Although things have changed enormously over the last five decades and women in college or university today are not being asked why they even bother to study when they are getting married anyway, there is still that familiar pressure on a lot of young women to get married.
Through frequent discussions and exchanges with younger women around careers, I am always surprised by the big number of questions that are geared at marriage and children rather than at how to build one’s career.
On second thought, however, there are some important points to tackle here, so let me weigh in on the discussion.
I come from a traditional household. My father worked full-time. My mother stayed at home to look after the children.
Although she was the more ambitious of the two and she did occasionally have a few odd jobs, she ended up depending on my father and never pursuing a career.
Despite my parents’ own traditional gender roles in marriage, my father had high expectations for his three daughters and son alike. He pushed us to get good degrees and pursue careers.
Having seen how my mother experienced her marriage, I knew I had to be financially independent before taking those vows.
“I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.”Gloria Steinem
Timing is everything
Especially in more collectivist societies where marriages are unions between families rather than individuals, there is a lot of pressure on young women to get married and to bring forth children. This pressure can be quite overwhelming even today.
While academic achievements are also encouraged, I wonder if relatives would caution a young woman not to get married before finishing her studies or before getting stable employment… maybe not, but that is exactly what I would advise.
A successful marriage is a huge support to both spouses in all other aspects of their lives including their careers. A marriage with an enormous power and income imbalance, however, can easily lead to dependency, abuse, and helplessness. Such marriages can cost you your mental health, your career and even your life.
Bad reasons to take those vows
What is more, there are some really bad reasons that push some people to get married.
You can feel pressure to get married to please your parents or relatives; out of gratitude or out of pity. You can get married to fill a void, to feel whole.
Some women want a baby so badly, they are willing to marry the first person to cross their path. Some women get married for financial security, to be taken care of. It may seem like a rational choice, but mind you, that safety net can become your cage.
All the above mentioned reasons are not good reasons for taking those vows.
Let us say you got married for all the right reasons, what is next?
For better or for worse: worse
If you are wondering how the man in your life can impact you, there is a myriad of ways in which life partners influence us at our core.
How we are being treated on a daily basis by our significant other regardless of how strong we are, will (eventually) affect how we feel about ourselves.
Some husbands restrict the freedom of movement of their wives or simply take the car and the money for their exclusive use. Easier still, the unpaid care work – like taking care of the children, feeding the family, cleaning the house, etc. – simply gets dumped on the wife, which will obviously restrict her free time and freedom of movement.
Some husbands go even further by following their wife’s every move, tracking her down on social media or in real life, making that curfew call to check if she is home on time. A husband can block you from living your true potential or from seizing that ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’.
Finally, there is the absentee husband – the one who comes home when you leave for the office and wakes up and goes out when you come home. Although this latter type is less intrusive, the question here is really, ‘What is in it for us?’
The above might seem a little extreme, but critical questions should be asked before tying the knot.
With a quite common age difference between spouses – often an older husband with a somewhat younger wife – along with the phenomenon known as the gender pay gap, it is likely that in dual earner situations, under increased pressures from family circumstances, the lower paid partner ends up sacrificing her career for the benefit of the family. Needless to say, this is often the woman.
Make sure you know your partner’s point of view on such issues ahead of your wedding day. Like they say: prevention is better than cure.
For better or for worse: better
Have I scared you? No need.
Besides all the disadvantages of unsupportive husbands, empowering husbands can prove to be very beneficial for your career.
A husband who is empowering can encourage you to take risks and go for opportunities – even when you yourself do not yet see your own potential (yet).
A husband like this will help out to make sure you take that business trip, you get your PhD, you go for that promotion or for that television interview. Such a husband will make sure the children are taken care of and he is genuinely happy when you do well.
Beware that a supportive partner may turn out to be not so supportive after all, if your career schedule may affect his career and require him to take a step back, or if it requires the family to relocate to another city or country.
That is why empowerment really is a verb: you find its true expression in actions rather than in words.
“When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier!”Sheryl Sandberg
As described above, there is a full spectrum of husbands from the very empowering to the outright abusive types. Choosing the right life partner is a career-related choice, because, whether we like it or not, it will ultimately affect our careers.
Whatever person you choose to spend the rest of your life with, make sure you are ready for marriage and always have a way out (read: financial security). If reading this, makes you reconsider, then so be it.
A great marriage, will give you that something extra; but a disastrous one can come at an enormous cost. Avivah Wittenberg-Cox has researched the topic extensively and she recommends, “If You Can’t Find a Spouse Who Supports Your Career, Stay Single.” Would you agree?
Lucy Schalkwijk is a women’s empowerment champion, a connector and a skills development enthusiast. She is passionate about connecting and empowering women in the workplace and writes about careers, networking, women’s empowerment, and leadership.
Want to join a tribe of successful women who have your back? Contact the Career Women’s Network Kigali: firstname.lastname@example.org and +250783719431