“Love comes with money”
Disillusioned in their search for an egalitarian and faithful husband, women rather opt for a generous man who is willing to support them. Although some women stick to their lovers, even in times when they have less to offer, most women are likely to terminate such affairs when their temporary lovers or more stable partners suffer financial setbacks. Such a money-oriented characteristic of male-female relations is widely reported from much of Africa. In her study of single women in Kpelle society, Bledsoe notes, “Women compete for rich lovers, and usually drop men who cannot afford gifts in favour of those who can” (1980:160). As illustrated in the case of Anna, if Babu does not give Anna sufficient economic support willingly, she ‘steals’ and considers it even her right to do so. In fact, ideas of personal love are seldom expressed. This is not to say that love and passion between the partners does not exist. However, when women speak of love and respect in a love affair, it is closely linked to money, or as they generally put it, “Love comes with money”, and commonly add, “That is the power of money” (hii ni ngu – vuyapesa). Single Meru women frequently attach themselves to a well-established man simply because he is the best mfadhili (literally ‘donor’) or the best ‘project’ (mradi), terms commonly used to refer to generous lovers. It must be noted that such economic motives in male-female sexual relationships are intermingled with social emotional bonds. Such a notion of love and affection which is closely associated with money is in part based on the notion of the providing male but also in part on the transactional character of female sexuality. The fact that women can use their sexuality in bargaining is a well-recognised feature in male-female sexual relationships among the Meru (Haram 1995, 2001). Female sexuality is not something that should be given free of charge; men have to earn it.
Obviously, women draw on their sexuality not only for personal sexual satisfaction but, more importantly, for economic reasons. Thus, women use men to link into social networks using them as ‘patrons’, for example to find employment, to cover for illegal business activities, to advance their economic careers, to purchase a plot of land, to erect a house or they may use them simply as cash-paying boyfriends. Needless to say, in a society where most resources are owned and even monopolised by men, they exercise considerable power. For many women the only means to get access to such resources which they need for living (house, plot, arable land or a job) and to cover for illegal business activities is to build relations with men. The best ‘projects’ for these women are those married and relatively wealthy men since they can provide more than the young and poor who are still saving money to marry a woman in keeping with the notions of a ‘proper woman’.