The Psychological & Economic Effects of ‘Wifeism’


Last week, I overheard a woman pray for a baby girl. She concluded her deluge of prayers with “You will be great. You will be the wife of a president”. The final point of her prayer struck me as retrogressive. Here was a woman inadvertently placing a limit on the potential that the baby girl could reach. The highest this baby girl could be in life was the wife of the President? The first thought that came into my head was “why can’t this baby girl be the President herself?”.  I realized that I’ve rarely heard a female Nigerian child aspire to be the President of Nigeria, CEO, Inspector General of Police, etc: all roles of leadership which have been dominated by male figures. Unfortunately, such a mindset propagates from the highly sexist culture which ensures a dearth of true female role models who are successful without being married or more famous/successful than their male spouse.

In the woman’s statement was a form of discrimination that’s prevalent in Nigeria. Lacking an established word for it, I coined it as ‘wifeism’. Wifeism is the belief that a woman’s solely exists in life to please her husband at the detriment of her development. I’d also like to define it as discrimination on women based on marital status. Its psychological and economic significance has an interesting intertwining that makes its effects range from subtlety to outright suppressive.

On the psychological front, the effect on a woman is subtle, but decisively potent. Wifeism places a psychological ceiling on the mind. In a society where the greatness of a woman is solely measured by the greatness of the man she marries, such barriers exist. Subconscious barriers that attempt to limit women do so by emphasizing the false limits of their potentials based on gender. A study showed that when psychological barriers are clear, people perform worse than they would otherwise. Spencer, Steele, and Diane Quinn (1999) found that merely telling women that a math test does not show gender differences improved their test performance. The researchers gave a math test to men and women after telling half the women that the test had shown gender differences, and telling the rest that it found none. When test administrators told women that that tests showed no gender differences, the women performed equal to men. Those who were told the test showed gender differences did significantly worse than men, just like women who were told nothing about the test. And, by the way, the experiment was conducted with women who were top performers in math.

Apart from psychological limitations, wifeism has significant economic consequences. First,  the potential for financial instability abounds in the most extreme of cases where a woman is coerced into having a full time job as a housewife.  As any Economist worth his/her salt can tell you, resources diversification should be the goal of any country. It ensures that a nation does not ‘put all its eggs in one basket’.  Likewise, dependence on one family member creates an inordinate amount of instability. And in the event of the death or lay off of the husband, the rest of the family suffers immensely.

Second, wifeism limits the amount of disposable income in the family. Disposable income provides for the children’s clothes, education and healthcare. So limiting disposable income essentially limits the financial security and potential of such a family. Now multiply that by the numbers of such families in Nigeria and it’s clearly a huge hit to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Potential (GDP*).

Third, the extreme case of wifeism contributes to the unemployment rate. In certain places in Nigeria, despite a woman’s academic or professional achievements, her professional life is over once she’s married. For women that are nonchalant, c’est la vie. For those that desire to keep working, this not only constrains them, it arbitrarily adds them to the unemployment figure. It’s why stats like this exist in Nigeria: 8 female Senators out of 109 Senators, 23 female Honorable members out of 360 Members. Appalling statistics.

Fourth, it leads to the deliberate suppression of a woman’s professional potential. Single women who deserve promotions based on merit are passed due to an individual’s belief that they are not ‘responsible’ enough to handle a higher position. A woman can be immensely successful, but a ‘Miss’ at the front of her name disqualifies her from the respect she deserves. Yeah…because marriage is the sole indicator of success or criteria for respect in the life of a woman.

I’m not advocating that women in marriage neglect their roles as wives and deem it as unimportant or that single women should sacrifice marriage for their profession. On the contrary, there should be an desire to see oneself as a wife and a professional (well, except one prefers to be a professional wife or a single professional). Why be great in one aspect when you can be great in both? Is this possible? Yes. I would know- my mom manages to be an amazing wife and a renown public figure. In my opinion, a woman’s potential to effectively manage a family and job surpasses that of a man.

Lastly, no one else can push harder for the progress of women  than women themselves. It’s a simple case of personal incentives. And yes, there are paternalistic structures that hold women back, and it’s hard to break down centuries of male dominance. However, when Nigerian women give up and submit to their ‘natural’ roles, the fight will certainly be over. So women, let’s destroy this culture of wifeism by not supporting repressive notions of marriage. And men, let’s support our women. Every time women are held back, we are collectively held back. I know for a certain that I’ll constantly be rooting for my future wife just like my Dad did for my Mom.

