Kudyiswa (love potions) & the Economics of Misogyny

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A few weeks ago a video and image of a man carrying his baby on his back with his wife walking beside him sparked a social-media debate about whether this was acceptable in “African culture”. In the video, several men made fun of him while shouting “wakadyiswa”, a Shona term meaning you have been fed a love potion or other magical concoction that makes you cater to a woman’s demands.

According to my research (courtesy of WhatsApp and Twitter) here are a few other signs that a man “akadyiswa” or is under a love spell:

  • He is faithful/monogamous (because monogamy is not African);
  • He spends time with his wife/girlfriend (the potion is extra strong if he brings her out to the bar after work);
  • He needs permission to go out or spend money;
  • He cooks and cleans;
  • Changes diapers;
  • He carries his child on his back;
  • He agrees to wear matching couple outfits.

Any other basic romantic gesture would probably qualify to be on the list. There seems to be a common belief among some Zimbabweans that men cannot willingly do household chores, participate in childcare or consider their wive’s opinions in decision making without witchcraft or some other undue stress that obviates their manhood. In fact, a few commentators suggested that the man in the viral video must have been broke. Okay – so love potion or broke? In essence, a man that cannot sufficiently provide for his family looses his status and is demoted to a submissive position that requires him to do “women’s work” based on this notion. Moreover, imagine a potion that makes a man love his wife enough to help carry his own child.  While watching this video I mulled over how a man walking down the streets of a wealthier country lets say Canada, Sweden, or Denmark would probably not gather this much attention. Meanwhile in Zimbabwe, even our first lady had to hop-in and commend this man for being kind enough to help his wife by carrying his own child.

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With this in mind I wondered if this mind-set has held our socio-economic development back hence the title “kudyiswa (love potions) and the economics of misogyny.” In this article I attempt to briefly (and plainly) unpack the loaded concept of “cultural” misogyny zoning in on patriarchy and how it relates to modern economic prosperity.

I pitched my title idea to my father and the first question he asked me (understandably) was, “what does one have to do with the other?” I love having conversations about misogyny and all its social expressions with my father because he is a true reflection of the modern educated African man of his generation. Therefore, whatever he thinks and believes is a moderate version of what the average Zimbabwean man really feels and thinks. At first, having these conversations with him was frustrating and dispiriting then I got to a point when I realized his convictions are not entirely his fault. The conventional wisdom he grew up with is no different from the white man who grew up when black people were legally and scientifically believed to be intellectually inferior. As these social norms are challenged and laws change the perceptions and actions of the average person takes much longer to change. Especially where such harmful practices are regarded as cultural or part of our tradition.

Lets go back to the father in the viral video. We are in Zimbabwe in 2019 and a surprising number of us still believe that only a love potion or lack of money can make a man act lovingly towards his family. I suppose the love potion theory makes sense since the concept of falling in love or even romance is fairly new to us.  Historically, love and romance where not the foundation for marriage. Arranged marriages and polygamy were and still are at the core of many “African cultures” – where fathers transfer their daughters to their husbands for a bride-price. We like to sugarcoat modern day bride-price (lobola) with the token of appreciation mantra that doesn’t quite factor in our history of women as “property”, first belonging to their fathers then transferred to their husbands after marriage. Consider that in most countries early rape laws clearly categorised it as a property crime which could be rectified by paying “damages” to the owner (father or husband). I know I am oversimplifying this, but hopefully you get the point.

According to the concept of kudyiswa when a man loves a woman too much it takes away his power, it seems they fear that this love may result in a woman being in control or treated as an equal within the relationship. Surely, it must be harder to treat a person you love as a household slave who happens to birth and raise your children. This just might be the misogynist sentiment that fuels patriarchy even when we have reached a point where it no longer benefits society.

We carry on so many damaging cultural practices without thinking much about the context in which they were adapted. There are umpteen practices invented by those who came before us that in my (well informed) opinion were born out of ignorance, lack of resources and need for survival. We cannot resist progressive change and carry on most of these customs simply because we for some reason believe ancient practices are superior to modern ideas.

We have advanced so much in science, medicine, technology, etc. We are also far more sophisticated socially and psychologically as human beings. Our modern understanding of the human brain, how its affected by the environment, how it can be shaped and damaged gives us the superior ability to determine what is good and bad for our society today. So why do we Africans believe that somehow our ancestors way of life is superior? Preserving cultural practices that are harmful to any group is unethical to say the least. This is obviously a topic that can be debated incessantly, so let me bring it back to the subject matter at hand.

One of the overarching manifestations of misogyny is patriarchy. By its definition patriarchy embraces misogyny. Our gender roles support only men as the power holders, they are our heads of house holds, heads of state and decision makers and women are their submissive partners. Patriarchy just like racism was designed to make one group dominant and the other submissive. Frequently, patriarchy is supported by the sentiment that nature (or God) intended it to be. This theory is easily discounted by the fact that some matriarchal societies still exist and male domination was not always our way of life. Accordingly, patriarchy as we know it today is more of a social construct than a biological construct (another discussion for another day).

