Originally posted on Shades of Us.
It is 2020 and many families across Africa are still auditioning women for the ‘opportunity’ to become a slave wife in their family.
What does this mean?
Well…it starts with a man asking a lady to be his girl. Depending on the prevalent culture, she responds after some pressure and appropriate time has passed, and they begin to date. She is now crowned with the title, girlfriend, which is where she begins to, slave off do all she can to prove she is a worthy and the one who should be chosen for the ultimate goal; wife. She will cook, clean, cater to his every need, gradually begin to erase her will and thought until she is the gloried extension of the man.
At this point, he looks at her and thinks, ‘damn! She would make for a great slave wife who can take care of me since I am a big baby and cannot do this myself’. He then begins to test her by pushing the limits of ridiculousness to see how much of herself she is willing to lose to ensure she keeps him. There would be cheating, and possibly domestic abuse in his quest to see if she is the type of woman who knows how to forgive and be submissive, so he can lead her. His friends — who at this point have been enamored of her steaming mounds of really good food and how well she slaves works to keep their guy looking good — goad him on and tell him she is the one.
He agrees…and proposes. And the slavery fairytale journey to being a ‘Mrs.’ begins.
This is where it gets even more tricky. It is one thing to pass the tests of the man this woman decides she wants to spend the rest of her life with. It is also one thing to get passed his friends and receive their approval. The biggest thing she has to worry about however is pleasing the gaze of his family; and most times than not, his mother is at the top of that list. You have heard how much men love their mothers and would do anything for them, right? How they, and their daughters, are about the only women they ever genuinely love? Well, this woman, this one seeking to be welcomed into this family where her ‘one true love’ is from, must go through a final round of auditions from his family — and a major one from his mother — if she is to succeed at her plans.
Describing all the hoops she has to jump will take forever. But one thing is certain, on the first day — the very first day — she goes to meet the mother of the ‘love-of-her-life’, she may be asked to cook for her man’s family. This meal may range from simple breakfast servings to pounded yam with any choosing from the very elaborate soups that can accompany it. The family needs to know that their son will be fed well, amongst other things.
Finally, with all the auditions over, an approval — which may be revoked at any time based on any number of infractions — is given and the wedding can then proceed. After this big glorious day which the woman is expected to joyously (and sometimes, tearfully) celebrate because she is the one that wants it, she begins her life as slave wife.
Yes, the word ‘slave’ is mentioned way too many times. It doesn’t even pretend not to be passive aggressive. But, doesn’t this sound like women jump through way too many hoops to be part of a family in what really can be described as slavery? A life where she has to cook, clean, cater to every desire of her man, including allowing him access to her body whenever he wants? A life where she constantly has to put her own desires aside because she needs to be submissive and let her husband lead her?
But this isn’t even about the marriage itself. It is about the auditions that lead up to that.
Like damn! Why is it okay to visit your prospective in-laws and be expected to cook or clean or do any number of menial chores? Aren’t you supposed to be a guest in that house? Shouldn’t you be treated as one?
A while back, a video from a Yoruba movie clip showed a woman who refused to cook for her prospective mother in-law when she went visiting for the very first time. She explained that she was a guest in their house and it was inappropriate for her to cook for them. If (or when) she became familiar with them, and was treated as one of the family, she could then do those things.
The mother was shocked.
Her son was shocked.
They mirrored society who expressed their anger at the woman, claiming she was ‘rude’, ‘poorly brought up’, ‘not ready for marriage’, ‘would never find a man’ and a host of other phrases that adjudged the girl a failure. Other groups supported her.
It does seem quite unfair to expect a guest at your house to prepare their own meal, doesn’t it? What is even more saddening is, if the roles were switched and the man was the guest in the family house of the woman he wants to marry, no one auditions him. You never hear of father who fills up a bucket and tosses a rag to the husband-to-be to go wash the family car? Or present him with a hoe or machete to go weed out the family farm or garden? Or prepare him a list to go shopping?
If this all sounds weird, why is okay to do to women? Why is okay to make a woman jump through hoops to show she is worthy enough to join their family; especially when joining promises to take a complete toll on her physical and mental wellbeing?
Some people have said it is a way to get the wife-to-be to bond with their family. Hmmm…why does bonding have to be over chores though? Isn’t it possible to bond over movies, a trip to the restaurant, hair day at that natural hair salon, shoe or dress shopping or even over ice-cream or desserts? Why isn’t bonding over things where a conversation can be had? Why is seeing if a woman can sweat it out in the kitchen — usually alone — a way to bond?
Thankfully, a lot of women are beginning to reject these auditions. Marriage is supposed to be a companionship where two equals work together for a common goal; whatever that goal is to the couple. It should be a constant give-and-take where each person is contributing equally to making things work. This could mean sharing chores because that is the sensible thing to do. It means mutual respect and sacrifice so each person isn’t overwhelmed by the stress — and it is stressful — of being, living and working together.
As women are learning to love themselves and demand equal treatment, more people are shirking these performative auditions for better options at bonding. Women are walking away from prospective family in-laws who do not understand the basics of respect. ‘Oh! You ain’t going to find a mate at the rate.’ Well, that is wrong. She wouldn’t find a mate if she continues to compromise her standards because she wants to get married. What she would find is a master and his overlords who will keep her in check. To find a mate, she needs to keep walking away from these toxic wife-to-be auditions.
It is also important that the husband-to-be treats his partner as his equal. If he does, he wouldn’t make her jump through unnecessary hoops to prove she would be a good wife. He would ensure they work together to satisfy each other in their companionship. His girl would not need to seek the approval of his friends. She would not have to, for example, wash his sisters’ clothes or cook for his family. When she is at his house, he fixes her a plate because she is his guest…as he would expect her to do if he was the guest in her house.
The way a man rates his woman is the same way his family and friends would rate her; at least, in most cases. And because we are a patriarchal society, the man has to lead by showing his friends and his family that his woman is his equal. Men have to continue to do that until it becomes a social norm to treat women as such.
Let’s stop the unnecessary and banal auditions, shall we?
PS: If you want to help out at your prospective in-laws’ houses, it is fine. It may be how you are raised and nothing to do with being performative so you can pass an audition. But you should help out because you want to, not because you are required to.
Respect yourself so your partner and their family can learn to respect you.