The Best of Both WorldsLeila
Having the best of both worlds is what all married women who work strive for. A successful, well paid career on the one hand and a happy marriage with a well-oiled home and healthy children on the other hand. “However, since most of us are not ‘Super-women’, we fail to attain the dream and all we succeed in getting is an angry husband; a home run haphazardly; and less than perfect child. We blame ourselves and feel guilty that our lives are less than perfect, and because society still blames a woman when things go wrong in a marriage, we get assailed by feelings of inadequacy which further serve to make us feel imperfect and it becomes a vicious circle. We become unhappy with our shortcomings, blaming our careers for the state of our marriages and dissatisfied husbands which makes us tense and irritable towards our children which makes them noisy and unmanageable, which gives us headaches, which makes us shout at them until finally we can’t concentrate on our work in the office from tension and irritability with the resultant suffering of our careers,” says a successful career woman.
From a sample of ten working women in Dar es Salaam interviewed for the purpose of this feature story it was learnt that there was a high divorce rate once the working women had attained positions of power and authority in their professions. With a few exceptions, they had all been married before attaining top management posts or before their businesses had done well and for some, before reaching the pinnacle of success in their careers. What most say is that as they moved up the rungs of their career ladders, their marriages went downhill so if one were to draw a graph on career advancement and the resultant marriage instability, the line indicating career advancement would move upward steadily while the happiness and contentment from spouses would be steadily diminishing.
The women in the sample were chosen from different professions, from varying ethnic groups and living in different areas in Dar es Salaam. Some of the women who agreed to be part of the sample held extremely high posts in their professions while others are just starting up the career ladder. They agreed to answer the questions with a marked degree of honesty and for those whose marriages resorted to divorce because of their careers they were honest enough to admit that the failure of their marriages should be partly attributed to them.
Point to note
- Few women are prepared to risk the break-up of their marriages and family life for the sake of their careers.
- Lack of time (i.e. from overwork and the subsequent exhaustion, tension and irritability) means that couples in marriages where women work and hold positions of authority suffer from the common syndrome of not having enough time to spend together and when a marriage is disintegrating, the two parties are not able to patch things up.
- With the advent of higher education for women, more and more women have started to hold high posts and will continue to move up in their careers until they reach the top of their professions.
- Women do not regard careers as a substitute for marriage, even for those women who got divorced as a result of their careers, but rather see careers and marriages sort of complementing each other.
- Infidelity is not admired, in fact it was condemned by the majority of the women, and therefore, the belief that working women inevitably have affairs is not based on fact.
- Most of the women are afraid of what success would do to their marriages when they started moving up the career ladder. The less courageous ones are still battling to reconcile the two-marriages and careers – while the ones with broken marriages feel that if they had a formula of how to reconcile the two aspects of their lives – marriages and careers – they would not have opted for divorce.
- They all say there is a marked lack of team spirit from husbands, although those same husbands expect their wives to “team-up” with them in relation to building up their careers.
- There is always a tug-of-war in the hearts of career women vis-à-vis marriage/home and career and few manage to juggle the two dexterously.
- Nowadays, men are getting the knack and the confidence to cope with a successful wife, especially since society still expects the man to earn more, be more educated and be more in the limelight than his wife, most men seem to be proud of their wives’ achievements, although there are pockets of men who are still grappling with their macho images while having a professionally successful wife.
- In-laws inevitably side with their son/brother when there is fight brought on by the demands of a wife’s career.
Society still blames women when marriages break up. Most women interviewed had married “for love” to men of their own choice. As Saida Majid said, “Although our marriages are arranged, Salim and I met and fell in love while still at a technical college. We were in the same class – both sets of parents and everyone – were happy with the match. I should have realized that there would be problems when the results came out and I got better grades. He became sullen and morose but we went head with the marriage.
By the time we moved back to Dar es Salaam, I was drawing a higher salary and had a higher post. Though we worked for different companies, he resented that fact and started drinking. By the time we had our first baby, he had started abusing me emotionally. I eventually left him.”
