Monday, March 02, 2009

She is The Head of The House So Why Does She Not Get the Credit?

About three years ago, made a friend because the guy responded when I said “Why should the man be the head of the house when I wouldn’t mind being the head?” or something to that effect. This man strongly defended the role of the man as the head of the family so I tried to get him to tell me why he felt men should be the heads. Beside some biblical reference-which I did not buy- he referred to their roles as the breadwinners. Fantastic!

I am one of those people who think that a two-person team does not need a leader unless both people agree that they need one. Even then, I see no reason why the man must necessarily be the head. In the past, I’ve been frustrated with people who just say, well, the bible says the man is the head. What would they say if the bible had said something else? So I was thrilled when the guy argued that the one who wins bread should be the head.

I found two definitions of breadwinner on the web. The first definition states the breadwinner as the primary income-earner in the household while the second defines breadwinner as the one whose income is the household’s primary source of support. I would not pay any attention to the first definition. Afterall of what use is it to the household that you earn the most money if no one benefits from it? It makes the most sense to me to define the breadwinner is the one whose income is the primary source of support. If we are to accept this definition, then I can confidently report that I am yet to encounter a Ghanaian home in which the man is the bread winner. Sure, I have heard of men who provide everything in the home or at least most of it, and I see them on tv, but I don’t know even one.

But ask me about women bread winners and I have many examples. Let’s begin with my grandmother. Both of my grandparents made clothing for a living. My grandfather had a tailor’s shop and my grandmother sewed in the home. She also sold rice, gari, and other foodstuff to supplement her income. Neither of their clothing making businesses were thriving by the time I was mature enough to observe goings-on in their household. And so for as long as I know, my grandmother has provided everything. Food, the light bill, the toothpaste, everything! In addition to cooking and cleaning! Like your typical Ghanaian grandparents who have no pension to rely on, their children send them money regularly. When the money is disbursed, my grandfather uses his to buy beer for himself and his friends and stakes the lottery with whatever is left of it. My grandmother uses hers to feed the household, and pay bills. When he returns from his shop, he asks for the food for which he has provided no money, and he is served. While I think this is unfair to my grandmother, she accepts her role so I’ll leave it at that. However knowing all that I know of them, I will not shut up if anyone stands infront of me to say that men are the heads when they do not play “headlike” roles or that they are the breadwinners when I have such a counter-example. I cannot accept something to be true when my experience tells me otherwise.

I also know people whose educations depended primarily on their mothers. In certain cases, it is not that their fathers did not have money. One of our neighbours refused to pay for his son to enter the polytechnic saying that he did not have the money but that even if he did, he would build a house with it and charge rent instead of taking his son to school. Can you imagine! And this same Ghanaian man shamelessly calls himself the head of his household when it is the woman who sold her cloth and went crying for help. It worked. Her son has graduated from the Polytechnic.

My aunt and uncle told me of a day when they dropped off my little sister at school. My dad was in the car. When they got there, they leant that it was open day. Open day is a day when school kids bring all their workbooks out for their parents/guardians to look at their work and interact with their teachers. Neither my uncle and aunt knew of it, but when they found out, even though they were also on their way to work, they decided to inspect my sister’s books since they were already there. When my dad realised my uncle and aunt were going to look at my sister’s work, he told them that he was going ahead to work. Can you imagine! This was his daughter’s school work! And my dad co-owns the company he works for. There is no justification for such an action and anyone who really cared would have offered such profuse apologies that my aunt and uncle would never have mentioned what happened to the rest of us.

Another of our neighbours who was not poor refused to pay his sons’ school fees or adequately care for them. If it had not been for their mother, who used her teacher’s salary to feed them, clothe them, pay school fees and also cook and clean in the house, the kids would have turned out like the rest of the Ashale-Botweians who are impeded by their lack of tertiary education.

