Why are husbands scarce?
Chris Anyokwu, PhD, a dramatist, poet, fiction writer, speaker, rights activist and public intellectual, is a Professor of English at the University of Lagos, Nigeria and has joined Business a.m.’s growing list of informed editorial commentators to write on Politics & Society. He can be reached via email@example.com
April 24, 2023387 views0 comments
Recently a meme trended or, perhaps, we should rather say, a meme is trending on social media showing an amazing bevy of belles of various body shapes, sizes and skin colours – svelte, buxom, plump and plus-size. Nubile and voluptuous, all of them. The accompanying narrating voice tells the viewers that these beauties are all citizens of Swaziland and that they are putting themselves on display in order to catch the eye of prospective husbands. She goes on to tell the viewers that the Swazi King has made a declaration or a law, similar to those of Medes and Persia, that eligible bachelors in his country must marry five or more girls in order to help reduce the exponential rise in the population of spinsters in Swaziland. The King who himself is married to 15 wives, the narrator claims, has promised to bankroll the weddings and buy houses for all the married men as “thank you” gifts for helping him get the Swazi spinsters off the marriage market. It is also alleged that the King has decreed a life-jail for all men who will entertain the thought of flouting his royal law.
However, the Swazi authorities have put out a disclaimer on social media debunking the purported story of the Swazi King commandeering his male subjects to marry their female counterparts by fire, by force. They have asked for a retraction by those spreading the “malicious” and “baseless” story. This piece, therefore, is neither an attempt to give further life to the “untrue” story nor to help snuff life out of it. Rather this piece is an idle reverie sponsored by the self-same story in an attempt to call attention to a human-interest issue, namely: the world-wide scarcity of husbands. It is difficult to establish the reason(s) why this is the case. Why are girls more than boys or why are marriageable females more than eligible bachelors the world over? Does it have anything with biology, diet, climate crisis, or some darkly sinister global conspiracy? Is it something similar to the “Wuhan Experiment” that supposedly spawned the Covid 19 pandemic or the foretold SEERS Virus of 2025? From the dawn of creation, why is it so hard to produce male children in the same quantities as girls? Why do women beat men in the war of their children’s sexes? The perennial battle of chromosomes!
Just like in everything else, the Almighty who espies the End from the Beginning had seen today and forewarned humankind of the approaching crisis. In the Book of Isaiah 4: 1 “In that day seven women will take hold of one man and say, ‘We will eat our own food and provide our own clothes; only let us be called by your name. Take away our disgrace!’” There you have it! So today’s scarcity of bachelors is recorded in the infallible Holy Writ. If you dismiss the Scriptures as myth, the unavailability of marriageable men is fact!
And who the hell, to begin with, decreed a woman’s worth to be inextricably tied to the loins of a male? Can’t a girl go to school, acquire all the book-knowledge there is, secure employment and go on to gain fame and fortune without the added encumbrance of a husband? What does she need a husband for? Must all girls be married and, if yes, must it be to a male? Why not to a fellow female – a female dog, dolphin, snake or a female anything? Anyhow, before you get unduly scandalised, girls and women are already doing this – marrying animals! Yes, go ahead, Google it! Would you blame them when from time immemorial; men have been calling the shots? It’s a patriarchal world, this! Thus, the phallocratic (Greek ‘kratos’, ‘power’) structure of society ultimately places the female at a disadvantage. The male-child always has the head-start over his female sibling. He is socialised to be in charge: whilst their parents buy him at infancy a toy gun, a toy horse, and suchlike symbols of strength, martial power, territorial dominance and control, his sister is bought a doll! Just a doll! She is “groomed” for a lifetime of domesticity, of benign servitude under the conjugal yoke. Ab initio, for her, the marriage institution is society’s doomed attempt to ennoble the human zoo! Again, as in everything else, there can be only one master – the male! Why? Why? Why? The answer is simple: Nature has made it so. The male is a creature of the open space, of the hunt (both deadly or life-saving); he can do virtually anything he can imagine. He is physiologically or anatomically fitted for the hard fight and endless struggle to build culture and establish civilisation. Contrariwise, the girl-child or female is delicately sculpted from the richest loam at Genesis. Eve had spawned her progeny in her own image: soft, succulent, sexy. It requires a bit of sadism or/and ungentlemanly behaviour for a man to enlist the services of a female in the arduous business of life. Females are what the Igbo refer to as Obiageli (Born to enjoy life’s munificence!). Small wonder, girls and women generally love to doll up themselves; to prettify and accessorise for the benefit of the enterprising male. Only mesomorphic females, who are wired to be sado-masochistic, violate this age-old custom. It is not their fault, really. Nature again is to blame. Hence many people who are not comfortable in their skin elect to undergo gender reassignment procedures. Thus a man can become a woman and vice versa. Eureka, we can swell the rank of eligible bachelors that way! Science has trumped myth a la Isaiah 4: 1.
