Amid rising cases where good, kind-hearted men transform overnight into cruel, irrepressible monsters who maim or kill their girlfriends or wives, and sometimes themselves, with evidence pointing to unrequited love, we engage four young men to help us understand the changing perceptions of masculinity, and how they choose to navigate that space in modern society.
Their insights open a gate into the inner soul of the modern man — the heavy expectations thrust upon him by society, his perception of and response to failure, and what can be done to remedy the situation.
The question is: is it time to redefine masculinity or get rid of it altogether?
AMBROSE MWANGI, 27 (Real Estate Agent)
Being a man has two perspectives: there is what you are, as a man, and then there is what society makes you out to be.
I did not have a choice in becoming a man. When a woman is growing up, they are valued by how pleasant and kind they are. Goodness and kindness are virtues that were instilled in me as a child, only for me to grow up and find out that they mean little if, for instance, I do not perform well in school and get a good job, or if I don’t run a successful business.
These contradictions throw men off balance, because we are taught to be smart, calm and honest, then you grow up and realise that these qualities are not always valued. No matter how good you are, if you are not brave, or if you do not have a way of creating wealth, or protecting your family, nothing else matters.
People do not care how honest I am, they only care about how brave and independent I am. I do not judge my father’s success by how kind he was but rather, how well he took care of us as a family.
I feel that as men, we are not allowed to define ourselves. For example, crying is a sign of weakness.
So if you get hurt either by a man or a woman, and you share this information publicly, the general consensus will be that you are a weak lion in the jungle. A man is expected to be a natural victor.
They are not supposed to complain if, for instance, they are having marital problems, because in the first place, it was their responsibility to choose a good wife.
That is why when a man falls victim to say, violence, he is unlikely to talk about it. On social media, they say it is OK for men to cry. But social media is not real life. In real life, the way I have been raised up, I cannot stand a man crying in my presence even if I know that he is hurting.
I have been hurt too, and sometimes I really want to cry but I cannot do it. It is easier for a man to take a gun and shoot himself than to go and open up to another man about his violent wife.
Because the moment you do that, you have already confessed that you never really became the man you should have become.
In the modern society, I do not really see a solution to this. One way out would be a holistic change of mentality regarding how we view male children. I may need help, but I am not willing to lose my status as a man. Women also need to understand men.
MARIGA THOITHI (Founder, Mwanaume.Com)
My parents allowed me to be myself. I have always been emotionally expressive, especially as a child, and I was never shamed for it. I learnt from an early age to speak my mind, but I later realised that this is outside the norm. People do not appreciate expressive men.
Over the course of my life, there are some societal concepts and ideas that I have had to rethink and re-evaluate.
I’ve had to rethink issues of gender, power dynamics and patriarchy. Through mistakes I’ve made publicly, I’ve grown to be a better person. For instance, I used to respond to provocative sentiments online, when it would have been more prudent to just listen.
I believe there are multiple masculinities that vary across time, cultures and individuals, as captured in Connell’s Gender Order Theory.
There isn’t one neat definition of masculinity. You can only define it based on your experiences and broad commonalities. For me, masculinity is centred on strength, responsibility, leadership and accountability.
Masculinity, as defined by society, is all about subjugation of women, accumulation of power, suppression of emotions, and division of gender roles. These are just tools of social control that have outlived their usefulness. I am working towards being the man I want to be. I will do so by speaking out on issues that matter.”
Collins Otieno, 24 (Actor)
“My parents were not as strict with me as they were with my sisters. For instance, they were not keen about my movements, as long as I returned home in the evening. At that time, I was happy about my freedom.
I believe I’ve moved out of the box of expectations that my parents had for me, such as getting a white-collar job leading to financial stability, and ability to support my family. I became an actor, which is what I was truly passionate about.
The society expects me to be aggressive and confident. Aggressive in terms of going for what I want and displaying authority over my siblings.
That is not expected of my female peers.
The society seems to expect a man in his early 20s to hang out, have fun and interact casually with women, to have a job, save some money, and to only think of a serious relationship later in life. But by 23, I was already in a serious relationship.
The society will have no problem if a girl is engaged at 19 and marries by the time she is 21. But they will have a problem with a man who chooses to get married at that age. So I feel that in that sense the society limits me from settling early because they expect me to marry in my late 20s or early 30s.
I would like society to simply give me space to be myself, to do things my way, at my own time, without the burden of expectations.
Cultural expectations have it that men should be providers, but if we kick open the lid to these boxes, we shall prosper as human beings.
FRED WENDO, 36 (Filmmaker/Content developer)
“When you are young, nobody tells you that you’re going to be a man. For me, growing up was mostly about figuring things out on my own. I was told that it is OK for a girl to cry, but the same was shameful for a boy.
So I understood that I should avoid crying at all costs. I channelled my emotions inward. To be, but not to feel.
I was brought up as a problem solver. Any time my younger siblings got into problems, I would be punished alongside them because it was my duty to ensure they stayed on the straight and narrow.
I learnt to be responsible from a very early age. Even now, if someone makes a mistake around me, I feel obliged to correct them.
As I got older, I started thinking that perhaps there is a different approach. However, it is difficult to change the way I was brought up. Locking up emotions still comes naturally. It is hard for me to engage with people in an environment where deep emotions are at play. Like at funerals.
I don’t think we need to change the role of the man. A man can only be a man if they do what they are meant to do: provide and protect. I am Christian, so I believe that in every house, the man should lead the family.
That is why even amid all the agitation for gender equality, some women will still look up to their male companions for direction. Most times, a woman only steps in to offer direction when a man has failed to do so.
The boy should also be mentored as soon as they are born. The parents are responsible for this.
Women are being mentored on what their roles are, but we are raising men the same way we did in the 90s.
Yet chances are, this man will end up marrying the empowered woman.
We must change the way we raise men. Most men struggle to deal with a strong woman yet it is not her fault that she is strong. Besides, there is nothing wrong with a strong woman, self-sufficient woman .
What happens when the man is in need? Because for a guy, it is embarrassing to approach a woman for help.
The problem comes in because the man is dealing with a different kind of woman. It is up to couples to realise that they were brought up differently, and then accommodate each other.
When Ivy was killed by Naftali, everyone on social media was had an opinion about what men should and shouldn’t do. But he is just one man. You cannot put all men into one box and assume that all of them are the same.”