Negotiating male authority and female freedom
Most single women who are involved in a more steady relationship, and particularly with a cohabiting partner, are gradually faced with the ultimate dilemma between, on the one hand, social respectability and economic security provided by the partner and, on the other hand, the increasing control exercised by a steady and more present partner which will consequently reduce their autonomy and freedom to pursue their own economic careers. Rachael, who for years has been running her own shop, highlights the problem faced by most single mothers who want to maintain economic independence: “You know, a businesswoman does not want to marry [meaning both a formal marriage and a cohabiting partnership] because a husband controls his wife’s freedom, her movements and her money!” When Rachael continues her argument, she speaks for most single women: “A husband will exercise control and consequently he will limit my freedom. I do not want to marry since a husband keeps his wife under his control and rules [Sitaki kuolewa kwa sababu wanaume wanawaweka wanawake wake chini la masharti yao. I do not want to be in a situation whereby I have to ask my ‘husband’ for money!” Hence, to maintain a certain level of independence, Rachael has to maintain her business.
Men as lovers or as temporary partners are often crucial in helping women to pursue their economic activities, but once the relationship becomes more permanent and particularly, if the two share a household, men wish to curb and control the women’s economic activities. Thus to maintain a certain degree of independence, a woman is faced with a dilemma: she has to balance between, on the one hand, the authoritarian role of a ‘husband’ which provides for her respectability and, on the other, her desired autonomy which she needs to fulfil her obligations towards her children. Therefore, it seems to me that most women can only solve or rather reduce the bad influence of an oppressive and authoritarian ‘husband’ by shuttling in and out of such loose and temporary unions with men, frequently changing partners and mothering children by two or more men.