I am a Nigerian woman. Born into the patriarchal landscape of Britain.
As a Black, unmarried, single mother of two glorious Black sons — I still receive side eyes and sense the judgement that casts my sons and me in the roles of negative stereotypes and somewhat enemies of both the British and Nigerian patriarchal states.
The patriarchy tells me that I am not a ‘good look’ for their brand of society that seeks to elevate men’s wants and needs to maintain power — whilst keeping women like me in their shadows waiting and waiting to feel the sunlight of equality.
Trying to hold women to ridiculous ‘moral’ standards set by their all-male squad, that they themselves need not adhere to. Extramarital affairs or just sex as unmarried men, has long since been tolerated as ‘just something men do.’
As for any children they created through these ‘discrepancies’, they had the legal backing to brand them as illegitimate or ‘bastards.’
Like, wait — what?
What does an illegitimate child even look like? Seriously, I’m not asking for a friend.
Writing the ‘bastard’ construct into law, was one of the patriarchies most savage moves to further suppress and shun women and the children they bore outside marriage — whilst giving men the freedom to secure the survival of a patrilineal inheritance and descent system within marriage only as well as no financial obligation towards any other mans child.
is such a foreign concept to me.
i was born from my mother
i am here.
all the legitimacy i need.’
— Nayyirah Waheed (‘the bastard construct’ from her book Salt)
There are no illegitimate children. None. Every child is legitimate. Every. Single. One.
Lord knows, the patriarchy is this heavy, dusty cloud that insists on reigning over every body socially, economically, and politically. It is a dictatorship fronting as a democracy.
I want to know just how the hell we got into this mess. By taking a long look back through my heritage and human history, maybe I can better understand the origins of patriarchal societies, its ‘why’, the nature of the beast, and in examining its dirty fingernails full of cruel intentions — hopefully, find clues on how the hell to get out of it.
Because unlike dust, I refuse to settle for this status quo. Especially when I know, it wasn’t always like this.
When our broad human history as hunter-gatherers took several macro shifts towards farming/agriculture around twelve thousand years ago, the seeds of our modern patriarchal societies were planted. That meant there was now an emphasis budding on land and economics.
Another seven thousand years or so down the road, marriage became a thing, then slowly but surely — various religions piped up with their dogma heavily influencing societal morals.
My mum grew up in Nigeria, and was brought up a devout Catholic. For me, growing up in London in a traditionally Catholic/Christian country, nothing struck me as odd about my Nigerian mum being a Catholic and my Nigerian dad being a Christian, until I got to early adulthood and read a little sumthin’ sumthin’ more than the shit they taught us in school about colonialism.
Christian/Catholic missionaries were one of many European colonists’ weapons of choice as they tried to soft water their way through African soil (they eventually used canons and guns and stuff too) — to impose patriarchal systems and culture widely across Nigeria and many other African countries.
This caused mass destruction to the established and prosperous, African matriarchal cultural systems that were built on a rich history of Queens (like ‘the warrior queen’ Amina of Zazzau/Zaria state in Nigeria, whose legendary reign was the model for a certain TV series you might have heard of — named Xena: Warrior Princess), female Gods and traditions of family, praise and worship — where my female ancestors stood shoulder to shoulder as equals to men for thousands of years.
But I guess, this just wouldn’t do for the vision of society that the patriarchy had in mind.
First the age-old tactic of divide and conquer, was employed by the dastardly patriarchy to dismantle and destroy the image of the African woman and man that had long since — been beholden in each other's eyes, not as perfect beings — but as worthy. ‘Gatekeepers’ were handpicked from both elder men and women with promises of better (not equal) treatment, if they would oversee the masses and cajole them to fall in line.
Secondly, the web was weaved world-wide. Africans’ varying shades of skin colour and hair textures were stigmatised internationally as subhuman. Any exposure of African women’s bodies in particular — were propagandised as sinful and all cultural customs and beliefs were painted as savage.
Thirdly, they dished up their own whitewashed images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Joseph, misusing them for their own gain. Chastity belts were fastened to women’s virginity, as had already been done to the Victorian women — holding them and virginity up on a pedestal as the gold standard of womanhood most reflective of the Virgin Mary — and the patriarchal system as God-like and the only way for African people to repent and save themselves from themselves.
All of this served to further justify the rape, genocide, and racism to enslave African people in Africa, America, the Caribbean, and South America, etc, for centuries — stripping them of any rights to education, land, marriage and any legal power over their own bodies.
This unholy mission, was firmly rooted in a devilish thirst for power and economic domination through appropriation and violence. More proof that the patriarchy has always done its best — to be the absolute worst.
Some might say that the ancient African matriarchal system, was just a female version of this now too familiar — patriarchal one, but I’m not convinced that’s true.
Despite the fact that the African matriarchal system in some countries like Egypt was also a matrilineal one (inheritance and descent went through the female line), it still relied heavily on exchange and redistribution to optimise societal harmony— a system that ensures all have access to resources, and no one is without land to farm and trade — unlike the patriarchal system that relied on appropriation and violence.
I have never been married, but I don’t oppose marriage and would definitely be open to marrying for love and companionship.
If my sons ever ask me if they are ‘bastards’ for being born outside of marriage, I will answer ‘no, the only ‘bastard’ is the patriarchy that you and I are busy dismantling.’
Before my mum died almost thirteen years ago, we spoke on several occasions about marriage and children.
I could tell she was getting a little twitchy about my biological clock ticking louder by the second, as I hurtled towards thirty.
Even though mum and dad were married before they had us six kids, mum always impressed upon me that marriage was not necessary and it certainly wasn’t deemed a prerequisite to having children.
Mum was far more concerned with us being settled, having healthy children and achieving peace of mind.
Six months before I was pregnant with my eldest son at thirty-one, mum passed away.
It was heavily suggested to me by ‘elders’ that I should marry before my son was born — lest they would struggle to accept my child.
Hmm, I figured they were clearly drunk off the patriarchy’s bitter wine. I smiled politely — out of respect for them as familial elders.
But here’s what I say to any system or law in any land across the world that seeks to diminish children:
‘I don’t give a fuck about your acceptance, I accept my children and any child born as legitimate by birth alone.
Your struggle to accept human children born outside of marriage as legitimate humans worthy of equal rights is very much your problem to deal with.
Before you attempt to drip patriarchal poison into the veins of others, find some business of your own and mind it.’
Children should feel free to be unreasonable in their quest to make the world adjust to them, they have inherited the world so that they can create themselves within it.
My mother legitimised me by sacrificing her body to carry me for nine months — and birth me into this world, nothing else legitimises me.
I have legitimised my sons with my own body, and birthed them into this world.
I am all the legitimacy my children will ever need.
Maybe it's about time to dust off the blueprints of the matriarchy, perhaps the matriarchy 2.0 can be launched in a new, worldwide movement. One that doesn’t seek to destroy men — but rather destroy this divisive patriarchy.
It’s vital that female gatekeepers of the patriarchy (who still co-sign shaming women’s bodies and single motherhood) — shift their hearts and minds and stand-down their positions, then we might be chanced to build into becoming a blended family — that once more, leans heavily into exchange and redistribution.