Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Final Authority

The final authority in Ghana, it turns out, is the husband. His jurisdiction stretches from all matters domestic, through country/town of residence, past his partner’s career decisions, dipping into the places she frequents, all the way down to her choice of clothes. He is a powerful man, the Ghanaian husband.

I use the authority mine wields in society shamelessly. If I don’t want my children to do something, I declare that their father doesn’t approve. The reason why we don’t eat Ghanaian food often is that my husband doesn’t want to. The fact that I’ve never really eaten palm oil on an everyday basis in the last 15 years is never mentioned.

I wore my hair natural and short –secondary school- style on my wedding day. For weeks before the day my mother harangued me that it was not a nice enough hairstyle to wear for my wedding. One morning she tried to draw my father into it on her side. Eventually, Daddy responded, ‘maybe it is appealing to her husband’s eyes’. That ended it. Mummy responded grudgingly, ‘ah well’ and not another word was uttered about it.

I’ve airily passed off short skirts and plunging necklines as Kofi’s preference so many times, it is now an autopilot response. That always decides the matter and all objections are visibly swallowed. It amuses me so. And I must confess; occasionally I don such a garment for the express purpose of watching words stick in a disapproving craw.

This week I tried something, hoping it fell within the mandate of the Husband Regime – and it did! I called a domestic assistants’ agency I’ve used before. They asked in the most politically correct terms if I had religious or tribalistic prejudices I wished to indulge and I answered no. So I met and interviewed a young Muslim woman. Though I wasn’t impressed with her, I accepted her because I needed someone urgently and told her to come the next day. But later that evening, I rethought the decision; I wasn’t impressed and my instincts told me she wouldn’t stay. I found her too socially active to enjoy the restrictive life of a housekeeper and too money conscious to think it worth it.

I called the agency manager and told her untruthfully, that I couldn’t accept the girl because my husband was not comfortable with a housekeeper of a different religious inclination. She was most understanding and told me not to be apologetic. If my husband didn’t want her in his house, that was that then. Another would have to be found.

Because it works so well, I can’t decide whether every other woman is doing as I am, or if truly marriage in the older generation’s perspective and context does indeed swear the husband into such power. I don’t know many married women who are my peers. So I can’t compare notes or testify whether they also hold the husband’s authority to be so decisive. I receive a lot of advice- admonishment too- from older women, usually acquaintances of my family. (It never ceases to amaze me how people of such casual connection feel entitled to counsel or reprimand me about how we have chosen to live our marriage.) Whatever the nature of the suggestion, Kofi’s support of my method invalidates it.

Sometimes- as in the case of the rejected girl, - I feel bad about carelessly dragging Kofi’s social respectability through the mud. In that instance, particularly because he is not religiously agitated in any way. When I mention it to him, he is not upset. He has asked me once if I realize that judgment is passed on him as a result of my buck passing. I said yes, and explained that it was shorter, easier and often more likely to secure cooperation than patiently explaining or defending myself. He said nothing and appears to have accepted it as the price of being a factor always to consider in my social universe. Or so it seems to me.

And factor to consider he is. Among the tedious details of being a married woman here is the weight of being constantly conscious of your husband’s image. Everything I do reflects on him. How I danced at the club last night can be a source of embarrassment. The ring I don’t wear has sparked plenty of speculation. And oh, did I accept a drink from a man? What a horror that could be. I don’t think it egregious under those circumstances to borrow his influence every now and then to wrest some slack from a dogging community for myself.

I wonder if divorce rates will be up when our generation is in their thirties. It wouldn’t surprise me. What a burden! To wake up suddenly in a terror zone where you no longer count. Just because you got married, your husband’s feelings and your children’s ‘good’, as interpreted by the society, are the ruling forces of your life. Your interests, preferences and pains, are snorted at and you are expected to ‘toughen up’. Meanwhile across the gulf, is your husband. Society can see no wrong in him. He is free to indulge his every whim, in fact he is encouraged. If said whim comes with details, he can pass them on to his wife to sort it out. After all what else would she do with her time but bemoan her state.

Every now and then I feel a twinge that gives me pause. I am getting my way by assigning it to Kofi but I’m also giving the impression that our marriage works the way theirs do. Instinctively, I want to dispel that notion, set people straight. We have a marriage that actually aims to make us both happy. Our marriage cares about me too ok. But then I’d have their tongues wagging on my case again. It annoys me to appear to have fallen in line after being all my life a militant youth. It annoys me more, though, to live on the defensive and I’m not sure that it is a point worth fighting the system to prove. It is a slur on my insurgent reputation. But I can’t beat them, so I’ve joined them and it’s a shame but it works.


Maxine said...

ha! I am ashamed but I have to admit I have escaped many a social engagement by just saying "hubby doesn't want to go"... and I guess eventually, you just pick your battles and let society deal with the rest. I remember someone was visibly horrified when I informed them that I don't do my husbands laundry! Oh the horror!

Looking forward to the day when marriage is so equal that anyone seeing a husband cook and clean(like mine does) will not be a shock! Lovely post!

AB said...

I love this post! Why everyone thinks marriage should mean the same thing to everyone, I will never know. I sympathize with trying to change the system from within it, but poor Kof... good on him for being a good sport about it, though!

mammie said...

Adj in those moments, I envy you. must be fun living away from both your and his societies.

Maxine, I've twisted the boys hair. Kofi's taking the blame of course. One aunt even told me if she didn't 'fer' Kofi, she would have snipped them off herself. My next life for sure I'm coming male; married male. I'm power-hungry you see.