Where are men who want to cry supposed to go? In Kenya, a crying man is often labelled unmanly, a sissy and other unprintable terms. This attitude is largely the product of our socialisation where a man is generally expected to be strong and not display emotions. Sometimes he is even equated to a woman, as if that is offensive.
Yet studies have shown that men who share their pain, sorrows and fears keep mental illness at bay. It’s not just about shedding tears but also about being vulnerable.
Strangely, though, we keep telling men to share their feelings and emotions, but is society ready to listen to them?
A gory family murder case makes this question more poignant. On July 11, Joyce Wanjiru from Thome allegedly slashed her husband, Joseph Gitau, before strangling her two children and hanging herself.
Police suspect that Ms Wanjiru hit his head with an axe while he was seated. A neighbour claimed that the deceased had accused his wife of cheating on him and beating him.
The couple had even sought the intervention of a chief to resolve their marital problems but Mr Gitau allegedly backed out at the last minute fearing that their issues would be made public.
It seems Mr Gitau faced two tough choices: Endure public ridicule or persevere in a marriage on the verge of an implosion.
It’s evident that he did not have much of a choice, really.
A story is told about a certain community in Kenya where, if a man is beaten by his wife, the woman will scream instead, loud enough for the neighbours to hear, to save him the embarrassment of being beaten by a woman.
Men are often accused of not speaking out when they need to but can anyone really blame them? Not when the ones who are supposed to listen to them, especially when domestic violence or sexual abuse is involved, mock them instead of being empathetic.
Victim-shaming men is something that does not get as much attention as it should, yet it happens every day.
Jokes are often made out of incidents of sexual harassment where the man is the victim, with some suggesting that the man must have “enjoyed himself” as, apparently, men don’t have the right to say No to sexual advances.
Most likely, nobody will listen to him even if he cries out. Yet there is a lot of value in listening to men when they cry.
When actor Terry Crews, famous for his role in the comedy Everybody Loves Chris, went public with claims that disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein had “groped his privates”, he sparked quite a debate about sexual abuse of men.
One might even say his experience significantly readjusted the lens through which we view men who are victims of sexual violence. Well, at least in America.
Mr Crews, by all definitions, defied the common demographic of a sexual assault victim. He was not a young woman. Neither was he a child. He was a heavyset man who looked like a punch from him would send a man or woman straight to the emergency room. Unlike the perpetrator, Harvey Weinstein, whose soft middle by all means indicated that Mr Crews could easily have taken him down. The only thing he had that Terry didn’t was power.
And sexual harassment is always about power no matter the gender of the perpetrator or the victim.
Perhaps silence is easier to bear than the shame and stigma that accompanies men speaking out. Truth be told, there really are no robust support systems for men who want to speak out compared to what exists for women.
We may accuse men of not speaking out but they have been forced into silence.
However much a well-meaning society like ours pontificates about the need for men to open up, the efforts will be useless if the same group still forces them to remain in tightly sealed boxes of pent-up emotions, waiting to explode in unimaginable ways.
The writer is the editor, Living Magazine; [email protected] (@FaithOneya)