On Being A Feminist – Money As A Feminist Issue

 

I’m a feminist. Lately I have had to ask myself what that means when it comes to financial responsibility between couples. You see, I was brought up to believe that I had to be financially responsible for myself.  I never expected anyone to be responsible for me, not even my husband when I was married although I did expect that because we were married our independent finances were our mutual concern if only by virtue of the fact that we had committed to building a life and a family together.

What has been less clear to me was my financial duty to my partner. Somehow being a feminist came to mean I had to reject all my gender roles, and that it was okay for me to be financially responsible for my man. Being financially responsible for a man even seemed to prove my feminist credentials. After all, I was assuming male responsibility; I was paying the bills for my lover/partner/spouse as well as myself and my children. I was wearing the pants, bringing home the bacon.  Isn’t that what women’s lib meant?

I have never been attracted to a man simply because of his money and I never made his financial capacity a criteria for a relationship. I could earn my own money (okay maybe I was naïve, but I did not and do not judge the women that do set it as a criteria). I always picked the guy that I had chemistry with, the guy who I had a spark for when I looked at him across the room.  And while I admit I did find myself attracted to power it had more to do with me exercising my power, the power of having a powerful man lusting after me. It was never about the money.

Sometimes I found myself in a better financial position than the man I was with and even when I wasn’t I was willing to share whatever little I had.  Yet it seemed that during the course of the relationship I would take on more and more of the financial responsibility and begin to resent the burden it was becoming. I also came to resent what I saw as a disrespectful attitude to my money; it was spent with all the entitlement of ‘our’ money without any reciprocity when it ‘his’ money.

I dated a guy once who went on and on the first time I bought groceries about how he had never met a woman that was willing to spend her money to meet household expenses. According to him the ones he knew always left the responsibility to him even if they had money of their own. I wonder now whether that included his mother and sisters who I met. When he finally made some money he didn’t think to spend it on me or us. Anyway, he’s married to someone else now and tells me he doesn’t even know how much she earns or what she spends it on and claims he doesn’t care.

So if I was a feminist why did I end up being resentful of spending money on my man? Why did I become bitter when I had to carry the financial burden alone for both of us? Men have been doing it for ages; surely what men could do women could do too (and better) It seemed to be what we had been fighting for as feminists; the right to be like men. Isn’t that what gender equality was all about? It took a while for me to realize I was reacting to the added financial responsibility for another adult.

In an article in the New York Mag- “Alpha Female, Beta Male” -Ralph Gardner claims a growing number women in the urban liberal west are earning more than and supporting their stay at home or low paid husbands.  And apparently they are not always adjusting well to that role reversal either. The men felt emasculated or the women felt a loss of desire for their not so powerful freeloading spouses.  Even the marriages that survive experienced conflict and needed counselling or mediation to overcome the resentment.

I really don’t think there is anything ‘feminist’ or ‘liberated’ about financially supporting your partner, male or female. It is patronizing and infantilizing. It is a patriarchal paradigm that has merely been flipped, a role reversal that has nothing to do with equality. Both parties in a healthy relationship should be able to pay their share of the bills, and buy each other gifts, dinner or theatre tickets or a vacation. I tend to agree with Christina Vuleta who asked in Can A Woman Be Happily Dependent? Her answer is No.  The men in Gardner’s article obviously weren’t happy.

So why do we think women should be? It seems popular for some feminists and their critics to say it’s okay for a woman to choose to be a mom first and foremost and to be dependent on dad to subsidize her lifestyle. It’s not my intention to judge but it is not a choice that would work for me.  The mostly negative comments and reactions to Elizabeth Wurtzel’s article 1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible seem to suggest woman associate feminism with choice not equality.  Yet studies like this one here show financial dependence overall reduces women’s choices. In many less developed cultures choice does not exist.

