When I was in Ghana, I told my driver that. He got a big kick out of it. My aunt confirmed that this is “old thinking” back when men made much more than their wives. If the main breadwinner is making $5,000 or 5,000 cedis per month while the woman is making a fraction of that, then this makes sense. Oddly enough, despite the emergence of two income families, this “old thinking” still seems to persist unevenly today.
Living in Ghana, the roles of men and women are quite distinct and clear. In many ways, the society continues to favor men. Sure, women comprise of the majority of the outdoor market traders; educated women can rise up the ranks in corporate jobs, e.g. banks. In fact, the Chief Justice, Ms. Georgina Theodora Wood, and Attorney General, Ms. Marietta Brew Appiah-Oppong, are both women.
Nonetheless, most senior level positions in government, tribes, and business remain in the hands of men. Thus, despite strides in economic opportunities for women, men continue to control the freedom of women in Ghanaian society. For instance, several colleagues and friends confirmed that many men in power continue to make sex a prerequisite to being hired.
Furthermore, it’s an open secret that most (older) men seem to have mistresses. I can attest to frequently seeing men in their 40s, 50s, and 60s out with women who could be their daughters. They would take their girlfriends to public places, e.g. restaurants, bars, and out with their other male friends who were expected to just accept that their friends had very young companions. Wives are expected to turn a blind eye because many of them are economically trapped in their marriages. Perhaps society views these extramarital affairs as an extension of how traditional chiefs often had multiple wives.
Gender roles in Ghana were, thus, very clear. Men basically get a free pass so long as they can support their families. Women can work but their overriding role is to raise the couple’s children. In Ghana, I think this quote about women keeping their own money makes sense because legal and economic protections for women are weak. There is no social safety net.
Back in the US
From a seat in the US, women’s freedom in Ghana is severely limited. After all, sex as a quid pro quo to hiring would easily lead to a lawsuit and a cheating husband can expect his wife to file for divorce soon after discovery of his affairs.
More importantly, women have made great strides in government and business. Though women still earn less than men, the gender pay gap has narrowed. According to the Pew Research Center, in 1964, women earned 64 cents for every dollar a man made. By 2012, women earned 84 cents for every dollar a man made. Clearly, a drastic improvement. Pew also states that young women (25 – 34 years) earn 93 cents for every dollar a man made. They cite a better educated female population and “are more active in the workforce than they used to be,” women have moved into better paying fields and jobs, men’s earnings have fallen over time, and workplace gender barriers and discrimination have eroded.
The only troubling thing the report finds is how the pay gap widens as women stay in the workforce longer and approaches 80 cents per dollar a man makes.
Even at the highest levels of corporate America, women are filling many prominent roles. It would seem that top companies are becoming more gender-neutral in their hiring practices. Prominent female executives include (Source: Bloomberg News):
- Safra Catz – Co-President/CFO, Oracle – Comp: $51.7 million
- Marissa Meyer, President/CEO, Yahoo! – Comp: $36.6 million
- Irene Rosenfeld, Chairman/CFO, Mondelez International – Comp: $28.8 million
- Sharen Turney, President/CEO, Victoria’s Secret – Comp: $25.6 million
- Carol Meyrowitz, CEO, TJX – Comp: $21.8 million
- Angela Braly – Chairman/President/CEO, Wellpoint – Comp: $20.6 million
- Virginia Rometty, Chairman/President/CEO, IBM – Comp: $16.2 million
- Ellen Kullman, Chairman/CEO, duPont -Comp: $15.7 million
- Meg Whitman, President/CEO, HP – Comp: $15.4 million
- Renee James, Executive VP/General Manager, Intel – Comp: $15.3 million
- Mary Erdoes, CEO Asset Management at JP Morgan, Comp: $14.8 million
- Rosalind Brewer, President/CEO, Sam’s Club – Comp: $14.5 million
- Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo – Comp: $14.2 million
- Ursula Burns, Chairman and CEO, Xerox – Comp: $13.1 million
- Sheri McCoy, Chairman and CEO, Avon Products – Comp: $12.9 million
Surprisingly, Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook, didn’t make it into the list. (I’m sure the majority of her comp is in the form of stock options.)
Besides work, women enroll in college at a higher rate than men across all races. Women also fair well in graduate education enrollment. Women make up a slight minority (up to 45 percent vs 55 percent for men) at the top 10 law schools. For instance, at Yale and Harvard, women make up 49.3 and 48 percent, respectively. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 48 percent of medical school graduates nationwide are female.
What’s the point of all of this data? For all intents and purposes, women have nearly reached parity with men in the workplace and in education. I look at the high divorce rate as an indication that neither the women nor the men feel “trapped” and feel compelled to stay married.
As the barriers preventing women from achieving economic freedom have been removed, some women seem to still want elements of the old-fashioned ways. For instance, some women still want men to be chivalrous and/or to pay for dates. Some women want their husbands to make more money than them. For instance, a friend’s wife previously made at least twice his income; she recently “traded up” to pursue a relationship with someone who made even more than her. Of course, I also know a handful of women who seem to only pick men who make less money than them because the women do not want to feel bound by the whims of their partners.
NPR recently ran a series on the changing definition of the modern American man. Topics of stories included: stay-at-home husbands, the mixed reception chivalry evokes, difficulty in getting paternity leave, and many more.
One thing that I discovered while I was in Ghana was that European couples no longer seem to get married. Instead of tying the knot, they co-habit with children for decades. When I Googled “Men don’t want to get married”, I got a flood of articles/posts that basically state that marriage is a raw deal for men:
- “Why Do Women Initiate Divorce More Than Men?” – Daily Telegraph (October 8, 2013)
- “8 Reasons Straight Men Don’t Want to Get Married” – Huffington Post (June 20, 2013)
- “The War on Men” Fox News (November 26, 2012)
- “Don’t Marry” (November 21, 2008) — this person is either very jaded or spot on
A quick perusal of these posts/articles basically say that marriage is unfavorable for men because the legal system and society still treats women as the “weaker sex” despite vast improvements in economic opportunities. While women can stop working during a marriage or lose interest in their husbands, men are “trapped” in a legal arrangement that compels them to continue supporting their families and remain faithful.
Honestly, I’m a bit confused by the changing currents. On the one hand, I don’t think I can rest on my laurels and wait for a woman in shining armor to rescue me. That’s such a foreign concept and society doesn’t seem to be offering that role. Meanwhile, other women say they want a “partner” but they seem to either want someone to take care of them or someone not to hinder their career trajectories. It’s all a bit grey.
What are your experiences/views on the changing gender roles?