Take Care of You? You Take Care of Me!

We hear the advice that “Kenyan women need to take care of their men to keep them” so often that it should be officially retired to the ‘Museum of Cliches’. That in 2010 a man my age needs ‘taking care of’ bothers me. As I commented in a reply to a comment left here:

I find that when it comes to relationships between Kenyan men and women, the onus seems to fall on women to do all the self-improvement, the caring, the work related to being in love…where are the rules for men? Do they not also have responsibilities? I believe that a man who, while in a relationship that he chose to enter freely, cannot be an equally caring partner or treat his woman as well as she treats him, is better off wandering off to someone else who enjoys being disregarded.

Roughly one year ago, I was reading the Daily Nation newspaper online and I ended up in one of the lifestyle sections where I came upon a story that left me speechless because it had been found fit for publication, considering its patronizing, chauvinistic tone. Basically the article blamed the decline in the state of Kenyan marriages squarely on women who choose to pursue their careers at the expense of their marriages! The writer warned career women that there were increasing cases where husbands, deprived of their wives care, were soon seeking ‘care’ from their maids! “Beware oh working woman!” the author cried out in alarm, “if your maid is doing your chores like making your marital bed, washing your husband’s clothes, cooking his supper, she will soon be his wife!” Tsk! To top it off, the following day, the same newspaper carried an article about bachelors in Nairobi choosing not to marry since they had found daily cleaning ladies who would perform all ‘the duties of a wife’ i.e. cooking, cleaning and laundry! Super Tsk!!! Seriously? Those are the only reasons a man marries? For housekeeping? Hmm…maybe then these men are better off single because the reason for marriage is clearly lost on them (and the authors of these articles). Reading both articles I just felt my hackles rising, my fingers itching to type up scathing retorts in response to both pieces but realizing that it would be like casting pearls before swine, I resisted.

Kenyan women have had careers since I was a child- few of my peers’ mothers did not work- it follows therefore, without saying, that their daughters would also have careers, surpass their achievements even. I think the issue that many people have with today’s Kenyan career women is that more of them are out of the so-called ‘pink collar jobs’ which their mothers held: teaching, nursing etc, and in the white collar ‘big leagues’ jostling with men for lofty titles and pay. I suspect that the reason our mothers had careers that were OK with the general public is because they were mainly in ‘caring roles’ which it is sometimes thought that women to be better suited to (hence the term ‘pink collar’). Granted that there were also women doctors, lawyers, architects and engineers, they were not as common as they are today, outliers were hailed and reported with something akin to wonderment…I distinctly recall when Koki Mutungi, Kenya Airways’ first commercial pilot took flight, it was such news and it should have been a hint of what was coming (incidentally, please check out this cool blog– a Kenyan woman flying helicopters around Africa). Today’s Kenyan woman is constantly striving for further education, promotions, more power (yes, I said it!) and she will not stop until she is at the top and has found career fulfillment, plus she is unapologetic about it! We went to school just like our male counterparts and we believed what we were told: that we could be anything we wanted to be…so why are we now being told that the only thing that we should really be striving for is to wash our husbands’ underwear-lest they leave us (from the newspaper article)? Ironically enough, education for girls was championed by the (largely male) government all the time when I was young and I can say that it has been a success so far…I seem to recall reading somewhere that literacy rates among women are almost at par with those of men. I think what bothers the authors of articles like the ones in the Daily Nation, and a bunch of Kenyan men (and sadly, women) is that Kenyan women are breaking free and doing it for themselves- whether it be that women’s group somewhere in rural Kenya that has saved their meager earnings to fund businesses (or their children’s further education), girls in high school applying to predominantly male fields of higher education, women entrepreneurs and professionals starting their own businesses, more women are taking charge of their lives and enjoying it. We are just grasping all the opportunities that come our way, the same way men have been doing all our lives!

