Last year, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour began production of her series Sex and Love Around the World, where she traverses the globe in order to investigate ‘unconventional’ expressions of intimacy and the unspoken rules that govern unorthodox relationships in different societies. I had the opportunity to speak with one of the show’s producers last year, and she explained that why Ghana was chosen as one of the African countries to feature on the show. (Those reasons are the same ones we’ve used to lure tourists into the country for years – that Ghana is a stable country with no war whose citizens speak English etc., etc., – so at least we know our archaic branding is still effective.)
A number of my acquaintances were contacted by Amanpour’s producers to contribute to the show. It will feature content from some of Ghana’s most recognizable faces. Unfortunately, a fair number of Ghana’s strongest and influential female voices in activism were unavailable for myriad reasons. Theirs would have made strong contributions towards giving a more holistic picture of what it’s like to date and have sex in the African context…or at least in the West African context, as there are overlaps within the region. Last night, a snippet of the show introduced the world to Moesha Boduong: a Ghanaian socialite, actress, TV presenter and – by her own admission – a Kim Kardashian wannabe. In a contrived Girls Day Out, Amanpour and Boduong sit side-by-side at a nail salon dishing about Ghana’s open secret: Mistresses. Boduong admits to the world that she is sleeping with a married man for money.
In the clip, she reveals a number of truisms that have influenced her decision to date a married man; one whom she revealed has a string of mistresses besides her. In Ghana, to rent an apartment, one has to provide the landlord with two years of rent up front. I can attest to that. When we were looking for houses to rent in the capitalin 2010, every agent we spoke to wanted two-years advance rent and in dollars, not cedis. The cedi was considered unstable. (We never moved back to Ghana.) Accra is one of the most expensive cities in the world, outpacing the US in what it costs to feed a family a balanced diet for a week. Meanwhile, the per capita income in the country stands at $4,150. Income and opportunities are unfairly distributed by region and furthermore by gender. Boduong’s assertion that it is difficult to achieve a comfortable life – and we’re not talking about the type of unimaginable luxury experienced by an exclusive subset of the population – is difficult to attain is a valid one.
There is a culture of greed and ostentation that governs Ghana. No one can dispute that. Marriage is an enterprise that routinely puts new couples in debt. An unhealthy number of tertiary level graduates, who should be in the throes of their profession and living on their own, are living with their parents and doing jobs beneath their capacity. In order to survive Ghana’s economy, one needs an extensive network of well-resourced and connected people. Nepotism, rather than competence, is the order of the day. One only has to look at the Ministry of Gender’s newest hire for evidence of that. Everyone in Ghana’s broken system, from the conniving clergyman, to the dishonest politician, to the 419/sakawa boys, and yes- to the woman who sleeps with men in exchange for financial aid. That’s the way that a patriarchal system works. It favors men. That’s the way hyper capitalism works. It favors the classed. No one can feign surprise when someone who isn’t a member of either segment does anything within their power to advance themselves, even perceptibly, from the confines of mediocrity and underprivileged. Moesha’s behavior is the fruit of the broken structure and culture Ghanaians have propagated over time. That she has chosen to use her body to launch herself into what she considers a more tolerable lifestyle is not the problem: the culture that compels her to do so, and gives its tacit approval for the role of the mistress industry is.
Married men are having a lot of sex in Ghana. They’re having a lot more sex than their wives are for sure. That sex is not being had in a vacuum or as an anomaly. There are factors that influence where and when and under what conditions that extra-marital sex is being had. Some of those factors are favorable to women. Some of them are a violation. It would horrify Ghanaians to accept how many female students have been propositioned by their teachers/professors; some who have withheld grades or worse – failed their students for their refusal to grant them sex. It would horrify Ghanaians to accept how many girls are raped by a member of their nuclear family. Someone once quipped that in Ghana, a woman’s body does not belong to herself, but to the community. People feel like they can touch, comment, or do with a woman’s body as they wish and that she must (politely) accept it. If she must protest, she must do so in a manner that will not offend the offender. These horrors must be ignored at all costs so that the ire and outrage can be directed at the real problem: Women who have consensual and/or transactional sex with men.
I surmise that people don’t really have a problem with Moesha Bodoung for having sex with a married man per se, but more so because she has opted not to do it for free. After all, “all men cheat” is a mantra that we’ve accepted as part of the national dialogue. If cheating happens, there is an expectation that a wife must pray, forgive and move on from the experience. Less attention is given to the woman with whom the cheating has been done, which is what has fueled much of the faux outrage governing the conversation online right now. What Amanpour has done is to unmask and lay bare the face of something more repugnant than poverty: i.e., a woman who has used indecorum to overcome it. Tonight, the morally outraged will lose sleep knowing that Moesha Bodoung will go to bed on feather down bed financed by a married man with a string of lovers at his beck. It will not bother them as much that mothers will huddle with their children under overpasses, courtesy of a broken system.
It is not true that every Ghanaian woman has had to exchange sex (or any of its derivatives) for a chance at success. But it IS true that a lot have. This may shock you, but microcredit and a goat don’t always magically change an African woman’s fortunes exponentially or for the better.
I’ll finish with this: If hard work alone were a guarantor of success, Black people – Black WOMEN – would be the wealthiest people in the world. Wealth generation is a complex matrix, but “hard work” is not at its foundation. You’ve been working hard your whole life. Do you have a mansion to show for it? What’s in YOUR stock portfolio?
I don’t have a dog in Moesha’s fight. She’s not sleeping with my husband or taking food out of my children’s mouth. The only person who shoulders any moral responsibility in this situation is the man who stood in front of God and witnesses, the one who has violated his vows. Now, there are some women who choose to sleep with married men exclusively, generally because they don’t want to be hemmed up with the expectations and baggage that come with marriage. That is also why some women enter into polygamous marriages willingly – because honestly, marriage can be a chore so burdensome that only division of labor makes it bearable. We can’t do anything about that.
But we CAN do something about closing the gender pay gap, fixing the housing crisis, providing affordable healthcare and opening the market to innovation across the spectrum. Because right there, in that same room where Moesha made her shocking admission, the nail technician made a similar confession. She also relies on a male paramour for financial support, despite the fact that she is a “hard working” woman. We can fix the environment so that the end of a relationship does not signal financial struggle or ruin.
Spoiler: Women have been mistresses and kept women for centuries. That’s just the reality on the ground. Wait till you guys see Amanpour’s feature on ear sex somewhere in the Middle East or Asia or East Whereverstan. That’s when you’ll really blow a gasket.