I love this image. It captures the desire I sometimes feel to be held close and tight by someone who really cares for me. My multi-talented friend Amina gifted this image to me to accompany a piece I’ve written for This is Africa on ‘Love and the successful African woman‘. Check out my article, and let me know your comments via the TIA site.
28 comments On Love and the successful African woman
Ooh! Will do!
already commented as ‘Ama’ (my diqus name lol)
loved the article by the way & you’re absolutely right. That’s been my own experience as well.
Ekuba how so?
Nana you are so right. But I will say, hang in there. What about the African men who are raised abroad? Tried those? They have the best of both; strong, enterprising and still supportive of their females.
@Nnenna Marcia – the African men raised abroad tend to be the ‘so called feminist men’, I was referring to. Not much different from their brothers at home 🙂 At least not when they are back on the continent
@ Nnenna Marcia,
You can take a villager out of the village, but never the villager in them. All this to say, the African men born and bred abroad are no different than the ones in the motherland.
Of course their experiences are unique to the environment they were brought up in, but in my interactions with them, they still have the same expectations. Why? They were raised in the West, with the SAME cultural expectations as their brethren back home.
As Ekuba pointed out, as soon as her friends relocated back home, it was back to square one, culturally. Domestic chores were relegated on gender and cultural lines.
@ Nnenna: because just like what Nana D said, (& from my own experience) if you’re an African woman dating an African man, a lot of the times, you have to step back & let him be the head of the house/ lead etc. & you have to lower yourself just a bit & sacrifice your career & a lot of your dreams else the relationship just wont work out. It’s not because African men are evil lol (I love African men!) but because almost all of them grew up in homes where the father was the head of the house & the mother submitted to him thoroughly. & it doesn’t matter if the dude appears to be feminist & is highly educated etc. Example, both of my parents were uni professors & my dad was amazing & cooked for us sometimes etc. but still my mum had to lower herself just a little (or a lot sometimes) in order for their relationship to work. Maybe it’s the same way that most of us African women feminists expect our husbands to provide ‘chop money’ & we’re not exactly ready to contribute 50-50 so when we date a guy? (see how we all crucified Malaka when she said she’s uncomfortable taking money from her husband?) About African men raised abroad- I have no idea how that works, maybe you’ll know more (are you married to one?) My ex was a Ghanaian-British but because he was raised by a Ghanaian mum & dad, I found that I still had to step back & let him lead, massage his ego & be more or less submissive for our relationship to work . although I must admit that among all the African men I’ve dated (I have mostly dated Africans born in Africa plus 1 African American dude & 1 white guy), he was the most willing to let me do my own thing.
I forgot to add that the dynamics of the relationship are affected by WHERE it occurs. So that all the relationships I described occurred in Ghana. However, from talking to my friends & what I’ve observed, African relationships that occur in Western countries have their own dynamics because the dictates of those societies are different. For eg, one of my bffs & her husband used to share house chores when they were married for 3 years in the US because their friends & all those around them thought that was cool. But all that stopped when they came to Ghana because people around him found that demeaning (lol, how many husbands in Ghana scrub the bath on a regular basis or wash the clothes with their hands regularly?)
Growing up, my mother told me that a relationship is about service. Both partners serve the other in different ways. It is true that traditionally, the home is the woman’s domain (to clean, cook, raise kids etc), but it is equally possible to find a man who rolls his sleeves up and gets down the muck with you. My experience of this sort of partnership between two Africans has been my parents. Both well-educated professionals with demanding careers, but at the end of the working day, she cooks and serves a well-garnished meal, and he sometimes washes up and then makes her herb tea (because she likes that after her dinner). Even when she does the washing up too, he’s right there in the kitchen, chatting and making her laugh, because sometimes, you just need the company, and not necessarily a helping hand. Much later, he will prepare her hot water bottle and place it on her side of the bed because he knows her feet get cold during the night, and most mornings, even before she’s up, he will have put her meds out, and a tea bag and honey in a mug, ready for when she wakes up. All she needs to do is boil the kettle and pour water on it. Without fail. So yes, I see what she means about service. It’s she who haggles at markets, plans family meals and hunts bargains and whatnots for the house, and true, he’s not ‘burdened’ with that. The woman can climb a step ladder with the agility of a monkey, and yet, when the man is home, it’s a syruppy ‘oh bathroom kanea no ahye o. Hwe na yen sesa.’ And he’s up that ladder faster than you can say ‘bathroom bulb needs changing.’
