Wednesday, February 20, 2013

African Mothers, Their Daughters, Love and Marriage

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Below is a great article by China Okasi for CNN in which she asks African moms, especially those in diaspora or with daughters who are more educationally accomplished than their peers, to have patience with their daughters. In the article, she called out the fact that women don't have to dumb down to attract men, and how these days women want love, and not just marriage for the sake of it. I agree with her mostly, especially on the issue of respect and compatibility. But I know also that love is not a magic pill that guarantees a successful marriage. What do you think? Let's discuss!

Moms everywhere like to ask their unmarried daughters dreaded questions like: Why are you still single? Are you married yet? Anyone catch your eye? Especially around Valentine's Day.

Sure, we've seen Carrie Bradshaw agonize over the issue, watched Bridget Jones' awkwardness around it, heard Amelie's lamentations au Francais, and we've even heard from the lovable Mindy Kaling vis-a-vis her Indian-American perspective. But, we haven't heard the modern African woman's story.

Being an unmarried African woman in her childbearing years is like being a manicurist with a hand tremor: very odd and rather tricky. She is expected to marry early and marry well.

African mothers, then, are in a deep crisis. They immigrated to the United States with the hopes that their daughters would get a good education and fulfill the American Dream. But they never considered that, along with having all that modernity, their daughters would, like the rest of America's young, empowered women, be so "late" in marriage.

Granted, African moms are not alone in their hopes. But still, some of them seem particularly affected. What shall they do?

Well, first, they might accept that their daughters have not just a "double consciousness," as W. E. B. Dubois termed it, but rather infinite consciousnesses, complicating their very blackness. If an upper middle-class girl has one or more African parents, for example, she has likely schooled in the United States or Europe -- maybe even a generation after her own parents have.

And she has likely spent a fair amount of time in London via Lagos, a common lifestyle practice for those of formerly colonized African countries. If she has lived down South, say in Texas, for some time, she has likely acquired a George Bush twang for survival sake. If she has taken up a neuroscience residency in Boston (which, of course, she must, if she is African), she might now sound like Matt Damon's sister. And the minute she wins an accolade in some not-so-diverse department (which, of course, she must, being African), she'll be labeled the "first African-American" to have done so.

In short, she is global. If she is living in a melting pot like New York, she is global on steroids. Naturally, global girls outgrow such local traditions as arranged marriages, dowry and bride price, which have not been exclusive to African tradition (see the English period drama, "Downton Abbey") but have certainly lingered longer in homes of African descent.

African moms need to accept that globalism has allowed their daughters to know the world better, and as a result, seek partnerships more wisely. This process of self-determination takes a tad longer to form than setting up an arranged marriage.

Thankfully, my mom, educated in America, a New Yorker and rather global, has not been as insistent on marriage with me. But it seems like only yesterday her older sister, my aunt, warned about the dangers of waiting too long, or being too educated, to be married.

Really, if you've watched Maggie Smith's blunt character, Lady Violet Crawley, in "Downton Abbey," you have watched my aunt. Despite being an accomplished woman who acquired a Ph.D. later in life, she praised my graceful exit from my doctoral program. I'd just turned 21 when I'd chosen a rather eccentric doctoral study. In her words: "What man would marry a 20-something-year-old Ph.D.-holder?" It would be too intimidating to men.

"I'd do better to tone it down a bit," she suggested. Which brings me to my second plea to African moms. If you want your daughter to be as happy or happier than you have been in marriage, it makes no sense that she should dumb down the colorfulness of her character, the boldness of her spirit and the fire that made her the "first African-American" this or that in order to appease those who are potentially intimidated by her.

If you'd never match a conservative Christian with a flagrant porn star, it's not clear why today's educated woman should edit herself in hopes of attracting a feeble idiot. Yes, she'd be married, but then she'd live only to repress herself for someone else's ego -- and what kind of message would that be for the children?
You see, dear African moms, global girls need global boys. Not intimidated ones.

We can sit and try to make sense of why one kind of match would work or not work for a global girl, but we must concede that love is messy and unpredictable. Love is not like your daughter's medical career with a blueprint to follow, or like a GPS map that can calculate the distance between Addis and Accra.

Yesterday's woman wanted marriage. Today's woman wants love -- and marriage, if it turns out that way. Olivia Pope's character in the TV series "Scandal" spoke quite unapologetically for today's woman when she said: "I could probably give all this up, and live in a country house and have babies and be normal. I could. But I don't want to. I'm not built for it. I don't want normal and easy...and simple. I want...painful, love."

Extraordinary love? Sometimes, dear African moms, that process is just a little more complicated than marrying your cousin like in the 18th century. So, you'll just have to be patient.

China Okasi, an entrepreneur and frequent commentator on various TV networks, is the founder of the Daily Mocha and executive director of Women of Media. She wrote this for CNN Opinion.


  1. Ladies cannot put their lives on hold just because they do not want to intimidate their potential husbands. Only small minded and insecure men feel that way.
    And I believe love, true love is predictable. A love that is pure and real will always do what is right.
    Mothers should learn to pray more than nagging their daughters.
    Thanks for sharing Myne!

  2. OK, this is for the women. As a man, let me say I don't know what love is and don't quote love songs or romantic comedies for me, those things aren't real. Give me a stable woman I can respect and work with as a partner, and if I have enough money in the bank, we can start talking marriage.

  3. Love is 'respect', commitment, shared values.
    Marriage is 'respectability' - status within society and a piece of paper to say I own your ass. Everyone else keep off!

    Of course the two can co-exist if you can both work it. Hehehe.

  4. As for me if I had to choose, I value love over marriage. I've often wondered why long term cohabiting couples break up after a few years of marriage when they've been living together quite happily in a committed relationship for 15-20 years in some cases.

    I think Nigeria will evolve in its social norms like in the west. That will take time and less religiosity. And maybe there will be more cohabiting couples when that happens. So far from what we can see all over the world, marriage has not stopped men or women from playing away. Only love ensures commitment; not marriage.

  5. You took the words right out of my mouth(heart).I have always wondered why its so easy for people to advice a woman to downplay evrything that makes her who she is,just so she can fit into the quagmire that is a man's ego(no offence guys)true love will ensure absolute freedom to be just who I want to be,I like "painful devastating extraordinary life changing love" it makes the world go round.

  6. I have some problems with this article. For one it makes the assumption that for African mothers to let their daughters be when it comes to marriage, they must be educated and out of the continent of Africa (I really think you were referring to West Africa). That is a fallacy in itself.

    And the you offer Olivia Pope who is a sideline chick. She is having an affair with a married man, that's the kind of love women want, that's the kind of love modern African women want?? Wow.


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