The question of ‘who am I?’ will most likely become more profound post the covid-19 era. I say this because, although there were as many marriages as there were separations during this time, it is with no doubt that covid-19 lockdowns were the catalyst to the end of many relationships. Many of which were already hanging on a thread, but still, this has resulted in some women being thrust into a journey of self-discovery.
I have friends, relatives, and colleagues whom I’ve had to defend many a time from the ‘scratching claws’ of what I call inquisitive ignorance. The—”when are you getting married?” type of questions. “Why did your husband leave, and what did you do to him?” These questions are indicative of what society defines as ‘success’ for women, and so a single, separated, or divorced woman is considered a failure or not whole regardless of her many other accomplishments.
Carving your New Self
Patriarchy says a man is the head of the house, consequently, he makes all the decisions, and the woman follows his lead. Now, when the marriage or relationship comes to an end, the woman is left with a dilemma, that of role redefinition and identity reconstruction. She is now forced by circumstances to take over the role of head of the house, forced by circumstances to make decisions that society says are not hers to make.
As a woman, after divorce, you have to retrace your steps to find that independent woman you once were, or become one if you never were. I think the real challenge of coming out of a long-term relationship is that the woman has to navigate the world with a new identity. She has to find herself because the truth is, ‘who she is was merged and fused into who he was.’ She has to transition physically, mentally, and emotionally from being someone’s wife, someone’s fiancé, or someone’s girlfriend to being just her. The ‘her’ she probably never knew or lost a long time ago.
Navigating your New Terrain
Truth is, through the patriarchal instrument of marriage, a woman becomes by default a reflection of who her husband is, or who he wants her to be, hence the symbolic change of surname. However, there is an illusion spearheaded by patriarchy these days saying that change of surname is an option for women, but, is it really? In today’s societies which are considered more learned and modern, we still have men who feel offended, disrespected, and even emasculated when their partners indicate a desire to continue the use of their maiden names after saying ‘I Do’. And in the more traditional setups with more illiterates than literate, changing one’s surname is still considered not an option but rather a compulsory practice of marriage.
So when a marriage comes to an end, among the many challenges that women face is the decision to stick with their new surname or change to their maiden names. This decision is not an easy feat for most because whilst on the one hand, you want to totally separate your identity from that one person who in many ways, represents a life that you no longer want to be associated with. On the other hand, you have children with this person; children, who like you, are dictated to by patriarchy, to use their father’s surname.
Releasing the Shackles
My heart broke during the 2020 lockdown as I watched the statistics of gender-based violence in my country and indeed across the world take a turn for the worst. I shed a tear or two when I heard some of the gruesome narrations; they were devastating. It is with no question then, that the breakdown of most marriages was because of the volatility of the relationships that women found themselves in, and so, the need to rid of anything that associates one with that dark period is just natural.
But life is never just that simple for women, right? You want change, you want to move on to the new you, new adventures, new life, but there is always a dilemma and in this case, it’s the conflict of mind; the mental distance between you and your children created by just the mere thought of a difference in name. How does one then move forward? How do you carve your path? A path not intertwined with your past?
Maybe the first step to moving on, the first step to total independence, to freedom of will, is the recognition that you were always enough by yourself. That your thoughts; your goals, your plans, your dreams, your achievements, were always valid devoid of male input. And maybe the realization that your children’s DNA is not defined by their last name but by the genes they carry, half of which are yours, can be your liberation.
The Journey to Discovering You
As a woman, in your quest for the new you, you need to realize that you were always in control, so there is no need to panic when you find yourself thrown into the deep end. No matter how small or insignificant you were made to believe your financial input was, the skill you acquired as you counted those coins, deliberated, and pondered on which to prioritize between food and electricity, is enough to carry you through any future financial decisions.
Lest you forget, you were also the teacher, so if higher learning is part of your future, there is no need for self-doubt because clearly, you have the skill and the brain to achieve that. You were the caretaker, so maybe now; your first client in this new phase should be you. Be unapologetic and selfish about putting yourself first. After all, you can only give what you have in abundance. The new you should be willing to explore, challenge and question the old you. Challenge those old beliefs that hold you captive in patriarchal claws.