Please don’t misunderstand me. As I have earlier mentioned, I have heard of homes in which men are the breadwinners and so in those homes, If you tell me they’re the heads, I can accept it, even if reluctantly. All I’m saying is in all the Ghanaian homes I know, the woman is the one whose income supports the household and this does not even take into account the work some of the women do as cook, cleaner and child-minder. For playing these roles, the Ghanaian women I know should be given credit for being the heads of their families.

Oh, and it might interest you to know that the guy I mentioned in the first paragraph later confessed this had it not been for his mother who sold her cloth to put her through secondary school, he would not be getting a PhD in economics!

Note also, that I have intentionally used examples where fathers did not pay school fees because in Ghana, in the examples people give where the man pays for things, usually they say men pay bills and women take care of groceries. As for me, I have only known of homes where women pay for everything from bills to groceries. There is nothing wrong with it. But if I’m playing this role, wouldn’t you say that I deserve to be acknowledged as the breadwinner? There goes what little hope I had of finding a husband:) My boyfriend reads this blog. hehe.


  1. My maternal grandparents were interesting. My gradfather was really the one who made all the money but my grandmother brought up six relatively well adjusted children including my mother. They are all graduates - in fact five of them are 'professionals' by any Ghanaian bourgeois standard.

    The funny thing is that even though they would not admit it (my grandfather passed away in 1994) and my grandmother is pretty much bed-ridden (with all her mental faculties in place), I always saw them as different sides of the same coin. They ahd their place, strangely balanced, even when they woudln't speak and my grandmother scornfully watched my grandfather age, constantly commenting about how he wasn't man enough. The truth was that she was jsut bitter at her own family for making her marry the handsome doctor whom she used to admire from affair instead of becoming a nurse like her cousins. Her cousins have nothing on my grandmother.

    All of this just to say, Esi, you are right - it never has to be discussed. It is siply about the right partnership. One day you are up, the next you are down. But knowing you and your 'abofra boni' ways, you will bully your partner and you will be the bread winner.

    p.s. Why is it bread? Always bread!??! We don't grow wheat... so even in speacking to inherent sexism we promote post-colonial cultural hegemony along wiht African print fabrics and linen made in China. I have to go now - my rice and chicken is waiting for me!

  2. Interesting post. Although I'd venture to say a breadwinner is not equal to head of the home. The two are often conflated. This also does not mean that women who are the breadwinners should not get the credit. Unfortunately, the way society is set up back home belittles the woman's contribution despite the fact that she does everything!

    The Bible does designate men as the head of the home. If it did otherwise we'd be having a different discussion. Ephesians 5:22-24 clearly establishes the man as the head of the household. Now, people always forget verses 25-30 where it instructs the man to love his wife like Christ loved the church and died for it. I'd say that's a pretty big responsibility. The fact that we humans have screwed up the whole equation by way of culture and other stereotypes does not mean this isn't the way it should be.

  3. Interesting stuff. We've had very different experiences with the household dynamics we grew up around; it's always fascinating to get others' perspectives. I have two responses:

    1. The way it should be. Marriage in my mind is a partnership, not some sort of platform for a struggle for supremacy. There's a serious problem that should be addressed (rather than ignored or worked around) if either partner consistently bears a disproportionate share of the responsibilities that make that partnership work.

    2. The way it is/was. I realize that not everyone (especially from our parents' generation in Ghana) adheres to my marriage-as-a-partnership model. You know, I can actually appreciate the history behind the man-as-the-head thing. I imagine in the brutish days of yore, the need for a physically able protector was perhaps the most fundamental element of survival--more fundamental than even food provision, which I think women have always mostly shouldered. Times have changed (in most places), and the role of protector has been outsourced, but still these antiquated husband-wife dynamics persist. Why? I'd say tradition, in most cases--you know, like "The Bible says it, etc." And also because human beings in general (but in this case men) tend to want to hang on to arrangements that work in their favor.

    Certainly, I agree that credit should be given where it is due: when a wife is singlehandedly keeping home and hearth together, for instance. But I don't think it is productive to couch it in terms of who's head and who's not. It's less about deposing men and more about recognizing women’s (sometimes disproportionate) efforts, and looking ahead to find a more equitable balance, by whatever standards of fairness the involved partners see fit.

