Saturday, May 1, 2010


by Fiona Whata

Like all young girls, I grew up fantasising about a Prince Charming coming to sweep me off my feet to a fairytale wedding and a happily-ever-after marriage. Now that I’m older I would like to believe that I have a more mature and realistic perspective of matrimony. However, not having yet entered into this institution, I can’t deny that I still retain a little of my girlhood idealism regarding marriage. I suppose it is this optimism that despite discouraging reviews from those within, ensures that so many young women eagerly apply for membership to join the marriage club.

Pretty much all of the reviews I hear about married life are negative. The only time I hear or read about anyone praising their partner and recommending marriage is in romance fiction books and in movies. In real life all I hear is complaints - the last one from a cousin of mine. “Do me a favour”, she sighed to me in exasperation, “don’t get married. It is hell”. She told me she often seriously contemplated hooking up with a white man instead. Her main grievance on this occasion was that she felt her husband was oppressing her, and refusing to regard her as an equal. This wasn’t an isolated incident either. Whenever I am around any gatherings of female relatives or just black women in general, this is a complaint that is reiterated the most and takes precedent over any other problems.

“My husband is too controlling”.

“My husband expects me to wait on him hand and foot”.

‘My husband wants me to show deference to him all the time.’

The opinion has slowly taken hold in my mind that black men tend to have a problem with viewing black women as their equals. To make it clear: I don’t think all black men are like this, just some. So why am I singling out black men? Well it’s just that I have noticed that there seems to be a greater number of black men who are in the ‘some’ category than men of other races. If you’re a black guy who treats your woman as an equal and does not seek to dominate her, there’s no need to feel attacked on reading this. For me, it’s ‘some’ black men I am referring to. I’ve had acquaintances with married white women and while they might moan about husbands being addicted to sports or not being romantic, I rarely, if ever, hear them complaining that their men deny them equality in their marriages. I’m not saying that there aren’t any non-black men who don’t treat their women as equals, but oppressiveness doesn’t appear to be a trait that afflicts them in the epidemical proportion evident among certain black men. I could be wrong, but it does appear to me that there are more black men than white who are threatened by sharing power in a relationship. I wonder why this is so and if it is possible to have a truly equal relationship in black partnerships, in terms of decision-making, responsibilities and power.

Coming from an African environment, I am acquainted with the traditional roles assigned to women. Wives are the homemakers; they tend to the housekeeping chores and look after the children. It is the husband who has a job, brings home the bacon and makes all the decisions which the wife complies with and plays no role in. Good wives submit to their husbands and serve them. This traditional role expected of women is not restricted to just Africans of course, but it appears to persist more in the African culture than it does in Western culture. While this master-servant like relationship is not a rule that is strictly adhered to the letter in this day and age because women have jobs and aren’t literally servants to their men; it is still a rule that however loosely applied, is expected to set the dynamics of partnerships. Normally husbands have no problem with their wives working and don’t treat them as slaves, it is only when they find themselves battling to overrule their wives regarding a decision or when she starts earning a salary equal or surpassing their own, that power and equality suddenly becomes an issue. “The trouble with women”, they’ll lament, “is that they don’t know their place”, or “the trouble with women of today is that they have become too westernised and want to be on an equal footing with men”. The number one reason these men give for refusing to treat their spouses as equals is that “ is our African culture.’ Even in places away from Africa like the UK, some black men defend their stance similarly: “as black people this is our culture”. It is however, difficult to take these men’s comments seriously upon the observation that they don’t appear to be all that devoted to other aspects of African culture, like wearing traditional African clothing or worshipping the ancestors of their forebears. The culture card that is whipped out is, I suspect, simply an excuse and the real answer lies elsewhere.

So why do some black men who complain so much about the inequality and oppression their race has faced in the past, insist on inequality and oppressing their own women? One would have thought that being black, they, of all people, would be repulsed by the idea of oppressing anyone themselves. The only answer I can think of is one I base on logic. If a man is secure in himself, he doesn’t feel the need to go around constantly over asserting himself to show that he is a man. It is only an insecure man who seeks to dominate and control those around him to cover up his insecurity. In marriage, this would explain a man’s need to control and oppress his wife. It is only an insecure man whose ego is so fragile that he finds any notion of equality a threat to his masculinity and can only deal with women if he places them in an inferior position to him.

The men, who seem to bleat on the most about women ‘not knowing their place,’ are those from an older generation who grew up in times when racial discrimination was most rampant. Perhaps these men felt so oppressed and powerless in society that the only way they could feel like men, was to place themselves in a superior position to women by being controlling with their wives. And perhaps the black men of today that have problems sharing power in relationships have subconsciously picked up the idea from their fathers that the only way to be a real man is to suppress and rule over women. It would explain why there are more black men than white who are threatened by sharing power in marriages. All this is just speculation on my part of course, and I am aware that it is a flawed theory. The traditional role of the wife was in place long before the white man came to Africa, so fragile egos created under the oppression by white society cannot be the main reason why some black men today can only handle playing a superior role in marriage. It is however the only theory that makes the most sense to me at the moment. Perhaps I might have a better idea of the psychological motivations of these dominating men if I were to marry one of them.

From the viewpoint I have now, I can only conclude that it is insecurity, not dedication to culture, that drives some men to be so repulsed by women who challenge them as equals rather than meekly submitting to them. I am not criticising traditional partnership roles in general; there is nothing wrong with women being homemakers and men being the sole breadwinner, but it would be nice if women could play a role in making decisions if they wish without a fuss from their men.

Because not all black men deny equality to their wives, I would like to believe that my optimism in the institution of marriage is not misplaced. Hopefully there are a number of Prince Charmings’ out there who will respect their black wives enough to have an equal relationship with them.