A few days ago, I was having a conversation with a coworker. I told her I wake up as early as 5:30, even when I don’t sleep till 3am. She smirked and made a comment about how she would have been done cooking by then. “You cook as early as 5?” I asked, genuinely dazed at the fact. “Of course,” she replied, as though that should be obvious to me. “Why?” I asked, to which she replied: “How else would my husband eat?” I commended her hard work but expressed how stressful that must be – waking up probably around 4am, cooking for your husband, then getting ready for a job that begins at 7:30 and ends at 4:30, only to go home and cook dinner. I told her that I would have to marry a man that is fine with eating cereal or instant noodles for breakfast. “But how would he eat lunch?” she asked. I told her that he would continue with whatever traditions he had before our marriage; if, for example, he currently orders lunch to work from Iya Oyo’s amala joint, he will carry on with that tradition after marriage, otherwise we could get a chef to cook his meals. She asked: “What if he would only eat your food?” and I said, as-a-matter-of-factly: “he would starve.” She looked at me, laughed in disbelief and commented on my being spoiled. I shrugged, ignored her statement and went about my day. She felt sad for me, and I felt sad for her.
Like African many girls, I fantasize about cooking for (and with) my husband, asking him about his day and watching TV cuddled up on the couch. I think of marriage as a mutually beneficial agreement, something that brings me calmness, happiness and peace of mind. The minute cooking for my husband becomes a chore, and I start to dread it, resentment will build up until the marriage no longer represents peace of mind. I want to cook and clean because I want to, not because I have to. When I tell people this, I am asked ridiculous questions like “who will marry you?” and told that it would be hard to find a husband with this mindset. The alternative, of course, is slaving away in the name of servitude. So, what happens to girls like us – girls who don’t see marriage as an act of servitude, girls who aren’t ready to submit to men and lose themselves in the process, girls who have a picture of what their happiness looks like, and won’t settle for anything less?
In the end, we’re the ones who change timeworn traditions, who fight against injustice and become activists. We’re the ones who liberate, who point out misogynist cultural practices and bring solutions to them. I think back at my co-worker who just couldn’t believe that I’m not looking forward to waking up at odd hours to cook for my husband, who could not understand why I wouldn’t want my husband to solely eat food prepared by my hands, and how sad she felt for me. I wish I had told her the words of the great German lyric poet, Rainer Maria Rilke: “Someday, there will be girls and women whose name will no longer signify merely an opposite of the masculine, but something in itself, something that makes one think, not of any complement and limit, but only of life and existence: the feminine human being.” I wish I had told her that I am a complete human being, even without a husband and she is too.