Tag Archives: Relationships

Why do I feel I’m nothing without a man?

4 Jan

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A lot of mail lands on our desk and invariably the most common theme is men and problem relationships.

Whether it’s the young lady asking for tips on how to find a man to marry, the mother praying for her husband to give up his mistress or the newly-wed whose husband’s ordered her to stop seeing her unmarried friends, they all have an underlying angst.

Without trivialising the experiences of our readers it strikes me that African women, by choice or duress, spend a disproportionate amount of time on issues of ‘finding and keeping a man’ to the exclusion of other potentially enriching activities in their lives. I’ve been known to avoid social gatherings where I know the most stimulating conversation will be how to keep a man from straying. I like to think I have more interesting things to do with my time!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love men.

I grew up with four of them, my brothers and father, whom I count amongst the most important people in my life. I voluntarily married a man and pledged to spend the rest of my life with him. I gave birth to a little man and would instinctively fight a lion with my bare hands to protect him. I have some amazing male friends whose intelligence, wit and humour never cease to amaze me.

HOWEVER, I know that the men in my life make up only a part of the many diverse interests and activities that occupy my time.

So why do many African women feel they’re nothing without a man? To find out we went straight to the horses’s mouth through a mini survey of our readers.

It’s clear that culture has an overriding influence in how we define ourselves and our role in the world. From birth an African girl’s identity is based on serving men and places her firmly in a less powerful position than her brothers. The division of labour from early on is on this basis, the double standard of how we spend our leisure time is blatant and most importantly society’s sanctions against those who don’t fit its definition of a ‘good girl’ are swift and severe.

“African women’s upbringing is that marriage is a top priority in our lives, by age twenty five I was getting pressure from all around me that I was over the hill”

“Being dependent on a man, that’s a culture thing, that a man is a man and he is allowed to do what he wants”

“Women are conditioned from a young age to find a mate for marriage, endless reminders of how decisions in earlier relationships can jeopardize chances of finding a man willing to marry them. Countless lessons on being the future perfect wife”

“It’s expected that a married woman is just there to keep the house in order, breed and look after the kids. She needs no affection, love and so forth, as long as she is called madam. That’s why society thinks Polygamy is OK because women have no feelings apparently”

What’s their perception of African marriages?

“The typical African marriage is one of suppression where the man is the boss – Yebo Nkosi. African men must quit the abuse (emotional, physical, mental etc) stop being so selfish and learn to communicate better”

“Women are subjects to their husbands, often depend on their husbands for their financial well being, submissive to their husband’s and in-laws’ demands. As an African woman you not only marry him but marry his whole family, leaving little room for independent decision making”

“I consider myself spontaneous, adventurous and carefree but I know I’ll have to change my personality after marriage since for African men ego is their priority not my happiness”

“You end up just putting up with their nonsense because it’s easier to just let him always be right”

“African couples often do not view each other as equal partners giving to power struggles within relationships. Women are expected to be docile. Infidelity on the husband’s part is often the norm and acceptable”

“I’ve had to slow down on travelling as they are so much into budget limiting”

Here’s the irony. For all the pressure African women feel to become ‘a door mat’ after marriage it appears this is not what the contemporary African man is looking for. In a quick sample of our male readers the overwhelming majority said they were attracted to a woman with a good dose of self-confidence and independence, financial and otherwise:

“She must also be ambitions in her own right, for the record I found Margaret Thatcher dead gorgeous in her prime years as PM”

“Nothing is more important to me than wit , intelligence and an insatiable appetite to learn. Sadly it would appear that the majority of African women think when they hit a certain age – all this is not necessary”

“I’m attracted to intelligence and a keen sense of humour”

“I like to know that I’m not her only financial plan”

“I’m not looking for women who see marriage, partnerships as some form of financial solution”

“I find neediness a complete turn off”

So why do African women feel pressure to partner no matter what?

“I’m not proud that I’ve put up with my husband having another woman rather than standing up and taking a lasting solution to just leave him. You know when you are married you are a respected someone in society, young people look up to you, the elders respect you and praise you. There’s also the fear of raising four kids alone, what will people say? It’s a whole lot of emotions…and also cultural pressure etc.”

“As more of your friends couple up they tend to slowly isolate you, make you feel incomplete like you no longer belong to their group. Even when giving advice or in general talk it’s like what would you know?, it’s implied you have no idea about life until you’re married”

“Many times I’ve been placed in a position where I feel guilty even speaking to my friends’ husbands. Because I’m single there’s an asumption that I’m a flirt and a fear that I might snatch their husbands who know no boundaries”

“Some husbands advise their women not to hang out with you just to cover their mischief and you have no opportunity, no voice to express your innocence because you’re being judged on your marital status. Single women are a bad influence seems to be the motto”

“I’m so sick of feeling like I owe everyone an explanation for being single. I get questions like what exactly are you waiting for as beautiful as you are and you’re not getting any younger”

So what’s a girl to do when her whole value is dependent on her relationship status?

There was a certain resignation among the female participants that it was ‘hard’ to change culture and they did not expect much change in their own relationships. However, they all felt change was inevitable for future generations.

When asked what advice they would give their daughters there was a strong feeling that the key to improving the lot of African women in relationships is education, financial independence and careful choices:

“My sage wisdom would be – understand why you are getting into a relationship and what you want to make of it. Take your time to fully understand what the other party wants and expects of the same. If you are not of the same mind at the beginning it is unlikely you will get round to agreeing in future. I would also advise that every relationship has its own settings that it must live within and it is no different in the African culture – its demands and expectations will weigh heavily on you from the days of youth up to the dying day. Define for yourself and decide whether the expectations are what you want to live with. Some things change but culture does not do so easily as by definition “it is the way we do things around here” – and Africa is a very patriachal society.”

First things first, educate yourself, make sure he finds you independent and self sufficient in order for him to respect you and that way you can have a say in the relationship. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s too late to improve yourself, it’s never too late. Study him and be careful in your choices and do not tolerate his miscellaneous activities. Know his worth because you’re the one that will be stuck with him for the rest of your life.”

“Never give up your dreams in order to hold on to a relationship, find someone who will let you be comfortable in your own skin and not expect you to bend over backwards to be a perfect partner. Take your time to find a long term partner and don’t succumb to any pressure that you will be past the prime of your youth”

“I would advise her not to let any man put her down, she must remain independent such that she can continue to pursue her interests despite being married. eg. further her studies, travel and so forth”

As I look through these frank comments again I wonder whether the time spent by African women talking about relationship issues is wasted after all? I’m struck by the words of one reader who said,  “As Africans we prefer to talk to each other about our issues where non Africans might  prefer a more public media”. I’m reminded that culture is not static. I’m convinced that for change to happen there must be enough people disatisfied with a status quo and willing to act to change it.

What if each of these conversations about men and relationships is not a waste of time at all, but in fact many small steps that collectively will one day make that big cultural shift we so desire for our daughters?