Lets start by defining misogyny: according to dictionary.com, misogyny is “the dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.” This ingrained prejudice against women manifests itself in various ways, Wikipedia (don’t judge, it was the best well rounded summary I could find) lists a few that include patriarchy, male privilege, social exclusion, sex discrimination, hostility, and centrism, belittling of women, disenfranchisement of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification. The many academic attempts to define misogyny and its various manifestations get very muddy and complicated so for the purposes of this discussion, I will stick to the definition that sets misogyny as the foundation on which women are treated as the inferior sex.

Patriarchy became dominant as societies moved from hunter-gatherers to agricultural based homesteading, which led to the need for inheritance. Consequently, systems of male lineage property inheritance were born. Not much has changed since, according to WEF women own less than 20% of land worldwide, most of which is inherited. This of course is an imbalance caused by historical laws that barred women from working outside the home and from owning property. Such laws prevented women from having their own wealth, which meant a woman without a male guardian would end up destitute. The system was legally rigged to keep women submissive to the men they had to depend on.

In any case, while the laws have changed the traditional perceptions have not. To be fair these changes are fairly recent and it will take time for people (mostly men) to fully accept them. For instance, under Zimbabwean law, black women were perpetual minors (meaning the law treated them as children who needed a guardian, typically a father or husband) up until 1982, and it wasn’t until 2013 that the constitution superseded customary laws that allowed sexist inheritance practices. Patriarchy is so ingrained in our culture that in 2006 the Domestic Violence Act was challenged by some male law makers as robbing men of their God given rights to rule over their wives – you cant make this stuff up!

You cannot support patriarchy and not be a misogynist. It’s unfair to generalize but for the purposes of this article I will do so. There are many very evolved men and women who understand that society is constructed imperfectly and do the best they can to treat each-other equitably. But the truth of the matter is the majority of us, both male and female (internalized misogyny) are conditioned to be misogynists, its just a matter of levels. Today, when it comes to issues of equality and traditional gender roles, many of us are conflicted. For instance, on one hand we expect men to be “providers”, but we turn around and judge women who want to be provided for. In the same vein, our economy still leaves an overwhelming majority of our women out.

The idea of equality outside the home has been better received than equality inside the home, even so, women are still fighting for equal pay and leadership positions that remain out of reach. Oddly, I have heard some seemingly successful professional Zimbabwean women insist that they would never contribute to household expenses because that is a “man’s job.” On the other hand, in cases where working women make an equitable financial contribution to the household,  women still do the majority of the housework and child-rearing. There is also a school of thought that looks down on women who prioritize careers while another group criticizes those who stay at home depending on men.  Men have had a historical advantage and although women can now have some of the same opportunities the gap is still wide, this translates to many women needing to depend on a man (as a wife or prostitute or anything in between). It is ingrained in many women that they have to find a provider, sometimes by any means necessary because it is the only way they can survive.

It takes a certain kind of parenting to raise girls that truly believe that they can be financially independent. We live in a society that still accuses our most successful women of sleeping their way to the top, and there are many that do just because their options are limited. We are stuck inbetween an evolving society that attempts to provide an equal opportunity (with many limitations) and a society that cannot let go of its old ways.

For a while in the 80s and 90s, Zimbabwe felt like it was well on its way to social equality making small strides that made many young women feel as if they had equal opportunity. However the last 15 years have been interesting, it seems with all the changes in laws and policies the socio-economic, political and cultural conditions of women are moving backward. Not only were existing legal and cultural limitations of women bad for our economy but as the economy failed so did many of the gains women had fought for. The correlation might sound far fetched but academia has found 101 ways in which recognition of women’s rights is necessary for economic development. I have gathered a few micro-level (relatable) threats of misogyny to our socio-economic development.

  • Patriarchy not only hurts women it hurts young men financially

Many young Zimbabwean women aspire to be wives and the dominant prerequisite skill for this position being domesticated (an ability to cook, clean, serve, etc.).  I suspect many old-school Zimbabwean men would rather marry a domesticated woman they don’t love over a less domesticated one they adore. A wife’s ability to earn and support a family is not considered and often seen as a threat (Do you agree?). Consequently, when young men marry its highly likely they marry a dependent. Unless you are at the top of the food chain, marrying a dependant instead of a contributing earner, can significantly reduce your quality of life. This obviously does not apply to every couple but generally, a double income household will be able to afford better healthcare and education for the children. Having a single income also reduces the amount of disposable income that would otherwise be used to invest into wealth building ventures like property or businesses. 

It seems as if female emancipation went backward as our country’s employment levels dropped, more young women focus on looking for providers. Oddly (or not), even with economic struggle our young men still prefer to marry the typical dependent wife as opposed to partners that will increase their household income and as a result, they struggle to sustain their young families. With that said, remember we are looking at it from a purely financial standpoint, however there are other advantages to a parent staying at home with young children – it just doesn’t have to be the woman. And lets not forget the bride-price, an unnecessary financial burden on future grooms that has no justification in an equal society.

