Time of the signs: How to ‘get chose’ by a man

2013-03-17 10:00

Women do not exist merely to affirm men’s egos

One of the main reasons people turn to izangoma for counselling is because they have money problems. This is followed closely by the average romance problems. But a worrying trend has emerged lately.

Intelligent, usually confident, young women are becoming desperately insecure by what they perceive as their failure to “catch and keep a man”. I blame Steve Harvey.

Harvey’s bestseller, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, is targeted specifically at black women. It tells women how to entice men into a relationship through a series of behavioural changes they must follow. The most infamous of these is the “90-day rule” – withhold sex for three months while you suss out his true intentions and “reward” him if he passes.

The blatantly sexist message is that a woman who closes her legs will catch the right man.

Harvey’s book speaks to the reality of black women, especially in cities, finding it increasingly difficult to meet and retain compatible romantic partners. The problem is so dire that an entire industry has flourished, promising the formula on how they can “get chose”, to use American slang.

All manner of relationship experts, fong-kong sangomas or church singles’ conferences have sprung up with the same alluring message: “There is a formula to help you ‘get chose’, come and buy it from us.”

But what exactly is being sold? In the economy of “happily ever after”, the primary commodity is the patriarchal notion that a woman cannot find love unless she becomes the kind of woman that men would want to “keep”.

“Getting chosen” by a man is valued higher than a woman’s other aspirations. In fact, being independent makes you unattractive because it might make you seem like you don’t “need” a man.

Modern women are persuaded to accept that men need to feel needed as part of the age-old dance of the sexes.

Also popular are American Christian bloggers and writers promoting a modern take on “the Proverbs 31 wife”, who is thrifty, enterprising, never nags and constantly lavishes her husband with praise.

These are just two examples of how women are advised to “get chose”. After all, who better to guide grown black women in their personal journeys but black men and the Bible? A recent local initiative, the Love Conference, is following this trend. Although hosted by a woman, it has a predominantly male panel to give women pearls of wisdom on how to succeed in dating and marriage.

This advice industry places the blame on women and assumes men are unchangeable cavemen. But there is a tough urban reality that it overlooks.

Firstly, traditional channels of courtship and marriage have been weakened by 100 years of mass urbanisation and the political destruction of African communities. New urban communities and cultures have formed. Some of our traditions have adapted, but new social norms have emerged alongside.

The phenomenon of “single urban women” has existed since the early 1900s and, for many, urbanisation gave them independence from rural patriarchy. Do we not all have that auntie who ran away to a Joburg township, found a job, a string of lovers and resisted marriage?

This urban setting also created huge inequalities and class divisions within the black population. It cultivated mass economic aspirations that only few could attain.

Over time, the majority of black South Africans lost the economic ability to make traditional marriage viable, even though marriage remains an aspiration for many. This is why debates around ilobola and vat-en-sit remain contentious.

When economic inequality collides with personal desires for love and marriage, many black women find themselves with complex dating choices.

Most black men struggle to earn a living. For a woman seeking a life partner, the dilemma will be: how much does his financial situation matter? She may struggle with what is a reasonable expectation and what isn’t.

She’s lucky if she meets men from diverse class and race backgrounds, given the social boundaries that characterise South African life.

Even before she has to take issues such as personality, character, values, lifestyle and culture into account, her immediate dating scene will

be narrow and complicated.

Weighing up personal expectations causes real dilemmas for women. The “get chosen” industry pretends the terrain will be smooth so long as women live to affirm men’s egos. This is degrading.

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