Gender Roles in African Relationships

by Folasayo Dele-Ogunrinde

I agreed to meet up with this Nigerian guy a non-Nigerian friend of mine had been dying to “hook me up with” a while ago when I first arrived in NY. You know how “Oyinbo” people don’t have a good barometer for the nuances that make us Africans. I had my reservations, but obliged her just to potentially make new friends in my new city. On the first casual date with this chap, the first question that popped out of his mouth was “You seem quite westernized, can you even cook Nigerian food”? Almost in the same breath, he also tried to gauge my earning potential, by wanting to know how I’m keeping body and soul together as an Artiste – he is definitely not interested in a woman he will have to support financially I learnt. But much on that later. You see, this man loves himself some home cooked buka-style food, which was not in itself his death-sentence with me, as I too love me some African cuisine. However, he told me an African woman is not worth visiting if she can’t cook…, yet he himself can’t cook, and he wouldn’t cook even if he could, so he elaborated. His “shopping list” for a potential mate is one who will take care of him just as his mom took care of his dad, but one who is also financially independent he said. My “Oyinbo” friend had told me earlier that this guy worked on Wall Street. I smiled, deflected his question back to ask him instead in a language I’m sure he understood. ‘So, what is your financial portfolio worth’? how diverse is it, and what are your short, mid and long term financial goals?” And by the way, do you have a problem with a woman who won’t sign a pre-nup?’ He was amused. I didn’t blink. He got it. “Why?” He asked, slightly irritated, do I need to quiz him about his financial status before I can answer a simple question rather expected of a “True African sister”. I stated that I merely wanted to judge how potentially good a provider he would be since he similarly wants to judge how potentially good a mate I would be in the domestic department. That should be a rather expected question of a “True African man”, not so? Also, my domestic services don’t come cheap because I’m a very intelligent and creative woman whose education isn’t shabby. Let me break it down: If I have to put all my years of toiling in school and all my “lofty” dreams aside just so I can be a glorified domestic help, he might as well be able to afford my kind, right? otherwise, my advise to him, and men like him is to go back to their villages and get a well groomed home girl who will serve them dinner on bended knees, and every one, I think will be happier, but oh, no, he must have the professional domestic diva who can match him dollar for dollar as well. Obviously, my question about his financial status annoyed him. Mission accomplished. If my question irked him, why, that is the same way I feel about his enquiries about my domestication, since that is obviously one of his top criteria for choosing a mate. Here is a guy I’d had less than a few minutes of conversation with, who does not care how my mind works, if I have good morals or if I’m compassionate or fair-minded, but immediately wants to assess my ability to cook delicious Nigerian cuisine as a way to his coveted heart.

If upon agreement between a couple, a women chooses to be a full time homemaker, and a man accepts his role as the sole provider, I absolutely have no problem with that, if it works for them, and in a lot of cases, it does. Where I have a problem is when roles overlap, but only in one direction. You encounter a guy who tells you he wants to marry a professional woman whose bacon sizzles as well as his, because he doesn’t want a lazy, soap-opera-watching “leech” in the home who will depend on him for all her financial needs, yet in the same breath, this same guy in no uncertain terms will say he won’t cook, clean or take care of his kids. He needs a woman who will “take care of all his domestic needs just like his mother did”. This logic of abdicating a share of his “traditional” responsibility to her, yet not picking up the slack on the domestic front in my opinion is unfair. She does her own half and half of his. For guys who claim to hold the lion share of the logic side of the brain, mathematically how this 4 divided by 2 becomes 3 logic beats any commonsense (The double-standard logic of “Some” African Men).

African women, especially those in the Diaspora are constantly being regaled with stories of “Mama did, Papa did” by spouses who refuse to lift a domestic pinkie. The men who cite the fact that their dads never cooked or cleaned while they were growing up are right, but they are forgetting one key fact: That even while their mothers orchestrated the show behind the domestic scene, they engaged a host of hired help where labor is cheap. That is why some of these women were able to go about their businesses of also making a living. And some women again, had to do it all alone without any assistance at all, they had no choice, they bore their burden with stoicism.

There are countless stories of women, especially of our parents’ generation who had to juggle multiple roles as breadwinners, homemakers, mother and father rolled into one while “sending their husbands to school” abroad, supposedly to advance his career and better his earning power only for these women to be left in a lurch once these husbands become successful and decides to get another woman “befitting” his new status.

