On Funmi Iyanda, Womanhood, and Marriage Culture in Nigeria

Secondary school mornings in Lagos, for me, always started with watching cartoons or breakfast shows, the living room dull with the half-dark of dawn. My favourite breakfast show was New Dawn on NTA 10, hosted by media personality Funmi Iyanda. In Nigerian-speak, her mouth was too sharp, the kind of mouth that said things with…

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Secondary school mornings in Lagos, for me, always started with watching cartoons or breakfast shows, the living room dull with the half-dark of dawn. My favourite breakfast show was New Dawn on NTA 10, hosted by media personality Funmi Iyanda.

In Nigerian-speak, her mouth was too sharp, the kind of mouth that said things with a raw and blistering honesty. Her intelligence struck me, her command of the English language imperious, and sometimes, while dressing up for school, my mum would come into the room (her name is Funmi by the way) and say “Ahn-ahn, this Funmi and her big-big grammar,” and we would both laugh, enjoying the spell of Funmi Iyanda’s voice, and knowing that, somehow, our day had been enriched.

Years on, New Dawn departed from the screens, withdrawing its presence from homes and Nigerian lives, leaving a hollowness in its wake. I think Funmi said something about moving on to other things, I’m not too sure. I wished her well, though. I followed her on Twitter, from afar, and it was nice to see that she hadn’t changed. Not that I expected anything less. She engaged her followers with her gender politics, providing cultural and political criticisms. She was uninhibited in every way, her humour supreme.

Twitter, as we all know, can be a vile place sometimes. Celebrities have been trolled and abused so much so that they slink back into the cocoon of their private lives, closing or temporarily leaving their Twitter accounts. So it was no surprise to see the abusive, vitriolic, judgmental comments Nigerians flung at Funmi Iyanda when she tweeted on Wednesday last week that marriage isn’t for her.

Beyond Twitter, and across the Nigerian blogosphere, some of the comments stung me. And I ask this: why are Nigerians this way? Why are we full of patriarchal shit?

Funmi Iyanda, as a whole, complex, biological human adult, has exercised her personal agency by stating that she doesn’t want marriage for herself. Because of this, heaven won’t fall and the Earth will continue to rotate on its axis. Life will go on, and heterosexual couples will still come together to make babies, squealing, tumbling, diaper-wearing babies.

But in a society deeply invested in patriarchy, where patriarchal regulations of womanhood comes sharp-toothed with anti-abortion and anti-sex work rhetorics and the hegemonic presentation of cisgender women as “real women,” Funmi Iyanda’s agency is threatening and very anti-establishment.

That said, the dominant construction of womanhood is such that nuance and complexity are disallowed. Women’s choices and decisions are always subjected to policing and scrutiny to maintain the dynamics that revolves around the privileging of men. Over and over again, we have seen the clichéd, reductive portrayals of womanhood in mainstream media and pop culture, women portrayed as nurturing and intuitive, soft and compassionate. It’s not that these attributes are bad, but constantly and conventionally defining women this way erases and invisiblises other women who don’t possess these attributes.

When someone says a woman must know how to cook in order to keep her husband and ultimately her home, I usually roll my eyes so slowly that I get dizzy. Never in my life have I heard such nonsense, such archaic, essentialist logics. The men who say this are taught to instrumentalise cooking, a survival skill which everyone should have, as a metric for virtuous and authentic womanhood in women.

Marriage is a beautiful thing, but in Nigeria, it is glamourised and made pathologically desirable. Every weekend or so there is a wedding in town, the aso ebi worn joyously by family and friends, a punctilious catering company on ground (they maybe overpriced but you are certain of quality small chops), and the general sunniness that qualifies the air. In effect, women are subjected to pressures that come from a culture that ties marriage to the affirmation of their womanhood. They are taught to romanticise the idea of marriage as womaning and womanist, culturally conditioned to see it as a crowning achievement. Put bluntly, marriage is a choice and not a destination.

Only through decolonising mainstream conceptions of womanhood and engaging a gender politics in which men recognise, acknowledge and interrogate their privilege can we have women make (unpopular) choices without backlash and criticism.

Responses

  1. soplain
    I have to be real about this reply…..abeg keep quiet the Western culture has created a home in you…we are Africans we should dance to our norms and traditions …after all I haven’t seen any Westerner adopting our way of life or u feel all we do is not right …if I could recall..I watched a movie about Allen Turin sumtimz ago and one of d major cast in d movie a lady in d movie was been pressured to get married by her parents in the 1945’s during d war then just to keep her moral sense sane but today they all have forgotten they use to abide by those traditions all in the name of been civilized or most probably they use d phrase morality is relative..but today we see most of dem find it had to keep thier marraiges ,jumping from one relationship to anoda which is totally not right..anyway my point is we shouldnt copy everything from the Western culture just because d media seems to make them feel right it does feel right…hell naaah it doesn’t …it’s all a way to lore Africans into their sinful and shameless habits which has never been part of us since day one …..dats my take on funmi sha…..I am still a fan of hers but I don’t buy dat from her and if the Ppl don’t take jabs on her like Dat some light headed Ppl who idolize her might just feel it’s a moral way to go…..for Godsake we ar well mannered Africans not some bunch of thieves and hoodlums seeking for freedom and settled in a place and later formed a united state..
    1. Jennie
      So when someone exercises her right to live her life the way she pleases, people should take jabs at her?