No one ever sat down and provided a list of expectations. They both just DO, because they are committed to each other, and crucially, if they don’t move their own butts and get about the doing, who should?
While I feel discourses on gender equality are progressive, those on the home can’t be one big prescription for all and sundry. It really is going to be what works for you and your partner, never mind what is traditionally accepted by society or not.
I understand that relationship dynamics are different when merely dating and when married (or partnered up on a more permament basis), and when that stage comes for me, I’ll work on the premise that we’re both in it to serve each other. Whatever form that takes, he and I will know when the time comes.
Ps: sorry about the looong comment!
@ Aso, very elegantly written! you made your point beautifully & no your comment wasn’t too long. wow, your parents seem to have a really loving relationship & I think your decision on what you’d expect in a future relationship is a sensible one indeed.
For myself personally, I think the problem is that I don’t fit into the mold of what most African men would want for a relationship to succeed. Like you stated, your mum & dad just shared chores etc. without being asked & your mum was ok with playing a certain role while your dad enjoyed playing the other role. In my case, I don’t enjoy ‘playing those feminine roles’. I love love love to cook & I know that I can cook a storm (because I owned a food stall in Ghana & at least people used to buy the food so it couldn’t have been too awful lol). However, when I’m dating a guy, I prefer for us to cook together, shop for the items together etc. And I also absolutely hate to scrub the bathroom or wash dishes etc. so I’d appreciate it if we shared those as well. Conversely, like Malaka, I feel demeaned when a man I date provides money (maybe because I went through a phase where I didn’t have anything & I was dating ‘sugar daddies’ to get things for school). So I want to also be able to provide in my relationship or even give my boyfriend/ husband ‘chop money’, besides what he makes & buy him expensive stuff. I’m crazy I know, now all of you can stone me. I also enjoy fixing things at home. Recently, I dismantled my laptop & fixed it myself when there was a problem. I learnt how to fix light at 12 years. My dad always thought I’d be an engineer (rather than the lawyer I am now) because since childhood, I’ve always enjoyed fixing stuff. So I’d also like to do that when I’m married & I used to do things like that when I was dating my guy. My point is that it appears to me that if you’re an African woman who is cool with doing the traditional stuff, more or less (like my mum & your mum were) then the marriage works. But what happens when you don’t want to do those things & prefer to do other things or prefer to adopt the ‘traditionally manly role’ in the relationship? How many African guys would be cool with that?
how many? well, the one you’re looking for. 😀
you have high search costs because of the particularity of your requirements.. to phrase this in language used by economists, but that is your call…
lol @ Kofi A: you’re right! To be honest though my requirements are only minimal…:)
Ekuba — I learned how to change light bulbs, dismantle and assemble plugs, adapters and sockets as a child. I should graduate to computers!
hahaha @ Saffron. Please graduate! I’m graduating myself this Saturday to something else. I’m gonna be learning how to fix car alarms from a friend. yaaayie!
Aso — I agree that different people want and are entitled to different experiences and gender discourses on the domestic setting need to reflect this.
I think this discussion should be moved to the FORUMS ladies!