It’s not that most women won’t take on the lion share of domestic responsibilities or burn down the kitchen in protest, it is the expectations, and the fact that most men think it is their God-given right. It’s about respect. “”Some” guys don’t get it, that the same way some men don’t want to be seen merely as “meal tickets” is the same way some women don’t want to be seen as “domestic helps”. When the expectations are not there, it is easy to fulfill these roles and do things out of love rather than out of duty.

When a woman assesses a man’s money making potential without even getting to know him, how does this make men feel? These same guys will label such women “gold-diggers”. If men will be objective, they will know that this is exactly the same thing they do, only on the domestic front. I have a friend who is the CEO of a very successful software company, he is usually very cautious about telling women what he does for a living or even take them to his home for fear that his wealth will become the focus of their affection and not him, I know where he’s coming from, and I feel for him. It is natural for women to gravitate toward men who can “take care of business” but do men want them to be all that obvious that they see them primarily as meal tickets? As well, it is natural instincts for men to gravitate towards women who are nurturing, but do men have to make it obvious that they see women only as domestic helps ? “Some” guys will never be able to make this parallel or see the point because of their unique gender ability to equate ¾ to ¼ .

I’m not saying gender roles don’t or shouldn’t exist. But that they shouldn’t be so set in stone or firmly defined only along traditional lines. A couple in an equal non-rigid role defining relationship will soon learn to adjust and find out who does better at what and work harmoniously to make co-habitation a seamless effort. If the husband is the better cook, so let him be in charge of that department. If the wife has better potential to make more money, so let her, if she doesn’t flaunt it or seek to emasculate the man, why is that so difficult for some men (and women) to accept in this age?. The fact is that on the average, most men will end up playing supporting roles in home management and most women will end up playing supporting roles as bread-winners. But the shift these days is that while men want their wives to have good paying jobs and bring in as much bacon to the table, majority of them are not stepping up in the dome

stic department, believing it’s a woman’s preserve.

A woman’s job is never done, Tracy Chapman waxed philosophically in her song. Most earn a living, a role that’s traditionally a man’s, while not being relieved of her own role in care for the children, cleaning, cooking etc. Selfish, I say, pure selfishness on the part of the men who expect all this of a women and more. Women are emotionally strong, but we are not all super-beings on the physical side of things. Women who are smart are relieving themselves of this extra burden, and “Some” men folk are crying foul. For “Some” their logic about fairness is so bent out of shape, they have to always eat their cake and have it. Someone, please quick, get the pacifier!

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Anonymous July 2, 2006 - 1:42 pm

Took the words right out my mouth. The level of expectations from Nigerians men is ridiculous. Like you said, i am going to cook regardless not out of duty, but out of love. They don't get it, and when you try to explain it to them,"u've become americanized." They wanna have their cake and eat it to. A woman who works all day and also waits on them. If they really want it the way it is back home, well lets do it the right way. You take care of all the bills while i stay at home all day.

Anonymous June 30, 2006 - 2:28 pm

Paul Adujie,

you're here again!!! always seeking to grab attention. Why don't you let others be the judge of your articles on whether or not it is fair and balanced. Do you really need vaidation that badly? Grow up man!.

Dr. Fadal June 29, 2006 - 5:30 pm

Excellent write up. Your approach may be general in style, narrowly restrictive but yet true and valid. The parochial leaning does not in anyway devalidate the points and concerns you raised. You spoke well.

Dr. Fadal

Reply June 29, 2006 - 1:30 pm

I wish I had your wit and charm when it comes to dealing with some hapless Nigerian men. Forget the documentary, hold a seminar, charge us Nigerian women a pretty sum and tell us how it's done sister. You are a gem among stones for standing up for the rest of us. More palm oil to your elbow.

Paul I. Adujie June 29, 2006 - 11:37 am

I worry about the generalizations about Nigerian, nay, African men… gender inequalities are serious issues… but a great disservice is being done… by those who engage is feminist crusades generalizations and exaggerations… for a fair and balanced view on gender equality (a global perspective) please read:

An African Wife-An African Husband; Without African Values Written by Paul I. Adujie


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