Yesterday, I went to an out-dooring. I went early to help. While we were getting things ready, I had a conversation with a friend of the new mother:
“I want a boy next.” She said wistfully as she rocked the 2 week-old boy about to be out-doored.
“Maybe if I hold him tight enough, close to my belly, tonight my husband and I will make a baby boy.”
I tried not to shake my head in disbelief. I remembered this is her reality.
“So what do you do?” I asked her. “Tell me about yourself. How old are you? Where did you go to secondary school? What did you study?” I want to draw her out of her daydream, distract her.
She looks baffled at the change in conversation. For a minute I get her to stop squeezing the life out of the newborn and tell me a bit about herself. She is shy at first then she gains a little bit of confidence. This all goes to waste when she ends with finality: “But my husband just wants me to stay home and watch the children. She says this after she tells me: She is 20 years old, currently shopkeeping for a perfume store that belongs to a Lebanese man. She studied Sciences and got a rather high level mark after the SSCE. She had wanted to be a phlebotomist but her family, faced with spending more money or collecting dowry, chose the latter. So at 19, she was married off.
This time I shake my head and ask if she told anyone what she would like to study? She returned to hugging the baby as though talking about herself is a sin and focusing on the intent of making a baby boy will absolve her from this sin.
I am sad. I wonder if women are never really given a chance to talk about themselves and what they want. Or whether they are just constantly told that nothing is of relevance without a husband and children.
She’s back to talking about how she and her husband have been trying for a male child.
“How old is your daughter?” I ask expecting to hear upwards of five years.
“Oh Naa?” She says almost dismissively. She will be one next week. The shock might have been visible if she wasn’t so intent on making a baby boy. I think, wow, Naa is barely old enough to have a sibling. Or to stop needing her mother’s attention.
“Why are you in such a hurry to add to the family? Why don’t you enjoy the little one for a while?”
“Oh you are so funny! You Abrokyi people. My husband says his father wants a grandson before he dies. Plus you know how men are…” She meets my eyes with the sadness in hers. I smile apologetically. Yes, I do know how men are. I was raised here. Yet, I think they are mere products of the culture they are steeped in. Mothers who perpetuate the same story, instilling in their sons what their own mothers instilled in them, devaluing their daughters.
I wonder, would she be wanting another child so quickly if Naa had come out male? Why does our culture attach such importance to male children? Is it something we would ever grow out of?
So I am here in the mirror questioning why I want to move back to this country. Why I want to live and work here. A place where the single woman is in a phase that will “hopefully” pass. Or suffer the consequences of being labeled various versions of a picky or loose woman. Was I making a mistake giving up my carefree existence in the U.S. for one fraught with endless streams of questions about men and babies? My inquiries took another turn. Was there something inherently wrong with such an age-old institution? Was it possible that all there really is to a woman’s life is the end goal of marriage and children? I wondered why people did it? And the million-dollar question: why did everyone make it their business to involve everyone in this institution? Coerce might be a better word.
So this interaction with the 20 year-old made me think of something that happened last week…
One of my exes heard I was in town and messaged me. Our ensuing chat went something like this:
“I want to see you. Let me come take you out.”
“Ei will your wife permit you to leave the house? Maybe you should invite her too. I want to meet the woman who dared to marry you.”
“Ah how can she stop me? Lol. No she won’t be joining us.”
“Ok. Let me meet you instead at the Accra Mall and then we can go to Tante Marie’s or Rhapsody’s.”
“Ei you this independent woman. Ok. I will meet you there. 9pm?”
“Heh, your wife will be angry with you o.”
“Aaah b3 you! Stop worrying about my wife.”
“Ok see you in the Food Court at 9pm. Don’t be late. I work with Oyibo time. And just so you know, this is Not A Date!”
“You’ve been gone too long. See you at 9 sharp! Lol.”
My ex and I had remained good friends over the years since I left Ghana to study abroad. We were tight and he got me through some tough times those first years of adjusting. Lots of ethical questions went through my head after I agreed to this “not-a-date.” I had agreed to hang out with a married man with two kids and a wife. I wondered what I would do if I were in his wife’s shoes. As a feminist, where did I stand on such an issue? True we were not making plans to do this regularly, nor was I thinking anything was going to happen or pretending that he was single. But nevertheless, I remained troubled. Where did one draw the line? Would his wife be willing to meet me? Find a baby-sitter for the kids and join us for dinner? The two bigger issues that remained undiscussed were the fact that 1) I could go out and stay out late because I was single and had no children and 2) our Ghanaian society makes it pretty darn clear on who stays home. It’s lenient such that married men can stay out late if they like and rarely have to answer to anyone. And no one thinks ill of them for socializing with other women while their wives stay home. My “going-dutch on everything” feminist self went out the door as I graciously accepted the spread before me and ate my way through a 150 Cedi meal with my ex and his best friend, a fellow classmate, also married I should add. Throughout the meal, I wondered whether he splurged like this on his wife. Whether he would he still ask to hang out with me if I was married. Was it easy because I had no one to answer to? Would this change if I did?
Could I ever change people’s views about women? Did I want to try or would I rather go back to my 24/7 electricity, uninterrupted internet and cell-phone service, and clean running water city and remain the single independent feminist woman I was without hassle of being daily pestered about men and children?