Who should bring the bacon home?

OPTING for a career, as a woman, often involves some sacrifice and the making of tough choices, especially if one has to juggle full-time employment with motherhood and marriage.

Agreeing to Disagreeing with Delta Milayo Ndou

The bottom line is whatever women achieve outside the domestic sphere comes at a price and many women may find themselves caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

A little while ago, a friend of mine got an amazing job offer that would require her to relocate to a remote South African province where the standard of living would not be suitable for her seven-year-old daughter and whose distant location would make it difficult for her husband to commute regularly to see her.

She made a tough call and packed her daughter back to Zimbabwe to her mother, while her husband (who travels a great deal in his hustling) had to be content with coming home to an empty Jo’burg flat whenever he returns from his business trips.

So my friend will either have to quit this new lucrative job and return to light the hearth of the Jo’burg flat, raise her daughter and hope that her husband’s hustling efforts will suffice to keep them afloat.

But the fear of financial instability when she has a daughter to care for and having no job security in a foreign country eats at her, so she remains resolute in continuing with her new job accepting that her husband would never want to follow after her and relocate because it is too “unmanly” to follow a woman.

I recently had a heart-to-heart with an old acquaintance who was frustrated that she had spent the last four-and-a-half years being a reluctant housewife because she could not secure a job in the non-English speaking country that she and her husband relocated to.

Her husband got a job opportunity in that French-speaking country and she dutifully tagged along with their toddler in tow – that’s what a good wife does. I wondered, would the husband have been willing to tag along had it been the other way round?

Anyway, this acquaintance expressed frustration at the stagnation of the last four years given that she has not been able to advance her educational qualifications or pursue her career.

But that’s not the real source of her discomfiture.

The reality is the relationship has hit troubled waters and now she is beginning to be unwilling to sacrifice another year of her life providing marital comfort and support to her husband whose star is rising and with it, his level of arrogance.

The fact that she holds a degree does little to mitigate her feelings of entrapment because the language barrier renders her unable to enter the job market and become economically independent.

She is now contemplating a move back to Zimbabwe, hoping to resume postgraduate studies with her 17-month-old baby while her husband remains working outside the country, because she feels she has mortgaged the best years of her life to support a man who no longer sees her worth.

Considering that she loves her husband very much, but is realising that the relationship is becoming unstable — returning home is very terrifying for her because she doesn’t know what will happen, but she is now determined to pursue a career. And the likelihood is that such a course of action will come at a very high emotional cost as she enters the job market.

Her options at the moment appear dismal.

She can either remain stuck in the rut of living in that country (whose language she has wholly failed to sufficiently master) unable to get any employment or even advance her studies, but be available for her (increasingly unappreciative) husband and raise her child (with whatever resources the husband is willing to make available), or she can return home, upgrade her qualifications with the hope of getting a decent job to fend for herself and her child.

These two women’s dilemmas made me reflect on the gender roles that society assigns and how some of them have become obsolete in the face of a rapidly changing world.

Can women really sit at home (even by default) as is the case with the acquaintance I mentioned above and wait for “daddy” to bring home the bacon without becoming susceptible to abuse, neglect and perhaps even rejection? How safe is it for women to rely solely on their husbands for sustenance and is it practicable for couples in this day and age to insist on these normative gender roles?

When women take the initiative within their homes to seek employment and have to relocate – how often do men support their partners by being willing to move with them regardless of how contrary it may be to the normative gender roles?

I found myself wondering how many women have turned down lucrative job offers because their spouses were unwilling to consider relocating? I think that relocating because of job opportunities should go both ways and perhaps men should be more willing to support their spouses when such fortuitous opportunities make themselves available.

But that’s just me. I could be wrong. We can always agree to disagree.

Delta Milayo Ndou is a journalist, writer, activist and blogger

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