It’s another stressful day for patriarchy on Nigerian twitter.
Today’s topic (instigated by the legendary Oseyi Etomi - You can read the thread here) explored a very interesting question, Should a man pay his wife for staying home to watch the kids?
Responses fell into the following categories:
Women who think this is a no-brainer, of course men should pay their wives.
Men who disagree simply because, who accuse women of not valuing their roles in the home by requesting payment or suggest that they should then also be paid rent in lieu of shelter provided. These are men who will fight tooth and nail to protect the privileges of patriarchy, and whose selfish views we will not concern ourselves with any further.
Men and women who generally agree with the principle of the argument – that women who choose to stay home should not have to sacrifice maintaining a measure of financial independence and security – but disagree with the choice of the word ‘salary’.
Women who think that receiving a salary from their spouses for domestic work is transitionary, insulting, and demeaning; and detracts from the ultimate aim of equality within marriage, where assets and income are equally shared by the couple irrespective of who makes more money.
For the purpose of today’s discussion, lets focus on women who stay at home and have no other sources of income. That way, we don’t get side-tracked by the ‘don’t be a full-time housewife, you can be selling something on Instagram gang’.
Thank you for understanding.
A man and a woman meet and fall in love. They both want kids. They both start off keeping their jobs, and hiring help with the cooking, cleaning, and nannying. At some point the situation stops working – they feel the children need more parental attention, or they have trouble keeping good help. Or maybe the woman never went back to work after having kids. For whatever reason, a couple decides that the man will work out of the home, and the woman will care for the kids and the home full-time.
A salary payment for staying home is a first step in acknowledgment of the value your wife is providing both at the home front, allowing you the mental space to focus on work completely and reach your full earning potential.
It is by no means sufficient compensation - no amount of money can truly compensate a woman for the risk of childbirth, and the responsibility of mothering. But money is the arbiter of value in the world we live in, even for things that have a significant emotional or social component, so we have to start somewhere.
A salary allows a woman to maintain a measure of financial independence that she necessarily loses by not earning her own income, to manage her money like an adult, and spend, invest or save it as she pleases. It frees a woman from the humiliation having to request money for every little purchase.
It allows a woman to relate with her husband without worrying about how much money she will need to request in a minute.
Women who have returned to work or businesses after having babies can testify to the mental gymnastics it takes to truly pursue your career and excel, while worrying about pumping and storing milk at intervals, wondering what to cook when you get home, managing the revolving door of Nigerian domestic help who leave just when you find a rhythm, and the very real mummy guilt of not being with your sick baby, or missing first milestones.
We can dress it up however we like, but marriage often limits or at least delays a woman’s career progression, even more so after kids. Even when she keeps a job or runs her business and has help, a woman is constantly making trade-offs and turning down opportunities for advancement so that she can spend more time with her children at least in the early years or live in the same city as her husband.
She is turning down work that requires occasional travel, or evenings or weekends; or refusing foreign postings that could be career defining. Of course, having children is a choice that comes with responsibility (ideally for both parents, but we all know how that goes) so this is not a request for a pity party.
My point is that when a woman chooses to or agrees to stays home, she frees the man to pursue opportunities single-mindedly. Think of her domestic work as a key input to the production chain that increases his own productivity because he doesn’t have to worry about things like who will pick up the kids from school when an important client meeting is running late.
To the men and women who disagree with the term salary, I say in this case, that a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.
If the average Nigerian man who would much rather be self-employed so that nobody tells him what to do manages to suck it up to his boss all month long in exchange for a ‘salary’, then women can accept a ‘salary’ too. Disagree with the name all you want, call it an allowance, the point is that we should mitigate the woman’s sacrifice by giving some of what she deserves - a mutually agreed upon sum, on a regular basis, irrespective of whether she has upset you or you are getting along. To be reviewed upwards as her responsibilities increase (and adjusted for inflation and exchange rate fluctuations, haha). She should have the freedom to do with it what she likes, or at least as much freedom as you have with your own money. You can even set up a direct debit like you do for your utilities.
Some people have suggested that this conversation only applies to men who are financially well off and can afford to set aside a significant proportion of their income to give their wives.
To those people I say, if a man earns enough money that he can set some aside to pay tithe, send money to his parents, and drink beer, he can afford to set aside a percentage, however small, for the person he has chosen to do life with, to watch the home front so he can have the mental freedom to chase that money. We can worry about whether or not the amount is fair later, but I am sure that the majority of housewives would be glad for some regular income that is not tied to how well they can manipulate their husbands.
A salary would not replace the giving of gifts or one-off transfers, in the same way that our monthly salaries do not replace performance bonuses.
Finally, there are those who believe a salary is insulting, degrading and transactionary, who say the salary arrangement does not promote ultimate equality in marriage or financial independence. I agree with you that a couple should share just finances equally, ideally. But I ask you to consider if you are speaking from a place of privilege. As our people say, we cannot ignore the realities on ground.
We still live in a Nigeria where the woman is often left with nothing if the marriage goes south, and extended family can take over a dead man’s property and leave his immediate family in the lurch. And this applies to women of all socioeconomic classes. We live in a Country where majority of men would rather pay for everything than give women money and autonomy; buy assets in their children’s names than in their wives, deliberately withhold funds to ensure submission from their wives, and engage in wilful, public extra-marital affairs where they lavish funds on mistresses that their wives cannot access.
The majority of Nigerian marriages are already very transactional.
The woman births and raises children, provides on demand sex whether or not she feels like it, and tends to the home, in return for financial provision and social status from the man.
It is all well and good to suggest equal marriages where the man and woman share access to finances even though he works and she stays at home; but the truth is that this is not the reality for most Nigerian women and will not be for some time. Even in situations where couples have joint accounts and the woman has free access, it remains ‘his money’; and he could immediately withdraw access to those funds at any point. It is not ‘our money’ if only the woman is accountable to the man for how it is spent, and not the other way around. Yes, the salary solution is not ideal, and yes, it is a short-term band-aid with the risk of further subordinating women to their husbands through paid employment. But when a mosquito is biting you, you kill it first, then you find Raid to spray the house, and then you get a carpenter to fix the torn mosquito nets on the windows.
A salary is a small, immediate first step to improving financial independence for women, while we continue to fight for equality.
If this made sense to you, or you disagreed, please share your thoughts, retweet, and follow me on twitter @MmeFeministe
Image by Seydou Keita