In the conventional sense of the word, man is synonymous with being strong, sure and solid. A man moves the world with the sheer armour of his masculinity.
Because of this perception, it’s almost hard to imagine that the male species harbours some insecurities, vulnerabilities and fears. In a bid uncover what causes men to doubt themselves, what they worry about and what frustrates and validates them, we engaged about a dozen men in light and candid conversation.
As we found out, the quest of living up to manhood isn’t just about fun and football. In the same token that women have insecurities surrounding certain areas of prescribed femininity, so do men fear that they will fall short of prescribed masculinity.
At the core of it is the deep-seated need to be competent and successful, coupled by the conscious conviction that society is always watching and judging their performance.
Surprisingly, across the board, regardless of age, race or social status, the men were unanimous in their sentiments about what gives them feelings of insecurity.
As we began our engagement, Mutua, a charming 52-year-old structural engineer, and married father to twin 21-year-old boys, stressed that if both sexes took the time to understand where the other was coming from, based on their gender’s needs (and reasoning) relationships would be less tumultuous.
“The problem is that women have these fixated ideas of why a man reacts to a situation the way he does; whereas his reasoning could be further from what you are imagining,” he explained.
WHAT MAKES MEN DOUBT THEMSELVES?
And with that we delved into the issue of the things that make men doubt themselves. We asked: What is a man’s biggest insecurity?
“That he can’t provide,” says 30-year-old Kimani, a single insurance salesman.
“The only reason I’m not married is because I want to finish my master’s, improve my career, make more money, buy land, construct a house … that’s the only time I’ll feel comfortable about marrying and starting a family.”
So you are going to wait until you feel financially secure to get married? We ask.
“Preferably, yes. That’s what women don’t understand; if I can’t provide only the best for my dependents, I feel inadequate. I’ll give you an example: My ex, whom I dated for three years, wanted us to move in together.
She also wanted a baby. I told her I wasn’t ready. She translated this to ‘you don’t love me’ and ‘you are wasting my time’. It’s not that I didn’t love her. I did. But I didn’t feel I could give her what I think my wife deserves.
Yes, I can get married now, but I’ll feel inadequate because I am not providing the best.”
No matter how that initial question was asked, no matter what the topic on the table was, everything always led back to this articulation: since cave-men hunted, at the very core of every man’s identity is the desire and profound burden to provide. This is how he says ‘I love you’.
‘FAMILY IS PRIORITY’
“It doesn’t even matter how much my wife makes and contributes,” says 40-year-old Mahesh, an architect whose wife is a top-level management banker.
“Of course her contribution makes the financial burden lighter but at the back of my mind, this is my responsibility, and trust me, it weighs constantly and heavily on most men’s minds.
It’s like instead of her helping me carry it, I’d rather she ‘cheered’ me on as I carried it. The best way she does that is to have faith in my projects, push me and encourage me into going out there and getting more deals.
My wife is managerial and I’m artistic. Like most artists I constantly doubt my work and one of the best thing my wife has ever said to me was ‘you are the best architect I know and you’ll win that tender’.
I need to hear that more than I need her financial contribution. “
In all the interviews, the men spent 80 percent of the time talking about work and money.
“A man’s family is his priority,” Mutua stresses, “but over the years, I have felt trapped between the need to put in long hours at work so as to provide the best for them and the fact that my wife has on occasion complained that I spend too much time working. In a man’s mind, that’s being caught between a rock and a hard place.
On the one hand I’m thinking, how about thanking me for how hard I’m working for us? Then on the other hand, I’m also concerned about my competence as a husband and father, two things that define my masculinity.”
RESPECT IS PARAMOUNT
“To understand what fuels a man’s validation (and insecurity) we need to understand that even from a young age, at a subconscious level, society nurtures boys to ‘measure up’ and girls to be ‘lovable’,” says Kennedy, a 28-year-old addiction’s counsellor pursuing a master’s in psychology at the University of Nairobi. He is in a one-year-old relationship.
“If my girl makes me feel disrespected, then I feel inadequate; I don’t measure up. Personally, the worst thing a woman ever did to me was compare me to another man; I was talking to her about a car I wanted to buy.
It was my first and it was cheap. Then she said, ‘that’s nice but I prefer the car so and so (a male friend) shipped in…’ That comment may be innocent but in my head you don’t respect my judgment, effort and accomplishment.
But even worse, you’ve compared me to another man who’s doing better financially. You’ve made me feel as if I don’t measure up. That’s a major crash. I might not say it but chances are I’ll be hurt and angry.”
In his book, Love and Respect, Dr Emerson Eggerichs points out that just as crying is a woman’s response to feeling unloved, anger is a man’s response to feeling disrespected. So while he might not say ‘that was disrespectful’, one might sense that he is angry for no apparent reason, yet he is just feeling the pain of your unintentional disrespect.
“You know why I’d be uncomfortable marrying a woman who earns more than me,” Kimani brings us back to the money issue, “because she wouldn’t respect me. Mind you there might be a chance that she does, but I probably still wouldn’t feel the respect. But how can I? In some rule book that we and our creator understand, there’s still something missing.”
Daniel, a 35-year-old designer who’s been dating for the last one and a half years, points out that there are many ways a woman can inadvertently show disrespect, “For example,” he says while gesturing passionately, “Women want us to live beyond our means or just do things because they said so.
The other day my girlfriend wanted me to pick her from work but I couldn’t because I didn’t think it was practical to sit in traffic for hours, waste time and fuel, while it would be easier for her to take a matatu.
It’s not that I don’t want to pick you up, but when you stubbornly question my practical judgments I think: she thinks she’s right and I’m wrong.
