BY LINDA KEYA
KENYA: The song you got to have a J.O.B if you want to be with me has apparently lost meaning in a good percentage of Kenyan relationships and marriages.
Better still, the idea that a man has to be wealthy, bearing a handsome wallet, a good house and all that stuff to find a girl to date and later marry, has remained a reserve for a selected few.
There is a new breed of women that has emerged — feminist of the second generation. They have honestly sought to demystify the art of gold digging that has become so synonymous with modern day relationships and marriages.
These women have made it so safe to say that the dramatic shift from the storybook family with dad as the main breadwinner is under siege. More and more of them are becoming the main or even sole earners in an increased number of homes in Kenya.
These women are wealthy. They work hard for their money. They are the beacon of hope to their families because they are, unfortunately, married to a broke man — a man earning less that what she makes. Or worse still, stays at home to be provided for— what sociologists refer to as househusbands.
Their household is blessed with beautiful children; those women love their men to the core such that they would go an extra mile just to boost their hubbies ego as well as make them look ‘with it’ in society.
They fund holidays, buy them cars, fuel, and just make sure the family runs well. They are basically breadwinners, but won’t show to the neigbour next door or publicly.
Traditionally, women were strongly focused on the family and its wellbeing. This phenomenon has clearly signaled a massive shift in modern family dynamics. With more empowered women coming forward to actively manage household income.
The motives are relatively complicated to understand. Would it be because more women are getting into the masters class, hence landing top paying jobs? Could it be that the man compensates for his financial shortcomings elsewhere — in the bedroom? Or maybe they are just the ever-elusive perfect women every man is looking for? And would such marriages stand test of time? After dropping off their children at their posh school in one of the effluent estates to the south of Nairobi, Betty Kittony and another mother shared a secret. All along, Betty had assumed they had a pretty conventional marriage with her chest-beating breadwinner husband.
The embarrassing truth the other mother confided to Betty was that she was her family’s sole support as the husband puttered around the house.
“She kind of indicated they were living on her money, and I was surprised that just like me, she looked and sounded okay,” Betty says. And perhaps a little relieved. Betty had all along thought she was the only mother in that school supporting a stay-at-home husband. “Its just like one of those things,” she says, “where you realise you are married to people who drink or smoke weed.”
Harold Ayodo, a Nairobi based lawyer says: “The truth of the matter is that there are many women like Betty in our society today. Most of them live in posh estates like Runda, Karen, Nyari, name them.”
He adds that these are tell tale signs of how dynamic our society has become. And to compound the matter, there is finally a significant number of women reaching parity with men in their field. Some earn more salaries, bonus and perk than their husbands, which signify their arrival, thanks to evening classes vis a vis bars — where men spend their evening and money.
“While women are flocking masters classes in the evening, taking those risky trips to China and Dubai to access business ventures, most men are in the bar guzzling down their favourite drink as they catch up on the latest politic and gossip of who is the hottest new chic in town. They wake up next morning to compete for the same position at work or the same shares in the market,” says Ayodo.
This shift in economic power gives women more choices; not least among them the ability to reappraise their partners while the husbands may find that being financially dependent isn’t exactly a turn-on.
“The reality is that some of these women will gradually lose respect for the husband, and then begin to feel emasculated and then sex dwindles to full stop,” explains Ayodo.
Ayodo, however, sees nothing wrong with a female breadwinner household. It is okay if the woman has the economic power to provide. Such women are a blessed lot, they are a gem — very hard to come by, if you get one, treat her with outmost respect and slap her with all the love in the world.
“The passing of the new Constitution has made this phenomenon more acceptable. It allows for spouses to maintain each other as they equally share parental responsibilities. This simply means if the man is broke, the woman steps in and takes over responsibilities.”
Asked whether there is anything special about these women, Ayodo says they are just enlightened women who know what the katiba says and what life is all about. They have also settled home with the fact that they are securing better jobs and hence, earning better money as well as knowing the fact that even omena is fish.
“What is so hard with just making life comfortable for everyone at home by providing as opposed to letting your partner break his back struggling — coming from the background of earning more money. If you become mean, you are going to stay in the cold for long. Also bear in mind that that broke husband may, one day, land a job and you will depend on him,” he says. Carol, a Political Science
masters students at University of Nairobi saw her relationship with her hubby collapse as she became more and more successful and he floundered.
“He found it hard to spend money that was not his in an extravagant way, maybe because of the ‘ego’ thing. But by not helping, he was freeloading,” says Carol.
Feeling helpless and unable to confront the matter, the family slowly became dysfunctional with two competing incomes in the same household. He was in denial, and I was sort of protecting him and wanting to provide as much as possible,” she admits.
This came back to haunt them at night in their matrimonial bed. “Sex was not a problem for him but it was for me simply because I had lost respect, admiration and desire for him. I saw as though, by him not accepting and allowing me to fend for the family, he was acting childish.”
There are, of course, happy exceptional women. They come from a relationship that has evolved enough and the couples feel perfectly comfortable cknowledging that the wife is more driven to be the breadwinner.
“With time it gets to make sense for everyone, he give baby his first feed while she heads out for a journalism assignment,” says Jeanette Nangekhe. She adds, “as long as the famous ego does not come in through the back door to cause him to emotionally abuse her, then there is no big problem.”
It is believed to be a relatively new thing in the African society. Jeanette thinks it takes a strongwilled, fully committed and kindhearted woman to be okay with this and not broadcast it outside the homestead.
“Maybe it’s this humility that opens up greater opportunities to more wealth for such women who give without expecting much back. One wonders why they are in Runda and not Mukuru slums.”
“The one thing that we should all acknowledge is that times are changing and society is dynamic, and people should be open to this kind of arrangements,” says Jeanette.
The work of the market force has also led to these role reverse. “Take for instance you get married hoping that your husband’s career will take precedence, and it initially does but it’s overtaken by yours. Neither of you saw it coming. The best option is for you as a woman to stand in for him in a big way — that’s where the vow keeps,” says Jeanette.