I grew up in a Nigerian household that was premised on old-fashioned values – or rather, Igbo values. Even though I was born in Canada, my parents ensured my siblings and I did not lose touch with our culture. This extended to food, clothing, etiquette, and most importantly, respect. Respect was not just what a child showed to a parent. It was also ingrained into the rules of marriage, and this was made abundantly clear to me when I was younger. It was woven into gender roles and the notion that a woman should cook, clean, and tend to her children. As I became older, I began to understand that as a woman, there seemed to be an expectation that “respect” for your husband meant that his needs have to come first.
As an Igbo woman living in Canada, I have experienced a fusion of cultures. This means that while I do understand the values held within Igbo marriages, I have also come to see what marriages in this part of the world look like. This piece will contrast Igbo and Candian marriages to explore how power works within them.
Growing up in Canada, I believe that I was exposed to the Igbo culture, but only to a certain degree. There was only so much my parents could teach or show me, which meant that there was only so much I could learn. As a result of this, a lot of my understanding concerning the concept of marriage came from observation. This included watching the way my aunts and uncles would interact with each other, looking at my parents, or picking up patterns from Igbo movies. Within every avenue that I explored, there seemed to be one constant—the expectations placed upon women were much higher. I always wondered why this happened to be the unfortunate reality of life, and why women have been seen in this light? As I got older, this question became easier to answer. From my perspective, I began to understand that this was not a result of women being inherently less than men, but rather a repercussion of men wielding power.
One thing that I always heard as justification for a man’s actions was the fact that he was a man. “Do not question me, I am a man and as such, I can do as I please.” “Who is the man of this household, that means you do as I say.” I became accustomed to the fact that as a man, there was a level of superiority that was ingrained into their very existence. I began to question what this would mean for me and my potential spouse. If I married an Igbo man, would his gender alone be justification for his transgressions? Would I have to conform to the expectations of a woman and yield any power I may have to my husband? These were questions that ran rampant in my mind and as a result, altered my perception of who I would want to marry. I constantly inquired the following, “Why would I voluntarily put myself in that position?” Due to this fear, I found myself dating outside of my culture and preaching about how I could never marry a Nigerian man.
When I looked at the way Canadian marriages would function, it reinforced my decision to never marry a Nigerian man. I was intrigued by the stark contrast in how women existed in marriages. When I would visit the houses of my friends, I was amazed by what I would see. Fathers cooked, cleaned, and tended to the overall needs of the household alongside their wives. If the wife needed to, she would tell—not ask—the husband to assist in whatever she required. This was astonishing to me! I was under the impression that a woman could not do that. She was supposed to be the caretaker!
I also found that this varied depending on the household I visited. If I went to my Italian, or Ghanian friend’s home, it was often their mothers who performed the duties of a caretaker, “A wife’s duties.” Although, when I would go to the homes of my Portuguese friends, this expectation sometimes differed. Once again, my rationale and understanding were called into question. I began to wonder why things changed from home to home, marriage to marriage. As I got older, I realized something, while culture and values play an intricate role in the way marriages function, there are other factors that surpass them. Something that exemplifies that point perfectly is simple, people. While one person may be Igbo and another Italian, who they are as people dictates the type of marriage they will have.
I am an Igbo woman, but this does not mean that I agree with every aspect of my culture and values. I know that in my marriage, I will not be the only person who will cook and clean. I will not belong to my husband, and he will not wield power over me. I know that my marriage will be a partnership no matter who I end up with. I have goals, dreams, and aspirations that I will reach, and those do not entail making sure that my husband is served when he gets home. Please bear in mind that these are all my personal preferences. I have the utmost respect for Igbo women and everything they stand for. I will ensure to implement the teachings that my mother has passed down to me, but I will do so in my own way. I know the woman I want to be and the man I want to marry. If he is not there to love, uplift, and respect me, he does not need to be there at all.
The idea that “I am a man and I can do as I please,” is not sufficient justification for acting in a manner that belittles your significant other. Being an Igbo woman that grew up in Canada, I am aware of the fact that even here, there will always be men that think they are superior. That is why I am a strong believer that it is the person you choose to marry and not necessarily where they come from that matters. I have let go of my childish claim that I could never marry a Nigerian man. I want a connection that is so much deeper than culture and values. I want someone to love me for who I am, and not what they want me to be. My husband will be my lover, protector, best friend, and most importantly, my partner.