degree of social independence and avoid the severe control often exercised by a true husband.”
Marriage is an option and a choice for these economically active women, who may prefer to navigate between various ‘donors’ rather than to risk the subordination to one particular husband. Whether also motherhood is seen as an option is less clear; but there are few reports of women opting out of motherhood. Har – am discusses the general preference of ‘motherhood’ to ‘wifehood’ in terms of Jane Guyer’s useful and illustrative conceptualization: polyandrous motherhood (Guy – er 1994). This term captures the particular life situation of unmarried mothers, who may often have children by various men, and it also points to the primacy of motherhood over marriage. Polyandrous motherhood, if cleverly managed, may be beneficial for women; childbearing is highly valued among both men and women, and the success of single mothers’ lives depends to a large extent on the ways in which they manage their reproductive capacity (cf. Haram’s chapter).
Motherhood as pivotal in African cultures and in women’s lives is a theme which has been developed by African feminists like Ifi Amadiume and Oyeronke Oyewumi, cf. Amadiume’s discussion of ‘the motherhood paradigm’ (Amadiume
1997) and Oyewumi’s analysis of the wife/mother distinction (Oyewumi 2000). This distinction further adds to the critique of Western gender/feminist theoretical conceptualizations (including GAD discourse). The importance of the wife/ mother distinction, Oyewumi says, is that ‘female subordination’ is embedded in the position as ‘wife’, whereas the position as ‘mother’ is a position of power in African contexts, “motherhood [being] the preferred and cherished self-identity of many African women” (Oyewumi 2000:1096). Kolawole echoes this point of view (Kolawole 1997).
In Oyewumi’s analysis, Western feminist theory runs off the track, because the ‘woman’ in Western feminist theory is conceived as a ‘wife’—i. e. subordinated to a man/a husband; this wifely subordination being embedded in the Western conception of ‘woman’ (Oyewumi 2000:1094). In Africa, Oyewumi says, the subordination of the ‘wife’ (in patrilineal settings) has to do with her position as an outsider to the lineage; it has nothing to do with her gender; in matrilineal settings the subordinated outsiders will be the young in-married husbands (cf. Peters 1997, Geffray 1990, Arnfred 2001). Oyewumi gives as an example the distinction between the Yoruba terms oko and iyawo, which are usually translated as ‘husband’ and ‘wife’, but which in actual fact is not a distinction of gender; it is a distinction between those who are birth members of a family/a lineage and those who enter by marriage (Oyewumi 2002:4). In patrilineal systems, however—as commonly in the West—the subordinated outsider, the iyawo, will be a woman.
For this reason, in Oyewumi’s understanding, where subordination is embedded is in the positioning as a wife, not in being a woman as such. When Western women also see subordination in motherhood, this is because motherhood in Western patriarchal systems is linked unilaterally to wifehood, cf the concept of ‘illegitimate children’ if the mother is not a wife. The young women of Botswana and Tanzania (and elsewhere in Africa) in choosing not to marry make use of this dis-
Re-Thinking Sexualities in Africa: Introduction
tinction between wifehood and motherhood, opting out of wifehood (= subordination), while maintaining the position as mothers. Cherryl Walker reports from Durban regarding how :
[T]eenage mothers… did not view their pregnancies as shameful disasters but, rather, as an affirmation of their womanhood. … An extremely high value is placed on children for and in themselves… so high that marriage is, in some contexts, quite irrelevant to the bearing of children (Walker 1995:431).
These findings make Walker conclude that:
[I]ncreasingly during the twentieth century motherhood and marriage have been uncoupled for and by African women. … There is a large literature documenting and commenting upon the rise of female-headed households in the course of the twentieth century. There is also evidence that the stigma of single motherhood has continued to decline, to the point where many women look upon it as a preferable option to marriage. … Growing numbers of young women are increasingly sceptical of marriage but are not relinquishing their desire to have children. … Fertility—the capacity to bear children and assume the social identity of motherhood—continues to be very highly valued by women and to inform their choices around motherhood (Walker 1995:431).