Nigeria has been on the forefront of telling our African stories. Many channels have been dedicated to showcasing African talent in the form of these movies on platforms such as DSTV. The casts consist of African writers, producers, actors and musicians and such strides have been laudable in promoting and developing African talent. We have even affectionately dubbed the industry ‘Nollywood’ taking after America’s ‘Hollywood’.
Although Nigeria has the most vibrant film industry on the continent, other African countries like Ghana, Kenya and Zambia have growing film industries of their own. The recurring theme in African movies I have watched so far however has had me scratching my head and thinking:
“The best man you can get for yourself out there is preferably a prince, someone of high standing in the society, and most importantly very wealthy. As a daughter to your parents, you will have reached self-actualisation when you bring such a man home. Once you have secured this man you and your family will be the envy of the entire neighbourhood and you will have done your parents proud. He is the way out of poverty.
However if you want to be worthy of this man, stay at home, be passive, and if someone abuses you be docile, you will be rewarded. The ultimate validation of your worth is attracting the attention of this man. Only then can your life be complete.
Do not relax when you have a good rich man, be wary of your step mother, your neighbours and her mother, your housekeeper, your best friend and even your blood sister. Every other woman could be jealously scheming against your marriage. These women might use unscrupulous means to take him away from you. He is now a target of their insatiable desires. If he cheats, beware, he could have been bewitched. Defend your man, the other woman is the problem.”
This is the theme that I observed in numerous movies that I chanced to watch. I am a fan of African voices telling African stories, however there is something deeply problematic with this way in which heterosexual relationships are often portrayed in Nollywood. To sum up what I learnt: a man represents a financial plan and marriage should be the ultimate aspiration for all women.
In the Nollywood portrayal, it seems a man’s worth is solely based on the depth of his pockets. When a suitor brings out a bag of millions of Nairas, the mothers ululate and dance across the yard for the entire neighbourhood to hear. This is not isolated to North African movies but also mirrors the ideals of a lot of our rural, traditional and also urban societies here in Zimbabwe. Mothers brag about the amount of dowry that their sons in law paid for their daughters above all other qualities.
There is nothing wrong with marriage and also having a rich spouse, however it becomes an issue if marriage or any other heterosexual relationship equates to a financial transaction.
Considering men as a financial plan is not a new notion, neither is it outdated. It is still deemed an ‘acceptable means of survival’ for women. As a result we have had debates about whether women should get “bae allowances” which is the term that has been used to refer to a monthly stipend that men ought to (some may say) give to their girlfriends Some women have been derogatorily labelled “gold diggers”. Even pop singer, Chris Brown sang the expletive “Loyal” and mused on how a “broke” man will lose his girlfriend to a rich man (to put it mildly). Recently the national publication, the Chronicle (rather offensively) played with the idea that girls who had failed academically could always be economically dependent on men using their sexual wiles.
Dating back to the time when Adam was instructed to provide for Eve, relying on men for economic emancipation has always been considered a means of survival for womankind. A means that grew to be retrogressive in that it reinforced male dominance. Now when we are fighting against child marriages, it’s because traditionally, men were viewed as the means to economic emancipation and as a result, daughters were commodified. Some even chose to get married to ‘escape’ poverty. We have been indoctrinated to view men as financial plans and this has created an environment so conducive for young children to be abused and manipulated by older rich men.
Perpetuation of male dominance
Relationships based on economic dependence have the potential of being abusive because one party is dominant and has all the power. The problem is such relationships reinforce the social dynamics which give men the right to dominate women. Money is a medium of exchange: when you pay, you gain the right to get what you want in return. Therefore some men may feel entitled to do anything to women on the basis that they have provided for them. Women end up tolerating many injustices, (emotional and physical abuse) because they think their survival is hinged on the marriage. They simply cannot afford to leave.
Historically women were not allowed to succeed beyond their male counterparts, neither were they given the opportunities to thrive. There were major disparities in education opportunities and girls remained confined to the domestic sphere. The reason why wealthy men were deemed attractive is that they were considered the means of economic emancipation for women who have been marginalised and subjected to poverty. In return, a woman had to make sure that she had all the qualities that made her ‘worthy’ of becoming wife to a wealthy man
Present day, strides have been made to break gender barriers and women are being increasingly emancipated. Child marriages have been outlawed in Zimbabwe, Malawi and other countries. Greater access to education has also been availed to girls. Women now also preside over boards of large corporates and 60 seats in the National Assembly have been reserved for women as well. In as much as these successes have been limited, they are a sign that women are shacking off the dominance.
The progress towards economic emancipation for women should be reflected in our discourse, our movies and in our relationships and expectations of one another. There is nothing wrong with marrying a rich man if it is a coincidence, however it should not be an ambition. Our picture of romantic relationships should evolve from being a desperate scramble for financial resources to a celebration of love, support and respect above all else. Material things should come secondary.
Main image taken from www.naijastories.com