Social Structure's Strictures: More on Unshared Culture
As with medical treatment, wives' power needs to be looked at as the result of the operation of cultural elements, some of which are not shared—at least not in any active sense—by those involved in the phenomena they produce. Here, wives' power derives, in important part, from a social structure all of whose other statuses include expectations preventing their roles with men from
including emotional support. Wives' power, in other words, is partly due to the restrictions in other statuses.
Understandings shared by many group members maintain that men need no emotional support, so the affectivity of the husband-wife role cannot be culturally based in the sense that people understand that role to be the proper venue for men's emotional expression. Women expressly deny the emotional importance of the spouse role to their husbands, since, as they say, their husbands are "too strong" to need such support. Similarly, the absence of affectivity in other relationships involving men—with their friends, parents, siblings, and children—is not a marked characteristic of those relationships. For those who share the understanding that adult men are without emotional needs, the absence of attention to such needs in specific relationships, if noted, cannot be difficult to countenance.
It is the nature of the other statuses in the social structure as much as the wife status that makes the latter unique for men. This uniqueness, that is, having expectations allowing affectivity in the role relationship with the husband, is mainly a product of Swahili culture rather than a part of that culture. The uniqueness is not the result of shared understandings overtly assigning emotionality to the spouse role or barring it in the other roles in which men are involved. Since men's emotionality is denied, its expression is not subject to explicit regulation. In fact, it is the generally close and private nature of the spouse relationship and the importance of love (upendo) in it that encourages such expression between spouses rather than explicit understandings calling for it. What is most unusual about the expression of affect in this relationship is less that it is prescribed than that, unlike the other relationships involving adult men, nothing interferes with it.
The spouse relationship thus makes a unique contribution to husbands. Its significance varies from man to man, but it seems rarely to be nugatory and provides a powerful, if unrecognized, base for wives' power in dealing with their husbands.
The expectations in the woman status are also important to the wives' power in the spouse role. Since women are expected to be emotional and alogical by their God-given natures, there is no advantage in denying them what they want in the hope that they will learn from the denial. Such educational prohibition is worth trying with sons but not with wives who, as women, will only become unhappy. Their unhappiness, through the strictures on all the other relationships the husband has, is easily transmitted to their husbands who need not have an understanding of why it affects them in order for it to do so.
As noted elsewhere (Swartz 1983), changes in the Swahili community offer the prospect that women may become more emotionally dependent on their husbands than they are now, but thus far this has not happened. It is, however, true that weddings are less important than they were just a few years
ago (see chap. 3), so that wives' opportunities to turn their husbands' expenditures into prestige among women are somewhat reduced. So long, however, as the women in a neighborhood spend much of their time with one another, it will take substantial changes in a number of the statuses occupied by women (including "woman," "Muslim," "wife," and "neighbor") and in other parts of the social structure to diminish their wish to gain prestige with their peers and the importance of their husbands in their ability to get the means for doing so.