Issues! with Nyewerwayi Makawa

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs proposes that in a human’s life exist some fundamental essentials that constitute innate pre-requisites for a fulfilled existence. Self-actualization, esteem, love and belongingness, safety and physiological requirements are listed on that ladder, albeit in some order, with love and belongingness residing at the center of that pyramid. Of cause humankind unquestionably yearns for all of the above, but evidently some, more than others tend to gravitate glaringly towards this one particular need.

At almost fifty I’ve had the ‘pleasure’ of watching my fellowmen but mostly the lady folk, self included, making the utmost fools of selves, for the sake of that essential – the need for love and belongingness! Even then, it still remains rather unclear what each person’s interpretation of love and belongingness is, how they understand love and belongingness and how they endeavor to capture, achieve and consolidate it. Although some have been known to lose their minds over it, even unto their deaths, the brothers generally seem to have a firm handle on this element and often know how and when to exit. Us sisters on the other hand, for some deep-seated inherent reason, are constantly seeking to arrest this one element and will often do all and whatever it takes to capture and keep it. In fact, in an attempt to hold onto it, the other four requisites are often forgotten and overshadowed. Self-actualization, esteem, safety and physiological needs repeatedly become non-entities as woman clutches on to love and belongingness. In this month of love, it is becoming that we explore why this need for love and belongingness is so engraved in the sisters, why it forms the core of the feminine hierarchy of needs and why against all sense and sensibility, we will remain in relationships where we are abused. From the highly enlightened and learned, to the most ignorant of the ignorant, when it comes to love and belongingness, the sisters become utter fools! Soldier on! Cling on! Keep on keeping on! And here’s why…..

Making it on the corporate ladder, conquering in a man’s world, self-actualizing to the highest levels comes nowhere near the achievement of being married, and being called someone’s “Mrs”. For most, marriage improves a sister’s social status. It emphasizes her sense of femininity and if the Almighty blesses her with the fruit of the womb, then woman has arrived and needs nothing more. If by some fateful act of the ‘enemy’ a woman reaches a certain age without being married and having children, not only does she become the subject of stigmatization and the bearer of many names, she simply becomes a social misfit. Marriage – borne in that need for love and belongingness is woman’s sign of ultimate feminine success. The ability to catch and keep a man is what she was born for and woman will do whatever it takes to protect herself from the stigmatization of being labeled unmarried or incapable of keeping a “Mr”. For that reason, a sister will remain in a relationship where she is abused – because her entire being, is hinged on being a spouse. Being a wife. Being a “Mrs”!

I read somewhere recently that ‘girls start being women the day they are born’. Fact! Socialization consistently emphasizes to the sisters, the need to grow up, look beautiful and acquire love and belongingness. Safety and security are hardly ever socialized into womenfolk. Their brothers on the other hand are repeatedly taught to protect, provide and impregnate.

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As a result, the sisters will risk their safety and security simply to find and keep love and make a home. Indeed from the day she is born, the solons socialize and influence girls to accept abuse both physically and sexually as a normal part of marriage because the capacity to sustain such abuse is characteristic of success. Socialization further teaches the woman that it is shameful and embarrassing to report abuse, let alone to leave a man and a marriage. Taboo! Socialization additionally dictates that the ‘good wife’ remains discreet and inconspicuous about her marital problems including physical and sexual abuse and must remain in order to protect the integrity and reputation of her “Mr”. Exposing one’s armpits is unheard of and revealing abuse in the matrimonial home is tantamount to armpit baring. As a result a woman must not and will not expose her marital challenges, as they are a normal part of marriage and will one day disappear.

Society and culture also promote a gendered division of labor in which men are considered providers and women homemakers who belong in the kitchen. Due to this division of labor women are often economically dependent on their husbands.

As a result most abused women are often dependent and therefore feel that they belong in their prevailing situations and cannot leave their relationships. Women will therefore often remain in abusive relationships for reasons that are practical and not necessarily rational.

Bride price! That god-forsaken payment that instates the man as the head of the home and makes the woman his purchased possession! Sho! The amount of emphasis placed on the bride price is almost sickening. With that bride price, the man buys an addition to his property and gives the woman a home – belongingness! Not only does the man have overall and final say in all matters pertaining to the household, but he also purchases his liberty to do as he will when he wills. As such the ‘bought’ woman has no say, and cannot leave the place where she belongs by virtue of the price paid. Oftentimes the sister has limited choices in that even if she wanted to leave, poverty from whence she came prohibits her parents from being able to pay back. The bride price therefore licenses the man to use and abuse her to his heart’s content. The bride price entitles the man to sex on demand. The bride price allows him to ‘purchase’ as many women as he can afford and keep them all in unholy matrimony. As a result women will remain in abused circumstances because they ‘belong’ there!

Genuine love, belief in their “Mr” and hope that he will change causes a sister to remain in abused circumstances. Society alongside religion has taught the sister and drummed into her ears that marriage is no easy feat. As a result she must love her man unfalteringly as well as accept and endure hardship in order to earn a happier future. Furthermore, Christianity is generally against divorce and enforces the doctrine of a deeper love, suffering on earth to be happy in heaven, thereby causing Christian women to believe that staying in the abused relationship is the proper thing to do. A major facet of some religions is that divorce is evil and must be avoided at all costs. A test accompanies every testimony is what the church tells her. Due to these religious beliefs and the fact that she belongs to a church and must abide by its teachings motivates women to put up with a lot of spousal abuse because the alternative is to go against the teachings of their church. This love, hope and faith cause the woman to remain.

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Although Maslow lists esteem as a basic requirement, low self-esteem and self-value are another reason that women will remain in relationships where they are abused.

Usually the result of troubled childhoods or victimization and abuse from an early age, women will grow to believe that they are not worthy of love and acceptance and therefore settle for any man, even the abusive one for fear of being unable to attract any other. It is not unusual for abusers to reinforce this mindset in their subjects which results in continued diminished self worth. As a result women will remain in such relationships.

Research shows that another reason why women will stay in abusive relationships is uncovered by learning about the so-called “cycle of abuse.” In a typical instance of domestic abuse, the abuse tends to occur periodically rather than constantly and shortly after the abusive event occurs, the abuser frequently expresses remorse or guilt and wants to apologize and may shower the victim with gifts and demands that the victim forgive him or her. Inevitably, in truly abusive relationships, the latency period ends with the beginning of another abuse episode.

Though such cyclical abuse is repetitive and predictable, it is also intermittent, and the rest of the relationship might be perceived as good enough or even loving. In this context, victims often rationalize that they aren’t really being abused, that their partner really loves them despite being abusive – that need for love and belongingness again!

Limited education and lack of awareness of one’s rights also come into play, but the reality really is that woman needs to liberate herself from the mental inhibitions that cause her to believe that of all the needs, belongingness and love are primary and top the list. Woman must think self-actualization and the need to excel in chosen path. Woman needs to feature security, safety and self-preservation somewhere on the list. Basic physiological and biological needs must surface within her fundamentals.

And so in this season of love and finding a Valentine, take a step back, rewind and rethink certain fundamentals sister. Life cannot just revolve around finding and keeping a man and being his “Mrs”. That hierarchy of needs has four other rudiments.

There has to be more to life than just love and belongingness. Selah!