Some few weeks ago I went to see the movie hidden figures under the misunderstanding that My friend had booked us to watch the movie Fences. She was just as surprised as I was when Hidden Figures started. By the end of the movie, we couldn’t grumble because Hidden Figures turned out to be a fantastic movie.
I finally got a chance to watch Fences enroute to Miami. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It is a touching story which feels real and true. And the dialogue is sublime.
Mid-way through the movie I started to shift in my seat, wishing I was on land so I could urge every female friend I have to watch this movie and heed three explicit warnings:
1. Do not become complicit in your own mistreatment.
2. Do not lose your identity, destiny or purpose in a marriage.
3. And if you choose to do both, be acutely aware of the repercussions and own the consequences.
In the movie we see Rose ( Viola Davies) immerse herself in family life, loving her husband completely, taking on his family, his shortcomings, and dealing with it as some loving wives might. And although this was heart warming to watch in the beginning of the movie, these traits soon start to grate as the viewer realises that Rose through her complicity, was enabling some destructive behaviour; behaviour which would eventually tear her family life apart.
Rose’s husband wasn’t a stereotypical abusive husband or father. This would have been too lazy. What he was is probably closer to the reality of most destructive characters, they are rarely one dimensional. Troy was loving yet unkind, warm but bitter, responsible and irresponsible. He was traditional to a point of disregard. In his opinion his duty was to provide for his family. And as long as he did this successfully, everything else was inconsequential, including meeting the emotional needs of his children, and ultimately his wife.
Every relationship can learn something from this story. But I am specifically drawing attention to this beautiful piece of story telling because of the parallels I observe in a lot of Nigerian marriages. Often the Nigerian woman is advised to accept and tolerate the intolerable in marriage. We are encouraged accommodate bad behaviour under the falsehood that compromise is the foundation of a good marriage. The problem however, is that too often it is the woman who over- compromises, especially when the husband is a good provider like Troy. But this one sided compromising is at the expense of our future happiness, and more importantly our mental health.
Rose allowed her husband to get away with atrocious behaviour, this she admitted to towards the end of the movie. As the movie progressed, it became clear that men like Troy can become so self absorbed, they fail to see that they are mistreating their wives. And women like Rose, lose themselves so completely and absurdly in the superficial appearance of a healthy home; cooking for everybody, constantly fixing a plate; toiling. The way Rose was quick to enter the kitchen for Troy and his family; son from another relationship, her hisband’s friend, his brother, was both symbolic and a clever way of highlighting how women give.
Rose expected her husband to be loyal, loving, and attentive because she was. Unfortunately her passivity or compromises or submissiveness emboldened her husband’s bad behaviour, to their eventual detriment.
Women too get bored too: There was a scene where Troy was honestly trying to explain why he cheated, and I understood it completely. I even felt annoyed for understanding, but at 40 and after being married for over 12 years I know that marriage isn’t all roses and make up sex. Marriage is partly about those daily worries and palavers like mortgage, bills, in laws, child care difficulties. Marriage is about the grind. It is about misunderstandings, miscommunications, neglect, being taken for granted, hurt, and sometimes lies. And yes the feeling of wanting to escape is normal – having an affair can seem like escapism for some – for Troy – who wanted to feel alive, devoid of responsibilities, duty or obligation.
In the middle of his emotionally charged explanation Rose cut him dead. In fury and in hurt she reminded him that for 18 years she had stood by his side, casting her own dreams aside – supporting him, accepting his flaws, covering for his flaws, even at the detriment of her own children. And through snort and tears, the viewers realises that she knows, that she had given too much, and literary played herself out of the marriage. Because you can give too much in a marriage? Yes. You have no business or obligation to give away your destiny or purpose or dreams like she did . No one, not the man nor the children you bear will thank you in the end. And even if they do it probably wouldn’t be enough.
As married women we must be wary of the false notion that giving up on our own development, destiny, or life goals is tantamount to love. It is not. And a truly loving husband wouldn’t want or expect it.
More powerfully Rose highlights a point I wish every man would take away from this movie. That it is not the preserve of men to crave escapism; to want out from time to time. Most women feel this urge too, that desire to run, to cast aside the burden of responsibility, to hide even. And as Rose put it, to seek comfort, desire and escapism in the bed of someone different. But. And there is a powerful But. What stops a lot of women, and some men from cheating, at that real point of frailty, is a combination of discipline, maturity, self respect and will power – holding on to the commitment they made while keeping an eye on the bigger picture – a healthy relationship. This discipline may not be applicable where abuse is present, emotional or physical abuse or indeed neglect may drive women to seek solace with another.
Sadly, most patriarchal societies pretend that women simply don’t feel the desires Rose highlighted. I guess the very idea that women too feel this urge is itself an affront to the premise of patriarchy.