the weaker sex

This is one of those posts that you write with your hand hovering over the delete button. Is this really necessary? Or is it an act of self-destruction, a masochistic moment that could lead to a few tears (with luck), or an end to all male relations forever on this particular terra? Of course these questions form a subconscious – or perhaps very conscious (I haven’t a clue) – caveat, a begging apology, before I continue, a plea for understanding. But this needs to be said.

For every Angolan man, there are seven women. In fact, the true statistic could be higher – it might be ten to one – but even if it’s only three to one, the fact of the matter is that if you are an Angolan woman there is a lot you have to put up with when it comes to your man. Whether you like it or not, he has the upper hand. Supply and demand. The Angolan male – when it comes to choosing a lover – is living in fortunate times: he has one for each day of the week. I didn’t pluck this figure out of the air, I was told by the head of the women’s parliamentary group, Maria Lourdes Veiga – an extremely impressive figure. She admits that women here have little choice but to share their man. I can’t even begin to imagine this. I am not known for my capacity to share my husband, sometimes even on the level of conversation… so the idea that I would knowingly share his body is beyond my imagination. With one, two, three, four, five…

Out of the question.

But given how lucky the Angolan male is, it is even harder for me to imagine why any man here would need to exaggerate the number of love affairs he has had. If he can already – by statistical virtue – have seven women, why would he need to pretend he has had even more? And yet, he does. It’s the devil and the deep blue sea. If a man makes a pass at you and you turn him down, the rumour mill – mujimbeira – dictates that you will have slept with him anyway. I learned yesterday that when I last lived in this country – between 1998 to December 2000 – I had eight love affairs. Eight! Ah, if only it were true.

It’s amazing what unspent testosterone can come up with. If the men of this land could put their sexual fantasies into writing short novels, Angola could have a thriving Mills & Boon pumping out fiction for the local market. They could make a fortune – which would probably increase their real chances of seduction.

A female friend sat and listened to me moaning about much of the above. I felt sure it was to do with a cultural misunderstanding – perhaps I am leading men on without knowing it? – but she assured me this was not the case.
‘It is the same for us. I have been in the same situation. A man made a pass at me, I turned him down and he was so humiliated, he spread a rumour that we had made love.’
‘So is it possible to have male friends without them getting the wrong end of the stick?’
‘Sometimes. But it’s not easy. If you go out with a man here, his wife will know that he’ll try… He will always try. That’s why you have to be very careful about who you are seen with in public.’
‘People will assume, when they see a man and a woman out together, that they are having some sort of thing.’

I should probably know better. I am no spring chicken. I’ve lived here before. But I refuse to accept this straight-jacket around relationships. There are many wonderful men here – men I like to talk with, to share ideas with, to discuss politics (national and international), journalism and so on – and I don’t see why I should not be able to have those conversations without discovering the following week that, in fact, I was in the throes of passionate love-making. Is a woman not allowed to think, to discuss, to exercise her intellect with a man – shock, horror – as she might also do with another woman? Or must we always be confined to our bodies, identified as sexual objects who were dropped on the planet simply to titillate the weaker sex?

I have no answers. I am totally bemused. Perhaps the best thing, instead of trying to raise the male, is for us to go down, to lower our standards and behave like them. Isn’t that what they call equality?