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I will marry a woman like mum, is it because she’s a kind of woman for whom you want to sacrifice yourself or is it because she’s a dutiful wife that the book of Proverbs presents?
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When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize. She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life. She obtains wool and flax and makes cloth with skilful hands. Like merchant ships, she secures her provisions from afar. She rises while it is still night, and distributes food to her household. She picks out a field to purchase; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She is girt about with strength, and sturdy are her arms. She enjoys the success of her dealings; at night her lamp is undimmed. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her fingers ply the spindle. She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy. She fears not the snow for her household; all her charges are doubly clothed. She makes her own coverlets; fine linen and purple are her clothing. Her husband is prominent at the city gates as he sits with the elders of the land. She makes garments and sells them, and stocks the merchants with belts. She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs at the days to come. She opens her mouth in wisdom, and on her tongue is kindly counsel. She watches the conduct of her household, and eats not her food in idleness. Her children rise up and praise her; her husband, too, extols her: "Many are the women of proven worth, but you have excelled them all." Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her a reward of her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates. (Proverbs 31:10-31).
It’s a Bemba saying
I will marry a woman like mum is just one of the popular sayings in my language, Bemba. But why would one want to marry a woman like his mother? Is it because one judges his mother as the model of beauty? If not, why then? Isn’t that just another way of perpetuating women’s servitude?
Naikuta no kupa kwanshi or nokupwa kwanshi! (I’m satisfied, for what use is marrying!), often, a boy or girl would also say. One is satisfied and wants nothing more –no need even to marry. Or if he still wants to marry then she should be a woman like his mother. Yet, you hardly hear of a girl speaking of marrying a man like her father. One does not have to be a special woman or mother to be affective to her children. A mother sacrifices her time, her interests, and her sleep. Her own life is stirred up by what is going on with the child. The intimacy between them is so great that the mother’s life and that of her baby are like one.
A child is mainly on the receiving end
He/she is there and the mother does everything for him/her: she does the washing, the cooking, throws a glance at where he/she is playing to make sure he/she is secure. And if he/she has gone to school, she is busy by the stove preparing something to eat for her dear one. You may remember those days when you arrived home from school, only to be greeted by some treat that your mother had lovingly prepared for you in your absence. Or you may remember your boarding school days when your father gave you enough money but often for strictly necessary things like transport, boarding fees, groceries, stationeries… With your mum it might have been different. When bidding her farewell she affectionately placed some notes in your pocket “it’s for your drink.” She went beyond necessities to take care also for the softer aspects of life –she would take care of those needs that soothed the rough boarding life. With that experience, and if some women are like that¸ wouldn’t a boy be foolish if he did not look for a woman to marry who is like his mum? Surely, who cannot but wish for a wife so caring – a woman like mum?
Hence, a boy is on a look out for mum
This is the woman the boy has known and he may go out to look for her for marriage. No doubt, there could be love as primary motive but this relationship or choice will be very much influenced by those qualities appreciated in the mother. This is true especially for those marriages still very much traditional. So, a young man looks for someone to serve him, to wash for him –to take care of his needs. And the marriage remains much less inspired by mutual love and friendship. If she does not fulfil those duties: but why did I marry you? would be the most likely question. When a woman responds to such expectations, true in many cases, she becomes a Martha: cooking, washing, bearing children for the man. In so doing, the marriage dilutes to a master-servant relationship with little love, if it is not completely pushed to the background. There is no mutual respect and sensitivity to the needs of the other. Unfortunately, in many marriages this is rather the kind of set-up or programming that both husband and wife grow to accept as normal –things are to be like that.
However, there could be another way of looking at I will marry a woman like mum. Indeed, I have no intention of doing away with this saying. I cannot manage, besides, it is not even necessary. People will continue using it, yet, we can broaden its perspective and make it more altruistic.
Humanising the saying
At first sight, marrying a woman like mum may appear easy, simple, selfish, and self-indulgent; no doubt it is often motivated by this unconscious selfishness. Yet, just with a bit of reflection from the practical side of life this, in fact, calls for a certain amount of responsibility not often appreciated or embraced by those who go by the ‘Woman like mum’ kind of thinking. Things may not always be as sweet as honey as one may deceive oneself in one’s way of perceiving things. A caring, protecting mother is but only one side of reality. She may not able to do it throughout her life however willing she might be. The same mother may arrive, and so often happens, at the point when things turn just the opposite. Despite herself, she moves from serving to being served; protecting to being protected. Circumstances of life such as sickness or age might bring her to that. This is an experience of life lived by many people. The ideal woman, your mother, becomes dependent. Some may end up in situations that no one would wish neither for his mother nor wife. Then at this point you may perhaps come back to the question, a woman like mum; still the type of woman I want to marry?
Yet, this is the experience some people have to face later in their marriage that may have had a bright and rosy beginning. A woman once beautiful but only to be disfigured by illness, accident or things of the like; an industrious wife is incapacitated. That is why it becomes important to ask the question just for the sake of reflection: how many men are ready to live with this development in the life of their spouse? It would not work, certainly not for a man who has always seen a servant in his wife, someone to bear him children and to look after his home. When a servant can longer deliver, you fire him and take another one. A great pity but not surprisingly such cases abound in many marriages today in Zambian society.
There are many stories, some still holding true as I write these lines. Ifi mulelwala kuti cawama mwaya kuli bamayo bamisungako (now that you are sick you had better go to your mother so that she can take good care of you). This is a clear testimony of how many men find it hard to negotiate the times when their spouses fall sick. They are not trained; therefore, they are often not used to nor ready to serve. They do not know how to react, in the situation, indeed they are completely lost. The easy excuse, of course, is that they are busy at work. On the contrary, if it is the man who is sick a woman becomes tethered to his sickbed. She would quickly obtain a leave of absence from work in order to attend to him. Women are really often available in the manner rare among men. Well, he would buy apples, bananas; yes, he would spend the money but when it comes to the human touch, for many, it would often be at a level that leaves a lot to be desired.
This reminds me of a comment made by an Arab friend when we were visiting in one of the historical mosques of Cairo. There we saw a European couple, a woman visibly sick and leaning on the man who gently walked with her. Seeing that, my friend was fascinated. “Look at that!” She drew our attention, “if it’s an Arab woman who is sick the man will slap her for bothering him and wasting his time”. Though this is not to be taken literally, however, it is quite a revealing comment.
Yes, a woman like your mum if it’s a woman you want to take care of
Well, if one still asserts I want to marry a woman like my mother then he should as well be ready for those unforeseen but often probable circumstances. This will demand not only a change of conception about marriage but also the readiness to serve and sacrifice for the other as well; not only receiving but being ready to give. In this way, you can wish to marry a woman like your mum but altruistically and not just selfishly. Unfortunately, people who use this saying are often just thinking about their own needs. It is in this sense that something that sounds of praise to the mother or woman is a matter of a gender issue as it betrays a mentality where men lord it over women as their beasts of burden for their own comfort. Hence, this is an invitation to be on the lookout for those subtle means in which discrimination and violence against women are perpetuated.