By Samuel Chamboko – The temptation is to write about all those things happening in the North Africa, but as I see it, the market is flooded. Stories about the goings on in North Africa are like Chinese goods, all over the place, nobody really wants them anymore. Just been reflecting on a few differences that I’ve noted regarding the evolution of ‘heterosexual marriages and relationships over the years. You’ll notice I specify ‘heterosexual’ firstly, because in some places same-sex marriages are now legal. Secondly, my observations are limited to them and lastly, the other is a relatively new phenomenon. I tried to think back to the time I was growing up and the interactions that I observed back home. Back then, the place for womenfolk was in and around the home, although women were allowed to work outside the home and be professionals in their own right. There was almost an unwritten rule that during the day, a man should spend as little time at home as possible. While I understand that it was because men were supposed to be out there ‘hunting’, what about over weekends? That same expectation still remained. In Shona they would ask you ‘urikutsvagei pamba?’ (What are you looking for at home, with women?).
There was even a trend during the week, men were not supposed to go home straight after work, they were supposed to pass through the beer hall, pub, tavern, shebeen, whatever drinking hole which tickled their fancy, for ‘one or two’ before proceeding home. Even if you were a teetotaler, there was still an expectation for you to pass through some form of gathering where men met and talked ‘men stuff’. You had to be ‘kune vamwe’ (where the others are). If you didn’t you were seen as being controlled by your wife, petticoat government as it was called, or suspected of being under some love portion induced spell that attached you to your wife’s apron strings, and you acted like a lovelorn puppy. Men were supposed to get home after dark. Finding the children awake seemed like a nuisance that they were not prepared for especially given the ‘manly’ things they would have spent their day dealing with. They had far more important issues to deal with than hearing from one of their kids that ‘John took my ball and kicked it over to the neighbours’ (property)’. That was a special reserve for womenfolk. Men had more important things to deal. Nowadays, you find ‘grown-ass’ African men changing nappies and spending an entire afternoon running after 3 year olds in the park, or cooking a meal for the family and doing the dishes as well, excuse the pun, but have men gone soft?
I suppose for us Africans, back in the village, where it all started, men were not supposed to be seen anywhere near a kitchen, or any place where women congregated. You’d only see your woman/women at night in the bedroom, under the cover of darkness. If a man frequented the cooking areas, he was seen as gluttonous or greedy and had to be reprimanded for his unmanly behaviour. In the village, after a day out hunting or tilling the land, men would congregate in a special gazebo type structure with a fire in the middle and it is there where ‘manly’ stuff was discussed. In Shona we call it ‘Dare’- a place where men meet to discuss issues. Women were not allowed in these places, unless of course they were bringing food or coming to collect the empty dishes after men have finished eating. While I am on the issue of eating, men ate first. Not children, but, yes, men. Women and children would eat only after men had fed. Nowadays what happens?, we are more worried about feeding the children and then eating ourselves only after the children have eaten to our hearts’ content. We are even involved in the process of feeding babies and toddlers. A man was only expected to do the following, till the land, herd cattle, hunt, procreate and eat. Everything else was supposed to be done by women.
Even in the matters relating to romance, public display of affection was not ‘manly’. No kissing or holding hands in public. That was reserved for the bedroom. Even in there I understand, it was the duty of the womenfolk, after a day of backbreaking work in the fields and domestic chores around the home, to ensure that their men were sexually satisfied. The man had no obligation whatsoever. There was no foreplay, absolutely none. It was straight to the point, for men that is. A story is told of a Mosotho (from Lesotho) man who left his wife at the beginning of the year to work in the gold mines in Johannesburg. At the end of the year, like most migrant workers, he made the trek back home for the holidays. His wife, like many other women in the villages at the time, was looking forward to the first night with her husband after a whole year. The morning after she met up with her friends at the water well, where they drew water, and the ‘girls’ wanted the lowdown about how it had gone down, the night before the morning after. In a disappointed monotone she lamented, ‘argghh, he’s been away too long, he doesn’t even remember where it is anymore, he kept fumbling all over looking for it.’
Nowadays we even have date night, a night when we find someone to babysit and husband and wife go out for a meal alone, or go to the theatre or cinema to keep the fire burning. Back then the divorce rates were lower but they didn’t even have ‘date night’? Couples were married for 60 years. Nowadays, you have a 50% chance of getting divorced in the first 5 years. We hold hands and kiss in public. We run around like headless chickens to buy birthday, valentines and anniversary presents for the women in our lives. We drop everything to be at the hospital for the birth of our children. We cry in public, wear pink shirts and watch Oprah. We make appointments at spars and beauty parlors for ourselves. We even find time to drop and pick up kids at school. Cancel important business meetings to watch our son’s Under-7 football game or our daughter’s first ballet concert. Back then, paying school fees and making sure that the family had enough to eat was good enough. None of this emotional gibberish, women took care of that.
Have we gone soft or we are just victims of the changing times?