 

  • Chisom Ekechi Esq.

    I love this statement,’every time women are held back,we are collectively held back’.This is indeed a great article.We need to change that limiting belief held by most Nigerians that women can’t be excellent professionally and maritally at the same time.I believe we can have both without any suffering. There are few paragons in this respect,Oby Ezekwesili is one and am proud to have her as a role model.

  • The most effective method of fighting ‘wifesim’ is changing our mental attitudes towards it first, the time hardened bricks of structural injustice will collapse consequently. I fail to see how we men constantly claim to be better than women when we foster a society that incapacitates them-limits them from participating or competiting fully. This article does just that-changing our mental structures that is.
    Great read, even bettered by the fact that it comes from a guy.

  • I do not agree it is as a result male dominance, it is mostly as a result of female submissiveness.

    • The cocks do the crowing, the hens do the laying. Which is more important? Laying. But the crowing cocks get noticed because they are more determined to dominate, they are louder, not more useful or better.

      • Anonymous

        You are a mumu.

        • Anonymous

          My sentiments exactly.

    • Can you explain how the minority dominates the majority? That’s an irony. Apart from physical strength, what other ways are men more fit than women? Let’s assume that larger female population compliments for the males physical strength. In the western world are women still repressed?
      I have a colleague (professional and well educated) that says she would marry a man only if he achieves more than her; income wise and education wise. Isn’t she subjecting herself to male dominance already?

      • O boy..alright. Let me start. Look around, the world is full of what you term an ‘irony’. Minorities have ruled the majority in many cases. South Africa and apartheid- (white=minority, blacks=majority), same thing in Brazil. Whoever controls the structure/resources/weapons controls the power irrespective of number. Oh. And large female population? Last time I checked demographic data, the difference between male population and female in Nigeria is hardly significant.

        And yes. Women are still repressed in the West. To a lesser extent than Africa, but they still certainly are. Read up,mate. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/09/women-earn-less-than-men_n_3046461.html)

        And yeah, anecdotes prove nothing. One woman’s opinion does not decide the collective views of women. It’s her choice if she wants a man who earns more than her. It doesn’t mean other women want that too. If she wants to sit at home and wait for a man to marry her. That’s also her choice, it doesn’t make it the choice of others. And did you consider that she might just want a man like this not solely because he’s a ‘man’, but because she prefers to be comfortable in life and she has logically deduced that a man that does better than her can provide her with such a life? 🙂

        • There is nothing to battle for or fight for. The legal rights here in Nigeria are the same so there is nothing more to do other then change popular opinion of women. I think we are there now, just because women and men arent the same in every area does not mean that their is sexism, but that men and women ARE in fact different, not only physically, but in intelligence and emotions. This has benefits and negatives to both men and women.

          • Wow. First, that is untrue. Our law structures are way behind that of the States. Second,you’ve got it all twisted. You should be changing the popular opinion of men first. You’re a man. What makes you think you get to decide when sexism has ended when you don’t even experience sexism. That’s like a white guy saying that racism against black people has ended when he simply has no clue what it feels like to be discriminated against for being black.

            I think you might need to talk to women more about what they think before deciding for them. And read more on foreign affairs too. It’s pretty essential to understanding complex issues such as sexism.

          • I’m not denying inequality, I’m saying there’s room for equality.

          • I’ll compromise to an extent. I know that there are inequalities, and that it’s caused by sexism to a lesser extent, and caused by the popular opinion of men and woman alike to a larger extent. Great article.

      • Hi Seun, have you seen the animated movie ‘Antz’, (you may not have since its ‘just’ a cartoon) but it gives an idea how the minority dominates the majority. its more of a psychological thing. a mindset that is passed down from generation to generation. I live in the western world you talked about and yes, it’s still making the news – the fight against repression of women.
        While I am not against getting inspired by others, I have an issue with focusing on how much better it is out ‘there’ (without having ever really researched ‘there’) rather than on how to deal with what is going on here.
        That one is educated and a professional does not mean their opinion represents that of every other person of the same gender. One would need to carry out a research on a sample large enough to be a true representation of the entire population.