The articles all paint having a career as this anti-family, sordid thing, describing how women go on business trips (gasp!) leaving their children at home with the maid (note, there is no mention of their father taking responsibility for them), or how women staying late at the office with their (gasp!) male boss leave their husbands to fend for themselves at dinner time (!) which in turn sends these men to the arms of the maid for ‘comfort’ (Puh-lease!!!)…the examples of dereliction of ‘duty’ are endless. These articles, it seems, mainly define a marriage as a Master/Slave, Boss/Employee, Headmaster/Pupil relationship where the man takes precedence and has dominance over the woman. Their authors never mention anything about partnership between man and woman…if all a man is seeking in a marriage is clean underwear and meals, then he is actually better off remaining a bachelor and hiring a maid…similarly, since most of the men described in these articles do not appear to participate in child rearing, remaining single and childless is the better option for them. My mother always said something that resounds with me to this day- even when she was just dating my father, she never, ever, went to his house and did chores such as cleaning, laundry because she was not offering her domestic science abilities rather she was offering her love in their relationship.

Secondly, when you choose to marry someone you are sharing your whole life with them, you are becoming ‘one’ in a sense so how do you then come to view one partner as ‘less’ than yourself? To Kenyan men I say: When you marry, you probably choose your wife because she is hard working, successful on top of everything else. Surely, you should know that your wife intends to scale the heights of the career ladder? Don’t you see how hard she works? Don’t you see her determination? How then does her success come as a surprise to you? As partners, you should have discussed/debated/agreed/pointed out in the beginning how you intend to run your household (after all, as a bachelor, you figured out how to get your own underwear clean right?), how you intend to deal with children if you choose to have them, what your career goals are etc. Were the tables turned and the man went away on business constantly, got promotions and raises repeatedly, heading for the top, would the wife begrudge him this? I wonder. All in all, finding balance is not easy because two partners with two careers may mean a lot of things: relocations, one partner making concessions to further the other’s career, but in the end it should be a balance that results in a net gain for the relationship…what man would not be proud to see his wife achieving a big dream of hers? Women dream too you know? If you cannot deal with your wife getting what she wants, maybe you are better off letting her go than clipping her wings.

Thirdly, I take issue with the whole ‘Wives Submit to Your Husbands’ camp which often (conveniently) ignores verses found further along in the Fifth chapter of Ephesians where this famous (misused) verse comes from…the line asks of husbands that they love their wives as themselves, as Christ loved the church enough to die for it (bet you didn’t think this lil heathen knows her bible huh?). To me, this section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians calls for a mutual respect between partners rather than a submissive/dominant demarcation between wife and husband. If you love your husband/wife as you love yourself, you will only wish him/her the best and do no harm to them and if you respect your husband/wife, you will not strive for personal success without regard for his/her dreams either…you will both seek mutually beneficial solutions to modern day career/life pressures rather than demanding total acquiescence to your own demands. After all, nobody knows what the future holds, particularly in this day and age of no job security- one partner’s job could be what saves a couple from financial ruin if another loses their income…or worse, if one partner dies, it is wrong that the surviving spouse has been so hobbled during their marriage from pursuing a career or other goal, that they end up destitute. We hear of husbands who upon their death take all of the family’s financial information to the grave, leaving their wives scrambling to make mortgage payments, pay school fees or even discover that they are broke! I knew of one woman who was widowed, but could not even drive her kids to school because her partner had never really encouraged her to learn how to drive (fearing that maybe she might be out carousing in the night with her gal pals? Who knows? LOL)…she had to rely on friends for a few weeks until she realized that it wasn’t a sustainable solution. Once, someone asked my dad why he ‘allowed’(!) my mother to drive his car when he was away! Needless to say he got an earful of logic from my dad about how everything that is his is hers too, that his wife is a brave, strong woman (true…my mother is fearless) and he would not have it any other way…plus, as my dad jokes, if your wife can’t drive, what happens if you fall ill in the middle of the night and need to be rushed to the hospital? Should she call a cab for you?

