’t discredit a tradition just because it doesn’t pay you.I know it is people like you that support gay,shemales,abortion *FEMINISM* which is not women liberation but depression,indiscriminate divorce just because it is western.
    Life is to short ti waste on *freedom*,find yourself a suitable man,fall in love,train your children and enjoy old age.
    It is the person that has never reached another man’s land that would say his father’s is the largest.What brings a true woman joy is watching her children grow into successful men and women.
    BOB MARLEY SAID:EMMANCIPATE YOURSELVES FROM MENTAL SLAVERY,cos’ none but yourselves can free your mind.
    This is how it is done in africa,it’s either you ship in or ship out.

    Like

    • Dear Emmalot,
      Thank you for reading our blog and for this lengthy comment, we appreciate. It is pleasant to note from all you have said that you strongly validate the very purpose of doing this article. Through our writings on this blog, we strive to build a world where everyone’s views are respected and all people are treated with compassion. Here, we try to make our point constructively and do not approve abusive words. I have approved your comment for public view to ensure that you and every other person understand these principle. Having said this, I will appreciate that you read more often. Little by little, we will arrive at the future we desire. Thanks.

      Like

  6. I wish to add that it is not the economic situation that makes us e.g as Yorubas to behave like we do,it’s because we have refused to surenderour basic African values just because we want to behave like the slave masters e.g We all saw the Jonathan’s daughter’s wedding,Dangote,Okoya.Even punch newspapers dedicate pages for unmarried celebs.It is true culture is dynamic,but this is here to stay.If you can’t drink with us,don’t throw stones into our WATER!!!

    Like

  7. @Emmalot: I hope you have taken time to review your contribution and see how subjective and illogical it was.

    I wonder why people who are threatened by those who dare to challenge the status quo are the one quick to accuse and tag others “western puppet”, “pro-choice”, “pro-gay” etc. In fact what is wrong with being unconventional? The last time I check, the African society is so diverse and never monolitic. It is the same “West” that came with the idea of morality that confuse so many into thinking Africa is homophobic or that Africa is against choices. They did this through mental slavery; a legacy left behind with Christianity and neo-colonialism.

    No culture is stagnant come to think of it and TRUE freedom and emancipation comes from those who are conscious enough to embrace new ideas. Those who dare to be different and love themselves for who they are without looking for escape by finding someone to be with by force. It is very dogmatic to be so rigid in your view about what it takes to be an Africa or an individual on this continent. If you are really a fan of Bob Marley, your thinking will be intellectually sound and cognitively progressive.

    Lastly, on a personal level, what is your deal Emmalot? You sounded wounded as if Adaobi was advocating for everyone not to marry. Are you afraid truly that the marriage institution is really dead or continuously overrated? Is this like a personal venting for your disappointment? I am asking cuz you seemed to be missing the point big time- albeit deliberately!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Tee,
      Thanks for reading this and for your very educative comment. It got me thinking more broadly. In the end, we must be open to learn and unlearn. Each of us are entitled to an opinion and we must respect it all, even If we disagree with it. Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. @Emmalot: I hope you have taken time to review your contribution and see how subjective and illogical it was.

    I wonder why people who are threatened by those who dare to challenge the status quo are the one quick to accuse and tag others “western puppet”, “pro-choice”, “pro-gay” etc. In fact what is wrong with being unconventional? The last time I check, the African society is so diverse and never monolitic. It is the same “West” that came with the idea of morality that confuse so many into thinking Africa is homophobic or that Africa is against choices. They did this through mental slavery; a legacy left behind with Christianity and neo-colonialism.

    No culture is stagnant come to think of it and TRUE freedom and emancipation comes from those who are conscious enough to embrace new ideas. Those who dare to be different and love themselves for who they are without looking for escape by finding someone to be with by force. It is very dogmatic to be so rigid in your view about what it takes to be an Africa or an individual on this continent. If you are really a fan of Bob Marley, your thinking will be intellectually sound and cognitively progressive.

    Lastly, on a personal level, what is your deal Emmalot? You sounded wounded as if Adaobi was advocating for everyone not to marry. Are you afraid truly that the marriage institution is really dead or continuously overrated? Is this like a personal venting for your disappointment? I am asking cuz you seemed to be missing the point big time!

    Like

  9. From a happily married woman. Must all marry? (1 Corinthians 7 would be apt here).

    I often find the high premium societies within the ‘developing’ circle place on marriage as tragic. From the cradle to the grave, the imperative of marriage is drilled into the souls of females. They are groomed towards marriage, hounded to settle as soon as possible after puberty (if not before) and harassed to remain shackled even when they have tasted the bitter side of unions that should offer a haven of peace, mutual respect and satisfaction.

    I say again, must all marry???? Marriage is important. It consolidates the union of two people, it gives them a unique space apart from the whole world in which to explore, love, lose themselves and become whole again. If a person chooses to marry (and I insist that marriage is a choice) then until they find the right person and time to marry, they remain complete, unique individuals. What societal pressure does is to deny their existence and personhood until they are shackled to someone else. In my experience, both men and women face this pressure but women even more so. The tragedy of this pressure-to which we need to open our eyes-is that in the rush to marry and find affirmation from society many women forget to live. They lose happiness as they are judged, classified, dismissed and heckled to ‘settle down’. In many cases they settle for the wrong partner with tragic consequences.

    It takes a happy single woman to make a happy married woman. Dear world, please allow our single women to enjoy their single lives, find true self fulfillment and enter genuine relationships … all in good time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Vicky,
      Thank you for this reply coming from a married woman’s perspective. I suppose we need to engage the ‘single woman’ issue from all angles. I agree with your views on the high premium societies within the ‘developing’ circle place on marriage. I advocate on total well-being for everyone and I am certain that its not possible under the huge pressure of marriage being used as a metric for happiness or fulfilment. Thanks for reading again.

      Like

  10. I got propositioned by a certain member of my bbm group and when I turned him down he began to call me names saying I am bitter and still living with past hurts! In spite of the fact that I tried to set him straight he could never see beyond his belief that a woman must have the appendage of Mrs somebori to be relevant. I am happy to see that I am not alone in this and that it is possible to be happy and at the same time content without a Mr hanging around somewhere. I am open to having a man as a friend but no matter what society says I stand by the fact that we must not all be married! I also took note of what you said and it is very true that single women are stereotyped in books just as its depicted in Telemunda series. They search and search for men to complete them and are never fully validated. We will have a voice and sometime soon

    Like

    • Profoundly stated Rita.’ I am open to having a man as a friend but no matter what society says I stand by the fact that we must not all be married!’. Thanks for your contributions. I should take Telemundo more seriously, I suspect they are gathering a lot of attention these days. Thanks again.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s