Why we are unmarried

Being a single woman in her mid-twenties in Uganda shouldn’t be so hard. By that time you are done with your university education, you are still attractive enough, you most likely already have a job that is not too intimidating for an average man, you are fertile enough to bear children and, if you are still at home (which is most times the case), your curfew is more bearable.

By that time, you most likely have a boyfriend you finished university with, and if he is a good boy, he’s probably planning to propose, and if he is the usual type, he is probably going to knock you up in a couple of months. Okay, the knocking you up bit is never part of the plan, save for a few morons. But, whichever way it happens, both scenarios lead to marriage or cohabitation (most times I cannot tell the difference). And that should make everyone happy, or at least your family. They are never okay with the cohabiting at first, but with time they realize it is one less mouth to feed, and besides, ‘marriage is just a piece of paper – it doesn’t mean anything’! (Don’t shoot! Not my words!)

And, because a woman is never viewed as complete if she does not have her own family despite how much else she may have achieved, such a girl’s life is pretty much over. A few (superwomen) sometimes go ahead to pursue their careers even after the babies have come, or give time to certain causes they believe in. But once you have a family and any form of income as a young woman in Uganda, you have duly paid your debt to society. It doesn’t demand anything further from you, the rest you do for personal fulfillment.

This should be a good thing, the expectation are low! I do not know if it is even right for me to hate the different standards set for the men and for the women, in spite of all the women emancipation talk being thrown here and there. But this sickens me, the feminist in me gets very angry whenever I think about it, so I won’t. This life should be easy to achieve for an average well-raised Ugandan girl, though of course the overachievers and underachievers are not covered in this ‘average’ bracket.

The underachievers’ problem is much easier to comprehend. We were always told, from as early as six that if you mess with boys, you get pregnant or HIV or both and this scared you away from boys and sex – some have not yet even recovered from the fear. But, NO, this did not stop the underachiever – the ‘overachiever’ then. She probably got herself pregnant or HIV or both at a young age, and has had to live with the stigma, the extra responsibility and the judgement which have defined her life (society is not so forgiving). And, no, not everyone that has HIV gets it this way – I thought that was obvious. So, anyways, if she is strong enough or has the support she needs, she will rise above it all, but otherwise she is an underachiever, who is kicked out of school and home sometimes, she is the baby mama no guy wants to take home to mama, or she is the one with the child whose job is given to someone else because her kid keeps getting sick and she is always taking days off.

The other underachiever is the good girl that cares so much about what everyone else thinks about her or does not care at all. Because she cares too much, she believes it when daddy or step mum tells her she is no good at Geography, and that paying her school fees is a waste of money. She cares too little that she does not mind everyone saying she is a slut (which she actually is) or her being a drunk and learning no useful life skill.

Either way, this underachiever will never feel good enough for a decent man because of her esteem issues or will never actually be able to attract a decent man. This, of course, is not the general rule, many of these girls rise above all this at some point in their lives, and lead very successful lives. But some never get the drive to want more out of their lives or to believe that they can achieve anything in life. They therefore find themselves in very bad or unfulfilling relationships which are at times also abusive.

The overachiever is most times a girl from a wealthy family, with lots of connections, or a smart girl that has been through a lot while growing up that she made a vow never to go through that again. The first girl works hard, or doesn’t – who  cares, she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Her family can afford to send her to the best schools in the country ‘to ensure she has a bright future’ even if she does not deserve to be there. She may struggle to keep up the good grades expected of her or actually work hard to live up to her big sister’s achievements, or just her father’s dream of having a second lawyer in the family. She gets scholarships at the university even if her parents can afford tuition for a hundred more actually-needy students. This girl is accustomed to getting whatever she wants, and getting her way. She has more money than any legally employed man in Ugandan can give her. Submission, to her, is just a word men so-conveniently-quote out of the Bible whenever it suits them to oppress their wives.

The second type of overachiever is the girl who has had it rough, from evil step mothers, abusive step fathers, school fees issues, bullies, having to compete for schools and jobs with people who know ‘people in high places’. She is angry and thirsty and can’t wait to get to the top, can’t wait to have it all. She has very few people to thank for her success, and very few to answer to. She has seen relatives and friend get hurt or mess up their lives, and doesn’t want to make the same mistakes they did. A husband can only have a place in her life if she lets him (and that is harder than it sounds) or if he is patient and bold enough to force his way in (Lord knows how few of these men there are!). Otherwise, she is bound to end up in very dysfunctional relationships. Again, this is another stupid generalisation about overachievers, many are in very healthy relationships.

The underachiever’s problem is that she feels the universe owes her something, everyone else is to blame for whatever is wrong, except her. The overachiever’s problem is that she has a very high sense of entitlement, everyone’s priority should be satisfying her needs. Both issues are recipe for disaster in a relationship.

But then again, who says all women aspire to be married!

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