Equality in African Relationships

by Folasayo Dele-Ogunrinde

What boggles my mind is this: Why do African women allow men who have not been proven to be wiser or more intelligent than they are treat them with so much contempt as if they were less human. Why has brute force superseded emotional intelligence for so long? And more importantly and most worrisome, why are women complicit in this abusive paternalistic system. I have gotten a lot of flack from women who don’t want me to “rock the boat”. They prefer to acquire power in a relationship by means of manipulation. They know how the mind of a man works, so they would rather cajole and play games with him to get what they want. Some are such that they put Delilah to shame. In some cases though, it’s not with malicious intent, but these women have been conditioned to be so, usually a trait passed down by older females relatives who inculcate in them that the only way to get through to a man is by “tricking him”. They exhibit a dog and pony show for their future husbands and in-laws before marriage pretending to be what they’re not, hoping to impress so they can get their foot in the door, and then expect a different set of rules after marriage. How can?

Women need to work on their self-esteem issues. They need to see themselves not only as an extension of their marriages or their husbands, but as fully functioning individuals who have a voice in their relationships. They need to trust their own judgment, and know that they too have as much to contribute to the intellectual, emotional, physical and financial stability of their unions. I have been to social gatherings among my peers, and noticed most times, that the women gather in the kitchen and focus on the cooking, cleaning etc, while the men sit down guzzling beer and wait to be waited upon while discussing how to solve all the worlds’ political problems, and of course sports. I’m usually the only female sitting among these men engaging them in these discussions. I feel that women relegate themselves into roles of those to be seen but not heard. A male friend once commented to me that “I see my friends wives, but I don’t really think I know them. They never contribute to discussions”. Is it that they lack opinions on matters? Hardly so. But they are subconsciously used to being behind the “veil” even though many of these women will claim to be liberated and modern.

Women by nature tend to be nurturing, and this indeed is a virtue unless it becomes a vice. Some give until their heart bleeds, even when the man treats them like dirt in the hopes that he will change. Unfortunately, this “wisdom” that has been handed down through the ages does backfire. The truth is that the more you give an abusive husband, the less he will appreciate you. Sometimes, one needs to go “crazy” to see change effected (Film: “Diary of a Mad Black Woman“).

Some women, men who treat them with respect and chivalry bring out the worst in them. They would rather deal with the bad boys. These women obviously confuse drama and pain with love. This of course is a situation best analyzed by a shrink. There is a popular opinion held by African men that most African women will rather you give them money and buy them things than do simple things that show you care. This is true in a lot of cases. I once heard a Nigerian woman say ” My love dies in three days as the roses wilt, but ticks forever with a Tiffany watch“. Yes, it is true that the romantic touch is not for everyone to appreciate, but I know that there are women who will rather be in an abusive relationship as long as they can afford an ostentatious lifestyle. Some too believe that they don’t have to earn their way in life. Please note here that I’m not talking about “stay at home” moms, or women with realistic needs because of their particular circumstances, but those who want to be kept or at the very least expect a man to pay for everything even while they earn significantly. They shouldn’t be surprised then, if the man starts to treat them like a piece of silverware. These, I shed no tears for.

Some women too want to eat their cake plus jara. They believe that “My money is my money, and “his” money is “our” money. They refuse to pull any financial muscle in the home even if the man’s purse is stained beyond capacity. They expect him to take care of all the major financial responsibilities while they spend theirs on a new Manolo Blahnik shoes and would in their benevolence “loan” him some money that has to be paid back when he’s about to lose the shirt on his back. Then they turn around and complain that he doesn’t help around the house and he treats them like crap (Article: Gender Roles In African Relationships) This is where unfairness on the part of some women gall me. You don’t give a sack of coal and expect a bag of diamonds.

There are men, who not satisfied with having just female children, want a son, you see their wives going out of their minds desperately trying to satisfy their husband’s genealogical needs to carry “the family name forth” among other reasons for the coveted male child. Some of these women fear that if they do not “give him a son”, he will stray outside the marriage to satisfy that need. I know a woman on her 5th pregnancy, two more than they had planned, in the hopes of having a male child for her husband. It is mind-boggling at least for me, that in this age, this is still an issue sometimes solely blamed on the woman, when it is a scientific fact that the sex of a child is determined by the man’s “bullets”. So these women keep on having more children than they should. In this era, when a woman sees providing a male “heir” as a virtue, it goes to show that innately they themselves place more value on the male child than a female and they wonder why their husbands place less value on them as a woman. There is nothing wrong in and of itself in desiring a particular sex for a child, but when that need is solely based on the perceived greater value of one sex over the other, that, is a problem. Given our culture of generational welfare system, my dad could never understand why African men preferred male children to female anyway. He noted that the female child usually have more empathy for the welfare of their parents as they age while the men would just rather drop off money to “take care of problems” But then, my dad for his time may be alone in his observations.

