I've spent 36 hours on Ghanaian bus trips in the past month, much of it watching Nigerian ("Nollywood") movies. The Cinderella story is a common theme in many of these movies: a poor village girl, or sweet middle-class modern city girl, meets a young African prince, who buys her lots of stuff, defends her from his disapproving parents, and takes her away to live in a palace.
I had an interesting conversation about women, love and money with several male Ghanaian colleagues the other day. All three of them agreed that women, in general, loved men for their money. One of them said that he was glad he married his wife My male American colleague gallantly came to the defense of my gender, and contended that while this might be true for some, it was untrue for most, and it was impossible to "love" anyone for their money anyway. One coworker suggested that American women were less likely to love a man for his money than Ghanaian women.
With Nigerian Cinderella fresh in my mind, wasn't so quick to dismiss the attraction of money, but instead asked what was wrong with that? What we find attractive is influenced by our needs, and what society admires. Marriage has long been an economic union, and ability to provide economically has been necessary to that union, and socially admirable. And it is no more shallow than many of our other criteria for love-- which is a more accurate reflection of character, the looks a person was born with, or the money they earned? (We will put aside the money a person was born with for the moment.)
The major difference between West African women and American women is that for West African women, economic survival is much less assured-- and hence a greater need. If the Cinderella fantasy still limps through American culture, it should be unsurprising to find it prevalent in West Africa, where many women do not have the luxury of discounting their mate's ability to provide economically. If men want women to marry them for attributes other than money, they should do all they can to empower women to provide for themselves, so they will have that freedom.
Also, they should consider their decisions to have multiple wives and mistresses. When being able to provide for multiple women becomes a mark of status, it only reinforces the link between money and relationships. Treat women like people, not objects, and they will treat you as people, not meal tickets.
Saturday night I attended a Ghanaian beauty pageant with some friends. The first thing I learned is that events here never start on time. The pageant was scheduled to start at 8; we got there at 9, and we waited an hour and a half before it got started.
The pageant was put on by the local technology school's marketing department; the contestants were students in the department.
The pageant provided an interesting overview of local performance groups, as there were filler acts in between the pageant events. The pageant itself comprised a group dance, a talent portion, and a question and answer section. The talents were mostly dancing, except one contestant who acted out a dialog. Based on the quality of the various filler acts, dancing seems to be the highlight of the local performance arts. My favorite was the contestant who donned a fedora and did a Michael Jackson dance; another contestant performed a traditional dance that was quite good.
The question and answer portion was the most interesting. The questions would have fried the brains and nerves of any U.S. pageant contestant. Here were a few of them:
1. What do you think about female genital mutilation?
2. If your 10-year-old sister were raped by your uncle, what would you do?
3. Imagine that the day before your wedding, your fiancé finds out he is HIV positive. What would you do?
4. Do you think Ghana's domestic violence law is effective?
The contestants gave short but well-reasoned answers, and did not seem at all phased by them, while I and the other ex-pats were stunned at their intensity. I think this underscores how sheltered our lives are in the U.S.; these issues are realities for many young women in Ghana.
In the end, the winner was contestant number 6. Apparently the judges' taste differed from mine, because I had not been especially impressed with her talent or answer. I was sad that the MJ girl did not place. However, my friend's host brother was delighted, because he had been smitten with her from the beginning of the pageant; the choice appeared to be popular with the crowd as well. All of the women were beautiful, talented and well-spoken, and should be proud of their academic achievement at the markas well.
The New York Times reports that playing sports as a child has a positive impact on women's income when they are adults. More boys than girls play sports in high school; about one in three high school girls plays sports compared with half of high school boys. In an era when the majority of the population is overweight, this is one more reason why both girls and boys should be given opportunities and encouraged to participate in sports.
According to this post on the Freakonomics blog, when men and women ride in the car together, the man is much more likely to drive, even in households that consider themselves to be feminist. It's not clear why this is. Do men prefer to drive? Do women prefer to ride? Are men more likely to own the car?
Perhaps it is because women are worse drivers than men? Surprise! Stereotypes to the contrary, women are actually safer drivers than men. This is especially true among young adults. Don't believe it? Why do you think insurance premiums are higher for men? In fact, one study found that more testosterone leads to more bad driving in men: men with longer ring fingers (an indicator of more exposure to testosterone in the womb) had more traffic violations.
So guys, do your part for feminism and lower health care costs: let her drive half the time! Plus, then you can play with the on-board computer. Because everybody knows women are worse with technology than men...
I have worked in economic policy and research in Washington, D.C. and Ghana. My husband and I recently moved to Guyana, where I am working for the Ministry of Finance. I like riding motorcycle, outdoor sports, foreign currencies, capybaras, and having opinions.