This debate on what a woman’s role should be is ongoing for my generation but for me, my role is as an equal partner in Wambui & E_______ Inc and if I have a daughter, trust me, she will be starting out standing on the shoulders of my generation of driven, passionate, women whose mothers and grandmothers blazed trails and in some cases, paid a price. To any man who thinks my place is in the kitchen or at the sink washing your underwear: my grandmother and mother fought too damn hard to break out of the kitchen for me to go back to playing in the ashes and cinders while you climb onward and upward.

Lastly, a lot is written about what women should do to ‘chase, catch, keep, train, care for’ a man-yes, I too find it interesting how all these words evoke imagery of hunting- to me it should not be like hunting big game and full of rules because we are each too unique for there to be one correct plan for success and happiness in love. To me, relationships are a free-will thing: if a person is interested in you enough to fall in love with you, it should not be by force…if I have to chase you or catch you, or care for you, then you are a pet not my boyfriend…I want you to be with me because it’s what your free will leads you to decide…not because I applied some juju or fed you my famous apple cake or because I am a last resort…because You.Want.Me and I.Want.You. Simple. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s all she’s saying.

16 Comments

Filed under Kenyan Lurve

16 responses to “Take Care of You? You Take Care of Me!

  1. Very very well and aptly put!

  2. Karimi

    well said Wambui! the take-care-of-your-man-lest-you-lose-him punditry always leaves me wondering: wait, did she marry him or did she adopt him?!

  3. Betty

    love it wambui, I read this and you have put into words my exact feelings on marriage. If its not a partnership I am not interested. I am trying to build a better a life for my self and my son, that’s the plan, if a man wants to be part of it he better step up and do what I am doing. I am so glad I read this, its really motivated me.
    Recently I had the deep misfortune to have a chat with an elderly gentleman who tried very hard to convince me that unless I was married I could not please my parents and be “complete”. I in turn convinced him that the lousy marriages that his generation had been having with the mistresses and spare families had sufficiently eroded any desire to be hitched that I could have harbored. He agreed. I think that anyone who advocates for a marriage where the woman “takes care” of the man has a sadistic mission to spread misery.

    • Am glad that this isn’t something that only I feel strongly about. That gentleman raises a point that many in our parents’ generation still raise: the idea of marriage being the Be All and End All. For some of them, it is- but what kills me is when someone who you know is unhappily married or mistreated actually sits there and says that a single person of a certain age has something wrong with them…excuse me? having a legal contract with someone else (the only place some of these bad marriages exist is on paper) is just the first step of being married…there is all the other ‘relationship’ stuff that follows. People who ‘sell’ marriage as just the legal part and disregard the part that to me is most important: the heart/happiness part get it wrong. If I can’t be happily married then I would rather not be married. It’s happiness or bust for me too.

  4. Mumbi

    Well said, Wambui! I have always felt that if i’m bending over backwards in a relationship, then something is not right. I’ve been told the thing about washing his underwear countless times and i just wonder- are all men really that simplistic? I could wash my man’s underwear, cook for him, etc etc, if i really felt inclined to do so but not because i have to do it to keep him… Everything works much easier and better when it’s grounded on mutual love, that’s the only reason to be together, in my opinion.

    • Actually Mumbi you have raised something else that I should have included- if you ask anyone who is happily married, then they will tell you that their spouse comes to them for more than just sex and clean underwear (I don’t know why but that underwear thing irks me!): they need emotional support, a sounding board for major decisions, a travel buddy, a friend to just hang out with, etc etc…it’s not simple. And, I agree, I would wash underwear, cook, do dishes (my least favourite chore), take off E__’s shoes when he walks in and treat him like a little god- because I am inclined to do so, not because ‘that’s why he married me so he might leave if I don’t’!
      Mutual love! Yes!
      To further break it down for a Kenyan woman out there right now: if he treats his ‘boys’ better than he treats you…that’s not mutual love. replace the ‘treat’ and ‘boys’ with other words, then you will have your answer as to whether you are in a situation where you love each other as you love yourselves.

