The Obruni Diaries: Relationship Checklists

20 Nov

by Allyn Faenza

Earlier this semester I was tuning into the local radio station to hear two friends’ weekly radio show. Each week they present a controversial topic and ask Ghanaian and international students to express their opinions on air. Seeing as they are both males in their twenties and trying to appeal to their audience, more often than not the weekly topic is about romantic relationships. One week, the conversation centered around the “relationship check-list” and attraction. There were four Ghanaian women, two Ghanaian men, and two international students involved in the talk.

My DJ friends began the talk by asking the participants to name five qualities or attributes that would attract them to someone of the opposite sex. My international friend responded first by saying that she was looking for someone who shares the same religion and work ethic as her, is compassionate, physically attractive, and musical. As she was explaining her list, I could hear some of the Ghanaian women giggling. The DJs asked them to comment on why they found her list amusing, and all four of them responded that the list was valid, but she was forgetting one huge point.

As the show went on, each of the Ghanaian women listed the attributes that must be present for them to be attracted to a man. While their answered varied due to their different personalities and backgrounds, all of them said finances were the main factor that would make or break their opinions about a man. One girl stated, “If a man likes what he sees, he should have the money to maintain it! That means paying for my nail and hair appointments, taking me shopping… I am just playing the game.” The girls hummed in agreement. Some chimed in saying, “A man’s job is to work and provide for me.” “He should take me places, give me things.”

These relationship expectations seem problematic to me. I do not know if my expectations of romantic relationships come from my experiences with my own family, from a result of culture, or from a combination of the two. But with a culture that is so family-centered and anti-individualistic, I thought the radio show conversation would be about how men and women work as a team to create something together, something beyond just one person’s capabilities.

I have been to different parts of Ghana and spent time with a few families. Each of them has a complex familial structure that would take years to fully comprehend. Neighbors support one another and the people who occupy the physical space of the home is a fluid group. In the native language Twi, the word for cousins is the same word as sibling, and all female relatives are referred to as “maame.” I was confused to find the women their age interested in maintaining the gender roles that leave males and females confined to traditional jobs, responsibilities, and behaviors. I thought the women would want to be empowered by their education; I thought they would be searching for more, expecting more of themselves, striving to create new expectations for women in Ghana.

Enforcing the patriarchal structure is as simple as maintaining gender expectations. When women in Ghana question why the men in their lives don’t support women in the workplace, I challenge them to look no further than their relationship check-lists. I challenge women to look beyond their wants and see how their actions are playing into the larger system of gender normativity. Because, after all, there is a difference between playing the game and playing into an oppressive patriarchy.

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