Two of the women say their husbands have resorted to physical violence. The women who opted for divorce say emotional abuse was one reason which made them leave their husbands. The other reasons were the breaking up of communication; drunkenness; in-law interference; societal pressure when people praised the wife’s professional success; and mental cruelty.
Ways which husbands use to let their wives know of their dissatisfaction with their wives careers
“He withdrew from me and just spoke to me in monosyllables. He sometimes addressed me through the children.”
“He said if I accepted the scholarship for an MBA in the U.S he would divorce me.’
“He started having affairs to let me know that though I was a boss in the office, I was in the same class as the barmaids he took out.”
“He threatened to divorce me if I bought a plot and built a house.”
A man is automatically seen to have leadership qualities – of resourcefulness, decisiveness and moral fiber. A woman on the other hand is seen to be indecisive, lacking assertiveness and lacking force. It is a well known cliché that women dither when important decisions have to be made and are not assertive enough to deal with colleagues. This belief inevitably makes a woman handicapped and if she is to break away from the stereo-type, she has to assume all the masculine traits of being go-getting, pushy and tough, qualities that are deemed natural and honorable in men but seen as being unnatural and an aberration in women.
So, for example, if a woman manager of a large company has to act assertively in the office in order to gain the respect of her peers, it invariably reflects on her husband. Even if she acts “soft and feminine” with him, society assumes that she wears the pants and her husband is henpecked. So much that if the accusations become vocal, he may start to resent it and her work and try to put pressure on her to change jobs or to stop working.
The women in the sample whose marriages broke up all say that their careers triggered a feeling of inadequacy in their husbands, even those husbands who were highly successful in their careers, to the extent that all communication stopped. As one says “It was inevitable that our marriage should break. My ex-husband was always spoilt and refuses to share the limelight with anyone. As a radio announcer, I became famous and he hated that.”
Another one says “It was a relief when the marriage finally ended. I was so confused and tense. Each day I expected him to erupt over some trivial things, and he did, in front of guests. He used to undermine my authority with the children and domestic servants and abused me in front of his friends.
One of the many problems facing modern career women is the lack of adequate childcare facilities at work places. The problem is so acute that many women with small babies get torn in two when they go back to work after maternity leave. Their concentration suffers, the husbands, relatives call them callous and society sees them as hard women wholly devoted to self interest. Nobody sees fit to blame the husbands because child-rearing is seen as a woman’s job and if the domestic machinery is disturbed, women get blamed for not being good mothers or good wives and for caring more about their careers.
Some husbands even go to the extent of using the arrival of a new baby to make a woman feel guilty about her career which they had always intended to do but didn’t have a good enough excuse.
A woman who has a small baby may also suffer from post-natal depression which can affect her work and her relationships with colleagues and husband. If there are pressing matters in the office which need to be looked into and if she doesn’t get enough physical and emotional support from her husband, she may have a break-down.
Some jobs demand that a woman travels constantly. It is deemed alright if a man travels in the course of his duties but when a woman does that, she is called irresponsible, and a marriage breaker. Some men especially resent it if their wives hold higher posts which entail more travel abroad and take it out on them either by giving them a cold shoulder or by resorting to accusations and verbal abuse.
A woman may not consciously play up her higher post but for each rung that she moves up on the career ladder, her husband may take it as a personal affront and “punish” her. This could be in the form of “withdrawing from the marriage” by having affairs or by mental and physical cruelty; this happens especially if the man’s career is stagnant.
The wife may react by focusing more attention on her job to get emotional relief which would make the man more resentful and from there, the marriage is bound to suffer. Or she would react by withdrawing from her job which would mean that she may get by – passed in promotions and when that happens, she may become resentful and start acting irritably and blame her husband for the failure of her career which also does not contribute to marriage stability.
Society still has clearly defined jobs for men and women. And though more and more women are now being admitted into institutions of higher learning which in turn makes them eligible for positions of authority, on the marriage market, women are still expected to have lower education levels than their husbands, earn less money and be less in the limelight. When a woman makes great strides in her career and is touted far and wide, society’s sympathy is always with the man, for “having married that woman who wants to wear the pants”.
