Does Womanhood and Ambition Really Exist in Nigeria?
(L.A. McKeown, 2020)
“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 would threaten the man” -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Who is your role model? They ask as if there is a perfect example of someone I could emulate around me? As a young woman raised within a community where being successful feels like a destination for the only perfect people, I have constantly studied the women figure around with these constant questions in mind “Are they living the goals and dreams they had as young women or has womanhood and motherhood robbed them of those aspirations” “Are they the perfect examples of role models?” “I mean, they do not have big titles?” “They are mothers who have accepted what society gave to them?” “Are they fighting for what they believe, or has life just happened?”
A role model is a person someone identifies as a person they can gain inspiration from and emulate specific characteristics from (Australia’s National Career Information Service, 2021). Synonyms being hero, heroine, idol, and icon. Based on this definition and the various examples fellow students give when asked who their role models are, the women around me were no close to being role models. I mean, they do not look successful, nor were they a big deal, nor do they have a description of who I hope to be, but why do I feel this way?
Suppose you know that feeling that comes with constant correction on who you are meant to be. In that case, I believe you will understand where I am coming from when I say it felt like the women around me did not feel confident enough to own their space; from a young age, my mum and aunt constantly corrected me on how to eat, what to do and what not to do, the amount of food that seemed alright and most importantly who I was going to be for him, I mean they were taught to live for their husband. In the country I come from, Nigeria, womanhood ended up at who you are to your husband and the kind of mother you are to your children. It always felt as if the women around accepted who they were meant to be for society’s sake. Furthermore, I have never seen my mum ask or question certain things; I have not asked her why it is that way or if she is satisfied but really, who can be satisfied with all that is offered to them without question. I do not mean to say my mum is mute or does not have a life. I have never seen her live life for herself, which has led to my constant worry about being a mother, wife, or woman in general. So does womanhood and motherhood rob you of being who you hope to be? or is it just wrong in general to have aspirations and dreams as a woman?
Womanhood is beyond the physical body parts; It is a state of mind as well as a social commitment; women serve as a moral compass and sounding board for spouses, friends, and family; women believe in fighting for what is right (Dr. Logan Levkoff, 2011).
It is quite iconic to know that in Nigeria, you become a woman when you begin your menstrual flow; It brings smiles to the faces of your loved ones and joy to their hearts knowing that at one point in life, you can be given to a man in marriage and then bear children for him. In Nigerian definition, womanhood is being fit enough to live for another person, in this case, your children or husband. In 2015 Florence Warmate, after a book club meeting where they discussed Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists,” decided to embark on a journey of exploring challenges facing women; she started a tweet using the hashtag #BeingFemaleinNigeria and soon, a lot of people began to respond from this experiment, various women spoke about the stereotypes they faced within their families and in the workspace (BBC Trending, 2015).
According to the world bank blog, as of 2011, 17 million adult women in Nigeria were neither working nor studying (The work of women in Nigeria, 2016), I mean who wants to invest in a person who one day is going to live their life for someone else, the thought that girls, upon marriage, join their husband’s family and take with them the benefits of education, makes parents have little incentives to bear the costs of educating their daughters (King & M. Anne Hill, 1995).
You know I love this quote from one of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Ted’s talks, “We should all be Feminist,” in this particular talk. She talks about being female within Nigerian society. This Ted talk was from years back; however, many of the issues she highlighted are still relevant today. She said, “We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would 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” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Quotes (Author of Americanah), 2020).
In Nigerian societies, womanhood is associated with compromise; many women and girls from the early stage of life have been told to let go of various things to satisfy others’ needs, in most cases boys and men. As of 2018, seventy percent of Nigerian women were married. This seventy percent included women from the ages of 15 to 49 years were married, and from the remaining 30 percent, 25 percent never married (Nigeria: marital status of women Statista, 2018). For those 25 percent of unmarried, many of them have endured pity and blame for their situation. In Nigeria, singleness beyond marriage age for women is seen as wrong, many of these women are called women with the worst of behavior, their love for self cost them their happiness, quote on quote, marriage, they were too ambitious, they have pride, and that is why a man can’t marry them. The sigma is then for you to have ambition, live your life and have dreams, then you become a strong-headed proud woman who no man can control. So then the question is, were my aunt and mother wrong for living by society standard? No, I do not think so, but then my worry is why do most women live at peace with society and others at the expense of losing themselves, why do most womanhood and motherhood steal from women’s ambition, dreams, and personal goals?
