“Do you have a husband?”
These five words form a question that causes me to tense up like a deer spotted by a hunter.
My eyes widen and I quickly try to laugh, and respond with, “Oh, no, I’m too young to be married!” or “No, I am too focused on my work!” My instinct is to shut down and become more closed off for the rest of the conversation. Most often, this question comes from men who are much older than me. I have had both men and women ask, yet when men inquire about my status of relationships I begin running through all the reasons why. I worry that they see that I am single, American, and probably have money and therefore would be an excellent wife for them.
I try to change the subject back to them after someone asks. Yet as soon as a man asks me, I mark them in my head as a poacher. They are no longer after getting to know me as a person but as a potential wife.
This instinct is both ridiculous and utterly realistic.
In the states, if a man were this persistent with asking about my relationships, I would be uncomfortable. The logical reason for why someone of the opposite sex would ask is to know if there is potential for a relationship, other than sheer curiosity. Yet, in the states it is not uncommon to find a 22-year-old woman unwed. She is most likely just graduating college or getting on her feet with life. Granted, some people marry and/or have children much earlier, but it’s almost respected in our culture to wait until you are older to establish a life partner. In my life at the moment, marriage is not on the agenda for the next few years, let alone kids! Yet these men in Africa are constantly asking and surprised to hear that I am not even close to starting a family. And that look they have in their eyes makes me nervous to tell them more about myself.
I am not an ornament or an object to obtain. I am not a benchmark or a goal. My flesh and bones are my own. My brain and emotions are worth more than a family photograph and an approving smile from in-laws. My nationality and privilege is not something to be coveted. I was utterly lucky in where I was born, and yet America will not solve everyone’s problems. My ambitions and goals are bigger than a roof and cribs. My age and looks are not a sign of failure or success. I am not the answer to anyone’s mystery. I am not the happy ending or the muse for art.
Yet, in this country women are still struggling to establish their footing outside being a housewife or one of many wives even. Men still harass and scorn women for denying their advances in violent ways.
These cringe-worthy moments where the men who ask if I have a husband, are moments where I must remember that I am not in danger. Their curiosity and prying conversations are moments where I can speak and be heard. They are opportunities to say that women are more than their reproductive abilities. Marriage might not be everyone’s goal. So that the next time the questions might be, “Do you have a life goal?” or, “Do you have a degree?”