One of my favourite short story collections by a Nigerian woman is The Thing Around Your Neck which was written by the award winning writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Published in 2009, it explores issues such as immigration, military rule, religious fanaticism, love and the relationship between siblings and cousins.
The short story collection also explored the theme of cheating and has made me to question how fellow women can unintentionally push harmful ideas in the name of encouraging a woman to forgive a cheating husband.
In one of the stories titled Imitation, a poorer woman married a much richer man who behaved as though he respected her when they were together.
He also was a key factor in pulling her family out of poverty and she felt incredible gratitude to him for doing so.
Regardless, courtesy of the gratitude or maybe as a result of feeling overwhelmed by the help she received from him, she found herself silencing her truest thoughts and beliefs around him.
For instance, she wanted her husband and her to live together in America; she wanted this even if they were going to be like other couples who spent one half of the year in an American city and another half somewhere else.
However, she stayed silent and didn’t voice her thoughts when husband had put her in an American home and only visited from Nigeria for two months in the summer. Those months in the summer and the Christmas spent with him in Nigeria were the only times she and her two kids saw most of him physically.
It all came to a head when a friend of hers called from Nigeria to inform her that her husband whom she felt so much gratitude for, had moved in his young early twenties girlfriend into their Lagos home.
Now what interests me were the reactions by the women who knew of the situation. Her friend called her husband “a good man, of course”. Another woman who she shared with told her to forgive him because “he does not use you to play ball”; in essence he didn’t joke with her.
If only the irony in the statements could willingly reveal themselves as things that infact showed how often women make excuses and contort ourselves into laughable shapes to accomodate the actions of cheating men.
But why is it that conversations surrounding women forgiving cheating husbands can very easily delve into sexism? Why is it that it is mostly women who are told even by seemingly well meaning people to forgive cheating men? Especially forgiving cheating men who would not hesitate to beat their wives up and send them packing should the women retaliate?
Even more, why is it that hardly anyone advocates for balance in these conversations about forgiveness in cheating? How many churches have run sermons telling men to take back cheating wives who had children with other men? Instead what we see is pastors telling women not to leave because: “Do you want another woman to eat the fruit of your labour?”. And to that I will ask if it is worth it to hold onto a man and a marriage that only borne the fruits of humiliation, heartache and public disgrace.
Speaking with E, she explained that the conversation on cheating tends to be sexist because women are seen as the property of men.
In her words: “I think it’s because it’s kinda a forgone conclusion that men cheat so society doesn’t see it as a big deal. Women who are caught cheating are ostracized because society believes that a woman loses her value through sex. Very weird, I know.
But women are also seen as the ‘property’ of the men in their lives so it’s a matter of hurt pride when men find out their women are cheating. It’s so bad that if you cheat on a man and he forgives you, run. He might smother you with a pillow in his sleep. But women take back cheating husbands all the time. My grandpa’s mistress and my grandma had their babies three days apart. Guess who didn’t face any consequences? My grandpa.”
She went on to say: “Also, I’ve not been cheated on and taken the person back. I’m too wicked for that. I must do my own first because ojoro cancel ojoro. And seeing as I’m a lover girl, I don’t got time for that so you must skedaddle. I also believe that cheating is a deliberate act. Try Jesus, not me. I’m not taking your ass back.
I don’t think people should take back cheats but if you do and you say you’ve forgiven them, *shudders* then just never speak of it again. That’s the point of forgiveness. You’re gon be a mug forever though.”
For Glory, a writer, she said that it all boils down to the excuses made for men who cheat and the double standards seen in handling women who cheat.
To quote her: “Women take back cheating men all the time and people accept it like it’s the norm because as a woman it’s expected of you to be chaste and “men are polygamous in nature” mantra they keep chanting. So if you go outside of this, it’s perceived that the woman’s value decreases. The way men who take back cheating spouses are castigated and insulted, you will notice the glaring double standards. People call them all sorts like ‘weak men’.”
Glory went on to say: “A friend of mine, his girlfriend at the time, cheated on him and he forgave her. I noticed how he was castigated for forgiving and accepting her back but if it was a woman reverse will be the case. They are both married now which pleases me but the bar set for these men is so low.”
The truth is that the bar is indeed very low for men when it concerns cheating.
In a truly just society, the forgiveness of acts like cheating will not be demanded of women and men who forgive cheating wives will not be shamed as weak.
Until then, we must encourage women not to stay in situations that expose them to diseases or disrespect with the excuse and lie that all men are polygamous and can love you but still cheat.
Angel Nduka-Nwosu is a writer, journalist and editor. She moonlights occasionally as a podcaster on As Angel Was Sayin’. Catch her on all socials @asangelwassayin.