I think financial dependence is corrosive to the self-esteem, no self-respecting adult should willingly be financially dependent on another person unless there are physical or mental challenges that necessitate it. Motherhood, parenting and marriage do not count; women and men do raise families successfully AND build financial independence. We hear more about the failures than the successes as part of the scare tactics constantly used to keep women in domestic servitude by the patriarchy.  While Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All resonated it’s not absolute truth.

In my family law practice a lot of the women enquiring about divorce were financial responsibility for their family and told me they were unappreciated, abused and exploited by the men they married.  They are strong, capable, opinionated women that knew what they wanted and for all intents and purposes feminists even though they may not identify themselves as such. They are happy not to be at the financial mercy of a man but dissatisfied and resentful at being the primary breadwinners.  I also know quite a few women both socially and professionally in similar situations.

I wonder if men ever feel resentment as primary breadwinners, how they handle it or if they are even allowed to express it. A lot of them of are still socialized to accept financial responsibility for their wives and have numerous socially accepted ways within a patriarchy to release tension such as domestic violence, rape, prostitution, pornography, promiscuity, violent sports, misogyny and sexism.  Of course not all men are violent chauvinists and I’m sure some would consider themselves lucky to have a wife that earns more than they can (and hopefully they would show appropriate appreciation).

As with all things in life, what works for me, doesn’t have to work for you or anyone else. I will not go so far as to say “real feminists don’t depend on men, real feminists earn a living” like Wurtzel, but it’s certainly an integral part of my feminism. I’ve realized that personal financial capacity and independence is important to me. I don’t want to be dependent on anyone financially and I don’t want anyone financially dependent on me either. I want each of us to be financially secure and independent and I want us to be able to make choices and decisions about our future together as equally contributing partners.

I can’t help but wonder whether this new realization will preclude me from further dalliances with impossibly handsome young men with tight bodies and low net worth? Indeed that maybe for the best, I must admit that even I expect to exercise the power in a relationship and have it acknowledged when I hold the purse strings, just like any man does too.  Money is after all about power and I will admit I’m not always very nice about it myself, maybe counselling will help. It’s just human nature, isn’t it? Good to know I’m only human after all.

Chao bella

 

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What Does a Modern Nigerian Woman Want from a Modern Nigerian Man?

Okay no man bashing today, even though sometimes I find it an acceptable and enjoyable past time.  I get it that men sometimes just can’t help themselves; it must be all that testosterone and male privilege. They can be sexist, misogynistic, childish, immature, insensitive, self-centred, irresponsible and downright exasperating. But there are also men who are caring, compassionate, self-aware, intuitive, emotionally intelligent and sensitive. I know both types. But today I shall address the question that has propped up a couple of times since I wrote my last post. What do modern Nigeria women want from the modern Nigerian man?

Decision of a Young Mind by Tolu Aliki
Decision of a Young Mind by Tolu Aliki

Considering that we have careers, earns our own money and  do not see marriage or children as the be all and end all of our existence anymore and some of us even identify as feminist what does this modern Nigerian woman want from a man? Now if it was ten or twenty years ago the answer to the simple question would have been an equally simple – sex, sex, sex and more sex then I would throw in tall, dark and handsome but I have matured as have my views on life so now I know we want a bit more than just good sex (did I say good sex before?).

In addition to good sex we want good manners. We will no longer put up with bad manners in the name of feminism or Nigerian chauvinism. So if you don’t open the door, or let us sit down first or wait for us to extend our hand for a handshake first you will be considered an ill-bred lout. Good manners have nothing to do with whether a woman can open the door for herself or not, it’s just one of those quaint social customs that say your parents made an effort to teach you compassion, empathy, caring and a consideration for other people’s feelings.

