International women’s day is tomorrow and I wanted to write about what it is to be a woman – however, I did not think this was a subject that could be captured in one post. As I thought about what to write, there were two stories in the news that caught my attention. One news story was world wide and the other was in the location of the country of my birth. Looking at both stories made me think about double standards when it comes to society’s expectations of women especially after they marry. A few weeks ago I wrote about the pressures of society and gender roles place on women – as I followed these two stories, I noticed that the global news story as well as the domestic Ghanaian story had the same tone to it somehow. I realised that when it comes to women and relationships, we are expected to make so many changes that in some cases, we lose our identity.
Several news outlets and social media have been covering the incidents leading up to Oprah’s interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the bullying accusations that are now being investigated against the duchess. While I am not taking any sides in what is unfolding before our eyes, one thing that stands out to me is how people have been commenting that the Duchess knew what she was marrying into and should therefore keep quiet and put up with it. This is what I am finding hard to accept – several friends of mine have said that she has unlimited resources at her disposal and therefore should keep quiet and take the bad with the good. But with all the noise we have been making when it comes to mental health, why do we always behave that having money eliminates mental health issues? I guess this is a subject I will need to explore in the future because I have read several times of high profile wealthy people committing suicide and the same happens to not so wealthy people too – when it comes to mental health, no one is immune. But what I am finding hard to accept is how the British Royal family, over the years have pushed for gender equality that has allowed for women to rule as well as men, but when it comes to the spouses of male members of the family, these wives are expected to follow certain paths mapped out for them seemingly without much room for individuality.
For sometime now, I have seen the younger royals push for mental health awareness and speaking out – but when it comes to the mental well being of one of their own family members, they are expected to keep quiet and keep going? I’m not privy to what is agreed when one marries into the royal family, but in this day and age, should marrying into a family be a case of being muzzled? From where I am sitting, Meghan did not marry into the family as a nobody, she was quite accomplished in her own right – so how can she be expected to let go of all she was before she joined the family? It’s almost as if because of marriage, she is expected to lose her identity and take on a role mapped for her without any opinions of her own and the shocking aspect of all this is how a large number of the general public have agreed that she should ‘lose’ her identity to fit into this role in the royal family without a say. But I imagine that if I marry into a family, royal or not, and I am asked to forego who I am in order to fit in – I would not simply accept it! The unfolding of this story has left me wondering how these women that join this family are not to bring any aspect of who they are to the role – I think the family has missed an opportunity with the duchess. Personally, I feel she could have bridged a certain gap that has painted the royal family as out of touch with the everyday people and their struggles. To even think that my being married into a certain family will not afford me the opportunity to write this blog is almost unthinkable for me. If you will be watching the interview, do let me know your thoughts.
The other story I was following was of a social commentator in Ghana – who said in an interview that he had instructed his wife that she must not work as he is capable of providing for them. But stories out there from several sources, was that the young wife of this social commentator was in financial hardship and had resulted to asking for help from several friends. I once again found myself asking if this was a decision she took part in making or whether her husband asked and she felt she did not have a say in the issue. That same week, I was listening to another man on a radio show talk about how he asked his wife to stop working and stay home – he will go on to explain how his wife’s reaction to his request almost cost him his marriage. Must a woman give up her career – the one she had studied, trained and worked so hard towards because a man she is married to has required her to? Thinking on these made me realise that these are some of the issues that eventually lead to coercive control as one person’s financial decision is in the hands of one person alone. If this is the decision of the both parties involved, for whatever reason, then why not – it is their decision and if both parties feel this is what will work for their family then that is great. But my concern is women who had and enjoyed their careers before marriage that have been forced to give it up to become home makers. In this day and age should a man be asking a woman to give up what they do and enjoy?
A few years ago, I was at a church function and was in conversation with another woman about a few shoes I was giving away to charity. You see, I love shoes and after years of owning them, I found I was no longer wearing these and wanted to make room in my closet by giving them away. My conversation with this other woman was heard by a man close by and he asked me how many shoes I owned – when I answered with a possible number, he outright said his wife was not ‘allowed’ to have that many shoes. I did not hear anything else he had to say after he used the word ‘allowed’ – this was a grown woman he was living with and his answer to such a trivial issue was to demonstrate that he had some control over his wife. He could have simply said they had agreed to keep a minimalist lifestyle but no, he had not ‘allowed’ his wife to keep many shoes – so me being me, I never really looked at him the same way again and I always felt sorry for his wife when ever I met her.
These stories had me thinking about why it is always women who are expected to leave parts of who they are to be in a relationship including changing her name in marriage. So what if the duchess wanted to sit down with Oprah when she first got married – with some guidance from the palace, she could have given some insight into the family and how she was adapting into a new family, home and country. Yes, she did not want to stand on the steps of a hospital and show her new baby a few hours after pushing him out of her body – I don’t know many women who would be comfortable to do the same so why must she? When we join a new organisation, we are expected to bring our experiences, skills and personality to our roles within the parameters of the values and rules that govern the organisation we work in but when it comes to the royal family, we want to strip people of these very things that makes them individuals? Based on the needs of a family, decisions should be made without one person making sacrifices that makes them lose themselves in the process or put them in a place of hardship. No one should be ‘allowed’ to be – people must simply be and make adjustment to suit whatever situation they find themselves in.
As we celebrate women’s day, let us not forget the strides we have made in the fight for equality and fairness in several aspects of life. To ask someone to suck it up and continue with a lifestyle that strips them of who they are is not healthy – and to ask someone to quit a career and not provide the resources to help them make their own financial decisions is criminal. We all need kindness and someone to listen to us sometimes – we also need purpose whether we are rich or poor. Regardless of our bank balance, we all bleed red and we should be kind and not restrict people in the name of belonging to a family, organisation or group. I would love to hear from you if you have had a similar experience. Happy women’s day to all my female readers out there – lets effect change by sharing out experiences.