Whenever I meet a newspaper headline like “Husband kills wife”, I feel the sub-editor is trying to spoon-feed me. For, if the victim is the culprit’s wife, I need no ghost to tell me that the culprit is the husband.
The question is thus glaring: Why should a newspaper try to sell to me something which I already have? Please credit the reader with some intelligence. Please say: “Husband kills woman”, or simply: “Man kills wife”. Collins, my word consultant, defines a husband as “a woman’s partner in marriage”. Fine — though I doubt whether any member of a homosexual union will accept such a definition.
However, any liberated person — any woman or man with a gender-sensitive nose — can catch the whiff of male chauvinism in such a statement. The whiff becomes a full olfactory blast as soon as Collins informs us that the verb “to husband” means “to use (resources, finances, etc.) economically...” The adjective olfactory comes from the Latin olere (to smell) and facere (to do, to work, to cause) — the nose being your special olfactory organ.
The assumption throughout liberal Christendom, then, is that the husband is the owner and deployer of all of the household’s wherewithal. Given the world’s marital structure, that is, of course, the hideous truth.
In one of Chinua Achebe’s works of fiction, an incorrigibly chauvinistic male character claims that a child can be “manufactured” only after a man has climbed on top of a woman. Apparently — like bigots of other kinds the world over — Okonkwo knows no other style.
Thus the blandness with which Collins defines husband places the lexicographer squarely in the male chauvinist pigsty. For he goes on to define husbandry as “...the art or skill of farming (and) management of resources...” In context, such a statement declares that women are genetically incapable of such art and skills.
Yet, in the very Western corporate family which once upon a time gave the world these English words, women not only have steadily taken over from men the office of principal bread winner but also retained and intensified their mastery of and governance over domestic arrangements, providence, surveillance and aesthetics.
Mr Andrew – a name derived from the Hellenic Greek word andros, which meant “man” (as opposed to “woman”) — has had to yield ground everywhere ever since the Suffragettes gave notice to Western European and North American men that women had burst their Mediaeval cocoons and would no longer play second fiddle in both domestic and socio-political management. Some of them — like England’s Margaret Thatcher — were so serious that, by the time they climbed to the highest political office in the land, they no longer had any qualms about causing certain male coxcombs — both in her bedroom (like the hapless Mr Thatcher) and in her cabinet – to scramble like rats at the sudden sight of a tomcat.
No, to husband — from the Old English husbonda — nowadays means merely to nurture, a task of which, compared with men, women are normally the nonpareil.
Philip Ochieng is a veteran journalist