(World Bank Report, 2019)
The limitations and stereotypes put in place by society do not only affect personally identity crises but also plays out how women are able to contribute to society, in a survey done by the Global Women Entrepreneur Leadership Scorecard in 2015 Nigeria ranked high in terms of women who believe they have the skills to become entrepreneurs, but last in terms of ‘economic climate’ for women (2015 Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard Executive Summary, 2015) and this in terms affect the livelihood of women in Nigeria. Another aspect to consider is that many women leave the workforce just because according to society women can not balance the two out and therefore she has to choose what is most important to her. Globally 46.9% of all women participated in the labor force (Statistical Overview of Women in Global Workplaces: Catalyst Quick Take, 2020). That’s to show how many of these limitations affect the representation of women.
In spite of the societal focus that has limited women in Nigeria we have seen women on the raise who have then become role models to other women within the society for example Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Finance Minister and Vice President of the World Bank, and Dr. Obiagele Ekwesili, former Education Minister and Head of the World Bank’s African Educational Project are among those who have broken the glass ceiling in their contributions to Nigeria’s economic and educational development (Nefi Ainesi Wole-Abu, 2018). More like the women that spoke about their experiences in 2015 using twitter many women need to begin to speak about the struggles of womanhood in Nigeria, it is also important that women speak about how these constructs within the society affect their goals and aspirations, it is not going to be a one day process of changing these beliefs systems. So it is essential that women begin to speak up starting with our immediate community about their struggles, hopes, and ambitions, but most important be role models to each other. Identify your struggles, be conscious and confident to share your stories.
BBC Trending. (2015, July). What it means to be female in Nigeria. BBC News; BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-33239356
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Quotes (Author of Americanah). (2020). Goodreads.com. https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/19992417.Chimamanda_Ngozi_Adichie
Dr. Logan Levkoff. (2011, December 9). The True Meaning of Womanhood. HuffPost; HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/womanhood_b_1135555
Investments in Gender Equality in Croatia Will Increase Opportunities for All, Says World Bank Report. (2019). World Bank. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2019/03/22/investments-in-gender-equality-in-croatia-will-increase-opportunities-for-all-says-world-bank-report
L.A. McKeown. (2020, July 21). Race and Gender Bias May Sway Decisions in Advanced HF Care. TCTMD.com; TCTMD.com. https://www.tctmd.com/news/race-and-gender-bias-may-sway-decisions-advanced-hf-care
myfuture – Australia’s National Career Information Service | myfuture. (2021). Myfuture. https://myfuture.edu.au/assist-others/what-is-a-role-model
Nefi Ainesi Wole-Abu. (2018). Nigerian Women, Memories of the Past and Visions of the Future through the Communication Narratives of the Media. Global Media Journal, 16(31), 1–7. https://www.globalmediajournal.com/open-access/nigerian-women-memories-of-the-past-and-visions-of-the-future-through-the-communication-narratives-of-the-media.php?aid=87196
Statistical Overview of Women in Global Workplaces: Catalyst Quick Take. (2020a). Catalyst. https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-in-the-workforce-global/
monde, L. (2020, July 28). VIE Magazine. VIE Magazine. http://viemagazine.com/article/le-monde-melissa-koby-art/
2015 Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard Executive Summary. (2015).26.https://i.dell.com/sites/doccontent/corporate/secure/en/Documents/2015-GWEL-Scorecard-Executive-Summary.pdf
This was an interesting read. There are so many women who are raised to live for their husbands rather for themselves which is very sad. However, some women just want to be this way. They believe being 100% submissive is the way to go. We have had the opportunity to go to school and learn different and also dream for ourselves. Some of these women grew up seeing their mothers living this way and its very normal to them. The way forward is to educate the coming generation that they should live for themselves before choosing to exist for someone else. Lets also be clear that its not a bad thing for a woman to want to make her life revolve around her man. If it makes her happy why not? Truth is its all about happiness. If you feel fulfilled then do you sis.