    I'm I totally off in lala land here? :)

    Somewhat related to all this, but a separate issue in its own right: I think on aggregate Ghanaian men folk may be in the midst of an identity crises of sorts. Maybe it'll just sort itself out with time, but maybe some introspection and open discussion at the society level may be warranted.

  4. Well, either way, I feel like in Ghana we go about placing way too much interest in 'breadwinners' and all of that stuff. Ppl proudly beat their chest about bread winning as if it is an achievement when in fact it is a duty (esp if you have kids). Parents, church leaders hold school fees against our heads like anything (your parents pay for your clothing and your fees, you shd be grateful to God for them, which is true - but seriously. who is sposed to take care of that? God? He had no hand in bringing me here - i am not made up of 'godly DNA' - i am a sperm and an egg.
    As for the head of the house, partly biblical and partly observational, i do believe someone should be the head of the household (usually a man. THAT being said, all the marriages that i have seen that make me want to get married, no one goes lording it over the other that they are the head of the house; I see two people in deference to each other, who refer to each other as the head (the man is the head of the house, but the woman is the neck, and the neck can turn the head any way she wants! lol! I like that). You get the sense they are partners, and its not a power struggle. Sorry if this is jumbled, and hope you get my drift. This whole headship thing to me is just a figurehead thingy. in the great marriages i've seen, its equal. that's all. let those who want to struggle for power go ahead.

  5. Interesting...I am surprised you are hung up on the lables of breadwinner and head of the household.I will attempt to explain what my understanding is. This is in reference to Ephesians 5 especially from verse 22 down. When the author wrote that the husband is the head of the wife,just as Christ is the head of the church, he did not say that it meant that he is the master as in a master-slave relationship, nor does it mean a relationship like a general to a private in the army. It is more like a partnership where one is the leader, guide, director. Now consider this. Can you think of any decision that a husband should make WITHOUT consulting or considering his wife and her wishes? I cannot! Certainly not in my relaionship with my husband nor in my parents relationship.

    Now I do agree that when it comes to marital relations, a lot of Ghanaian men have a lot to learn.(I stand to be corrected)In our traditional society where affection from the male is perceived to be a form of weakness, the part about the husband loving his wife has been neglected. Therefore, all that is left is the master-slave relationship exibited in some relationships...oh and by the way, Christ's way of leading was a servant leadership style. So in order for the husband to be the head he has to have a servant attitude too.

    The passage does not just end there either. It also tells or I should say commands the husband to love his wife. Consider Colossians 3:19 as well.

    I will end here 'cos you got me preaching and testifying already!

  6. I remember when school was about to reopen, I would make my list of things I needed for school and my dad would cross out 50% of my provisions and tell me he doesn't have money but my dad always had money to play lotto (give tips to people who brought him numbers, 2-sure, perm his numbers). As usual, my mom would buy all my provisions for me. My dad never visited me or my brother in SSS because he wanted us to be in Accra and we decided to go to Cape Coast. As usual it was my mom who always came. I recently found out from my mom that my dad was reluctant in buying the land our house was built on and that my mom paid majority of the money. My dad was definitely not the head of our house but my mom will never say that.

  7. Hello Esi,

    A wise man once said that - leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because she wants to do it. Period!

    It used to be by terror and physical strength, but sadly after World War II the Europeans did not only loose their colonies, they also lost their masochism. And now Feminism - this radical idea that women are also people – is infecting our black women by our surprise :)...

    Esi, all cynicism aside, I couldn't agree more with your post. Being a Ghanaian man, my ego makes it hard to swallow what you have written, but I hereby concede that you are right! Ghanaian men have no basis to claim to be the head of our household.

