I met an old friend recently and on finding out that this handsome specimen was still single I offered to take a look at his ‘resume’ and introduce him to someone. Or better still see if his qualifications fitted into my list of requirements for the still vacant position of ‘Vip’s Husband’. He laughed and told me in so many words that he was basically terrified of my ‘Beijing ideals’ finding their way into and corrupting his comfortable existence. It made me wonder, not for the first time, why many men an some women fear and distrust the notion of human rights for women. Not only that but why belief in these disqualifies almost automatically its adherents from any hope of a permanent, blissful, committed relationship.
Poor understanding of the concept leading to poor translation into real life.
Many of us who have been involved in the advancement of the human rights of women seem to make men generally uncomfortable. Especially with regard to the possibility of building long term relationships. The media depictions that remain engrained in their minds are unfortunate – we have those of women tugging their skirts over their heads reminding the world that bloomers still exist in order to express their displeasure over some serious issue. Then there are those that will chop of a crucial male muscle as punishment for real or suspected infidelity. What I think scares them the most is the template answers we have for every situation we face – ambiguous, puzzling clichés that we learnt at the last workshop and we are still to be sure what they mean, but said with such vehemence that our hearer will be sure that they have been insulted, but not of how.
There needs to be much more depth in teaching on transforming international conventions into usable life skills. Where a woman is allowed to work on knowing intimately both these conventions, as well as her own character, personality and dreams and interpreting the former into the latter. As vocational, purpose driven home-maker – can you still claim your rank among the empowered? Does being empowered mean that you place less value on the man you love; and the live you dreamed of building together, to become a human rights advocate when this does not fulfill you?
Most read empowerment of women to mean the transference of power from men to women. Granted, in some cases, this needs to be the case. But just as being a man should never be the prerequisite for a job, the same applies for being a woman. We need to realize that although things have changed considerably, and we are more independent of men than we used to be, we still have use for them, and that the world can only function well if each takes their roles seriously. And by this I am not saying we go back to the idea that “women can only do —– and men must be —–“ Each person has strengths. When we come together as a team, as in a marriage each one should use their strength for the betterment of that institution.
Adapting bad manners
We realized a long time ago that men’s weaknesses were a sign that they had lost control of their lives and could not be trusted with those of others. Why we should think it is a sign of empowerment to repeat their self abasing patterns of serial monogamy/dating/one night stand puzzles me. A truly empowered woman will price her dignity and integrity both in public and in private. Those who have not really grasped the concept of gender equity may interpret true power as the opportunity to seek revenge in ways that ultimately cause her more pain than any relief. Others will not go this far but will adapt the arrogant manner and speech that still reflect more on her than on the person who hurt her. Let us take a little more time to think before we act.
A realization of the cosmetic nature of out commitment to empowering women.
Some of us have been known to say of the endeavor “That is work; and this is real life.” No wonder therefore that the argument is not making any difference in the life of the real woman. She keeps going back to the man who beats’, rapes, and emotionally abuses both her and her children. She is perplexed by the gravity/ the weight of the knowledge she has received in theory, but has given her no real power to change her personal circumstances. A truly empowered woman will realize that discipline is a loving and important part of the growth of every human relationship and will use it to build her love affair with the man in her life.
A realization of the sanctity of our rights as human being needs to be combined with innate wisdom to know when to enforce them and when to exercise patience. On the other hand, all disagreements should not be cause for divorce, separation or result in some legal tussle. We need to demonstrate our prowess in communication and in truly loving ourselves by being able to discern which relationships are worth keeping, to realize that even in the right circumstances relationships demand work, and use her intelligence and grace to fight for these.
The ‘Wife’ Dilemma
We spend so much time developing ourselves in our unique disciplines but when it comes to relationships, we are expected to dismiss these as unworkable theories. We shed off our ideals as soon as the opportunity is extended. We are then so uncomfortable with who we have become, because we ourselves are not convinced enough. We go back to being ‘traditional wives’ which translated means lacking in esteem, opinion, passion, personality, character except as an echo to this man we are so afraid of loosing because we feel he is what defines us. And many of us have fallen into that trap only to have the men we have slip through our fingers and into the claws of a woman who reminds us so much of who we used to be. As an empowered woman you are a pearl that can only get better. If someone loves you for who you are, then that is who he wants.
Creation of Empowered men for the empowered woman
In some communities, opportunities for women to be educated came about in response to the need for educated men to find like companions in their marriages. The truth is that for these ideals to work for your relationship, you may need to clue your man in on them. Your man is exposed to rumors at work and as his socializes, that may affect the way he responds to your endeavors. He needs to recognize and be re-attracted to the empowered woman that you have become. If you have always been aggressive be so – in an empowered way. But even to the gentle, soft-spoken, maybe he just needs to hear it in your voice as you lull him to sleep and see it as you sew on his buttons on your way to yet another convention. He probably needs to see you leading a convention and nursing his 10th baby – unabashedly. When you fall asleep after work for two straight years and deny him his conjugal rights because your passion has been spent empowering other women, and then are perplexed your house help has seen to it that her duties include expanding your family, you are not being fair to him or honest to yourself.
It is true that sometimes men need to be shaken into realizing that their women folk are human beings demanding of equal, sometimes more, regard than them. Especially those abusive ones. And that mystery does wonders for a woman. Beyond this though, you need to be able to communicate with the man you love. Ask him to help you understand some of those concepts you still have difficulty with. Find out what he thinks about the ones you do understand and how these can improve the way you relate to one another. This way you will be enlightening him and helping him realize that Beijing was not another word for ‘Home-wreckers Convention’. It will also build him up because he needs to model true masculinity to your sons, and relevant males in his sphere of influence. Even if he is negative, initially and in the long term, you will still have passed on a message. You would be surprised to find that he defends your course to his friends using your exact argument. Being an empowered woman does not contradict your being feminine. It should be the amour that guards your womanhood from injury from critics of both sexes. It should not stop you from doing things for the man you love because you love to do it.
First Published in Oakland Media’s Eve Magazine in 2004