Equality in African Relationships

by Folasayo Dele-Ogunrinde

Preface by author:
This article deals specifically with the “AFRICAN” situation, not European, Asian etc. So, I will localize my comments. Also, This it is not about an entire gender or generation, not is it an all out attempt to bash any one group. It is about “Some”. The “some” know themselves, they will act in a predictable manner, feathers will be ruffled, and blood vessels will pop. Some, not able to withstand the glare of the mirror in their faces, will even stop reading in disgust, because, “how dare she”!. But read in entirety I urge. Apologies for lack of brevity.

Is there such a thing as a truly equal heterosexual African relationship? Equal share of power, responsibilities and spousal support? Do they exist?, and if so, what structures in our societies and in marriages do the individuals who chose to follow this path have to surmount. The reasons thrown out there for the inconceivability of such a concept ranges from clichés like: “It’s in the bible” to “That is our culture”, or “There can only be one captain on a ship”, while some simply say it’s a fact that women are incapable of standing toe to toe to a man in a relationship even though that may obtain in other spheres of life such as in the workplace. An African male author even went as far as to postulate that the problems with marriages these days is not the lack of communication, but that women no longer “know their places” but want to be equal to men, they want to have opinions regarding decision making in a relationship, that, he proffers is the beginning of the end, and of course, he goes into a long diatribe of bible quotations. Now, understand that I’m not speaking here of marriages instituted generations ago. Or among people who are not well versed or world-traveled. This discourse is on relationships among the well educated, 20 to 40-something year old African demography. My opinions are indeed generalizations, and arguably, this syndrome is not a preserve of Africans alone, but it may be disproportionately so.

I’ve seen relationships that are based on the premise that each partner has an equal stake in the union, they are best friends and “co-pilots” in the true sense, they respect each others’ opinion as esteemed individuals in the relationship. Each bringing whatever they are capable of to the table in a harmonious union. There is no power struggle. These exist, but are indeed very few and far between. That there are innate differences between men and women is not debatable. But does this mean one gender should be treated with unfairness and indignity? Subjected to the whims and caprices of the other whose ego is so easily bruised…thus she must tip-toe on eggshells around him, massaging his ego lest he unleashes his fury in a fit of infantile supremacy?

The problem with SOME African men:

In the early years of learning about courtship with women, most males in my observation don’t seem to have a problem relating to their female counterparts as equals, the regression starts shortly about the time they start taking relationships more seriously. Some will even pretend to go along with the “program”, until after marriage for their true colors to emerge.

Some are quick to whip out the culture or religious card when it suits them. Selectively quoting the bible that wives should submit to their husbands, and taking it to a whole new level when the need arises to keep the woman in line or when being challenged about unequal power structure in the home, at such times, this breed, bible in hand, is at his sanctimonious best. This ultimately in some situations lead to women being in emotionally and sometimes physically abusive relationships. Some wives, to their husbands are no more than glorified “hired help” who just also happens to share the bosses’ bed.

I know of several strong women who go into marriage intact, as capable and achieving individuals, only for the insecurity of the man to make him want to put her down, keep her down and deconstruct her psyche. I’ve had this discussion with a lot of self-assured, mature guys who themselves can’t understand the ways of their fellow men. Why indeed does a man marry a strong woman but once she becomes his wife, he wants her to be as strong as his control permits. Why take a bird, whose plumage and free-spiritedness you admire, just to break its wings and put it in a cage of perpetual servitude? Why will a man who claims to love his wife want to “enslave” her, make her feel worthless by breaking her spirit all in the name of some unproductive, archaic aspects of an otherwise beautiful and rich culture (Article: Be all the Oyinbo you wanna be, but be all the African that you are). I know of men whose twisted way of thinking defines a strong woman as the one who every times he “beats her down emotionally” can get up to take some more. These are indeed deep symptoms of major complexes, immaturity and sometimes undiagnosed mental illnesses. What happens in a lot of cases then, is when the man has accomplished this feat of reducing his wife to “rubbish”, the “hunter” goes out in search of another woman outside who will challenge him, as the one whose spirit he’s broken at home now bores him.

