Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage.
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists
How do we determine a man’s worth? And when we say ‘man enough’--what does it really mean?
Is the measure of a man determined by the bacon he brings home at the end of the day? By the treats and handouts, he gives his woman? What if he can’t or is unable to? Is he then stripped of his manhood?
These are the questions that have plagued me ever since I had a heated argument with my colleagues a few weeks ago.
The topic of the argument was ostensibly about why men must provide for their women--a position that did not sit well with my feminist ideals--but essentially about masculinity and how narrowly the society defined it in my view.
“Would you be okay if your man was not providing even if he did not have a job?” asked one colleague.
“Yes! As long as he is my partner at home and takes care of the house and children. What is wrong with that?” I shot back.
“It is just wrong! The Bible says a man should provide. It’s unmanly not to provide!” came the ready answer.
It was supported by a couple of other comments on why it was unnatural, Unchristian and un-African for a woman to support a man who was “just sleeping in the couch”.
It reminded me of a comment from a female MP--who was a member of the audience--during the Nation Leadership Forum in December 2017 with top leaders discussing the gender dilemma in Kenya. She said that men should stop being lazy and start “smelling like he-goats.”
He-goats? Let’s put that aside for a minute and go back to the office scene.
I argued that with the high unemployment rates in Kenya (According to the latest statistics from Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, seven million Kenyans are unemployed), who could even blame a man for being jobless? Or sleeping in a couch when all that awaited him outside the walls of that house was rejection and joblessness?
“But there are lazy men who just want to sleep!” one colleague argued.
“As there are lazy women who just want to sleep. Or is it that laziness looks uglier on a man?” I asked. We were both exasperated and neither of us was ceding ground.
I don’t support laziness in any way. What I support is changing the definition of manhood to go beyond financial provision. If a man becomes a stay-at-home husband for any reason, then the woman should go out of her way to support this, not ridicule or belittle him. That is what equality is all about. Heck, that is what humanity is all about.
But battle lines were drawn. The differences in our definitions of masculinity were too far apart.
I think the content of a man’s character is more important than the content in his pocket.
Granted, there are situations where both men and women have been known to take financial advantage of each other but that should not warrant the broken definition of masculinity that we sometimes have.
To me, masculinity in the context of our argument means sacrifice and doing whatever it takes to take care of the family. Even if it meant becoming a stay-at-home dad.
And being a stay-at-home dad, even if temporarily, comes with a myriad of benefits like bonding with the children and influencing them.
The demands we make of working men too, can be unreasonable. Rent, fees and food are often left solely to the man but in the world we live in today, is this really sustainable? It must be exhausting and draining trying to be man enough--as defined by the society-- all the time.
NARROW DEFINITIONS OF MANHOOD
In 2015, I wrote a story about a couple who met and married at 44. But that was not the only interesting thing about their union. The wife earned more than the husband too and was better educated.
The couple acknowledged that this could be a challenge in come marriages but it was not so in theirs because they had found a way to deal with it during courtship.
To begin with, they decided that the husband’s income would go to their savings, while they would use the wife’s income for their day-to-day expenses.
“We know that the world narrowly defines manhood by the property a man has, his education and financial status, but provision is not always financial, and going to school does not necessarily mean that you’re intelligent,” said the wise wife.
The reality of the matter is that the family set-up is changing. Men (and women) are being laid off at work. There are women earning much more than men. Unemployment is biting. And if a man becomes a stay-at-home dad (or whatever he chooses to define it), this does--and should not--be a measure of his masculinity.
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