        • Sexism, Nepotism, Tribalism and Racism are few of the subsets of humanism that keep humans divided. The focus should be on humanism; the equal opportunity for every single individual. Sadly, equal opportunities doesn’t necessarily amount to balanced proportions, for instance, of the 2.1 million registered nurses in the United States, only 6.6% are men, in another instance, women make up only 20% of the US army.
          I digress. What exactly do women want? Do they want to be equal to men? Or do they want chivalry? Most Nigerian women expect men to pay their bills, although there is a gradual shift from that ideology. Also, most Nigerian men expect their women to cook for them; likewise their is a gradual shift from that ideology. I could go on and on about how men (mostly randy) expect their women to be chaste, and how women like to have the last say.
          I don’t support deprivation of one subset from what another subset is entitled to.

          • ‘I don’t support deprivation of one subset from what another subset is entitled to.’
            Neither do I and neither does the article. There are more women in the nursing profession for the same point the article is set to address – the mindset that women should be nurses and men Doctors. in med school in Nigeria. despite the fact that we were all wearing ward coats and not a nurses uniform, patients still referred to us females as a nurses and our male classmates as doctors. it is that societal mindset that makes it shameful for a man to go be a nurse. However, like you mentioned, there is a gradual shift as more men are beginning to venture into the nursing field (which by the way was historically dominated by men folk)
            The point here is not about women wanting to be the same as men. it is about being free to exercise one’s full potential without limitations put there by societal belief systems.

  • Abimbola Okoilu

    A timely article I would say. As a lady I was brought up with the idea that a woman’s dream ends in the kitchen and when we tried to have our dreams, we were asked to wake up. “you are not a boy so you can’t climb trees, you can’t play football, you can’t sit among men, you can’t play games like draft, ayo or draft with men”. I was good at those games anyway. I also remember my dad refusing to pay for my GCE lesson because I am a girl, but paid for my brothers. Things have changed. Most women I know are the breadwinners of their family even though the man is still ‘alive’. We need to believe in ourselves or else nobody will take us serious. Gone are the days when a female child will be rejected because she ‘cannot carry on the family’s name’. I pray women will see themselves in a brighter light and fight for what they believe and dream on, and not live in the era of ‘you are a woman, what can you do’. This is no longer a man’s world, THIS is OUR world. Nice work.

  • I have read this twice, and I must say it is a good piece. However, it is obvious that naturally woman puts themselves under this repressive way of life. Sexism, is in the mind. I believe things will work well if everyone plays his or her role. I don’t believe men are better than ladies. Infact I have seen a lot of ladies best guys when placed under similar conditions, and ladies can also multi-task far better than guys. In Nigeria, apart from ideology, ladies have lots of opportunities, its left for them to use.
    I for one loves ladies that have good homes and good careers, I respect them. Obyzeks, and a lot out there have done well. So with your write ups, let’s encourage the ladies not to only seek, to be okay with one, I.e career or family. I believe she can have both a success with the ability to multitask that she possess.
    As for me, my wife has the choice of working or not working. If you ask me, I’ll prefer she does, and do it successfully.
    Nice job.

    • Amina

      Just as a matter of interest….will she pay her share of the bills too?

  • Temitope

    It is sure a great piece. It’s not an interesting state when men who should support their wives in order to achieve their dreams don’t, just because of EGO and cutural belief that women are ‘second rated’ after men. WHO SAYS THEY ARE?! GOD?. Most women are even hard on themself, they’ve decided to take the back seat. As you’ve rightly said, no one fights this archaic belief better but the women. Once again great piece.

  • Chibuzo

    The key word/extract for me is ‘women should excel on both fronts (professional & family)’, just like men should also aim to do. Failed families in professional pursuits may/should have more damaging consequences than we already have in ‘wifeism’

    • The whole article spoke volumes but I totally echo your statement here. Balance, that is what we need to achieve. Let everyone be given the opportunity to dream, have an education that changes the community around them positively and live a life where the family is secure and contented, as it has a positive knock-on effect on the community.

