Saturday, July 4, 2020

She stoops to conquer – Botswana women dull their shine to attract mates

Dr Sethunya Mosime is more of a sociologist that a romantic. In a few short sentences, the senior Sociology lecturer at the University of Botswana busts the myth that love is blind. She posits that ambitious women have it tough finding love. “In other words, society teaches men that it’s perfectly fine to be ambitious, while it expects women who want husbands to scale back their professional goals. Women are unfortunately embarrassed about their ambition and accomplishments. They are assertive and aware but have to soften themselves to not be seen as difficult woman.  Ambitious women are bossy, strong-willed, and catty but ambitious men are tough, strong and single-minded. Ambition isn’t just a dirty word at work. In matters of the heart, fierce ambition makes a woman’s value drop like a stone”, she says

Dr Mosime is speaking for a lot of Batswana women who feel they have to dull their shine in the face of the psychological and social pressure to get married. Often times, ambitious women subtly downplay their accomplishments in order to protect their boyfriends’ egos all in a bid to seem less intimidating to potential suitors. These women are successful and self-assured – part of a group dominating the working world and excelling over their male peers in school and work but when it comes to their romantic lives, these women are shy and don’t like attracting attention, their behavior is influenced by age-old stereotypes about men, women and power that have not shifted as quickly as the working world. Men say they prefer dating ambitious go-getters. But reality proves otherwise. As a result, many women are playing down their drive at work to make themselves seem like “relationship material.” Many men still find it intimidating when a woman is beautiful, successful and has her stuff together. Feelings of emasculation override a lot of men’s dating preferences. When a man realizes how impressive a woman’s resume is, he can feel inadequate, this might be because, traditional gender roles have primed men to be competitive and establish themselves as breadwinners. They can perceive successful women as a threat to their machismo.

Kgomotso Jongman of Jo’Speaks says, “societal expectations for female behavior traditionally values modesty and collaboration. More than men, women tend to want to appear relatable. They want to make others feel comfortable. Those qualities can lead some, to downplay their professional achievements as a means to connect, to minimize the risk of others’ discomfort, or to avoid being perceived as different. I believe that if a man doesn’t want to marry you because you’re smart, accomplished and successful, you should think long and hard about whether you want to marry him.  Marriage is (hopefully) a life-long partnership, with someone who you greatly respect, and equally important, who greatly respects you.”

Ms Jongman is also speaking for a host of other independent women who faced with this situation stay independent and refuse to settle for a partner who can’t appreciate their accomplishments. Others, though, tone down their ambition — or even drop their goals altogether in order to attract or keep a guy around. A concern people often have when they are with someone successful is that the successful person might be too focused on themselves or set in their ways and may not accommodate them. Success (mostly in women) is often linked to a downfall of a relationship, others fear their needs may not be met or whether they are even considered a priority in a successful person’s life. It is mostly single women who find themselves being told they are too independent or too successful when they date.

Unfortunately, a lot of single women’s success intimidates potential suitors. When a woman makes more than her partner, the odds are stacked against her in many ways: she’s less likely to get married and more likely to be unhappier in marriage. Men subconsciously suffer a bruised ego when their wives or girlfriends excel. A lot of them (and some women) believe that it is generally better for a marriage if the husband earns more than his wife. For a significant part of our culture’s history, ‘a woman’s place is in the home.’ Some men still like that role for women, so women are playing it safe, choosing to not advertise aspects of themselves that might turn off some men before they have a chance to meet. But women aren’t just minimizing their success in search of romance. Many also feel compelled to do the same with their friends, especially those whose professional or financial successes are more average than their own. 

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.