Henrieta Stackpole, a character in Henry James’ novel, Portrait of a Lady, averred that marriage is a duty. Getting married is an obligation for an individual who isn’t in a religious order. Unmarried people are seen as irresponsible and wayward in most societies especially African societies. Unmarried people, especially women, are regarded as failed people. They are called derogatory names when gossiped by people, their friends and even their family members.
I once asked a middle-aged woman what was the point in getting married. She told me people got married for companionship, procreation and because there is a certain respect accorded married people. She further buttressed her point by saying unmarried women were not recognized in some African societies. Then I asked myself,”Why wouldn’t the society respect an unmarried woman?” The answer came staring right back at me: “It’s a patriarchal society.” In a nutshell, the patriarchal society does not tolerate unmarried women. Probably they see them as being independent. And we all know what “alpha females” inadvertently do to the male ego.
Men are somewhat threatened by a woman who can hold her own. It is as if an independent woman crushes their balls. Men have always wanted to feel dominant. Men seem to love damsels in distress. It is like a primeval, archetypal need. I really can’t say.
This brings up the issue of gender double standards concerning marriage. A double standard is any code or set of principles containing different provisions for one group than for another. In this context, a man can remain a lifelong bachelor and it’s okay. But for a woman, it’s not okay. This derogatory perception of an unmarried woman is the patriarchal society’s mechanism to subjugate women. This goes a long way to affect the self esteem of spinsters or “bachelorettes” (I think I like that word).
From the onset, men have sought out ways to make women feel “lesser”. Clitoridectomy, female genital mutilation, is one of the many means the patriarchal society has ensured that women actually feel lesser. Pun intended. The “idea” behind this is to ensure that women’s sexual drive is controlled. They just didn’t want women to feel “it” like they did.
Why would the society make it an issue if a woman is unmarried? It’s not like a woman would go to a vending machine and slot a coin then like magic, a man would appear. Does being single imply that a woman lacks uxorious qualities? Could it be that they just aren’t lucky in landing the right men? I really cannot say.
From population censuses, it is glaring that there are more women than men in most societies. Is the Y chromosome wilting? Maureen Dowd in her book, Are Men Necessary?, mentioned a society without men that had a semblance to the mythical cult of Diana. When a man takes more than one wife, what happens to the other women? If they become mistresses, it becomes fornication and adultery. If a man takes more than wife, it becomes polygamy. I am still searching for the portion of the bible that condemns polygamy. If the other women decide to have romantic relations among themselves, it becomes lesbianism. We all can’t go to convents. We have needs!
Why shouldn’t women remain unmarried if they want? I think one is better off being happily single than unhappily married. Now I am asking:
“Do women have to be married to be fulfilled in the society?”
“Does a woman really need a man by her side to be happy?”
“Should women just hook up with each other because there are no men available?”
“Should we end up being mistresses and lovers?”
On and on, the questions keep churning. I wonder what answers Jane Austen’s character, Mrs. Bennett, in the novel Pride and Prejudice would have given to these question.