The year was 2006. I, a newly minted freshman at Howard University, stayed up past midnight in my dorm on a three-way phone call with my besties from high school who were both attending college in New York. “Happy Birthday!!!,” they screamed when the clock struck 12, and we squealed with delight. Even with a late birthday, I was still the first of our crew to turn 18—an official “adult.” (11 years later, I know that adulthood beginning at 18 is a whole ass joke, but that’s another topic for another day).
The next morning, I got ready to go to class, and my home girl met me in the lobby and happily pinned a dollar to my shirt. I looked at her puzzled, and she responded with her signature Texas drawl, “don’t worry about it—it’s a southern thang.”
As the day drew on, I received more phone calls, more Happy Birthday hugs, and my shirt was piling up with George Washingtons'. Heading to my 11am class about $12 richer, my phone rang. It was my mother.
My mom, responded: “Now, you can get married without my permission.”
I paused. Stared at the phone.
She laughed. “Happy birthday, my daughter.”
After a couple minutes, I politely excused myself from the conversation, stating that I was going to be late for class and that I would call her back. I’m the youngest of my mama’s kids, so it was quite an accomplishment for her to have three “adult” children. What she said though, stayed with me.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my mama, but I was slightly annoyed that before she wished me a “congratulations on going several years without accidentally killing yourself,” she talked to me about getting married. To who?? I was still a child.
But this wasn’t new.
As far back as I could remember, my mother—a modest, prim and proper Baptist woman from the countryside of Jamaica, had talked to me and my sister about marriage. We were forced to accompany her to the laundromat, to clean the entire family’s bedding, play and school clothes. We were herded into bathroom, accosted with smells of bleach and other cleaning supplies, armed with rags and toilet brushes to learn what a good scrub looked like.
When I whined to her about my brother not having to do any of the house chores, she’d simply reply, “he’s going to have a wife.”
We on the other hand, would be wives.
I didn’t have a word for it then, but that’s probably when I became a feminist.
In retrospect, I can’t blame her. My mama is old school. Church every Sunday, marriage before children, no living together before marriage, type. Sex? Don’t even hug the person too closely before the rings are exchanged. Modesty was key, no skirts above the knee, kinda thing. I mean, let’s be real. Her mom-- my grandma--was a housewife who had 14 children. And even though my mom worked, and her marriage was... (another topic, another day) this kind of mindset was engrained in her.
I knew from an early age though, that life for me wasn’t JUST going to be about finding a husband and having children. As early as 7 years old, I had career goals of being either a musician or Oprah, and maintained hobbies and interests that didn’t only involve church. But as I grew up, and interacted with other young girls, especially those of Afro/Caribbean descent, I became increasingly aware of what society expected of us, and what I “ought” to be doing to prepare myself to be someone’s future wife. My sister and I were in training, whereas my brother was virtually absolved of any household responsibility—something that seemed to be popular among boys. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen, that attitude can trickle down into other things---entitlement, irresponsibility and the rampant “boys will be boys” mentality that have these grown folk running around acting an entire fool.
It’s more like boys got to be boys, and girls had to prepare to be women.
But I digress--
In terms of the marriage piece, y’all know that I am all for Black love. I’m all about romance, friendship, healthy relationships and building families. It’s equally as important however, for women to be able to grow up into who and what they want to be, personally, and professionally, in addition to being wives--if they choose to be.
There’s undue pressure from the time we are girls that to “get and keep” a man is the highest achievement. (In my 29 years, I’ve learned that you can’t get or a keep a man that doesn’t wanna be got or kept, but again, another story for another day.)
It’s also funny, that I’ve participated in conversations with some men who express a slight disdain toward women, claiming they “ just always want to be married” but then deem her unworthy, bitchy, crass, or worse—angry and bitter—if she reveals that it’s not that high up on the priority list.
Newsflash, beloved—Disney has been lying to both of us for years.
Finally, I’d surmise that if I perceived my biggest goal in life was marriage ( for arguments sake, in the so-called traditional sense) I’d likely be fine with doing all the damn cooking and picking up after a man and children. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s who I was.
But I see my future being a little more balanced. My partner will understand that the goal is to take care of each other, and of our home. Tending to our emotional and physical needs in the way that makes sense for both of our personalities, not just because it’s demanded of either of us. Because the fact is, if a woman is expected to do everything inside of the house, in addition to working, then that begs the question of what exactly the man’s role is? We spend so much time talking about what it means to be a wife, but what does husbandry look like? (You guessed it… another question, another day)
Now. I can bleach down a bathroom, and also cook some killer meals, but I’ll raise my future girls to do that so they, themselves can eat and because they have to wash their own ass—not necessarily only to be found competitive as a wife. I’ll raise them to have goals, to be generous, to have standards, to be a good person, teach them emotional intelligence, how to recycle...Shit like that. Because, her personhood, her individuality, her personality. —all those things matter for her to be whole, notwithstanding a partner.
He who finds a wife, does find a good thing, and I completely agree.
But that’s not the end, or the beginning of her story.