Bad African men, look at your brethren elsewhere, and look at your enlightened better halves and CHANGE your ways.. 😀
Hehehehehe. I won’t mind you Kofi 😛 Okay I will mind you…you know I am not saying that men elsewhere are necessarily better. Its just that within this context I am talking about African men. Ehhhh, you guys should do and change
My thesis, Nana D, is that to fix African men, you have to fix African women… Or fix both African men and women simultaneously. Guys you approve of would generally put off the majority of the women they come across. Moulding themselves to suit your principles is generally perceived as a high-risk strategy… Just my feeling from the other side of the divide…
@Kofi, maybe I’m having a slow day but please say more. I don’t really understand what you mean
Fix African women: they are a primary transmitter of values, including gender coding.
89.23% (this is a scientifically-proven number.. 🙂 ) of African women are deeply uncomfortable with men taking on female roles – I was asked why I was helping change my son’s diapers by a close relative.
Someone told me recently that most Ghanaian women would be completely uncomfortable in my place because they wouldn’t see how to make it their own, and because I cook a certain way.
And I’m not even that intense a feminist.
But I think that African men don’t grow up in a vacuum and that the way to address this problem is to look at it very broadly.
Kofi A — could you share this study that propounds the 89.23% stats. It may make for interesting reading!
I would be more than comfortable with a partner who can take up female roles especially caring for the children without feeling emasculated – that’s not an invitation to treat for you Kofi – I’m simply rendering an opinion 🙂
I agree that the matter has to be addressed and women have to take responsibility for their role in this torrid state of affairs and develop solutions that leverage their influence.
Ekuba, you lucky woman you. When my laptop recently had a diva strop, I bundled it up and ran all the way to PC World in blind panic BEFORE it even occurred to me to take the battery out and re-start the silly thing. So I’m totally treating your ‘non-traditional’ habits as not only practical, but sexy. It’s the same admiration I have for a man who’s a mean pair of hands in the kitchen, or the type who’s so tender toward his baby (of the foetal kind) that I can almost hear my ovaries groan with pleasure at the sight.
My last boyfriend was a personal trainer and chef, and, both of us being such foodies, would shop together, having more fun than most at the mere sight of fresh veg. And we literally had to toss coins to decide who cooked because we both enjoyed it. After dinner though, he used to go into territorial mode, fussing about cleaning up, putting pans away – and me? I thought, ‘you do your thang, dawg, won’t be tossing coins on this one!’
Gender trends have and continue to change, and what a refreshing difference that makes. We need more of it.
I’ll take leave of this comment because I sense Nnenna M tut-tutting. ‘Ladies, ladies, ladies. What did I tell you about the forums…’ 😉
Henceforth Nnenna shall be named the ‘Forum Police’ 🙂 @ Aso, I am officially jealous of your life. I don’t know if you saw my comment about fantasising about dating a personal trainer? So dating a trainet who is also a chef sounds like heaven on earth.
@All – I know Nnenna wants us to take this convo to the forum. I also think we should be having these convos on the TIA site as that’s where the article was originally published 🙂
I did see that, Nana Darkoa 🙂
It was rosy until cracks appeared and it was eventually incompatible. Fortunately, we’ve gone past the post-coital awkwardness and manage to have a laugh when we see each other.
Oh chale. I don’t know why this made me sad. I am ALWAYS rooting for Ghanaian men (I think they are more progressive than other African men, but that may be because I’ve kept a certain circle.) and I hold out firm hope that they can be the kind of life partner a 21st century Ghanaian woman might want. Now, granted this is coming from someone who DID NOT marry a Ghanaian for the very same reasons listed in the article… but I still have hope!
Now off to read the rest of the comments.
Interesting article and one to which I relate. Like you, I have discussed this topic ad infinitum, ad nauseum with my friends and acquaintances but I remain curious about the experiences and opinions of others.
