Wednesday, June 25, 2008

All The Presidents' Women & A Tribute to the ‘Unknown Woman’

If we look at some of the youngest and most dynamic western leaders we have had in recent times, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama, they have had partners that were formidable in their own right. Blair’s wife, Cherie Booth is an accomplished lawyer - a Queen’s Counsel, who trumped her husband's grades in college. Hilary Rodham was a ferociously intelligent Yale graduate, a lawyer too, who made a mark for herself in diverse levels of politics but also grounded and guided the free-spirited but charismatic Bill Clinton. Michelle Obama (another lawyer, interestingly), had graduated from Princeton and Harvard and was even her husband's assigned mentor when he began practicing law.

Though we know a lot today about Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela, I believe we should know more about Coretta King, Betty Shabaz and Winnie Mandela as well. Surely, these women were instrumental to the making of these men and sacrificed so much for these men to be known as the great men they are today. In essence, as we sing the praises of these ‘great’ men and mark their place in history, surely we need to do the same for their wives who have been instrumental in making them who they are today. Furthermore, as we have copious studies on these men, I think we also need to study these women. Until we do, we will never have the full picture of their character, their strengths and their own contributions to the legacies they built with their husbands.

Michelle Obama said in an interview "the way I see it, we are both running for President of the United States”. Meaning it was a joint effort, a joint sacrifice and a joint struggle even though only the husband would be sworn in as President. Only he will have a Presidential Library and his face on a postal stamp, though they did it togther. So again I am saying that as these great women stood by their man to make history, we must not forget they also are a key part of the making of that history. I also think as we often commemorate the ‘Unknown Soldier’, we also need to recognise the sacrifices of the ‘The Unknown Woman’ - many of them who are out there and may not be so visible but have made countless sacrifices for their men (to be who they are today) and their societies (for what they have become today).

Now, there is another issue here though and I am just musing not pontificating: Many men do admire these great women above, but mostly from a distance -not as wives or spouses. Could it be because some men are afraid to marry strong accomplished women supposedly for fear of being overshadowed or 'dethroned' as the 'man' of the house? I think the real fear is that when you are married to women as accomplished as those mentioned above, there is little to impress them with! Your sense of ‘manhood’ (whatever you take that to be) is stretched and challenged and you have no choice but to raise your game! You only have to watch Commander-in-Chief ( drama series where Genna Davis plays the first woman president of the US) to see the internal ego and public identity battles the ‘First Gentleman’ had to fight before settling into the position. Loving and supportive as he was, the guy struggled!
There is no doubt that the performance and delivery bar is set so far higher when you have a high performing and high delivering partner (who also sleeps with you – no pressure!). But if you really look at it, this could be a major driver for success! Perhaps this may have something to do with these men going for the highest office in the land? I want to be President so that I can impress my wife?!

More seriously, the sheer weight of great women’s achievements don’t have to debilitate and emasculate men, but can challenge men to be better men, to achieve more, to stand for more, to be more. Not in a competitive kind of way but in a complimentary one. But some men see this as a lot of (fear induced) pressure! They think: 'what if I fall a few Kobos short of a Naira, will I still be valuable legal tender in my wife’s eyes?' Will I live in the shadow of my wife as a ‘Mr Her’? Will my son look up to me, will my in-laws snidely poke me with the prickly stick of mockery? Will society think of me as a ‘woose’, a frail failed fellow?
These fears can exist ( whether they are legitimate or not is another topic for discussion), but they can be converted into the energy that can transform crippling fears into enabling energy for success. For all you know Blair, Clinton and Obama had to struggle with these issues and they converted their fears into constructive energy and ‘Ajani is you uncle’, they get to the top! Can all men do this?

The thing is that the average alpha male wants to proudly lead the pack. We men want to impress our women and want to feel we are the greatest men and the inspirational centre of their lives. So we jostle for this position as it often affirms our sense of manhood. This can be seen as a chivalrous gesture of a man wanting to be everything to his woman. But the problem often is that the emotionally deficient alpha male tries to lead by primal aggression, while the wise ones seek to lead, not only by example, but by earning the love and respect of their partners. This can be hard work, but better to win the kingdom of the wife’s heart and respect than the fleeting adulation of a fickle world and flawed cultural values.

So what am I saying here? I am saying that the world celebrates all these male leaders, they should also celebrate their wives who in countless ways got them there. Why? You ask. Well, because it takes a greater woman to make a great man. I am saying we need to notice and celebrate the many other ‘unknown women’ that in their own way -often more private than public- make their men who they are today. I am saying that the truly great ones are not just these very visible women that we admire on our TV screens today, often they are those women behind the scenes whom we sometimes forget to notice, forget to praise and forget to admire. I am saying we need to appreciate our women more.

But how do we men then show our appreciation? Is it through nice articles, great speeches, cooking dinner or buying expensive handbags? Perhaps, these are some ways that may work for different folks, but truly, the best way is for us to be able to make the kind of sacrifices that they make for us; to carry the burdens that they carry with us; to endure with them as they do for us even when its tough; to stand by them in achieving their dreams: so that they too can be the best they can be.

Dakar, Senegal, June 08


UndaCovaSista said...

Very nicely put.

This brings to mind, for me, the Proverbs 31 woman in the bible i.e. she runs her household like clockwork, engages in commerce and industry, plans for all eventualities, is kind and generous, and has more than a little do with the facct that her husband is one of the city leaders!

Women are just as driven as men to succeed these days. And coupled with the fact that the age at which people marry is getting older and older, a lot of us are considerably accomplished, and that's just something that Men are going to have to deal with, i guess

Anonymous said...

Great to have you blogging again. This seems to be an opportunity for all of us to reflect on what relationships are for, which type of relationship we should aim/wish for, the quality of a life partner. Though from this long list, one should be a lawyer...****

TP said...

Anon, any thanks :-) good to be back! Need to learn to write shorter blogs though but so much to say....

I agree with all you said above. I like the phrase 'quality of a life partner'.

TP said...

Anon, any thanks :-) good to be back! Need to learn to write shorter blogs though but so much to say....

I agree with all you said above. I like the phrase 'quality of a life partner'.

Naomi Moira Iwugo said...

hmmm fresh perspective to the good old saying 'behing every sucessful man...