  • Sheik Ibrahim

    The fact is that women are the greatest drawbacks for themselves in all ramification ,particularly the educated and elitist among them
    what do you expect the men to do? But capitalise

    • Such an inaccurate statement on many levels. First, women are not the greatest drawbacks to themselves in ‘ALL’ ramifications. It’s a woman’s fault that she won’t be hired because she’s a woman? It’s a woman’s fault that she will be raped for walking down the street? It’s a woman’s fault that a man will demand sex from her before hiring her? Such mindsets are symptomatic of male privilege that we men suffer from.

      And your second sentence is frankly immoral. Even if women were to blame, our only choice is to ‘capitalise’? That’s like saying that you would capitalize on the fact that a girl got drunk and passed out. Weakness should never give you the right to exploit. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    We are tired of hearing this. You can be what you want to be, no one should limit you. Stop blaming the society or other people for your short comings. We have alot of women all around the world who have made their way right to the top through these challenges you are talking about . WOMEN! Please be who you want to be and STOP talking.

    • First, who’s ‘WE’. I’ll assuming you’re referring to yourself. If so, this opinion is hardly representative of any group. Second, you’re assuming that women simply blame everything wrong on society rather than their shortcomings. That’s plain untrue. And if you’re a guy, you have no right to come to any of these conclusions. And just because women have made it through these challenges does not mean that these challenges should remain. So because you can jump the fence to get into your house, does that mean you would prefer your gate to be locked? Furthermore, a woman never spoke in this case, I did and I happen to be a man. 🙂

    • That you chose to say ‘Women, STOP talking’, says a whole lot.

  • gloria

    Much as I agree with you and try to be a feminist at all times, the world stares back hard and says “its a man’s world” initially it used to be “it’s a WHITE man’s world” but some form of fight against discrimination has taken the white from the equation. It is a case for concern that women who do twice as much the same role as men aren’t even as much compensated. It is even stranger in a situation where the wife is in the same profession as her husband, experiencing the same hassles and challenges on the job still has to come home and assume the role of the wife while the man stretches on the couch with a cold beer served by the wife. This issue doesn’t stem from the glass ceiling over women but more about the fundamental premise of “Equality”. I mean even the bible refers to her as helpmate, as seamstress as maid but never a higher role except those who take it by force. Once upon a time women the world over weren’t allowed voting rights then it became working rights etc but times are changing and this will also be a thing of the past. The mantle falls on us now “the new school” to empower and school our kids against barriers and limitations and it will get better.

    • I agree with you on this, even when women are given “permission” to work, she still has to come home to clean, cook, look after the children & give the man good sex. Equality should mean that labour should be divided equally, half half, not one person does far more than the other. I also agree that it is our job to now educate children, even by the simple things we say. So instead of telling a girl “you won’t find a husband if you don’t learn to cook.” we should say “you need to to learn to cook, survival skills.”

      • That is good!! God willing, my children have to learn to cook. Cooking has nothing to do with gender.

  • This was a great read. I have to give credit where it is due and say well done for this post, it always makes me smile to see a man say things like this and finally stand up for women.

  • Anonymous

    I love reading ur articles, you have this special way of making those huge and seemingly confusing and difficult economic theories sound like everyday gists. I love that about you. Thumbs up

    Now to this issue of “wifeism”..
    Like you said, it starts with the women. We have to revolutionise our thinking and tell ourselves that we are worth more than the limitations that have been put on us plus, its not enough to tell ourselves, we must also believe it.
    My mum was a career woman. She combined a tedious work schedule with being a mom and a wife. I’m sure it couldn’t have been easy and as a child I didn’t always like it but the thing is, she made it work. She’s an amazing wife and an even more amazing mother. My dad was very supportive at that time and when she felt she had done enough, she left the job.
    Although its good to encourage women to aspire to be great, some women overdo it. Appreciate the people who support you especially ur family, appologise when you miss family time and try to make up for it. Most especially, know when its time to quit.

  • :O God bless you for this post. And I’m glad this was written by a man. More people should read this 🙂

  • Isn’t this the norm in all patriachal society? However, it is encouraging that the world is steadily evolving from this archaic position.

  • Chuba, I think you’ve done a great job stirring the pot and starting an important conversation. I do not however, think that it is necessary to present a rebuttal to every response. There shouldn’t be one moderated
    viewpoint albeit we can all agree that theres no place for the supression of women in today’s world.