Yeah your boyish charms are quite disarming and might get you a date but real women want real men in their lives, not ‘boys’, not even ‘big boys’, hell, especially not ‘big boys’. We want grown ass men who will built grown up adult lives with us, not pie in the sky fantasies. We Nigerian women are strong and fierce and we want strong fierce men to be our partners, not wimps that get sand kicked in their face. We want men who reflect the values we hold dear; hard work, ambition, decisiveness, tenacity, confidence, courage, persistence,  etc. Yes that’s right, we want men that will fight for us and with us because you know what? We’ll fight for you and with you too.

waiting to Share by Tolu Aliki
waiting to Share by Tolu Aliki

We want men with jobs that take their jobs seriously. We don’t want house husbands or gigolos; we want adults not infants as our partners. We would feel cheated if we had to earn all the money and share it with someone whose only contribution to the partnership is sexual availability, child care and domestic work (don’t you?) Only rich white people and religious zealots think parenting or motherhood is an excuse not to work. Every body works in Nigeria unless they are severely disabled or too old and even then they try to make themselves useful. Life in Nigeria is constructed around making child care and work possible. Work is not a right, it is a bloody obligation.

Of course like some men, we would rather not work, we’d much rather live a completely indolent life and still be able to afford nice clothes, good food, a nice place to live, bad habits (like smoking and drinking) and extracurricular activities (like night clubbing and dancing). However, unless you are lucky enough to have a trust fund you work because that’s what adults do to enjoy the lifestyle of their choice unless they prefer to live like a beach bum. We do not want trade-offs that tell us house work is work too and staying at home with the kids is better for them while you take care of us. We are not interested in negotiating those problematic power dynamics with you.

You have to be able to pay your own way most of the time and to help us out some of the time because as Nigerians we know that neither of us can do it alone all of the time and sooner or later you’ll need us to help you out and we’ll remember your generosity or lack of it. Just because some of us identify as feminist doesn’t mean we don’t like help once in awhile or that we can’t help once in awhile we just don’t want to have an adult financially dependent on us. We would start to resent that eventually (even if the sex is great) and treat you with less respect than we should have for a partner, just like you. It’s those problematic power relations, you know, he or she who has the gold…

However, we don’t want to be your equals, you can still pay the rent and school fees (irrespective of how much we each earn) while we’ll buy our own designer hand bags and shoes, as well as tampons and bubble gum. During summer holidays you pay for the airline tickets and the vacation rental, we‘ll handle McDonald’s, ice cream and the movies. We are not ready to go as far as our western feminist sisters and pool our earnings with yours to pay for the rent, mortgage and other big item household bills. We still have a lot of catching up to do.

A Token of My Love by Tolu Aliki
A Token of My Love by Tolu Aliki

White men and women frequently discuss who wakes up in the middle of the night when the baby cries. We Nigerian women are kind of possessive after carrying the little bugger for 9 months and bonding while breast feeding and changing diapers so unless we’re knackered when we will kick you out of bed to help us we usually get up because we really cherish those moments. We know junior won’t be a baby forever and we don’t want you getting in the way of our bonding. Time enough for you and him to bond when he’s a teenager.  So if you don’t ask to spend more time with him we won’t insist unless we need you to babysit when we go to the hairdressers or something like that.

House work? Simple; clean up after you, we’ll clean up after ourselves and there’ll be peace. We don’t want men to do our laundry, just do your own because we don’t intend to. Dishes ain’t a problem, wash yours after you eat or stick them in the dishwasher, don’t dump them in the sink and if you cook clean up after yourself, same thing in the bathroom. For the big stuff like vacuuming, spring cleaning, yard and garage clearing we’d rather hire an agency or get someone to come in a couple times a week and you better be ready to pay for half of it unless you want to do all of it.

When we modern women lived on our own we didn’t cook every day so we’re not going to start now just because we’ve moved in with you, we went out and ate quite often too and when you lived on your own you didn’t eat out every day sometimes you cooked. Do not suddenly insist that you are a chief in your village and cannot eat outside. Sometimes we will cook, sometimes you better cook, and sometimes we will go out to dinner. Just like before. Coming to a compromise here really seems like a no brainer.