I know an Ivy League trained 30-something year old physician who has spent most of his adult life in several countries around the world, got the best education money can buy, yet asserts that if his wife who also happens to be in the same professional field ever makes more money than he does, she would have to quit the job. He also maintains that if her career ever interferes with her ability to fix dinner before he gets home, she’ll have to be a stay-at- home spouse. In short, give up all the years she’s toiled in ‘med school just so he can have his African palate satiated. I say, this one needs some serious intervention. So, even with the self-professed cosmopolite who may be wearing the Armani suit, and donning a Dior façade, sometimes, if you just peel the layers off, what you get is a man in loin clothes holding a spear. Like they say, it has nothing to do with education or exposure, some men get it, and some are forever lost in the haze of pre-dawn.

Some will not let the woman in their lives fulfill her dreams under some pretext or the other while the true underlying problem is that he really feels she will better him and become uncontrollable by him, so he stands in her way. When a man feels threatened by a woman’s achievements and thus tries to be a stumbling block to her success and the full utilization of her talents for selfish reasons, maybe he is the one indeed breaking God’s law, because, this same God who these men claim want a woman to be in beneath them will not give a woman her talents if He doesn’t intend for her to use it. He will ask of her “So my dear daughter, what did you did with your talents” to which her reply would be “My husband was feeling very insecure, so I had to bury my talents to protect his ego and of course, I had to be home every night to cook from scratch because he won’t lift a finger till I get home, and since my night MBA classes got in the way of feeding my hubby, he asked me to give that up too”.

In a group of so-called “Professional” Africans in NY the other day, the conversation naturally turned to relationships, and the men discussed the types of women they would like to date….most basically want a woman who is sophisticated and strong, but “humble enough” to be traditional in the African way. Which judging from earlier inputs in the conversation basically translates to “A woman who can pound yam with a mortar and pestle while wearing high heels and mini skirt, can take emotional abuse with a smile all day, and a

t night turn into a ferocious “sex kitten” in the bedroom. And oh, someone who will not embarrass them when they go to those professional meetings”. Of course they want a traditional woman. It suits them. In a culture where they rule the roost, why give up your throne? Keep them down, pregnant and barefoot. Power intoxicates, even in the microcosm of a man’s castle. It takes a secure man to realize the unfairness of the system, and do something in his universe to make a difference. But what you see in most cases are those who will die first, splitting every single hair on their heads than see the system dismantled.

In utter frustration, some men will go as far to ascribe the African Woman who is assertive as too westernized, resort to labeling her a lesbian or a frustrated “old maid”. Some go back to their countries or villages to bring wives in the hopes that she’s “tamer” than their “lost” sisters abroad who have thrown away everything African. Excuse me sir? Yes sir, em, yes you….I have a question…if culture was that important, all aspects of it, why are you naming that your true-blood African bambino Ian or Debra, why aren’t you worshipping the gods of your forefathers? Why indeed are you not participating in rituals of human sacrifice? or digging that chic with “tribal marks” of the Ondo or Ogbomosho variety? After all, these were cultural phenomenon in our recent history. My point exactly!, culture is dynamic, you borrow, lend, discard and retain what is useful (Article: Custodians of the African Culture). Putting women beneath men in a society to serve the selfish purpose of some is only useful to those who benefit from the tyranny.

Within African marriages, women have an obligation to have children. If a couple is infertile, it’s always the woman’s fault. African men never believe they could have fertility problems, you see them avoiding the issue of a gynecological check up. Goodness, how can they, the most virile men on earth be subjected to such indignity? and if the problem is eventually diagnosed as theirs, they still have their wives take the fall to save their egos. A distant cousin of mine divorced his wife because they couldn’t conceive after what seems like a reasonable time due to a botched abortion procedure he was as much a part of as she was while they were dating. Today, he’s remarried with three kids. I don’t know what became of her. This is one of the reasons I strongly believe abortion is a disservice to women (and unborn children) contrary to what the feminist movement advocates.

If these points bring you to the brink of suffering an emotional aneurysm, maybe it hits a little too close to home. There needs to be a major paradigm shift in our culture to raise men to treat women with dignity and mutual respect.

Are there terrible, conniving, “wish you had never crossed paths with” types of women who bring out the worst in men? You bet!

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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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