Children too, assume that fathers earn more and that they have “better” jobs than mothers. This image is further enforced by the literature they read. Stories in children’s books have mothers in traditional stay-at-home roles and if they do go to work it is in lower-income earning jobs. Fathers on the other hand are shown as successful, confident and “professional”. When the status quo is challenged, children get confused and invariably side with their fathers in their complaints.
For those women whose jobs frequently entail working late, they are more often than not greeted with hostility from husbands and sometimes from children too. By then, the father has had time to mudsling the mother and since children tend to be easily influenced, the parent who is around exerts more influence. This happened to a friend of mine whose husband was able to turn the children against her because his working day finished at 3 p.m. while hers sometimes went on to 10 p.m., and being a journalist, she could not leave her office until the newspaper had been signed off.
Why marriages broke up
The most common factor among women in the sample that led to the break-up of their marriages was lack of communication. Even for those women whose marriages are still existing, communication was barely present. The men had been brought up along traditional lines that women are supposed to be meek, submissive and retiring so when their wives act contrary to their expectations, they retaliate by being mean. That’s the only way they know to show their fears and displeasure.
It is a fact that many men fear powerful, confident women. A successful woman goes against the beliefs with which they were raised. By a woman becoming powerful in her job, a husband would feel that he is losing his autonomy and grip over his self-respect. He feels it’s a direct challenge against his manhood and his status in society. Even if society is not vocal in dismissing him as a “hen-pecked husband”; or “an apology of a man,” he has been sensitized from childhood to assume the superior role in every aspect of his life. He feels his whole world crushing around him when people praise his wife for her top post. He feels society is laughing at him even if people genuinely admire his wife. He feels hemmed in and suffocated by this powerful woman and thinks that he has to fight back, otherwise he will sink.
And by fighting back, he becomes the persecutor, the oppressor, the abuser, the tyrant, the selfish egoist etc, in his wife’s eyes. That’s when whatever communication they had comes to a standstill and only hatred and resentment remain.
“Women in power tend to emulate men and in the process become caricatures of the male – stereotype,” is what one woman says basing that belief on her own life.
Another says “career women pick up the worst masculine characteristics like selfishness, lack of sensitivity and blind ambition”. Most of the divorced women say if they could turn back the clock and be given their marriages back, they would act in a more mature way. One says her present husband is the same as the former one but now that she is more mature, she can deal with his insecurity. The majority of the women who opted for divorce haven’t remarried, afraid of a repetition of their former marriages.
However, if the problem of marriage break-up/instability vis-a-vis a woman’s career is to be solved, society’s whole outlook has to change in relation to women’s role and women’s status in society. For this we need a new kind of men and women. As long as women continue to be considered underdogs, as long as children are brought up on the assumption that a woman’s place is in the home and that success is a male prerogative, many women will continue to be seen in the light of pushy, dominant characters when they place particular emphasis on their careers.
Whenever society conceptualizes success, it conjures up a man while family and home assume feminine characteristics. Granted that role reversal is not possible at this stage and some women may not want that, what the majority of women want is the recognition that their careers/jobs are important; that they make a substantial contribution to the country’s development; and that pride in their work is an integral part of their happiness.
As one respondent says “At first I was afraid of losing him, until I realized that I should be more afraid of losing myself.” All the women say a happy career woman makes a happy wife.
And finally, in the words of one, “He treated my career worse than he would have treated a rival (another man); I realized it was time we went for marital counseling. At first, he was reluctant but when I pointed out that our marriage was fragmenting, he agreed to the counseling. It took us nine difficult months to face our demons, and we finally decided that we love one another and that we could make our marriage work. That was seven years ago, and our marriage has grown stronger. We are more relaxed, trusting in each other, and celebrating each others’ achievements. I would definitely recommend counseling”.
“Together We Can Make it Happen”