My Colleague and his Wife
A colleague once told me, ‘There was a time when my wife earned more than I did. When I got promoted my new salary was considerably higher than hers. I expected her to jump for joy but, with the back of her hand she wiped her brow and sighed, ‘phew, what a relief! I was at my wits end. I just didn’t know how to handle a situation in which I earned more than my husband.’’
‘What do you mean?’ my colleague asked her.
“When my aunts,’ the wife explained, ‘dished out their advice at my ukulaya session (last family advice to a girl before marriage), the subject of how to handle our earnings as husband and wife never came up. Neither did the pastor’s pre-marriage counselling sessions cover this important issue. So when I found myself earning more than you I was not sure how you would take it. I now was scared to broach a subject in which money was involved lest you took it the wrong way. For instance, I could not suggest we buy something we needed.’’
‘Why not?’ my confused colleague asked.
“Well, you could have said: ‘woman, just because you earn more than I do, you think you now dictate what to buy and what not to buy. Forget it!’’
My friend shook his head. ‘But I never thought that way! I was happy with the way things were.’
“How would I have known? Anyway, now that the difference in our earnings is what it should be, we can resume living as a normal couple.’’
How did this long standing arrangement in which men earned more than women come about?
A Glance at the Past
Socio-historians suggest that childcare and the advent of agricultural technology (especially the animal drawn plough) brought about the arrangement in which women stayed at home whilst men ventured out to fend for the family. Outside work was viewed to be harder and dangerous. It therefore gained a higher status. To consolidate this status, men developed religious beliefs, traditions, practices and a language that confirmed their superiority over women.
Manipulating Religion and Language
For instance, in both Christianity and Judaism the Jewish folklore of Lilith does not feature anywhere in the official creation story. This is in spite of the fact that Jewish folklore categorically states that Lilith was created from dust at the same time with Adam and was his first wife. Lilith saw herself as Adam’s equal and according to the folklore, the two often argued. Eventually she fled the Garden of Eden to gain her independence. The submissive Eve was then created for the lonely Adam. To ensure who was the boss, this time the woman was created from the man’s rib.
Language has also been commandeered to underline men’s perceived superiority. In English, women are often referred to as the weaker sex. In Ndebele a ‘respectable’ term referring to grown up women is abesintwana – the children gender.
By going out more often than women, and having more leisure time, men became more knowledgeable than women. In every household, the man was the most knowledgeable person. This further enhanced the status of men.
Enter the Modern Era
However, the past forty years or so has seen rapid industrial, technological, educational and societal changes. The order I described above is no more. For instance, if today’s fathers were tasked to help their children with home work without referring to any source, many would flee their homes faster than Lilith flew out of Eden. Their days of being more knowledgeable than other family members are long gone.
As we all know, one of the results brought about by these changes is that some women now earn more than their partners. Further some women are now the sole bread winners in their households. The indications are that both trends are set to grow. Those who are fighting to reverse this role reversal be warned: you are facing an angry bull elephant – unarmed. Instead of fighting the trends, work out the best ways of living with this reality.
Modern Era Commandments
I believe a win/win way forward is to accept the changes and make the most of them. To make progress in this new era, I suggest we adopt the following commandments:
- Thou shall not feel bad if you earn more than most men, including your male partner. You worked for it and deserve what you are earning. Enjoy it.
- Thou shall not sulk if thy female partner earns more than you do. You are not a failure. It’s just the way the world is right now and likely to be in the foreseeable future
- Thou shall take time to learn skills required to take care of children and other household chores. Use the time at home to pursue other interests
- Thou shall not take home the authority you wield at work.
- Thou shall not insist that at home things are done in the way you are used to. If the end result is not harmful, be happy.
- Relatives, thou shall not make snide remarks if couples are grappling with the issue of earnings and household chores.
- Thou shall constantly review the commandments and if need be, adapt to the changing circumstances.
This new era is in its early stages and thus the suggested commandments are not exhaustive. Perhaps dear reader you too could add more from your experiences and observations?