  5. Shiku

    …hmmmh i really don’t agree with this article.I respect your opinion but i truly think this ‘liberated woman’ attitude is what is causing so many broken homes.Who do we have as examples of great career women that have been able to have both successful homes and careers?Is it Margaret Thatcher,Condoleeza,Mrs. Clinton,Martha Karua,Winnie Mandela ..to name a few?Marriage is work and unfortunately we the women are the home makers.It is how marriage was created to be.Men thrive in the sense of being cared for and coming home to that security.I seriously understand how a man would turn to the house-help meeting this role.I know some examples of marriages we saw growing up might have jaded us to think that the woman has the subservient role hence she has no voice or mind to be anything better but fact is divorce rates were lower, and now we are trying to ape the ‘new age’ kind off marriage that is clearly failing.I think keep the principles of marriage(husband is head of the home,woman- helper etc)and enhance it with friendship,respect and love and i have seen it work.Do not get me wrong i’m not saying forget the career.My opinion is, as the woman find a way to still be the homemaker and avoid delegating this role to someone else.If she is unable to strike a balance then pick one that is more important,home or career?

    • Hi Shiku, you too are certainly entitled to your opinion so we shall have to disagree.
      Firstly, all the ‘great career women’ you mention as having been unsuccesful at marriage (in your opinion) were not alone in their relationships- they had spouses so to lay ‘blame’ firmly on the women, without intimate knowledge of their marriages/singlehood is faulty logic just as it is illogical to say that our parents’ generation had lower divorce rates therefore they had better marriages…one is not evidence of the other.
      Secondly, the point of my post was that all relationships are partnerships, therefore for them to succeed both participants have to be partners, playing up their respective strengths for the family’s mutual benefit. Too often men are let off the hook, the ‘rules’ seem to lay all the responsibility of a succesful relationship on the woman- I disagree with this.
      You said: “We women are the homemakers…it is how marriage was created to be”- says who? It is not coded in our DNA, it is a social construct that is not set in stone (men can be home makers too)…you said: “men thrive in the sense of being cared for and coming home to that security”…and women don’t?
      In writing this piece, I considered the many examples of women (starting with my own mother) who have managed to have both happy families and succesful careers and honestly, the key in most of these women’s relationships is that they have partners who are equal participants, who help take some of the load to keep their families together, recognizing that women equally deserve the fulfilment of both a family and career. If it takes delegating the cooking and cleaning and other menial tasks for a happy family and a career, I am all for it. We have come too far to turn back now. Plus, you say the woman should pick a career or home- why doesn’t it also fall on the man to do the same?
      If there are men out there who still want the wife-as-helper partner they are free to look but in this day and age, nobody should, by default, expect a woman of my generation to give up her career just to keep the ‘natural order’ intact. Next we will be told to walk two paces behind our husbands!

  6. MeG

    I notice only the women had something to say about this one.I wonder what the guys take is?I trust my honey, but i would have a hard time leaving him and my babies alone with the help for more than a week.I’m the nurturing one with the healing kisses;daddy tries..but he ain’t got it!Did you consider the innate differences between Men and Women in this partnership?

    • MeG, thanks for your comment and like you, I noticed too that men haven’t commented…maybe it’s too much for them to read this ‘Liberated Women Stuff’ as it has often been labeled. I refuse to accept the idea that women ‘have innate nurturing DNA therefore must solely be responsible for nurturing their children’…yes, many mothers probably spend more time with children than men, but it has also been said that some men feel that they are shunned from being capable parents by their wives’ beliefs that they can’t do it right and eventually disengage from being equal parents. Sort of like, “I don’t do the dishes because my wife insists they must be done ‘her way’ and when I do them I never get it right,”. My experience with the males in my father’s family was that they were raised by my grandmother to be as capable as their sisters in domestic matters. My father and uncles were not fazed at being left at home with their kids and or nieces/nephews…we would be fed, bathed, entertained just as if our mothers’ were there (if not better since my mom is not the nurturing, kissy type 🙂 ). Therefore I have been raised with the idea that if a man fathers children, he should also be given the chance and the support to nurture them. What if their mother died? Would the children be suddenly bereft of parental nurturing in spite of one parent still being alive? A primary school friend and her siblings were raised by their father after their mother died and that man did a fine job- so no, I don’t believe that the differences in men and women make us better at nurturing…we just need to let men have a go at it. Their methods may be different to ours, but it is their right and responsibility to play as major a role in raising their offspring. And no, providing for them is not enough, children thrive on love, attention, not just things that money buys.