We also want respect, so no misogynistic jokes ay dinner parties (catered), no cheating with the house girl, no overt or covert flirting with our friends, and the only place and time you are allowed to objectify us is when we are having kinky sex in the privacy of our bedroom. We’ll play French maid, cops and robbers, postman Joe and any other game you can think of. That’ll be your reward for being the man of our dreams. So long as sometimes we get to be postman Joe. 😀

In return you will have a woman that stands by you and with you through all the storms living in Nigeria brings, a trusted ally, an eager cheerleader, a personal shrink, a non-judgmental confidante, an honest advisor and an all-round team player, in short an island of stability in troubled waters. If you don’t forget to reciprocate we won’t either.

Lovers by Tolu Aliki
Lovers by Tolu Aliki

Feminism, Exclusion & The Silencing of African Women

I’ve been thinking about feminism and exclusion lately. Even before the hash tag #solidarityisforwhitewomen started to trend last week.  It all started for me when middle class white feminists made out the right to be stay at home moms a feminist issue. That was one reason why I paid close attention when the debate started; I followed it obsessively even though I knew that the issue that started it all had little if anything to do with African women. I had never even heard of Hugo Schwyzer before his meltdown triggered a conversation about men in feminism.

Ututu by Ben Enweonwu 1971
Ututu by Ben Enweonwu 1971

As if to underscore the issue of men in feminism, a self-proclaimed male feminist from Nigeria decided to opportunistically jump into the twitter debate and hold forth on the needs and goals of African feminism and protecting the feelings of white feminists  rather than honoring the obvious  anger of WOC or maybe asking why African and Nigerian women were not joining  the debate. He chose to make himself an umpire insisting women conduct a ‘clean conversation’ that does not alienate white feminists. But this is a matter for another post.

My contribution to the larger debate was minimal. While I empathized with my sisters of color, my personal experience with white feminists is limited and remote. However, I did try to point out that the voices of African and Third World women are frequently excluded by women of color in the west. An Afro-Caribbean woman who claimed western women of color had no power to exclude anybody asked me for specific examples and I felt I should save it for this blog post.

What are some of the issues important to African women that are excluded or ignored by mainstream feminism and often by feminist women of color in the west, the African Diaspora and even certain African feminists? Some of them were raised in the debate, like how white feminists refuse to accept and respect their sisters’ choice to wear the hijab.  However, some issues did not come up, like female circumcision, polygamy, infertility, adoption, and Africa’s family values.

Black and white feminists in the west and many African feminists have targeted female circumcision (and I use the word circumcision deliberately) for complete eradication. It is a crude practice in its present form, but many African women have said they support it; can we help them make it a safe option instead of telling them they are wrong? Young boys are dying in South Africa during circumcision rites; the on-going conversation is about ensuring safety not ending the practice.

Western women practice cosmetic surgery of all sorts including genital piercing and vaginoplasty, and call it ‘bodily enhancement’ or ‘body art’, in ‘primitive’ Africa its mutilation. I do not support this practice on children that cannot exercise informed choice but shouldn’t we listen and respect adults who make that very personal choice?  Having a clitoris shouldn’t be a badge of honor. Kola Boof may be problematic as a role model but she has shown that even infibulation can be erotic and powerful.

Otu Odu by Ben Enweonwu
Otu Odu by Ben Enweonwu

I am confronted daily by sisters who are desperate to find a husband or to conceive and who are risking their mental and physical health in the process.  While I believe that a woman’s worth and self-identity are not and should not be dependent on either, how can I ignore her suffering? Why should I tell her she should be satisfied with a career or that marriage or having children isn’t really important?  It’s important to her.

Marriage is an important rite of passage in many African cultures; it’s a sign of maturity and responsibility and in a lot of Nigerian communities a single person, male or female, is not allowed to exercise leadership unless they are married.  Marriage and procreation are not just individual choices; they are seen as an obligation of community citizenship. Discrimination against women in marriage is patriarchal oppression, not marriage itself.