I’m nearly thirty and I have not found a Kenyan, Sierra Leonean, South African, Ugandan or Zambian man that I could comfortably date. I have also interacted with men from Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe to mention the few that I can conciously remember. I highlight this list not out of boastful arrogance but to make my point which is this – I have lived, worked and travelled through the first five countries I mentioned and I have met and had conversations of depth with men from the second list of eight countries. While I obviously did not meet every man from each of these countries, the few that I met all had the same understanding of a woman’s role both in and outside the home with differences only arising due to cultural context, personal experiences and expression of opinion on the matter. Some men tried to be politically correct but as I probed and questioned or spent greater periods of time with them, their true positions were eventually revealed.
Their understanding in an oversimplified nutshell was this – a woman should be docile and/or submissive, preferbly not necessarily soft spoken, diffident or timid, educated but overly so, fertile and unquestioningly loyal.
My question has been this – Why do most of the men I have encountered in Africa (despite their diverse backgrounds) have the same point of view on a woman’s role in soxiety? What is the common denominator?
I think women and men share responsibility for this.
I contend that while mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers are raising girls to be confident, independent, assertive and (over)achieving 21st century women; they are still raising boys to be patriarchal, privileged and authoritative men. The message of patriarchy and it’s authority is delivered by men at different levels in society and it is reinforced by female relations at home – from grandmothers and mothers who coddle boys and tell them expressly that the role of women is to serve them or implicitly by not teaching them how to cook, sew, do the laundry or house cleaning, change a diper, burp or cuddle a baby etc; by emphasizing the importance and worth of a son but disparaging the worth and experiences of a daughter or by raising girls according to one narrative – to be subservient and domesticated non-threatening women. In these and other ways, women are complicit in raising their sons to be ‘patriarchal fundamentalists’ (while simultaneously rigging the playing field for girls). The nuanced influence or messages of female relations e.g. mothers, sisters, aunts or grandmothers has a certain level of effect and sometimes as much as the overt lessons of manhood, masculinity and the patriarchy.
As female relations of males, especially boys, we have a duty to implement a responsible message about and understanding of gender relations and the imbalance that has been our legacy. The alternative is to wait for men to get on the bandwagon but I’ve been alive a long time and the birth of the women’s equality movement precedes me – not much has changed – so we’ll be waiting several lifetimes, if that’s our default strategy.
I had a conversation with a childhood friend of mine in Zambia (he’s male and we studied the same course as university undergraduate students), we were a few months shy of graduating and I noticed that a number of males from our class had dumped their girlfriends who attended the same university and proceeded to date ‘college’ girls i.e. girls with ‘inferior’ academic qualifications (the dynamics of this, are a story for another day or forum – Nnenna I’m looking at you!), I asked him to explain this phenomenon and he was candid enough to say:
‘In a marriage, you educated women will always talk about your rights. When I return home from work, I want you to put my feet up and treat me like a king. Instead you’ll whine about the fact that you were also at work and you are too tired, these other women are not like that, they know how to pamper a man’.
Make of it what you will. One of my (many) counter arguments would be “Don’t you think she wants you to put her feet up and treat her like a goddess?” (Sometimes, I believe women in various parts of Africa are raised to be slaves!). On this particular day my friend and I traded unconstructive arguments back and forth with my arguments centred on women’s rights and gender equality. My friend is a man with a sister of whom he is overly protective and a mother he adores. We sat through the same Human Rights classes where we explored these principles and dynamics – and yet his culture, society’s narratives and his determination to protect his male position shaped his opinions and actions. I’ve had similar conversations in different countries with various men – it’s akin to watching the same storyline but with different actors each time.
One aspect of this conversation I have thought about and held solo debates on (with myself of course!) is; the type of woman one has to be in order to date and marry an African man who holds the one sided gendered views I have expressed above.
Firstly, there is a tendency to phrase the women of Africa as a one dimensional character – either wife, mother and homemaker (or aspiring to be) or independent, career oriented, childless woman. However, there are so many women who are in between and outside these narratives.
Secondly, relationships require compromise, negotiation, communication, team and hard work amongst other things. But, how many women in the various parts of our continent have the bargaining power, let alone the voice that would enable them to communicate and negotiate without negative repercussion or the law of unintended consequences?
