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Jewish World Review July 18, 2000/ 15 Tamuz, 5760

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports

'Progress' for women
often a step back --
I DON'T OFTEN TRAVEL to Uganda for inspiration, but as a woman over, um, 35 and a mother of sons, I couldn't resist the story about a young Ugandan man who is seeking the hand of an older woman and would like a little dowry, if it wouldn't be too much trouble.

Meet Ahamadah Ntale, 25, a handsome scooter taxi driver recently featured in a Ugandan newspaper story with this headline: "Man hunts old woman to marry."

Like many of his American counterparts, Ntale is tired of the old ways: man begging marriage from demure lady-in-waiting; man paying dowry to woman's family; man in hock for eternity trying to support wives and children. It's over already.

All things being equal these days, why shouldn't the tables be turned? Not that Ntale is willing to accept any old woman. He requested in the newspaper story that his future wife be between 35 and 45, be AIDS-free, cough up some lucre to his parents, and that she love him.

He's asking an awful lot - love on top of money? - but apparently Uganda is rich in women willing to ante up. On the first day the article was published, Ntale got a call at 7 a.m. from a 38-year-old businesswoman. By evening, he'd received 193 calls. Within a week, more than 400 woman had called.

One offered 10 cows. The youngest was 27; the oldest 60. He disqualified the oldest, not because she was too old, but because they might be related. We have that problem in the South, too.

Ntale's nascent idea evolved from a childhood experience. Noticing that his sisters kept disappearing with strange men, he asked his mother why. She explained that the girls went off to marry, and that the men had paid for them. Ntale was troubled that under Ugandan tradition no woman would come along and pay for him.

All that's changing. Ntale has become something of a folk hero. Ugandan men, who are allowed multiple wives, are excited about the possibilities. Such riches! And women, recently liberated, are amused, if a tad confused, in the way recently liberated women often are. What a deal! We're equal now, so we get to support men! Such good fortune. Does this mean that women now can have multiple husbands? Well, no, that's not the Muslim way. Does this mean that men will clean house and raise the children? Well, who said anything about that? Does this mean that Ntale will have just one wife and be faithful to the woman who brought home the burger? Well, let's not get carried away.

It's a funny thing about equality, and every culture from America to Africa seems to get it wrong. What "equality" seems to mean time and again is that women get to behave more like men - while still behaving like women - while men get to continue just being men. With extra cows.

If I were a teller of truths, I might be tempted to say something ice-breaking, such as: "Equality isn't really possible until men get pregnant and give birth, which isn't going to happen, so women really stepped in it when they fell into formation with the guys and pretended that now, whoa, they were equal to men. And of course in their hearts they knew they weren't, but it was too late - just like it will be for that Ugandan woman when Ntale takes off on his scooter and she's paying the bills, raising babies and doesn't even have her cows anymore."

But that's Uganda and not here, thank goodness.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


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