The problem with society:

A woman’s role in society changes greatly once she marries since she becomes a possession with little or no rights in her husband’s family (Yes, even in the so called “modern” marriages). In fact, the husband’s mother and sisters have much more of an influence over him than his own wife (Article: Mothers-in-law and the cycle of Abuse). If the wife resents this lack of control or respect within her marriage, the family may threatens to send her packing.

Our societies have conditioned us to see and accept women in this subservient roles. The few women who chose to assert their roles as equal partners in marriages are quickly castigated as wayward individuals who seek to destabilize the system and they are to be checked. They have to overcome pressures from their in-laws, society, friends and even their own families to conform. The story of a certain type of crabs come to mind. If one wayward crab chooses to stray too far from the group, the rest of the colony will decapitate and tear it to bits until it dies. (Article: Custodians of the African Culture) Sometimes this is what happens to the spirit of the African woman who decides she wants to have a voice in her marriage. She is pressured to the point where she is striped of her self-esteem and her will is to be broken. She cannot be an individual, she follows where her husband goes, she is defined by his success, his

whims and needs. We often hear the term “Behind every successful man is a woman? What happens if a women wants to be successful pursuing her own dreams, will she have her man championing her cause and standing firmly behind her as well? I don’t understand why as an intelligent, articulate woman, my ambitions and dreams should take a backseat to that of my equally intelligent male counterpart. In a marriage, if one of the pair has to give up a job, that responsibility by default falls to the woman. If one of the two has to give up religion it’s usually the woman who has to pledge allegiance to her husbands’. Same goes for culture in mixed marriages. These things are structured such that the woman’s needs, identity and success always comes secondary to the mans’. Who says “it’s a woman’s world”? My position on relationship has always been compromise for the common good of all involved, not favoring one gender or the other.

I don’t like labels, so I don’t want to be called a feminist. I actually have problems with some of the issues that fall under the general umbrella of feminism. A more appropriate term I choose for myself is a wo/man-ist, a term inclusive of both men and women (Article: Women who abuse men, The judicial system, Feminism vs. Wo/man-ism). The same way I don’t advocate male dominance is the same way I’m opposed to female dominance which is sometimes what I’ve seen in some aspect of the feminist movement. I believe in fairness for all. I prefer myself in a relationship with another as partners who may from time to time play a dominant role in one area of the relationship or the other because of our respective abilities, but will seek balance of power and respect for all involved. Power in relationships should be dynamic. It should not be the preserve of one gender. And generally, it’s men who do not want to share power.

Do I hate men? Absolutely not. I grew up in a family of five males, my mom and I being the only females, with a father who loves and respects his wife as she does him – as equal partners. I also can’t boast of a female best friend, as most of my close buddies are male. So, no, I don’t hate men. And when appropriate, I side with them. What I hate is the attitude of the subset of African men who feel they have to put a woman in her place: beneath them. These are the men who equate the “willy” hanging between their legs with a brain. (Seriously guys, it is not an extra brain, and it doesn’t make you smarter than women). For some, the erroneous assumption that their “willy” counts as a brain, makes it the only one they use. Go figure!.

Do I think the majority of women are saints? Hardly. The downfall of a lot of men have been gotten in the hands of women. But to think men have ruled the world for so long simply because of brute force and physical strength, and that women have been so docile for so long befuddles me. African women have allowed men who are most times less perceptive in matters of life than they are call the shots. Why they have bought into this farce is an age-old question that will probably not be resolved in my own time or in this medium, but it’s certainly time for African women to lay claim to their respect and honor in our societies and especially within their marriages. Remember, “Well behaved women never make history”

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Enitan Doherty-Mason April 22, 2006 - 3:24 pm

Oh, how I love when words convey meaning well. Brava, sister!

smokeysmokey48238@yahoo.com March 31, 2006 - 6:39 pm

This is a serious article but quite funny, you looked at all sides and gave your unbiased views on how we look at ourselves in marriage. I think you will get some hate mail from men, maybe a few from women. But don't let that deter you. Keep up the good work. My own personal view: only real men deserve strong women, you know…the kind that watches your back through thick and thin, not the kind that feels she has to be second fiddle in order to make her husband feel more in control. That way of thinking is total bullcrap – no disrespect to my mother's generation. Times have changed, let our men change with it. They may be surprised how good it feels to not be the one who thinks of everything, pays for everything or is in charge of everything in a marriage.


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