I’ve been surrounded by women – family and friends who neither had/have the voice nor the bargaining power and had/have to consistently compromise the quality of their lives to have or maintain a relationship or marraige.
Thirdly, [and] the reason for my solo debates is that, at this point in time and for most of my life before, I have not wanted the wife, mother, homemaker narrative. I enjoy professional challenges and all their implications – late nights, planned or emergency travel sometimes to difficult areas. This is not the type of career to prop a fragile ego or patriarchal mindset and not conducive for birthing and raising children if the man believes that 85% of the responsibility of raising children belongs to the mother.
I was raised in an environment wherein throughout my formative years, I experienced (often) first hand what it means to not have a “voice” or “bargaining power”. I understand in every sense of those two terms what it means to have neither. I refuse to be irresponsible in my use of them now that I have them to varying degrees (which waxes and wanes depending on circumstance and space) and I will be prudent in how I manage them in a relationship – there is a profound difference between, on the one hand, not having a voice or bargaining power and on the other hand, having a voice or bargaining power and refusing to use either – it is a difference that can and sometimes does mean the difference between life and death.
Regarding the question of race or colour i.e. independent, confident and assertive black women can only find happiness with white men. Personally, I have found that I have been most comfortable in interactions with white American and Australian men although I have interacted with men from from various countries in Europe and Asia. I found that the American and Australian men folk that I interacted with, were more accepting of my values, goals and ambitions. They were not threatened or offended by the fact that I had goals outside the domestic setting – infact one American collegaue surprised me when he encouraged me to dream bigger! The various males from Africa in similar conversations either expressly told me I would be better off focusing on a husband and children or gave me looks that ‘said it’ or they just gave me dirty looks.
However, I emphasize that regardless of race or colour what is most important is character and values (MLK and the “content of character”). I know white men who are just as ‘patriarchal fundamentalist’ as some African men. Previously, I worked with a white supervisor who once told me that I was running out of time, by thirty, I should have a ‘good’ man to take care of me and raise babies with. This was despite the fact that I articulated my career plans to him, worked as hard as (and often harder) than my (African) male colleague at the same level as me, didn’t mind the dirty work and I displayed just as much moxie as the men did.
Character and values are more important than race or colour – your values and his values should be compatible. This ‘only a white man can handle you’ or ‘you only want a white man (because you espouse western values and feminist ideologies)’ debate has raged in my life since my teen years because I was always adamant about how I wanted to be treated and what I would not tolerate from a man who wanted the privilege of my exclusivity. It has been used in attempts to guilt and shame me – portraying me as a traitor to the African male.
I reckon, if an African male or any male for that matter wants a woman to be a homemaker, wife and mother and he meets and marries a woman that wants to be all those things – good for the both of them in so far as it is a healthy relationship. Equally, I am entitled to what I want and if an African man cannot provide it, there are four other continents to choose from – what is the point of living in a globalised world if you cannot take advantage of the obvious and not so obvious opportunities?
I believe women sometimes get so caught up in the familiar and the known even when the familiar and known is not yielding results (or is harmful to them) because they are risk-averse, scared of the unknown and afraid of bucking the trend or going against societal norms which understandably is difficult.
I also find that many women in situations similar to Nana’s and/or women whose circumstances are as those described in Nana’s article complain but do nothing to change their circumstances or they compromise themselves in order to fit into society’s box. But I find that accepting yourself and being true to who you really are means that you will often have to take the road less travelled if you are solution oriented. I’ll qualify this by stating that being true to who you are is NOT always easy but it is often worth it.
This paragraph should read as follows:
Their understanding in an oversimplified nutshell was this – a woman should be docile and/or submissive, preferbly not necessarily soft spoken, diffident or timid, educated but NOT overly so, fertile and unquestioningly loyal.