  7. fegi100

    true story girl…personally, I want a wife that shocks me! I buy a range, she parks a 7 series right next to it…im broke, she handles me….I do the mortgage, she does the school fees…I choose the holiday destination, she pays….but that’s just me…

  8. prou

    Hi Wambui,
    I am late to this party and rather excited to have someone express so eloquently the kind of sentiments that get over me every single time I read the Saturday Nation pullout -described as something all women want cannot remember the tagline as I stopped buying it when the crap became too much. Crap because I do not like it when someone emotionally blackmails a whole 52% (female)of the nation.
    Getting into a relationship is a choice two people a man and a woman (that’s their target combination) get into and they BOTH make a choice on how it will be period. If at any one time one or both choose -emphasis is on choose again – to look elsewhere, whatever excuse they are giving is to fortify their choice and throw the blame somewhere , a favorite pastime of the human race.
    Women have been blamed for many things from the fall of Adam in Eden , to hurricanes, to food going bad and football teams getting beaten at very important tournaments. I, speaking on my own behalf will not take the blame for a grown choosing to walk out on me for (insert whatever crime women are supposed to commit to drive them away). It is his CHOICE.
    I was raised by BOTH parents taking a very active part in my life, there was no time my mom was slaving over the fire and daddy having a good time piling his underwear to be washed- this irks me to no end -LOL. I encourage my fellow women to get over themselves already- one day you will drop dead and that man whom you think will fall apart if you do not wash his underwear (!!) will keep it moving.

  9. ….You know how I feel about this subject – so I wont keep letting you know how/what I think……

    on another note – your website? you hoarding the address ama? 🙂

  10. Minda

    Thank you, Wambui. This needs to be said over and over. For the record, my Dad always washed his own undies. Which is why I might have trouble if my husband expects me to wash his. I suppose I could throw them into the washer with the rest of the laundry when it’s my turn to do laundry. If we have a washer.

    My Dad, too, was raised by his grandma and was capable at completing all household chores. My bro, being the only boy, sometimes tried to use this (being the only boy) as a wildcard to get out of chores. “Not in this house!” Dad would say. We all had Saturday chores. Dad’s was making breakfast. Bro got to choose between laundry and mopping the house. 🙂

    I generally hate chores (take that! You who claim housekeeping skills are written into women’s DNA). I hope I marry a guy who likes housekeeping. If we both hate it, we’ll just have to hire outside help. If men marry to get house-help, what do women marry for? The “Nation women” don’t seem to be getting any benefits.

    Divorce rates are up because it’s no longer as taboo as it used to be.
    Men can nurture as well as women. It’s a learned skill. “To nurture” simply means to feed and protect, to support and encourage, to bring up, train, educate, etc. Anyone can do that, if he puts his mind to it.

  11. I came here to check whether this blog still runs…

    I read this peace months ago, but my response was not fully cooked. Hope it is now.

    First, it would be difficult for those not in a marriage to fully comprehend what goes on within. Many people would love to believe that it is as simple as following afew rules and bingo, you have a wonderful marriage. Personally i believe marriage is all about being responsible and fulfilling your half of the bargain.
    If I correctly understood this post, there is nothing wrong with a woman that chooses to submit to her husband, when it is done out of love for him. The main issue is the husband that requires constant pampering to keep him loyal (read responsible), as though he was persuaded (against his wish) to get married.
    I too feel that women need to ‘let go’ of need to take all the responsibility in a marriage. If a woman fulfills her half of the equation, the onus is on the husband to do the other half. Otherwise it is null and void. Perhaps he should have the maid for wife.

    My advise to any unmarried women is to never beg/persuade/coax/con any man to marry you because you will need to do the same to keep him (beg/persuade/coax/ etc) which is a waste of your life.

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