When the struggle against male-dominated society began, nobody saw it coming that in the foreseeable future; women shall cry rivers over the scarcity of husbands for them. You can now convert a woman to a man and marry him! But seriously, once upon a time, patriarchy was given a thorough hiding. First, it began as what scholars call The Early Feminism, a practice which related to the ways and means by which our foremothers had told our forefathers to go to hell and stop bragging about their possession of a penis. Pre-historical and mythic tales are replete with these kinds of stories of female rebellion and agency. Sophocles’ play Antigone is a classic instantiation in this regard. Thereafter, we had the First Wave Feminism of the 19th century. Canonical texts such as Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women (1869) capture the prevailing situation as far as gender is concerned. The battle-ground for gender warfare was the family. As highlighted earlier, the wife was expected to remain at home, looking after the children and doing household chores while the man was almost always outdoors, either hunting, farming, trading or fighting in wars. Marriage was a beautifully constructed gaol for the women. And, like the Queen Bee, she gorged herself to bursting, a little better or more valuable than the furniture which adorned the drawing-room. Through the agitation of feminist activists, women had sought manumission via education and employment.
Second-Wave Feminism began in the 1970s with the help of creative writers such as Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Richardson, among others. Their writing had helped to redefine feminine identity and discourse. The focus was on “girl power” vis-à-vis patriarchal structures. Interrogated under this movement were forms of patriarchy including sexual division of labour, and the social organisation of procreation to the internalised norms of femininity. Effectively, there was a fierce contestation over the creation and construction of social meaning. Marriage itself became the vexed arena of negotiation as we see, for instance, in earlier times, in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice where Charlotte Lucas married Mr Collins, not for love, but for pragmatic purposes of self-preservation, “as a preservation against want”, according to the novelist. You would, indeed, ask: What’s love got to do with it! Hence, Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique and Kate Millet in Sexual Politics and even Judith Butler in Gender Trouble, all address themselves to the countervailing Single Story of male machismo, and allied pernicious masculinities. Thus, these feminists tasked themselves with the responsibility to voice and name women’s subjective experience and to formulate their gender-oriented political agenda and vision. Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex (1970) and the writings of Anne Koedt come to mind in this regard.
Feminism, a dynamic and multifaceted movement which prioritises “equality” for women under phallocracy/patriarchy, seems to have been fragmented; hence it is now rendered in the plural: Feminisms. People now talk of postfeminism, or post-feminists such as Naomi Wolf, Rene Donfeld and Natasha Walter. This seeming factionalisation suggests there is a “break” in the massed ranks of sisterhood, to paraphrase Sarah Gamble. Accordingly, post-feminists have moved on and away from the old much of a muchness of proto-feminism. Rather they expend their energy on issues of victimisation, autonomy and responsibility.