    And I am not only talking about the ones living in Ghana. Even abroad, the majority is lazy (makaa maka!), however, this problem is trans-cultural. Men in general have lost our “right” to be called - the head of the household because the definition of leadership has evolved. It is no longer fear and force. Leadership now comes with responsibility and sacrifice.

    Yours truly

  8. Hmm.Love your blog.I grew up with what would be considered 'a new age' Dad. Very involved and the primary provider.However he lorded over all of us and definately made me the militant feminist I am.Like someone said on another blog an ideal partner is one who views partnership over domination as a model for a relationship.
    My last relationship broke up because i 'wouldn't take my rightful place and submit.'Imagine! Ironically in adopting Victorian era mores during colonisation we've (meaning the Akan) have probably become more patriarchal a society then before their arrival.I have friends that even deny we are matrilineal!

  9. hehehe...interesting. I totally agree with you. I too do believe in a "50/50" relationship and frown on dudes who neglect their roles as boyfriends/fiance/husband/fathers and expect to be treated as kings just 'cos claim the title of breadwinner. Nonetheless, I think there are lots of male breadwinners in Ghana who really play their role as such. My definition of breadwinner will actually not just be the one giving financial support but also the one who's there for the family esp. the kids in their growth physically, intellectually and even spiritually. If you pay your kids school fees and refuse to go for "open day" or their school play and such you're still short of been crowned breadwinner!

  10. Esi, I couldn't agree with you more.

    very interesting points raised btw. i've enjoyed reading.

    My own uncles, aunts, cousins, brother, parents are all culprits of this and whenever someone as 'crazy' as myself brings up the issue (Omo se, aburokyire asei me) many women don't want to admit perhaps for fear of realising they are allowing themselves to be treated like slaves, and the men fear to accept that they are treating their wives as slaves and not giving them credit for their efforts.

    I will not put all the blame on the Ghanaian man/ Ghanaian society. We all make up the society. Afterall, like Earth-Kwaque said earlier the men are "hanging onto arrangements that work in their favor". I think the women should stand up and claim their credit where its due. And keep your eyes open for men who exhibit such behaviour BEFORE marriage ( I know I's staying away from that for sure). You can't leave it up to the person gaining to realise what they are doing is wrong? Anaaa meboa?

  11. There's a lot of truth in what you are saying. By the definitions and all. In our society mutual respect in a marriage is what make it last.In a relationship where there's mutual respect the love flourishes and who's a breadwinner and who's not barely matters.It all comes down to true love. That's all that really matters.

  12. While I sense that a lot of gradations of feminists have commented on this post, I am still a little confused (I dont know if that is the word I am looking for)

    You see it is alright to say the relationship should be 50-50.
    It is also great to say men are evoked to follow Christ's servant leadership example.
    But the question remains, is that what we see going on in our societies?
    If your answer is no because my father,uncle, cousins, brother, fiaNCE or HUSBAND (the last two being most critical) are not partners to me in anyway. Then, my dear friends we still have a problem.
    The question is what do we do about it?
    I personally dont like the Ghanaian GYA MA 3NKA or let's-sweep-it-under-the-carpet mentalliyty.
    Before the Women's suffrage movement and other women liberators took serious action men (all over the world) were generally unwilling to change from the patriachal and often soul-effacing behaviours.
    I think Ghanaian women need to be taught that you do not need a man to validate you.
    We are made to believe that without a husband and children are whole life (and numerous accomplishments) are wothless.
    I am not anti-marriage oh. (My friend loneliness sucks. And a cold bed every single night sucks more.)
    But our women need to define themselves outside of their men.
    We need grass root organisations to help women who are not benefiting from their "patnerships" to be able to get out, and not feel ostracizes because they are not married.
    It would be nice to have T.V. shows, radio talks on the different stand points in this issue.
    After all education is power.
    It would also be nice to have some rallies for all the women who are in marriages that are anything but partnerships.
    More like putting a voice and a face to the issue. So that they know they are not alone.

    With all of this said I do not consider myself a radical feminist. Not at all. I just dont like being told it is a man's world ( and believe me I have been told so several times).