The discrimination a Nigerian woman faces if she is married and can’t conceive is very, very real.  The ability to overcome infertility is determined by economic class.  Middle class women have the option of expensive fertility treatments or they adopt, another expensive option.  Reducing the cost and ease of adoption and fertility treatments would seem as important for Nigerian women as the right to abortion or contraception.  But are these particular issues receiving as much attention on the feminist agenda?

Motherhood provides protection for women. My ancient aunts in the village would ask ‘who will visit you and ask after your welfare when you are old if you don’t have children?’. Stories of old (and young) people dying alone and undiscovered in the west baffle us.  In Nigeria middle and upper class women can afford geriatric care and will have people concerned for their welfare so long as their money lasts even if they don’t have children. But for the working class and poor, rural woman not having children could have harsh consequences in her old age.

Negritude by Ben Enweownu 1957
Negritude by Ben Enweownu 1957

African feminists like Rose Acholonu, Catherine Acholonu , Helen Chukwuma and Molara Ogundipe-Leslie have written extensively on the importance of marriage, family and motherhood in African.  They tried to define an African feminism that recognizes and celebrates these communal values in opposition to western feminism that promoted individualism and saw marriage and motherhood only as oppressive patriarchal burdens or personal pleasures.  They also argue persuasively that the Africa worldview is not primarily patriarchal but based on equal male-female complimentarity. Are we throwing out the baby with the bath water? Yet again?

It should be noted that African-American feminists have also articulated the issues of motherhood and family as an important part of what they called ‘womanism’, an alternative to mainstream white dominated feminism and its hyper individualism. However, these African feminist scholars felt womanist acceptance of and uncompromising support for homosexual rights was incompatible with their values and tried to differentiate their brand of feminism from it, they called it motherism and positive feminism. Their work has been largely ignored as a result of their perceived homophobia.

Nigerian women have told us polygamy gives them more options and freedom but do we as feminists respect that?  In the late 80s when Women in Nigeria, WIN , a radical left leaning feminist organization that promoted women’s rights  held its first conference with market women in Ibadan they failed to reach a compromise on polygamy in their final communique and squandered an opportunity to build a powerful alliance with woman’s market associations. The matter remains one of contestation and has been largely ignored by feminists as a matter of individual choice rather than a part of the feminist agenda. Polygamy is still demonized but apparently it does work for some women.

These are just some of the many ways that mainstream feminism has ignored and excluded African women’s choices. This exclusion by mainstream white dominated feminism, WOC in feminism and African feminists seems to be less of a racial issue and more of class issue. The concerns of feminism do not seem to include the concerns of the poor and the working class as one writer has stated so eloquently here. If feminism really wants to broaden its appeal among WOC generally and African women in particular it needs to speak a language that is more inclusive and relevant.

Ogolo Metamorphosis by Ben Enweonwu 1991
Ogolo Metamorphosis by Ben Enweonwu 1991

What Every “Modern” Nigerian Man Wants from a “Modern” Nigerian Woman

Past few days I’ve been trying to write a post for today on feminism and intersectionality that drew some inspiration from last week’s big twitter debate under the hash tags #solidarityisforwhiteowmen and #blackpowerisforblackmen but that has been on my mind for a while as I have been pondering the nature of exclusion in Nigerian/African feminism. I was determined to write something profound and insightful so I decided to do some background research to lend it the necessary gravitas to be taken seriously.

The quality of the research and writing on African feminism is so high that after four hours poring through several lengthy academic treatises including the African Feminist Charter of Principles and listening to gorgeous young African women propound complicated theories I realized that I might need a PhD to be able to comprehend it all and write anything of great import. The 2000 words I had written seem shallow, ego centric and superficial in comparison. All dis big big grammar sef, how does a working girl compete ehn?

