As we become more liberated and cultural restrictions become more relaxed in the 21st century, marriage is fast becoming a contentious issue for the millennial generation. Observations of how many people are not committed to the institution of marriage, visibly unhappy homes and high divorce rates are all prompting a high percentage of today’s youth to start questioning their own views on the rite of passage that is holy matrimony. Yes, the romantic among us still dream of one day tying the knot with our significant other, but many of the current generation are in no rush to walk down the aisle. Our elders complain that we have been corrupted by Western cultures, while we feel other aspects of our lives, for example careers and self-actualisation, deserve priority.
Women are not living in the past
In colonial and pre-colonial times, young girls were usually married off by the time they were 13 or 14. It was considered a disgrace to their families if they were still unwed by their 25th birthday. Marriage came with the condition that women were considered minors legally, they became their husbands’ possessions and had no rights. In Sesotho culture, if a woman were widowed she was passed on to a male sibling or relative of her husband as a form of protecting the lineage and ensuring that she and her children were taken care of. Most women did not really have a say in the matter, except those in more liberal families, who allowed her such privilege. Still, she remained under the custody of her late husband’s family until her own death. For women living in the more rural areas, this is still the case.
Love is no longer enough
Marriage is no longer a prerequisite for a woman to have an identity as a person or adult, let alone for security. Many want more from their lives than staying at home and bearing children while they enjoy the comforts their husbands provide for them. Love is no longer enough; women now desire to preserve their space as individuals, in spite of being in a committed relationship. They want the freedom to dictate their own affairs and some, having been exposed to the struggles their own mothers went through in marriage, have set different standards for themselves. The high numbers of failed marriages are not helping either. As a result, many women would rather get to know a person and be financially stable in their own right before they take the big leap in case things don’t work out.
Old versus new
One might argue that divorce was unheard of in African culture during the times of our grandparents and those who came before them. A primary factor was that elders had a stake in deciding on a suitable partner for their child, whereas now, a couple first makes the decision themselves. As for our parents’ generation, too many of them subjected their children to witnessing loveless cohabitation simply for the sake of saving face or ‘for the kids’. The toxic environment fashioned by that behaviour unwittingly turned us into a generation of sceptics.
It does not help that the ‘hookup’ culture is on the rise. Men are quite at ease with having a string of lovers, both past and present, yet they hope to find a woman ‘virtuous’ enough to settle down with. Their advantage is that they are given a pass through such attitudes and beliefs as ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘papa is a rolling stone’. Let a woman behave the same way and she is judged and condemned. Out of irritation, feeling used and manipulated, and sometimes a false sense of empowerment, women in turn are growing more audacious about their sexual endeavours. Phrases such as ‘do it like a man’ or ‘I don’t need a man’ are becoming dangerously popular among the younger generation. The unfortunate side effect of these trends is that children are being born to single mothers and have absent fathers.
At the end of the day we are a generation that likes to know we have a way out. We are bold. We love and appreciate our parents and their parents for what they have done for us, but we do not want to follow in their footsteps, with a repeat of their mistakes and compromised happiness. We would rather feel the pride of responsibility, not its burden. Yet some of our generation still want to get married as a celebration of love and companionship, to become a team for a lifetime and stay true to the old-fashioned way of doing things (with a dash of innovation, of course).. And that is perfectly okay.