The Girlfriend Allowance Summit, hosted by controversial seduction expert and author Mandisa Mahlobo, has resulted in much of the country talking about gender roles within relationships. There’s been a public backlash against the seminar – which aims to focus on the issue of money in a relationship – with some accusing Mahlobo of teaching women how to “prostitute” themselves. In an interview with Eye Witness News, Mahlobo defended the summit, saying the gathering was inspired by the large number of women she’s worked with who complain that they feel unloved in their relationships.
“It’s come up too many times in my private conversations with women to the point where I thought, ‘Why can’t I gather women under one roof once and for all so we can tackle the issue of money in the relationship’,” Mahlobo says.
Why has the summit elicited the anger of so many? After all, ukubheja is nothing new. In modern urban parlance, people now refer to men who provide for a woman’s financial needs as “blessers”.
Self-proclaimed feminist Linde Ndaba says not all women who want an allowance are gold-diggers, and that some are accomplished working women with their own money who are asking for an exclusive relationship and not prostitution. This, she says, makes the issue more complicated and calls for a closer look at the idea of a “girlfriend allowance”.
“It could be a protest against prevailing misogyny, particularly in black culture,” Ndaba says. “We’re groomed as black women that you have to take care of your man. They ask: who will marry you if you can’t cook and clean? So men come into a relationship expecting privileges.” She adds that, “Modern society has demanded of you to go out and get your own, but he isn’t coming to the party and helping with everything else.”
Ndaba says the summit is born of a kind of frustration that women have, and that although it may be poorly articulated, the seminar is a protest against societal expectations. “I think black women are now saying, ‘Hayi Bo!’”
Researcher Lisa Vetten of Wits University specialises in gender violence and warns that these sorts of financial transactions create power imbalances and can lead to abuse.
“If we lived in a society where women’s dependence on men wasn’t used as a tool for power, then it would be fine,” she explains. “Unfortunately we don’t, especially in South Africa. Women who are in that position of economic dependence are told they’re parasites, and it gets to a point where the men are no longer giving them money but are the ones buying the underwear and choosing what hairstyle they should have.”
This also takes away women’s autonomy to make their own decisions and so end up being dictated to by the person giving them money, she says.
Dieketseng Maleke, a professional woman, says she expects to get a “girlfriend allowance”.
“I believe men are providers,” she says. “They must bring the bacon. They’re hunters, which means that a man must take care of his woman, especially financially. It’s how nature intended it to be. If you can’t take care of me as a girlfriend, how are you going to take care of me as a wife? Where will we build a home? I am as old-fashioned as much as I am an independent woman. I think men should stick to their roles as providers.”
Some men who spoke to DESTINY said they didn’t mind giving their girlfriends money. Duncan Simelane, a young professional, said he’d give his girlfriend an allowance.
“Yes, I think it’s okay,” he says. “Obviously I’ll base that decision on income and expenses. If the income allows for the allowance, I’ll do it!”
Simelane says his girlfriend looks after his well-being and expects nothing back. The allowance is his way of showing his appreciation. “She takes care of me and supports my desires to make sure I stay happy. So the allowance will be my way of saying I appreciate what she’s doing for me.”
Sibabalwe Peter, another young professional, says that while it shouldn’t be expected, he would do it. He says he’s concerned that if he fails to pay an allowance then someone else may step in.
“If I don’t, someone else will. Besides, it’s part of being the man in the relationship,” he explains.
However, Qhakaza Mthembu says there’s too much power in money.
“The only man who’s ever given me an allowance in my life is my father and even that ended the moment I got a job,” she says. “I’ve always held down my own job and have never needed an allowance. There’s so much power tied to money. I’d hate to be dependent on someone else for my living expenses.”