This is a topic of many gossip sessions but it’s time to bring it out in the open.
Women in Malawi have been doing increasingly well in the education system. We have taken education very seriously so much so that now it is not at all uncommon to find a woman making at least as much as her husband. In some cases the wife or girlfriend’s income outstrips her partner’s.
There is nothing innately wrong with this except that many men still feel extremely insecure about the changing dynamics of household finances. Income used to be most men’s only contribution therefore it is no wonder that they feel that their impact is diminished.
In some cases women are fully supporting a man who does not do very much at all. You and I both know of at least one or two cases in which the woman pays all the bills and goes to work whilst her boyfriend drives her car around town at his pleasure. Unfortunately, some of these men are less than faithful but their wives still hold on to them.
Marriage is so valued, and I would say over-valued, in our culture that women stay with a man that isn’t even making them happy anymore. My question is, is it worth the hassle? Is it so much better to be in such a one-sided relationship than to be alone? I personally don’t think so. It’s time we started asking our men to contribute more in different ways.
In the developed world “house husbands” are becoming more and more common but they have a pre-defined role. A house husband does all the traditional jobs of a house wife – cooking, cleaning, shopping for groceries, caring for the kids and managing the day-to-day budget and finances of the home.
There is completely no shame in the role of house husband, although, I will be the first to admit that when I first encountered the situation I thought I could never deal with it. Over time, I have come to value the fact that sometimes it’s the better option and I respect men that are “man enough” to take on the role.
Some house husbands perform the role even where there are no children. A case in point is the millionaire Deborah Meaden of the UK TV show Dragon’s Den. She goes out to make the money and her husband does everything house and home related. They are very happy together and she says she wouldn’t be happy with any other living situation.
In most households though, there are children to be taken care of. I would certainly agree that after children have left the womb there is no real reason why a man cannot look after them as well as a woman. Childcare tasks are not inherently better done by women they have just been traditionally done by them. Breast milk can be expressed and bottled too so that the husband can take care of feeding. I remain quite surprised by the number of my friends that I considered “new-age” but that nonetheless just slipped into the traditional role of wife and mother without asking questions.
I recognise how radical the idea of a house husband will be to many. Indeed, I do not expect any of the current generation to change their practices but I am planting the seed. Perhaps the house husband is too alien for Malawi right now but for your children or your children’s children it could be entirely normal. I personally hope so.
“Housekeeping ain't no joke.” —Louisa May Alcott
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For 2 years until early 2014 I wrote a weekly personal finance and business column for Malawi's leading media house, The Times Group. The target is middle-class, working African women.
This is a reproduction of the articles that appeared in the weekend edition of Malawi News.