Marrying dependants is not the only way patriarchy hurts young men, a system that values men by what they can provide usually means only older more established men can comfortably afford to marry, this is why they end up with multiple households. Many young women would rather be a second or third wife to a financially stable older man than a young man who is still trying to find his footing.

  • Misogyny mutes half of our greatest minds

Brilliant women who could change the course of our country are not given a fair chance to participate in politics or commerce. Zimbabwe has half as many girls as boys in secondary school even though they start off with equal numbers in primary school. Many girls in rural areas drop out of school mainly due to financial challenges. When large rural families do not have sufficient funds, they choose to educate boys mostly because of the notion that girls can be married off. Schools in urban areas paint a superficially optimistic picture which is not reflective of the population, 80% of which lives in rural Zimbabwe. It is an established fact that educated girls are more likely to contribute to the development of the communities they come from. Without equal opportunities we mute half of our most intelligent people, partners capable of enhancing decision making not only in homes but in politics and business across all industries. And when smart women are merely submissive partners as opposed to decision makers, our homes and communities are robbed of better quality outcomes financially and otherwise. 

  • Misogyny puts a strain on the health (and judicial) system

This may sound far fetched but consider that:

  1. one in every three Zimbabwean women over the age of 15 has been a victim of gender-based violence
  2. domestic violence accounts for over 60% of murders, an overwhelming number of women visits to emergency rooms. (I wondered why domestic violence was so common then remembered that up until The Domestic Violence Act of 2006 Zimbabwean men could legally beat their wives.)

The herald reported in November last year that an average of 113 girls, mostly 13- 15 years, seek treatment for sexual abuse every month at one clinic in Mbare, Harare – that is one clinic, imagine what the numbers would add up to around the country. This clogs both our medical and our judicial system and it does not stop there we also have to think about the domino effects of this abuse.

Before modern medicine, as human settlement increased in size so did the spread of STDs. Monogamy may have been an evolutionary strategy for males who wanted their offspring to survive when diseases like Syphilis wiped out entire villages. According to evolutionary scientists, nature has a way of forcing us into behaviour that is beneficial for our continued existence. Of course today we are no longer being wiped out by STDs but that is only because of our medical advancements. Our culture of Polygamy, multiple household families are a manifestation of patriarchy that fosters multiple sexual relationships and puts a disproportionate number of women at risk of STDs. This is reflected by the higher rate of HIV infections in women who are more likely to share partners and have less power in their sexual relationships. Like everything else this is arguable, but again that’s a discussion for another day. Many studies have made a correlation between womens rights and HIV prevention. As we all know HIV has burdened our ailing health system and continues to drive families further into poverty because of the high costs of medical care and loss of breadwinners.

  • Misogyny affects how adult children choose to provide for their elderly parents

Elderly parents in Zimbabwe generally rely on their children for subsistence. Our social services don’t function and pensions were wiped out by hyperinflation, consequently, children are the only retirement plan most Zimbabweans have. Many African parents do not understand this but raising children in unstable homes has damaging results that include adult children completely abandoning their family later in life. Emotions and psychological issues are generally ignored in African homes, but that doesn’t mean they do not exist.  Now imagine the type of fathers that believe being loving to your wife is a weakness, they are the same fathers who believe showing affection to their children is feminine and culturally unacceptable (does this qualify as #toxicmasculinity?). Our culture undervalues father-child relationships and the role it plays in producing well-balanced adults. Traditional fathers not only struggle to form emotional bonds with their children, but these same children also have to witness their mother act as the submissive partner. Bitter children tend to abandon their parents (mostly fathers), leaving them to fend for themselves in their old age.

  • Misogyny through polygamy reduces opportunities for children

Many times, by the time a Polygamous father is eighty and dependent on his adult children he has a new younger wife with infant children. These children end up fatherless before they finish school and continue the cycle of poverty. We rarely talk about the psychological effects polygamy has on children because we generally have a culture that does not respect children or their feelings. It is no surprise that polygamy is most common in the worlds poorest countries. Polygamy tends to weaken family pride and legacy building as siblings with different mothers compete for limited resources and do not feel connected. In addition, polygamy increases the number of children a single man has, having too many children limits their education opportunities and consequently their ability to earn and give back as adults. Having many children was valuable when we were an agri-based society, it provided more hands on the field, however in a knowledge-based economy, education becomes the biggest economic equalizer. As such, children of monogamous relationships have the best economic outcomes.

And the simplified moral of my ramblings…. Misogyny does not pay and patriarchy is holding us back! Autonomous individuals with equal opportunities, whose coupling increases their individual wealth versus cutting it in half are better for our economy. Tying being a provider to manhood is just as dangerous as legally and culturally limiting the potential of women and girls. When our mindsets and actions start shifting to reflect this, our society will begin to progress and prosper. The link between development has been made and proven and this is why countries that are serious about development prioritize women rights. There is so much to explore with this topic so in future posts I will try and unpack each of the manifestations of misogyny in greater detail.

I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below.

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