It’s a tale as old as time.
Boy and girl meet. They fall in love. Both of them have nothing to declare financially, but they have love, and nothing beats that. They got each other’s backs and will support each other to reach their highest potential. Now in this story, because our society decided that women have to be the primary caregivers and homemakers, women end up supporting their husbands, while their own goals and ambitions are discarded, for the greater good. Or as was aptly put by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “for the good of the family.”
It’s nothing insidious, it’s just that women have the mothering instinct and men for reasons that have not been thoroughly reported on appear to be missing the fathering instinct. Everyone plays their part in this division of labour, both sets of eyes on the combined prize. Finally, their dreams come true, all their years of toiling, pinching pennies and maintaining steady hope in the face of untold challenges have been rewarded. His dreams have come true and it’s bye-bye poverty, suffering and all the attendant shame that accompanies them.
Except, it’s not yet Uhuru. Not for everyone.
Suddenly this love that sustained and carried them through the hard times is not enough. Suddenly she’s not enough for him anymore. He has more options now and honestly, what kind of fool limits his present self with access to countless opportunities to the promises made by a pathetic love-sick boy eons ago with nary a cent to his name? That’s just dumb and I think we can all agree. Right?
So Mr. Recently-Just-Minted leaves his wife and kids and finds him a fresh young one who is more in keeping with the successful, worldly man he is today. What of his starter wife, also referred to as Bottom Bitch?
Bottom bitch is a term whose usage has greatly evolved over time. In recent years, it has started being used to refer to the most prized or most exploited person in an arrangement. If you are the employee of the month in a company that exploits workers, you are essentially their bottom bitch. First wives end up being referred to as bottom bitches because they give a whole lot more than they receive and then get left high and dry.
Well, she had her chance to make something of herself too and if she didn’t, how are y’all going to blame him for the mistakes of a full-grown woman? They both had 24 hours in a day. He made something of himself and nobody should make him feel guilty for that dammit! Women wanted to be equal and now they are, if she wanted to advance herself, she could have. That is not on him. Do not lay that at his door. Please, let’s just get that straight.
Plus, if we’re airing things out, she let herself go and men are visual creatures. Everybody knows this! Okay, so the argument can be made that all the work she was doing in holding the fort back home, giving him peace, taking care of him and his kids is what allowed him to focus as much as he did, enough to finally break out. That argument sounds legitimate on the face of it, but come on, nobody asked her to sacrifice. If she really wanted, she could have done both. Also, honestly, how hard is it really to cook, clean and wipe a few running noses? That’s just an excuse women have used from the beginning of time. Just to be clear, there are women who do all that and have made something of themselves, so checkmate.
The woman and her kids, generally end up living miserably while the man lives it up. And even in the rare event that he maintains their living standard financially, with or without the encouragement of the legal process, women end up being the biggest losers. Men who all along claimed to despise gold diggers, suddenly cannot find enough to surround themselves with and entertain. Women on the other hand, because we live in a society in which women’s value is inversely proportional to their age are persona non grata in the dating sphere. These women who were convinced that they had loyal partners and stable companionship to live out the rest of their days are left resoundingly alone.
Arguments about why this keeps happening
The argument has been made, that this continues to happen to women because while women are inundated with fairy tales and romantic notions about love, men take a more pragmatic approach to it all. Men are hypergamic, which is to say they marry up. They select a person from a higher caste or social status or educational background and so on. They are essentially always looking to move further up while women are out here looking for fairy tales, all this courtesy of the patriarchy.
Talking Potential Solutions
The solution advanced by the proponents of this view? Women should see the lie for what it is, stop believing it and become like men, like the rest of humanity really, always looking for a way to advance themselves. Like men, women should be flexible, dynamic and willing to move on when better comes along, not stagnant, static and under the delusion occasioned by fantastical stories.
The ubiquity of these incidences of men leaving women they have been through immense struggle with when they finally become successful is proof that there is a problem. But is the solution, women becoming more like men? Consider the high powered female boss phenomenon that swept the world with women being encouraged to Lean In and be a #GirlBoss. For some reason, in the eyes of excluded, marginalized and oppressed people, freedom always looks like the oppressor. This was Paulo Freire’s contribution in his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
Freedom for exploited workers looks like becoming the boss doing the exploiting. Freedom for black people who were locked out of places like country clubs is joining these exclusionary clubs and locking out the new riff-raff. Freedom for women is somehow synonymous with becoming like men.
What does a successful man look like? A successful man is one who has accumulated, I mean hoarded, ungodly amounts of money and wealth while millions, I mean billions, continue to languish in poverty and lack. A successful man runs a major enterprise or corporation, which is essentially a glorified dictatorship in which their word is the law and they have a free-pass to do whatever they want including but not limited to being racist bigots in a hellish work environment where workers are paid the bare minimum management can get away with without inciting a workers’ revolt. A successful man puts work above everything else, working all manner of hours in the name of productivity and maximizing their limited time on earth. They’ll sleep when they’re dead or so they tell us.
So women do these things which end up representing freedom and progress. They work insane hours, hoard wealth with the best of them and set up their own dictatorial lands where they rule with an iron fist running roughshod over workers. How is this progress? Now, because men cannot be relied on to be loyal and keep their promises, women are being encouraged to embrace that worldview and seek perpetual progress whether it be in their intimate relationships or the workplace. How is this freedom? How is any of this progress?
We have to reject these narratives that make what the oppressor does and gets away with synonymous with freedom and progress. Is it problematic that women and men are raised with these worldly divergent views when it comes to relationships? Yes. Is the solution to women becoming more like men? No. Emphatically, no! So men select women of higher social status so that they can be elevated by extension, who doesn’t want to move on up? We all do. However, the questions we must ask should revolve around why we are allowing economics to dictate and shape all of our lives and choices. How is it possible that we are okay with a system that disenfranchises so many so that in desperation people select spouses not in order to meet their deeper emotional and psychological needs but in order to secure their financial futures in such a precarious world? Ordinary people are doing everything they can to succeed in a cruel, cruel world. Are we truly going to hold that against them?
We have to reject these narratives that have a critique of people’s behaviour but not of the capitalist system that in a lot of ways animates and sustains it. So I get marrying up. It makes all the sense in this world we have created. However, leaving the woman who struggled with you in her prime and in her most productive years to suffer alone in a society that sees her as past her ‘best by date’ is reprehensible. It’s unconscionable and there is no justification on the face of the earth for it. We have to reject these false choices that reduce women to behaving in the despicable ways men continue to act. Men’s past and present conduct are no ethical or moral yardstick.
What should women do to protect themselves from such men? I don’t know. Maybe, get into a relationship with your eyes open, not deceiving yourself about what your partner is really like? I really don’t know, mainly because I refuse to believe that all the women this has happened to were complete fools. I do, however, think that people should normalize signing prenuptial agreements and constantly updating them throughout the relationship’s lifetime. People should get whatever verbal agreements they make on paper, and formalize them. If we agree that I should stay home with the kids, figuratively holding down the fort while you pursue your dreams, we should get that down on paper along with how we share the proceeds that result from this mutually beneficial arrangement.
Women should also make sure their names feature in the documentation of all assets acquired during the relationship’s lifetime. Every asset from the company to the house to the car, the fridge and TV. Everything. Not sexy or romantic, I know. But it’s safe. A friend recently told me, “Life is sobering.” Choose to acknowledge the sobriety along with love and romance. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. As those first wives left high and dry have learnt and we would do good to learn too, there are no guarantees in life.
This whole discussion has just reminded me of this story of this lady whose husband left her for his secretary and years later he wants to see her. Check it out – Full circle – Part 1