      This has nothing to do with western culture. I have great grand aunts who refused to marry because they said it wasn’t for them and this was in the early 1900’s. A person’s choice is just that- their choice.

      Someday hopefully, people will take jabs at you for what doesn’t concern them and you’ll learn first-hand how despicable it feels.

      Peace and love.

      1. soplain
        If I am wrong I will gladly accept my faults and take correction .. I welcome any reparation I duly deserve….lol talking About choice..we all shouldn’t b allowed to have all our choices…wat will u say abt dis haywire guy trying to feel Godly by taking a life by becoming a serial killer ..he chose to..but d societal norms will neva allow him Do dat..anyway dis is more of contradicting d justice system but it fits to a point….am not saying ,not getting married is a crime but all am saying is in dis part of d world marraige is every shade of being responsible… And it’s morally correct.
    2. Miz
      So….just to clarify and be sure we are all on the same page, the “point” you seem to be attempting to try and make is: In this part of the world, people who decide not to get married are being lured into the “sinful and shameless” habits of the West and lack morality…

      …..it doesn’t matter that the person has decided to be celibate, that the person realizes that marriage is not for them, that the person just hasn’t found anyone they’re willing to spend the rest of their life with….

      ….you are saying that in this part of the world people should just get married, even if it’s a bad toxic marriage, even if you know the person will cheat on you, abuse you emotionally and physically, leave you drained and a shadow of yourself, be unable to provide for the family, scar your children for life and make you regret being born….

      ….you are saying that all this doesn’t matter because at least you’ll be married and you won’t be lured into the “sinful and shameless” habits of the West and lack morality….

      …just to clarify, is that what you’re saying?

    3. Dafididafidi
      “” Not some bunch of thieves and hoodlums seeking for freedom and settled in a place and later formed a united state..””” Lol abi oh USA ko?
      As per over priced aso ebi assuring you of quality small chops I beg to disagree, have been to some weddings where even food was scarce oh despite my wearing my aso ebi
  2. G B
    @Soplain, why? Comparing someone’s decision to stay single to another’s decision to become a murderer?! No, it doesn’t “fit to a point”. What wondrous things will you say next: let’s make it illegal to be single or, even better, let’s randomly pair single people up (with a Turing machine, maybe) and force them to marry?!

    Marriage is no big deal or great achievement. It’s just a thing, no offense to all who are married. It’s not your crowning glory and is no indicator of maturity. Ms. Iyanda is perfectly free to do as she wills.

    If you don’t want any Westernizing, stop watching movies about Allen Turin(sic).

  3. soplain
    Soplain has suffered …this one now has dropped me finishing punchline now….Dat I should watching Allen Turin(imitation game) ….And it’s only ladies dat will always find fault in my comments sha
    1. KASE
      Soplain, it’s not only women who take exceptions to your comments. I’m a man and I’ll tell you that it’s thinking / societal schools of thoughts similar to yours that promote misogyny, gender bias, discrimination, violence against women and even rape.

      All these might seem far fetched but I’ll give you some insight. Everybody has a right to live a life of their choice, regardless of gender. As long as these choices don’t trample on the rights of others, put them in harm’s way and run foul of the law. All that talk about morality and culture is very subjective.

      I believe that rather than be obsessed about imposing our opinions on others and pushing everybody to fit into societal stereotypes, we should focus on being more humane, emphatic and treat each other with respect regardless of gender, creed, orientation, ethnicity, etc. Seeking happiness and peace of mind beats getting married for marriage sake all day, everyday.

  4. Nelo
    Hmmm. ..@Soplain. Marriage does not make one responsible. You are either responsible or you are not. In a bid to dance to the tune of society, a lot of women are living joyless lives. For wetin na?
    Marriage is a good thing but not for everyone. The earlier we start believing and respecting, the happier healthier society we build.
  5. Morris
    Let me say @soplain Soplain just proved what i was going to say. , in your last paragraph, you mentioned how men need to see this, Females are the biggest part of this issue, i will bet most of those that attacked Funmi Iyanda are females. It’s sad but it’s true.

    Like what did she mean western culture, who is talking western culture?

  6. CandidHassey
    It is Funmi’s life. It is her choice. Her actions are not hurting anyone. They do not infringe on anyone’s rights. So, No, it is not similar to being a serial killer.
    For God’s sakes, marriage is not compulsory. Many people are going through hell in their marriages just to please society. What about pleasing oneself? She said marriage is not for her. It’s not for her. How is it affecting anyone?
    1. Cee
      Even worse when we try to justify certain traditions by saying they’re African and that we shouldn’t copy the West. Conveniently we forget that a lot that we have imbibed including the Christian religion that we carry on our head are imports from the West
  7. Arthur Bizkit
    “Only through decolonising mainstream conceptions of womanhood and engaging a gender politics in which men recognise, acknowledge and interrogate their privilege can we have women make (unpopular) choices without backlash and criticism”.

    paragraph for days. . .

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