“Daddy, are flowers for girls or for boys?” With eyes wide, a 4-year old boy enquires from his Dad as he presents him with a slightly withered flower. This tale represents the confusion we create for children as we continue to limit our definition of a real man as rough, loud and insensitive while our imagery of femininity is flavoured by flowing hair, pastel colours and a sense of indecisiveness. Since time immemorial, we have sought to understand ourselves better as humans beyond the stereotype of gender defined on the basis of function.
In essence, our values are defined and cemented by key institutions like our communities, the church, while our own families provide the example of the distribution of labour. What do we see about men and women growing up? Women are in the kitchen, they take responsibility to keep a tidy home, bring up good children, wash and iron while men go to work and bring home the bacon. Upon their return, they should be welcome to an impeccable house, a warm meal and cute children. No stress should be imposed upon them as they have a tough day behind them.
And so women continue to battle for their place in the boardroom, in corporate Namibia and in business because the traditional strongholds remain solidly in place. What are our current misconceptions ? By large, society views the male person as the one with intellect with a special gift for numbers and science. The notion is further perpetuated that they are more ambitious and in general they have the money making talents and thus they have real achievements.
For women, excellence means a pretty face and a curvaceous body with flawless home making abilities. Add to that the demand or expectation that in Africa, being able to give birth is sometimes considered the gold standard for being a real woman while the whole world is united that a real woman is also great in bed. Your contribution to society should largely be subservient to the male person and not reduce his achievements at all.
“By all means, do not threaten the fragility of the male ego” says Elfrieda a 20-something office administrator at one of the banks in Namibia. So do women not also have an ego? Or a recognisable level of self-esteem? According to a Windhoek-based psychologist who wished to remain anonymous, “women’s ego manifests by manipulation through guilt or by becoming controlling. However, an ego should not always be seen as negative. In essence, it acts like a firewall, a sense of protection to limit ones vulnerability. This is true for both men and women. As such, men cannot lay exclusive claim to the word “ego”.
Twenty first century power dynamics bring to the fore, a partnership – one that recognises that both women and men bring the bacon home. Increasingly there is recognition for this, but where men are no longer solely responsible to the breadwinner, women’s job description have just become longer.
None of her duty sheet items have disappeared – at best, should she be “lucky” enough to have an understanding or modern partner there will be a sharing of duties. Why does this remain? Because couples find it hard to have a real conversation about this so each individual just continue their own struggle; somewhat afraid to ask for more.
Human beings have a need, whether you agree with Maslow or not, for self- actualisation, to mean something, to be fulfilled or to live a purposeful life.
But roles and your purpose are not the same thing. For a fact women and men are equal but different. But does that difference mean one is inferior and the other one is superior? Beyond a doubt media adds to the confusion as reality tv shows like “Keeping up with the Kardashians” continue to celebrate the traditional norms. With the world in essence being a global village, partners bring tremendous pressure home with women having to compete with a distant, but very real Beyonce and men having to compete with the likes of George Clooney and Idris Elba. We model our lives on the “Real Housewives of Orange Country, Hollywood or Atlanta” and even our kids are impacted.
“Turn the TV off or watch programming that can build you, rather than the nonsense we permit into our homes,” says a visibly annoyed Emma. Her husband John joins in by commenting that “the attack is on your mind because whoever controls your mind, owns your identity, your values and your priorities. Women should stop settling for a relationship at any cost. Being in a relationship is not everything but it seems young people still feel it is better to have someone who is at least half way here, then not having someone at all.”
Forrest Branch, a business consultant married with children believes women undervalue themselves. There seems to be consensus amongst men that women give it up too easily. “In every engagement, a valuation process takes place. The manner in which you position yourself communicates more powerfully and succinctly about the value and opinion you have of yourself. Men in general want their sexual needs met … If you seem available to satisfy his craving, he will have you meet his needs and hit the road. What is it that convinced you that you can’t wait?”
Beyond a doubt, this is a discussion that will continue to evolve but what we should all agree on is that everyone has equal value. Just because it is differently applied or experienced doesn’t diminish it in terms of value. And while the battle continues, remember that a partnership is not a competition. “So take your gloves off and find a way to embrace each other’s differences for your collective benefit,” concludes our psychologist.