Today I am inserting my nose into married people’s business because I feel like if you (married folk 😀) put your business out there, then it becomes fair game for hot takes.
Hollywood superstar Gabrielle Union recently went on the record saying she splits bills 50-50 with her hotshot basketballer husband Dwyane Wade. Like everyone else on the internet, I have an opinion. And my opinion is that Ms Union is getting a raw deal.
There’s this expectation placed upon women that if they don’t want to be labelled a gold digger (assuming that there is gold to dig in the first place), if they want to be respected as equal partners, then one of the things they should do is take on half of the financial responsibility in a relationship. If they’re dating, this means going Dutch on dates and splitting vacation expenses halfway. If they are married/cohabiting, then this would be going half on rent and utilities and groceries and all other things that are necessary to build a functional life.
Sounds fair on paper, right?
I mean, if you are both earning, then you should make equal financial contributions to the relationship. Except, gender dynamics are way too layered for this conversation to be this straightforward. The kind of society we live in has made it so that an equal split of financial responsibilities is a losing game for women. Here are a few reasons why.
- Men Often Make More
It is a truth universally acknowledged that not only do men earn more money than women (even if they work the same jobs), a history of gender-based discrimination means that we have more men in higher paying professions and positions. Don’t argue with me, take a look at the latest data from the Economic Survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) and see the representation of men versus women in higher paying professions. In fact, the only sectors where you will find more women than men are in underpaid paid care work at the household level, and in human health and social work. It is important to note that in human health professions, women only outnumber men in nursing, which is lower paid than other cadres of healthcare workers. Why then, would you go half with someone who out-earns you, despite the fact that you both work full time?
- Women Do Most of the Emotional and Caregiving Labour
OK, fine. Women have made great strides in the professional space and now the wage gap between men and women is not as big as it was say 20 years ago. But the gap that remains unchanged is the invisible labour that is performed at the household level. This work often falls on women. Societal norms have ensured that women are more likely to be responsible for the smooth running of a household, whether they do the actual work themselves or not.
After girl-bossing at work, women must clock in for a second shift at home. Even when they hire a househelp to do housework, women are still responsible for ensuring that food is cooked, groceries are bought and the house is kept clean. It often falls on women to plan and execute family functions, down to remembering friends’ and families’ birthdays and making holidays special.
Introducing children into the equation exacerbates the issue, because child care, too, often falls in the hands of women. Somehow, they end up being the primary parent, responsible for the child’s well-being. And I am not even just talking about breast-feeding, but the day to day work of keeping a child healthy and happy even after they are weaned. Women are more likely to be the ones keeping track of medical and school records, they are the ones who know their child’s friends, and they are more likely to be home early enough to help with homework and supervise after-school activities.
- Beauty Tax
You know how I know respectability is a scam? It is because if I did the same kind of bare-bones grooming that men do and left my house, I would not be taken seriously. While men look put together after a 30 minute haircut, women are forced to spend hours and thousands of shillings on makeup and hair in order to be deemed presentable. The pressure to invest heavily in beauty is unceasing and has become increasingly difficult for women to opt out – not if they want to advance professionally, be respected in society, or land a good mate.
Somewhere on the journey towards women’s liberation, we have landed at an awkward place where we have been unable to detach a woman’s value from her attractiveness. And we’ve been here awhile, with no indications that we’re moving forward any time soon. Beauty is not just skin-deep, it is institutional – a question of survival. Attractive women are more likely to be hired for jobs, elected into office, and even pardoned for wrong-doing. The value of beauty is even more obvious when it comes to dating, because men want to date women they find attractive, and more so that other people find attractive. So cue the beauty rituals that come before each date, where we spend hours plucking, drawing and blending so that we look good under the dim lights at the restaurant.
And you still want us to split the bill?
A friend told me recently that his philosophy towards paying bills in a relationship is
“I don’t split. Paying bills is just good manners.” Nice.
I would push this further. If you truly are in an “equal” relationship (as equal as that can be, given the inherent patriarchal nature of heterosexual couplings in general), then both partners should be aiming for an equitable division of finances and labour in the relationship. A good way to do this is not by ensuring that the contributions of each person are equal, but that the benefits are. Each partner gets an equal amount of rest, and that they get to keep an equal amount of money.
The end goal should be level bank accounts, and level rest time. This means re-allocating resources and duties as per each person’s capacity – a labour of radical love that is led by the desire to prioritise your partner’s financial, mental, emotional and physical well-being.
Anyway, what do I know? I am single.