The opinions expressed in this blog are mine, and mine alone. They do not represent the views of the Peace Corps or the United States Government.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Cultural Values of Sexual Dynamics Within Marriage

Yesterday I was reading a local newspaper, "The Voice," when I came upon this short article.  It was apparently a conversation between two men and a woman overheard in a combi.  Combis are 15-passenger vans that carry people around in larger towns.  They have set routes like buses and you only have to pay a set price.  Here is the article, called "The Worth of a Woman."  Any notes in brackets were added by me to aid in understanding.

"Two weeks ago this publication reported on a woman who was stabbed by her boyfriend for refusing to satisfy his sexual desires because she was tired.
Voice reporter happened to join the company of two men discussing  what could have possibly upset the lover so much that he assaulted his girlfriend and nearly killed her.
Checkered Shirt: There’s more to this issue than meets the eye. He did not stab her because he was denied sex; there is a deeper root cause.
Light blue shirt:  As an African man lobola [bride price] empowers me to get  whatever I want any time I want it from my wife. Of course not in an aggressive manner, but when I say I want sex I should get it from the woman I have paid for.
Checkered shirt: African women are even taught how to treat  their husbands. You are told never to tell your husband that you are tired! Whichever or whatever the circumstances you should just abide by the rules or the demands of your partner.
Lady in glasses: Guys!  Guys!  Are you saying a woman is not supposed to get tired? She is a human being  too just like you, remember!
Light blue shirt:  Yes!  Even if she has spent the whole day at the fields she has to try by all means to honour the request and submit to her man’s sexual advances.
Lady in specs: So all you men expect from us is to give it you??(Looks puzzled)
Checkered Shirt: Yes! (Nodding his head) because if she doesn’t it might leads to there questions like  who made you tired and why are you tired?  Which you may not have answers for.  (Laughter).
Lady in Glasses: So this man’s action is justified according to you?
Checkered Shirt: What he did as a punishment is not okay, he overacted actually.
Light blue shirt: But his over action is based on an African context. In our culture he is justified.
Lady in specs:  If your wife were to say she is tired what would you do?
Checkered shirt: Aah! My wife cannot say she is tired simply because she is  coming from work? I would ask her who is coming from home because I would also be from work! But the problem arises when I knock off go home and she arrives home maybe two hours after me and when I want sex she tells me she is tired!
Light blue shirt: I start having many questions as to who could have made her tired and what made her tired?
Lady in specs: From your views women are horses that just keep on going even when they feel they have no strength. So what should they do?
Both men in unison:  They just have to submit!
Checkered shirt: They must submit and then maybe afterward say I did it but I was tired and that is why my performance was not so good.
Lady in specs: How dare you? You even have an evaluation after she has submitted? (Laughter)
Checkered Shirt: An African woman even when she is ill, she has not been well for a week she must still give me what is my right. But obviously It would be my prerogative to be reasonable enough to establish whether her type of illness is the one which wouldn’t be able to render me the benefits I deserve. (Burst into laughter).
Checkered shirt: You can say that again!
Lady in specs: But the lady in the story is not married. He was just a boyfriend.
Checkered  shirt:  But they were staying together. Cohabiting. People who cohabit are enjoying the benefits just like any married couple. In Zimbabwe where am from if a man and a woman stay together for six or seven months they are automatically declared husband and wife.
Lady in specs (Looking very concerned): Seriously would it not be best  to rest for a few hours when one is tired and then get up later and get on with the business?
Checkered Shirt: tjo tjo! You can’t because we are dealing with feelings here (interrupted)
Lady in specs: Tiredness is also a feeling. Is it not reasonable?
Checkered  shirt: But you have to understand who has a stronger feeling. The two feelings have to be weighed. And the man’s feeling is stronger and…….
Lady in specs:  (Interrupting) It has to be satisfied immediately. (Shakes her head).
Checkered  Shirt:  There’s something you people do not understand when a man says to a woman I want to stay with you, this statement is very meaningful. It becomes very expensive to stay with a woman. But a man says I have decided to stay with you and to cater for your even if its expensive, because I now want you full time. Now if you are saying today you are tired, tomorrow you are tired it’s no longer full time. Do you then allow me, when you are tired to go outside and get someone who is not tired?
(Lady in specs laughs)
Lady in specs: Of course not. No woman in her right senses would allow such craziness!
Checkered Shirt: So you better provide!
Lady in specs: Don’t you men get tired?
Shirt: We do get tired but if you say that’s what you want I will perform my duty as a man. This couple’s fight was because they no longer had the same feelings for each other. The woman no longer felt like having the man everyday while he still wanted her daily. She deserves nothing better than this (pointing to the picture in the newspaper)
Lady in specs: (Alarmed) but this is domestic violence.  Do you want to tell us that some acts of violence are warranted?
Checkered Shirt:  No, but don’t forget domestic violence is not only when people start to fight. It begins with the person who provokes the act. If this lady had allowed the man to do what he wanted to do. There wasn’t going to be a fight and she was not going to lose anything. Are you saying the man was the first to be subjected to domestic violence?
Shirt : Yes! The man was the first to be subjected to domestic violence. He had been suffering from it much longer
Lady in specs (Stands up and walks away): This conversation will not take us anyway. The sun will set and no conclusion will be reached"