  • John Thomas

    Nigeria is better than most country in terms of giving women equal opportunity, the problem still remains that the women need to liberate themselves from what they assume is male dominance (which is their state of mind anyway). Women naturally believe that men should take the lead in all things and are always reluctant to take initiatives where men are. Women are their own greatest enemy, they are always envious and jealous of each other. it will be extremely difficult for them to support each other. When Sarah Jibril came out to contest for PDP primaries in 2011, she got only 1 vote. The question is ; Where were all these gender rights activist that are blabbing about equality? why didn’t they rally round her and make her the first Nigeria female president. Women can achieve all they want in life but nature has placed them in a disadvantaged position:
    1. It’s the women that menstruate (If you meet some with the painful type in the office during her period… God help you… ) consequence: delayed work, yelling at coworkers, absence from duty etc.
    2. It’s the women that get pregnant… (9 months gestation period, 3 months maternity leave)consequences: delayed work, absence from work, low output etc.
    3. It’s women that takes care of the baby, suckling, bonding, caring etc,… (You may say what of nannies/ house girl… that option often results to lack of bond between parents and children, leading to peer pressure influences, experimenting with drugs etc. House helps getting pregnant for Oga while Madam is pursuing her so-called career).
    4. Most ladies that are single puts up a front of a strong independent lady that never and won’t ever need a man, but in their closet, they know better.
    In conclusion, a woman can aspire to be what ever she wants to be, their is no embargo on that anywhere that I know, but there is always a price tag….

  • Aaaah! My Oga at the top, i was going to write an Article similar to this but it couldn’t have been better than what i just read. I think ‘wifesim’, sexism and or misogyny are still very prevalent in the world not just Nigeria. However, Nigeria has a sort of cultural and religious foothold on it. Much like racism, i’ve never really understood ‘wifesim’. I think it’s time Men like ourselves advocate for basic rights of women too and not just accept whatever cultural or religious nonesense that has been fed to us. i don’t think it’s as bad as it used to be: young ladies of our time are more conscious of their rights. Great article as per usual. Chuba for presido..

  • Anonymous

    Oooooh My! Why do I have d feeling a woman wrote this artlicle irrespective of the indication at d end. well written though.

    • Well. You probably want to check my profile pic to see that I’m clearly a guy. Or go to my twitter handle @ceezeks or my Facebook: Chuba Ezeks. A little bit of research goes a long way. 😉

  • Victoria Odono

    Very nice writeup and also very inspiring. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Like mother like son. Kudos for your insightful article

  • As a female surgeon, wife and mother of 2 I know firsthand what it is to work in a male dominated environment. Discrimination and harassment is very real and not imaginary. Many residency programmes are biased against women especially if you have kids. On the application you are asked how many children do you have? What are their ages? Of course we all inflated our childrens ages in the application. I certainly wasn’t going to tell them I had a 10month old. As a young girl I lost my dad and family members won’t let me talk at family meetings even though I was the first child because I was a girl, they tried to humiliate my mother because she was a woman but I have always stood strong. I have an amazing husband who propels me and together we rock! He is never afraid to tell people “My wife cannot do that!”

  • I’m shamed that I have to eat all my words I put up here; I never knew the madness in men until I was told the Upper Chamber of the Nigerian National Assembly is an asylum.

  • Kiah

    This is amazing. I have however been blessed to have parents that tell me to go and be CEO. My father told me when I was 6 he was expecting a PHD from Harvard and nothing less. He got less but I think he would have gotten nothing at all if he didn’t always tell me to aim for much higher. My boyfriend teases me that I will be CEO someday too.

    I agree with you that women have a huge role to play in all of these. Current mothers need to bringing up their children to have role models like the Presidents of Brazil, Germany and Liberia. We need to start being more ourselves so our children don’t need to look so far off for role models. Most importantly, we need to stop bringing each other down – only women will sit down and tear down another woman based on the shade of her makeup or the type of bag she was carrying.

    Thank you for this article though. I am a woman and I have every intention to be more than a wife. I am going to be CEO someday.

  • The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as significantly as this one. I mean, I know it was my option to read, but I truly thought youd have some thing intriguing to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about some thing that you simply could fix if you happen to werent too busy seeking for attention.
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