Well aware that I am treading on a landmine-infested ground, I will set off straight with a few clarifications.
First, because I know that my views might be immediately thought to be a general attack on women, I will remind the reader that my reference is specifically about women of a particular inclination/mind-set. Not all women.
Second, I know that, as the saying goes these days, the table I am shaking has food on it. Therefore, it is likely that some will feel that I am endangering their livelihood. Of this category, I wouldn’t mind their anger.
Some diseases cannot be treated without causing pain to the patient. Third, I am not oblivious to the fact that some women are forced out of gainful employment by their spouses. First of all, I do not support this undue control over women in the name of being their husband – except if it’s by their choice.
Should one force their spouse out of work or negotiate that she stays home, then you cannot blame her for asking you to provide. The kind of begging I am talking about is the growing trend by which SOME ladies outspokenly position themselves as entitled to being given by mere virtue of being women.
Perhaps this inclination is rooted in gender roles that position men as providers in their homes and women as caregivers. It is variously defended, including by use of scriptures. Lately, social media has been awash with such defences in response to the so-called ‘Stingy Men’s Association’, a loose club of men pushing back at the vice.
In the above dependent mindset, the role of the lady is to look good (investing in herself ). Whoever gets attracted to her is supposed to take care of her – providing for her hair, transport, rent, upkeep, and so on. While this might appear to be an innocent arrangement, there is much more to it that should worry anyone that is genuinely committed to women empowerment.
While we may argue it in different ways, this is a thinly veiled form of prostitution. Why would it be considered wrong for a lady or man to offer their sexual services for money on the streets while it is okay for another to exchange ‘love’ for money in a relationship? Both are transactions where the body is availed for money.
The only differences are that one may involve relatively fixed clients and that the fees are not directly stated as fees but as expected quid pro quos. More importantly for women empowerment, we cannot have our cake and eat it.
We cannot push for women empowerment while at the same time protecting practices that appear to be privileges yet ultimately affecting women’s independence and voice. A woman who thinks that she is a natural responsibility of a man is not empowered.
She is still stuck in a dependent mindset. She has not yet owned herself. She is just a custodian of a body that is awaiting a good offer to be taken. She may delude herself to be independent, but she effectively remains an object for the fancy of those that can facilitate her needs.
For as long as more will wish to enter relationships where they have to be financially taken care of, women emancipation will remain a fleeting illusion to be pursued but hardly attained.
Can there be meaningful engagement on matters affecting either party in a relationship where one is a sworn dependant of the other? It ultimately skews power relations to the disadvantage of women.
The above form of dependency is of no difference from that of beggars. Just like those on the streets spread out their hands to receive for no particular work, so is it of those that turn relationships into a livelihood source.
And, in whichever way we may put it, except under circumstances of helpless want, begging is a vice that dehumanises the beggar. A beggar with a choice is a rare one. Any adult with a working head, hands, and legs who believes that they are a natural responsibility of another person has by so believing handed over their autonomy to the other.
In many of our Ugandan cultures, the idea that one should eat from their sweat is emphasised. As many proverbs show, dependency is despised. The Baganda would say: Mazzi masabe, tegamala nyonta (begged water does not quench thirst).
In their upbringing, children are cautioned against habitual begging (okusabiriza/ okuleebeeta). Many other cultures shun this vice.
Perhaps it is the rising consumerist culture and its attendant lifestyles that are pushing many young people to live beyond their means which are facilitating the normalisation of begging. Some families are still trying to inculcate the value of modesty in their children but are swimming against a huge tide of social pressure and pop culture.
We thus raise more young girls that find no shame in announcing how they are looking for a rich man to take care of their needs – these days, also lazy boys looking for sugar mummies. With this attitude, we may have to expect more and more unstable marriages, where spouses considered money at the expense of other crucial factors for sustainability of a relationship.
We will get more young people falling into traps of moneyed vultures as they hunt for gold mines. It is said that a greedy person digs his grave with his teeth. I believe that the fate of a beggar is often similar.
Unfortunately, like every repeated thing that appears beneficial, begging is addictive too. Before one realises, they have become habitual beggars in need of rehabilitation.
Meanwhile, some of these still insist on equality and emancipation. They vainly hope that they can dismantle patriarchy while happily sucking its juices – still going out and culturally expecting that the bill is automatically for the man on the table.
The author is a teacher of philosophy.