The foregoing discourse would seem to give an erroneous impression that it’s all quiet on the Black Africa front. Far from it. In fact, our sisters have not only broken ranks with their foreign kin, they have also created their own homegrown theories and methodologies geared towards battling a common “enemy”. But their understanding of this “enemy” is a bit nuanced; rather non-confrontational and non-vituperative. Yes, they have been dismissed as “a house divided against itself”, by Charles Nnolim, but our sisters are striving to slough off the tendentious belief that they are their own worst enemy to forge a common phalanx. Drawing inspiration from their African-American sisters such as Alice Walker and Clenora Hudson-Weems, African feminists have developed their respective gender concepts under the catch-all: Womanism. A few concepts will suffice for our purposes: Obioma Nnaemeka’s Nego-Feminism, Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie’s Stiwanism; Catherine Acholonu’s Motherism, and Akachi-Ezeigbo’s Snail-Sense Feminism. Feminist scholars such as Mary Modupe Kolawole (“Womanism”), Chikwenye Ogunyemi, Helen Chukwuma and Chioma Opara belong in this group who are diligently shattering the gender glass ceiling. Thus, African Womanism, the core theory, turns on four “Cs”, to wit: conciliation, collaboration, consensus and complementarity. It is steeped in African communalism, mutual respect, peaceableness, dialogue, negotiation and tolerance.
Little wonder, we have witnessed the rise and rise of women in public life, thus mirroring the burgeoning female self-presence and agency in fiction or literary/cultural representation as a whole. We celebrate Beatrice Nwanyibuife Okoh in Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah, Efuru, Ginika in Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets, Ifemelu in Adichie’s Americanah, Iyaloja in Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, Titubi in Femi Osofisan’s Morountodun, the Yungba-Yungba in Osofisan’s play of the same title; inter alia. This growing feminization of textualities and society appears to chime with the recent attempt by the Church of England to rewrite the Bible! Querying God’s gender is fraught business, if you ask me! But, on the other hand, the late Bahamas-born preacher, Myles Monroe in one of his trending memes argues that the male does not want sex; he NEEDS sex! In his considered opinion, a male who does not desire sex is sick, he needs therapy and prayers. A strong libidinal drive is therefore not a bad thing to be criminalised but one to be encouraged. Nymphomaniacs are socially-misunderstood sub-categories of the Homo sapiens. By the same token, David Friedman in his non-fiction book titled A Mind of Its Own. A Cultural History of the Penis (2001) explores the ramifying socio-cultural symbolism of John Thomas. Describing the book on www.amazon.com, the promoters state:
Whether enemy or ally, demon or god, the penis is much more than a body part. Here, in an enlightening and entertaining cultural study, is a book that puts into context the central role of the penis within Western civilization. Deified by ancient pagan cultures and demonised by the Roman church, the penis was later secularised by pioneering anatomists such as Leonardo da Vinci. After being measured ‘scientifically’, in an effort to subjugate some races while elevating others, the organ was psychoanalysed by Sigmund Freud. Now after being politicised by feminism and exploited in countless ways by pop culture, Friedman shows how the arrival of erection industry products such as Viagra is more than a health or business story.
In brief, the centuries-old hegemony of the phallus/penis has shaped and continues to shape society and culture. It is the battering ram for dealing with difficult and knotty situations, the measuring rod of temporal success and achievement, the ultimate gold standard in matters of the heart, happiness and prosperity. Thus, lift up, o ye gates and let the king of glory come in… No need for “penis envy” and all the bunkum about male chauvinism and sexism. Frankly, no matter how hard feminists of various stripes fight and struggle to battle patriarchy to death, it’s not likely to amount to much. Just how can you re-create Creation itself and dismantle normative structures in family life, language, custom, religion, morality, etc., etc., structures which are eternally rooted in androcentric lore? Gender scholars can only make academic capital and get promotions and appointments by simply mouthing incendiary pro-feminist and female-oriented verbiage. Town is town, gown, gown!
And regarding the disturbing scarcity being experienced in the marriage market, we can only pray that God changes His mind and gives us, this day, our husband materials. Science is doing its bit as it is; so hope is rising!