[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]
I met a clear-eyed and intelligent woman once. Her work was demanding and she took pride in doing it well. Her strength of will and ambition put her at odds with many more traditional types, so when she decided it was time to marry, she chose someone who wouldn’t attempt to clip her wings.
Her marriage amounted to the safest of bets.
The man she chose was nice enough, unfailingly smiling and courteous, but I found it difficult to respect him. He was one of those individuals who completely subordinated himself to others. Whatever his wife did was fine by him. I might have liked them both better if she hadn’t taken advantage of the situation and treated him like baggage.
Now, before we judge this woman too harshly, let’s recognise that this recipe is precisely the kind of match that many men in Vanuatu consider most desirable. If some consider a biddable wife to be a wise choice, why not accept that what’s good for the gander is good for the goose?
It makes us cringe because we know in our heart that it’s wrong. No matter who dominates, male or female, the inherent inequality of the relationship can’t be healthy.
Marriage – or any other relationship, for that matter – should be predicated on respect between equals. It should challenge us to be better. It should require us to be more than we already are. We derive strength and support from it, but we should be required to provide the same.
Many of the most capable and interesting men and women in Vanuatu have singularly benefited from their spouse’s sacrifice and support. Their advice and counsel may go unremarked by others, but it’s always there. Their consistency and moral guidance push their partner to greater heights than they might have achieved alone.
Notwithstanding the protestations of certain members of Vanuatu’s Electoral College, the role of the President is closer to this silent supporting role than that of any other leader.