I was also disturbed by a more personal incident of an emotional nature. Emotional incidents have a way of disrupting my peace, I’m still learning how to deal with my emotions and get in touch with my feminine side. I’m still way too sensitive most times even if I do make a good show of covering it up with my tough-butter-couldn’t-melt-in-my-feminist-mouth attitude. It’s just my way of coping, I’m damned if I’m going to let anyone see my soft under belly, you know what I mean? Okay, maybe not. Anyway that post will be a bit longer in coming, I need to educate myself a bit more before I make an ass out of myself.

Part of my that piece dealt with an encounter I had with a self-proclaimed male African feminist during the debates. I say self-proclaimed because surely you should wait for people to give you the moniker after you have proven your credentials with words and actions.  Being a skeptic I question the motives of all self-identified feminist men. Are they really willing to question and give up their male privilege or is it just opportunistic grand standing that also lets them cop out of the more demanding aspects of traditional masculinity with a parachute? Really, it’s NOT about understanding theoretical feminism.

This encounter and the incident of an emotional nature led me to wonder just exactly what it is that the modern Nigerian man wants from the modern Nigerian woman. Since my post on feminism and intersectionality is far from ready I would like to share my appropriately shallow, superficial and hopefully humorous thoughts and insights on the matter of the 21st century Nigerian Man. There are two types – the self-proclaimed feminist and the cultural chauvinist but they are really the same; narcissistic, entitled, insensitive, and opportunistic.

The self-proclaimed feminist male can ask you to pay for your dinner or drinks when he takes you out with a straight face, ignore that your nails or hair need fixing and avoid helping you with heavy bags. In return he can safely indulge his love of cooking and obsessive compulsive domesticity without criticism or offers of help from you.  He can also ask you for a loan or financial support when he needs it without narcissistic injury to his ego since he fancies himself a feminist and figures feminism means it’s okay for a man to take money from a woman.

All Nigerian Men want an educated woman. They may say this is because they believe in equality for women but it’s really because they wants to be able to enjoy high quality and varied conversations with you on those nights when they can’t hang out with the boys and when you are on your period and can’t have sex. The Modern Nigerian Man wants you to have a career, not a job, and your own income. He doesn’t want you running to him every time you need to buy tampons or a pack of cigarettes. No, he is too modern to have a dependent or uneducated wife or girlfriend.

His woman has to have a career so that when he eventually starts his own business which every modern Nigerian man dreams of doing you won’t be ‘quitting your job’ but making a ‘career move’. Meanwhile, he will make you the general manager that handles all the administration, logistics and operations that actually make a business successful while he continues to generate the big ideas in the board room.  He will even magnanimously give you a generous package that includes health insurance and benefits, a pension plan and fully paid leave.

Bossing around the staff should fulfill your need to be a feminist warrior if you are one, this is okay so long as you confine it to the appropriate space. At home he wants a woman who will cook for him and help keep house. You don’t necessarily have to be a house bound chattel,so long as you do not start a gender war every time you enter the kitchen or clean. He wants a clean well organized home, as well organized as the filing system in the office you run for him; his shorts, socks and ties lined up according to color, age or whatever other eccentric preference he might have in this regard.

After work he wants you to entertain him with intelligent chit chat and kinky sex when he is feeling in the mood. When he is not in the mood you will know because he will bury his head in his laptop or answer your attempts at conversation with monosyllables. On nights like those it is safe to go out with the girls, he may even drop you off and pick you up if need be. Occasionally he may ask you to accompany him to some office social gathering. He wants you to look your best because he likes women that take care of themselves.

Most of all the modern Nigerian Man has learnt the joys of  companionship and wants your companionship more than anything. If you are away for 12 week on a business course or taking care of your sick mother in the village he will demand you cut your trip short or threaten to go elsewhere to get it and blame you without a hint of irony. Because you see, its really not about you, any woman would do and she doesn’t even have to be Nigerian.