Written by Efe Plange
In this article I would like to share with you a revelation that emerged from a Facebook dialogue on a personal photo that appeared on my Timeline. This was an official photo taken by my school’s PR team during the Commencement ceremony of my masters degree. The photo, which was taken as the graduating team processed outside the auditorium, captured by no coincidence myself and a Ghanaian colleague of mine. I say “captured by no coincidence” because although I have had similar photos taken consciously between me and the said colleague, during the commencement we were arranged to sit and process side by side because we appeared to be the only graduating students in my department at the time.
Nonetheless, another good friend of mine on Facebook observed rather keenly how synonymous this image was to my many numerous deliberate ones. He noted quite frankly, “Errrrmmmm…the gentleman behind you, I have seen him several times either beside or behind you..” Now I immediately detected the mischief behind his seemingly innocent observation but I kept pondering over the heart of his inquiry.
The said gentleman in the photo, my Ghanaian colleague and very good friend, occupied those positions both literally and hypothetically during my grad school experience: beside and behind me. I immediately had a Eureka moment as this describes my ardent position on what modern heterosexual relationships and specifically marriages should envision: The situation where not just the woman, but the man actively and consciously stands beside and behind his partner towards the attainment of their individual and collective goals. Why do I say this?
We do realize that the opposite of this statement is what clads the training and upbringing of most African girls and young women, especially those whose parents are still caught between the blurry lines of religion, culture and traditional norms. Every trait/skill/knowledge/moral we are equipped with is geared toward an overarching purpose which largely seeks to please others other than ourselves: our husbands, children, society. However with the changing dynamics of the modern African family, it has become crucial for the opposite of that statement to be firstly explored, and then instilled and emphasized in our boys, society, and in women themselves.
The importance of seeing the woman, first of all, as an autonomous individual who is worthy of genuine happiness and achievements beyond her biological affordances for the continuation of the species, needs to be initiated in us all, because I argue that it is the failure of that recognition which informs the selfish worldview of the statement
“Behind every successful man, there is a woman.” The normalization of this statement, I argue again, highlights how we collectively, continuously, and unconsciously preoccupy ourselves with compounding the “woes” of the African woman.
The modern African woman is having to go to as much school as her male counterparts, work as many hours as her male counterparts, and contribute beyond the domestic, her quota to her community and society. But who is ensuring that this modern African woman is receiving the social, physical and psychological support needed to alleviate the difficulties compounded by her accepted position as nothing but helper? To wit, who is standing behind and beside this successful woman?
I have always been a reckless romantic and I continue to be one because I have tasted how extremely refreshing and totally worthy it can be to have the men in your life live for your happiness and progress. In my case, I have a fully involved dad, who is also a loving husband to my mother. I have very supportive male friends and colleagues and have also experienced the kindest of partners.
The saying “Behind every successful man, there is a woman” for me is a very interesting one. We do realize that “the woman” in this context has not even been qualified. Hence, this really points to a generic woman, proving my general observation that women from almost all cultures are brought up to be this prototype who by default, are required to advance the goals of the man and the family at the expense of their own goals. This brings me to my main point, which is not only appealing for a version of this popular saying to cater for the successful African woman, but an emphasis on the criteria for the said man.
A line I recently noted randomly in my Hillsongs playlist said this of God, “You are rich in love, and slow to anger.” I am only now certain why that line remains resounding in my ears. This, to me sums up what the Bible meant for the man to love his wife (and family) like Christ loves the church and this, is exactly what we need to start emphasizing in our boys, and charging our girls to by all means look for in a partner.
In the world of this modern African family then, the man recognizes the immense pressure on his woman; academically, socially and politically; and rather than only looking for how their union can benefit him, he is equally concerned with how he can alleviate the many challenges that awaits the supposed love of his life, and lives to impact her life in anyway positive to see to it that she, as an individual, also lives to achieve her dreams and desires. (This is what women in our society are tasked to do and to expect throughout their socialization).
Not to get all personal here but my colleague in the photo, together with the entire support I had in my circle, are responsible for my successful completion of my degree.
This gentleman specifically being so rich in love, situated himself to be someone who was only interested in my success and advancement in all my endeavours (Academia and Career). He relentlessly made it known how encouraged and impressed he was with me as a woman, coming from my background, and spent the few months I grew to know him ensuring that I only moved forward. The only times I remember him truly mad at me were the rare days I would just lose focus, or attempt giving up on school, my ideas and everything!
His anger/madness usually manifested in him putting aside his own projects and neglecting his own deadlines to storm into my office or house no matter the hour nor weather forecast, and ensure that I quickly snapped out of my depressive tantrums and get my head right back in the game! His approach were to constantly remind me of the bigger picture. So just as he appears in most of our pictures, I can say he literally stood beside and behind me in our brief encounter in graduate school.
Now what is more important, was the selfless nature of this support. The kind where it is not to necessarily earn something in return. This philosophy then posits, “This is a person doing something good and positive with her/his talents and ambitions. Society needs her/him and I am going to do everything in my power to help her/him get to their fullest potential. This involves me meeting her/him halfway with my talents and ambitions as well.”
The said colleague is not his only kind, there are several of such figures in my life and they come in both genders. For us women, this attitude to relationships is very well emphasized and all this article is doing is to begin a campaign for it to be extended towards the male species for the smooth running of the modern African family, and most importantly, to alleviate the burden on the modern successful African woman.
Efe Plange is founder and editor of Sankofa Reviews. She is a Graduate Teaching Instructor, and recently concluded a Master’s degree in Rhetoric and Technical Communication at Michigan Technological University. She is passionate about the Arts and Cultural industry and her background in the field is fueled by a longstanding dream of seeing theory work together with practice. Connect with Efe on social media: efplange_gh on both Instagram and Twitter, and Efe Plange on Facebook.
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