Sometimes I question whether I am built ever to be in a relationship. Here’s the deal society has given man: By virtue of being bestowed with a penis, he is to be a leader. He is to be head of the household. That’s it. Possession of a penis, working or not, gives a man the upper hand when it comes to common sense, logic and guiding the way.
So if he, male possessor of the all-knowing and almighty penis, is to lead and head, what am I supposed to do?
I posed this question to Kewon, a.k.a the Mayor of Black Charlotte, a.k.a the Great Blaxby, a.k.a one of my best male friends. He’s received his accolades not just for knowing (and introducing me to) everyone who’s anyone throughout Charlotte but for making sure they know him, too. And he’s got a way of summing up male thought pretty concisely.
Kewon and I met in an atypical and ultimately classic North Carolina way. I was in grad. school, and it was a bad hair day. Instead of getting it done at the Dominican shop, I’d pulled my hair back into a low bun and twisted it up with a black hair band. Standing in line, to pay for my lunch my rubber band popped, and my hair went flying out like one messed up pile of fluff. “You have some thick hair,” said a man from behind.
I turned around to find a brown stranger. I told him that I’d just lost my rubber band. “Would you happen to need another one,” he asked. He pulled a basic rubber band off his wrist and handed it to me. I paid for my lunch and walked out the restaurant.
Two and a half years later, I was leaving an artist showcase and spotted a familiar face in the let-out. The guy smiled. I smiled back. He crossed the street and asked, “Excuse the randomness of this question, do you remember the gentlemen that gave you his last rubber band in Carmine’s a while back?”
We became instant friends.
Today he brings me lunch from Meskerem, a South African restaurant uptown. Kewon takes a bite of his Durban bunny chow while he contemplates the answer to my question regarding the roles of the sexes. “Real men don’t follow,” he says, immediately sussing out what I’m aiming for. “So what are women supposed to do?”
“Follow a man who knows how to lead.”
“And from your male POV, when do women get to lead, exactly?”
He looks up at me from his curry dish. He knows that I know his answer, I’m just waiting to hear him say it. Again. “When they’re single.”
I stare at him, allowing my food to get cold. He sighs and drops his spoon on the side of the dish so it clanks. “You don’t want to follow a man? Don’t get into a relationship, K. Reagab,” he says. “Problem solved. You don’t have to defer to anyone. But just so you know, no real man is going to let a woman lead him. You don’t want the type of man who lets you lead. And if you don’t trust a man to lead you, why are you dating him, anyway?”
Point taken. But that’s not the point I’m going for. I want to know why men feel qualified to lead. What makes them “natural leaders”?
I’ve had this conversation with many a man, and many insist I should just let the laws of nature, biology, and/or the Bible be. They don’t have a valid reason but insist it’s the only way to make a relationship work. No one seems to recall that Ephesians 5:21 talks about husbands leading wives. There’s nothing about boyfriends leading anybody anywhere.
I took the question to the grown folks, my two married aunts. My mother’s two sisters. They had been wives for about 25 years each. I asked them if their husbands were the leaders of their relationships or their households. They laughed. Hard. Thought it was the most foolish idea I’d ever introduced. Their response was best summed up by Selene, who rhetorically asked, “How in the hell is someone going to lead me somewhere? I’m a grown woman. The only person I follow is God.” She added that most people get the Bible verse screwed up. Wives are to follow husbands. Husbands, in turn, follow God. “Every Black man you know spits that verse, but how many you know that go to church?” Rakia scoffs.
That said, they both conceded that their inability to follow blindly was a source of great contest in their households, but they both preferred the idea of co-leading and arguing to following and man. Occasionally, they let their husbands think they were leading just to keep the peace.
“Make up your mind what you’re going to do, then ask him like his opinion matters,” Rakia suggested. “He’ll feel like he made the decision, and you can go on and do what you want to do without him getting in the way.”
The men I spoke with who were married preferred this method also. They wanted to feel like kings in the house, even if they were only akin to court jesters. “Let me think I’m in charge even if I’m not,” my Uncle Jessie told me who had been listening to my Aunt talk on the other end of the phone. “It makes a man feel like a man.”
Sounds like the strategy of the oppressed or the underclass. While I may be considered that by some for being Black and female, I can’t see myself playing that role in my own relationship.
I talked to a more sensible soul. Ethan. He had been married – “happily,” he said – for ten years, and he told me that a large part of his happiness was that he and his wife were equal in their relationship.
This! This was all I was asking for. I don’t need to lead a man, but I want equal say. I want to be an equal partner. Why is that so hard for men to fathom?
Then he added that he still considered himself the head of the house, and only once in a decade and a half of marriage has he “pulled rank” on his wife.
I questioned his sensitivity after that.
He shrugged when I pointed out that a man who pulls rank does not really consider his partner equal.
“It’s fifty-one/forty-nine in my favor,” he said. “There’s no such thing as exact equality in a relationship.”
Perhaps that’s why Id’ rather date than be in one.
My already somewhat cynical view of relationships was deepening the more I broached this conversation. Every time I asked, “Why can’t there be two leaders?” I was hit with some cliché like “Ships don’t have two captains.” “Cars don’t have two steering wheels.” “There’s only one quarterback per team.”
I have this seemingly rare and utopian idea of making decision with my partner. We just communicate and negotiate until we reach a decision together. And at the very least, we divvy up all the responsibilities as equally as possible and I make the call on my assignments, and he makes the call on his. Is that too much to ask?
I was fretting over the issue. So much so that when my friend Phillip (the best DJ ever) called to check on me, I asked him.
He paused his remixing he was letting me listen to. “Is this a trick question, Kay Reagan?”
He knew me too well. I gave him my most innocent sounding “No.”
He didn’t believe me and asked me to explain where I was going with this. I laid it all out, including the “What’s a woman supposed to do? Follow?” line.
He thought for a moment. “you both lead.” A man who didn’t expect to lead alone? They exist? Or was he just saying it because it sounded good?
I challenged his comment. ” Can you have to leaders in one house, though? That won’t get tricky? Who sits at the metaphorical head of the table?”
“Think of it like sitting at a round table. That way, everyone’s equal.”
He punched the play button and continued letting me hear his remix as if the matter was done.
If only it were that simple