If you do this constantly, arguing with me on every issue and pouting when you don’t get your way, I feel as if my opinions and decisions are not valued, as if you expect me to be a puppet and to always do your bidding.
Why do you think we get pissed off when you tell us to pull over and ask for directions? Because right there you are saying that you don’t think we can figure it out, as if our plan is stupid.”
CAN MEN MARRY A WOMAN WHO MAKES MORE MONEY?
Duncan, a 35-year-old contractor, who has been in a relationship for the past nine months, reiterates what all the men have been saying, “I can marry a woman who earns more than me,” (we are talking about money again), “but it depends on her attitude.
Would she be humble enough to respect me? You know the worst thing I’ve had a female friend say to me when I asked her for an emergency loan to top up on a project? Wewe ni mwanaume wa aina gani? (What kind of man are you?)
“She was joking, but women don’t understand what that does to a man. You have unequivocally questioned my masculinity. You could tell me you love me till the cows come home but if I get the feeling that you don’t think I’m man enough, I won’t feel your love.”
Kennedy adds: “Men are under a lot of pressure to perform and we feel that everyone is watching and judging us: where does he work? Where do his kids attend school? What does the wife look like? What does he drive?
“We are always thinking, ‘How am doing? What’s my score? Granted we pressure ourselves enough without external pressure, but the quickest way to make a man feel inadequate is to constantly remind him that his performance isn’t good enough; whether it’s at being a father, husband, lover, employee, business man, at fixing the TV…whatever.
Contrary to popular belief, we men don’t have big egos that need to be caressed or cut down to size, we have fragile egos that fight like hell to live up to expectations and thus hopefully never to be broken, especially by questioning my abilities as a man.”
OTHER THINGS MEN WORRY ABOUT...
WHAT ARE YOUR SEXUAL INSECURITIES?
“When my girlfriend says she’s not up for sex, I don’t translate that to she’s tired or not feeling well. When I want sex, I expect to have it and rejection is somehow a reflection on me.
I think, kwani I’m not satisfying her or she doesn’t find me desirable? Similarly, my mind translates ‘just lying there’ as if it’s a duty; no matter how much I try, I’m incapable of pleasing you.
So when my girl shows me she desires me, for example by initiating and actively engaging in sex, that is very validating.”
Calvin, a 34-year-old married media consultant with no children
DO YOU WORRY ABOUT YOUR WOMAN CHEATING ON YOU?
“If I don’t provide the best for her, someone else will. We men are in constant competition with each other. So first of all, if my woman leaves me for or is cheating with another man, not only do I feel inadequate, I have also lost respect in the eyes of the other man.
If my woman disrespects me in front of other men – like my wife once told her dad that the reason she couldn’t drive the kids to shagz was because I had sold my car and had ‘taken’ hers before I could get another one. It was the truth but, she disrespected me in front of another man, exposed my weakness. It would be nice for her to have my back not matter what.
In my community we call it ‘hiding you man’s nakedness.’ Basically, if I feel inadequate, I’ll be uncomfortable about the ‘competition’ for her respect – even if it’s with her father.”
Maina, a 44-years-old electric engineer, who is a married father of three
DO YOU HAVE BODY IMAGE ISSUES?
“Yes. But instead of fixating on fixing them, I find ways to make up for them; most men do. For example, I rarely wear shorts because I think my legs are skinny. But that does not mean that I don’t wear shorts at all. When I’m driving a nice car, no one will notice my legs anyway. When it comes to ageing, the only insecurity around that is not being financially secure in good enough time and seeing your peers surpass you in accomplishments.
Personally, I’m a senior bachelor. The only concern about putting off on starting a family until I’m more financially stable, is that I worry about raising my children when I’m old.
I also get concerned that I might not see my grandchildren...it’s more like a fear that I’ll miss out because in his golden years, a man regards his children and his grandkids as part of his legacy; I might not have that and my family, especially my mom, reminds me of that a lot –- I feel like I’m letting her down, yet I just can’t marry because of pressure.
Otherwise I don’t worry about age in terms of looks, no. There is no physical insecurity that can’t be covered up by the fact that I can provide and protect and I’m respected for that.”
Danson, a single 42-year-old property manager
WHY ARE YOU KENYAN MEN SO DAMN UNROMANTIC?
“Because you think we are unromantic. We don’t feel that we can ever meet your expectations. If a man’s greatest need is to succeed and be respected for it, then his greatest fear is to fail and be humiliated for it. Also, there’s the fact that my definition of caring gesture differs from yours.
Remember my priority is to provide what makes you happy. One year I bought my wife a washing machine for Valentine’s. She’s been yearning for one for years. She looked at it and said, ‘it’s nice but it’s not a Valentine’s gift’.
Right there I translate that to ‘I tried and I failed’. It’ll be a while till I risk experiencing that again, if at all. Another example; I once made pancakes for breakfast, then I overheard my wife telling the house help, ‘pancake tulipikiwa lakini ile mess imeachawa kitchen…wah!’ Again, I tried but I failed, so from now on I’ll just play it safe and not try at all. Why can’t you just say thank you and appreciate the effort?”
Manjewa, a 37-year-old married public prosecutor with two children
IS IT TRUE THAT VERY BEAUTIFUL WOMEN ARE INTIMIDATING?
“If I am financially stable and assured that my masculinity commands respect, then no, she’s not intimidating. I’ll give you an example: after introducing me to one of her friends from the village, my mother later commented on how beautiful her friend was in their day. Then she said that every time her friend and her husband would get home from a function, he would beat her. Why?
Because other men had been admiring her.
That’s just an extreme example of what insecurities can do to a man.
Robert, a 55-year-old married father of four.