I was at a workshop sometime this year and due to lack of appetite, I decided not to go to lunch. An elderly woman who also was not going to lunch came to me and asked me why I would not go.
She was very maternal. I told her that I was not feeling good and she took it upon herself to guess what my problem could have been. She came to the conclusion that I was having relationship problems and I had no strength to disagree. Besides, I enjoy a good relationship talk from elderly women. It really just shows me a lot about how women have been socialised to not have any standards when they are in a relationship.
I agreed with her suggestion that I had relationship problems. That was when it all came down. She told me her version of the depressing story that I have heard too many times now. That women must endure whatever men throw at them in order to finally win them over and maybe, if you are lucky, even receive the love that you deserve or “earn” a wedding.
That misleading concept that presents marriage and love as a prize that women can only earn from their suffering, endurance and self-sacrifice. How did we become so jaded?
This woman, well-meaning as the rest of them tell me “You as a woman have to make sure that you don’t quit no matter what happens. I have been with my husband for 30 years now. There were times when he cheated on me, times when he simply told me that he did not want me anymore and times when he was not so kind. I could have quit, but I didn’t because I knew that a good woman had to stick to her man until he bettered himself”.
This saddened me. My first thought was that I did not want to be a good woman. I also thought that women were not selling marriage so well. It’s a common story you hear. Women being too forgiving and sticking with men who have shown them the worst behaviours and made them feel the most painful of feelings.
Many times, the ups and downs of a relationship have meant a cheating or emotionally distant man. I for one, I’m still waiting for a day when I will hear that men are telling each other to be patient with their women while they work on themselves. I am still waiting to hear of men being praised for staying with a woman despite her persistent cheating or drinking problem or emotional remoteness. I am waiting to hear about men being strongly urged to stay with their woman who got impregnated by another man.
That sounds absurd? Then why is it alright when women are told to do it? You might say it is the women’s personal choice, but it is actually deeper than that. it is about women being afraid of getting labelled for walking out of relationships every now and then. It is about women worrying that leaving their relationship will mean finding a new sexual partner; and of course, a woman will be judged for that yet a man won’t. It is about women being convinced to believe that there is no good man out there, that they have to take whatever garbage they are given because it is that way with every man.
It is also about women constantly hearing about how other women earned a wedding ring from this persistence. It is about women worrying that they might not get married “in time” if they leave their man, since society keeps telling them vile things like “women like flowers have an expiry date.” How is it alright to say that? Society has taught women such terrible lessons and it’s hard to shake them off, even for the most enlightened women. This is not just in marriages but even in mere relationships.
It is depressing how it has all been normalised. We must stop glorifying this dehumanising pattern. Period. I have faith that those of us who internalised it can let go of it. I have faith that we will teach the next generations better lessons. We can do better.