This is a widespread attitude in Botswana, by men and women alike.  Obviously there are Batswana who think this is abhorrent, but many would agree with the men in this combi.  And the law supports it.  After you are married, the law says that a woman must give her husband sex when he wants it (and vice-versa, I think).  There are circumstances in which she is excused, like if she is suffering a severe illness or a family member has just died.  But the prevailing attitude is spoken by the men in the combi--if my wife is tired, she must be having sex with someone else.  And if she will not give me sex, I have the right to go out and find it elsewhere.

In Botswana, it is also against the law to have any "sex contrary to nature," which basically means that any sex that does not have the possibility of producing a child is prohibited.  That probably means masturbation, but definitely includes sex between people of the same gender, which is mentioned alongside beastiality in the statute.

Botswana is changing.  There are openly gay people here.  This same newspaper, "The Voice," featured an article about a motswana who is marrying another man from Namibia.  So Botswana is becoming more progressive in some ways.  Yet, the traditional views about the place of a woman within the marriage still hold a lot of power.  And then we wonder why rapes are happening more and more frequently...when men are taught that it is okay to take whatever they want from their wife, how are they able to respect the bodily integrity of women in general?

After I read this article, I engaged in a conversation about it with a man.  He is about 40 years old, I'd say.  We were in the home of a neighbor of mine, a woman.  He was questioning us as to why the wife would ever deny sex.  If a couple is married, they must always be on the same page about those things.  I asked him, "So if I go to a movie with my husband, we must both like it because we are married?  No...we are two different people with two different feelings.  I may want to do something and he does not, and vice-versa."  This man responded that a husband and wife should always have love and understanding for each other, so I should have sex with my husband even if I don't want to.  I followed with, "Why must I, as the woman, understand my husband's needs yet he does not need to understand mine?"  It is as if the wife's role within a marriage is seen only as a sex partner.  That if she is not engaging in sex with her husband, she is not fulfilling her the men in the combi stated, the husband is not having her "full time."  The man continued by saying, "Well, if you say you are tired, then it becomes a habit.  You just always say you are tired."  And he mentioned the law in Botswana, that it supports submitting to your husband if he wants it.  I said, "In America, slavery and segregation were legal at times.  Just because something is legal, doesn't make it right."

There is no way to sugar-coat this.  I could be balanced and anthropological and say that we cannot impose our own moral values on other cultures.  But there is no way around this one for me.  I think it is awful that people think this.  And it's not just in Botswana.  It is all over the world.  It is happening in America when boys put up photos and videos online of girls they have sexually assaulted.  It is forced marriages of 13 year old girls.  It is female genital mutilation.  I understand that there is sexual assault between men, between women, and perpetrated by women against men.  But here I am focusing on the most common--perpetrated by men against women.  

Women are humans, just like men.  No one--man or woman--should be forced to have sex if he or she doesn't want to.  What happened to enthusiastic consent?  What happened to not wanting to have sex if my partner doesn't want it?  I think we need to reframe the conversation about sexuality so that it is not women having to fight to say no.  Shouldn't the men make sure that their women really want it?  The man I was talking with said that there needs to be love within a marriage.  I completely agree.  But his definition of that is the woman understanding the man's needs and giving him what he wants.  To me, love means that each of you must take into account the other's needs.  There is compromise in general, of course.  Sometimes you probably will do it when you are tired, but it doesn't mean you should be forced to if you don't want to.

No matter where you are from, don't settle for someone who doesn't treat you the way you want within your relationship.  And if you are a Peace Corps volunteer, don't be afraid to get into these conversations with locals around you.  I am not saying we can change the culture, nor that we necessarily should.  But we can be the catalyst to get people thinking about what is right and wrong in the world.  And that's always the beginning of change.


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