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.