“Your wife is not your family” is a phrase that often makes the rounds on and offline. Sometimes it’s said in jest yet other times it’s uttered with deadly seriousness. It’s not some newfangled view either. There’s an old Luo expression “Dhako ok wat ng’ato,” which directly translates to a wife is no one’s relative. As in she is not your relative. Your children are your family but not your wife. There’s much to unearth about our conception of the relationships between heterosexual men and women from these sentiments. Let’s dive in.
Women leave their families of birth and join their husband’s families. Here they risk rejection altogether and now the one person who brought them here, who is supposed to at least consider them family, does not. The idea that wives and husbands don’t create a family when they get together is one that leaves women precarious and stateless. They are not secure anywhere. In so many African traditions when women get married, they leave their families and coming back is considered shameful. Women leave their families of birth so completely that they are even buried where they get married. After all this, a man can still say you’re not his family. Imagine what that’s like, how stateless one must feel and be especially in a society in which so much is owned by and controlled by men including things like ancestral land.
What passes for logic among men is the assertion that your wife is not your family yet she’s the one that creates your family by bearing your children. So, your children who your wife carried, and bore are your family but she isn’t. She who is the primary creator and caregiver of said children, she who without whom those children would not exist is not your family. Okay. Your mother though who is your father’s wife is your family. It’s ridiculous, incoherent, and stunningly stupid.
People who make this argument say that because your wife can leave or divorce you and in so doing become your ex-wife, so this relationship can end. Okay, say that’s the case. The problem is this is often not the context. Plus, men say this about their present wives, women who haven’t left them.
One of the people who shared a tweet proclaiming the “your wife is not your family” view said he was told that by his father. His father who was very likely since married to his mother. Men don’t say this about women who’ve left them, they say it about women still married to them and that tells you everything about their real sentiments. It’s a word of caution to other men, some kind of reminder that women cannot be trusted and must not be brought so close.
Misogyny on steroids
One of the people who recently shared a tweet on the subject said, “My father taught me that if I ever get married and have kids, I should never forget that in my home, my wife is the only one who isn’t my relative. As I grow older, his words become more real.”
Let’s assume that’s a direct quote from his father, what does it mean when your father so completely excludes your mother from the people he considers his family? What does it mean if your father can say that to you? What else but an admission that he hates your mother? He hates his wife and so should you. It’s a reminder of women’s inferior status, an admonition about women’s alleged suspect character and a blanket denunciation of all women. All wives. This is misogyny. That’s what it is.
“The modern individual family is founded on the open or concealed domestic slavery of the wife,
and modern society is a mass composed of these individual families as its molecules.”
– Friedrich Engels
Family to these people is a pure blood relation which is why they can’t understand the concept of chosen families. It is an offshoot of patriarchy and all its male supremacist, heteronormative views on everything from gender to sexuality. An offshoot of patriarchy’s insistence that men validate and determine what is and isn’t a family. Their existence is a testament to the truth of Friedrich Engels’ declaration that the nuclear family should be abolished. Blood is not all that joins people. Love does too. Love must. It’s time to begin to choose and constitute families based on love and not the subjugation of women. Arguments like these expose how often men marry women they neither like nor love. They then teach their children, male and female more of the same misogyny. Women don’t only matter when they are your mother, sister, or child. Women matter period. Women matter.
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