I am convinced that men the world over, and particularly in Nigeria, need to have a serious conversation about the truth of what they have been told. I am convinced that we need to confront the myths that have held us down and will continue to hold us down should we not take a hard look in the mirror, smell the coffee, and face the facts. A lot of these perceptions that we have grown to accept like: Men are the head, men don’t cry, women are weak and emotional, are all based not on the understanding of the neutrality of gender identity but on wrong notions that biology confers on males a privilege that makes them better than females. Let me be clear, I am convinced that the major and perhaps only difference between a man and a woman is biology. But I am not convinced that biology confers on a man advantage over a woman. Of course, context matters. If you accept the fact that “all men are born equal”, then you should not in any way have a problem accepting the fact that “all men and women are born equal” with equal rights, privileges, intellect, emotions and as such should have access to the same opportunities for income, power, influence, leadership and yes sex. The acceptance of that fundamental truth is the starting point of the “emancipation of the man” and his release from self-imprisonment to a theory and ideal that is at its very foundation, a lie.
A woman is emotional, so is a man. Men like sex, so do women. A man can lead because he’s got brains and influence. A woman can lead because she’s got brains and words and influence too. The idea that a gender limits you while one propels you is a lie men need to put a stop to now. If you are a man in this generation, the likelihood of you marrying a woman like your grandmother (who had grudgingly accepted the wrong notion that women are weak) is very low. In reality, you are likely to get married to a strong woman. An alpha female. One who probably earns more than you do. One who is likely more intelligent. One is who is more aware of her rights as a human being and a woman. One who will question your decision and will not take no for an answer. If you are not prepared to marry that kind of woman, then you are better off being single.
Over the years, because women have been put down and made to believe they are less, they have built up capacity. They do this by focusing attention on issues impacting and affecting women. And for each victory they get, in the right to vote, the right to an education, the right to equal pay for equal work, the right for health care, the right for political and spiritual leadership, the right for economic empowerment, that capacity increases. This capacity is not developed out of advocacy and agitations alone, it is also developed right from the home front. Take, for instance, the way a boy child is trained from home and the way a girl child is trained. Therein lies the fact that has been lost to us for long. A girl child grows up being taught how to become the “wife material” while little attention is paid to the male who will marry this “wife material”. The mother, from very young, takes the girl child into the kitchen to watch how she cooks. If she has a younger sibling, she is made to look after the baby and carry the baby. She learns to do the laundry while cleaning up the house. She is told that hygiene is very important for the girl. So, she needs to wash herself often and ensure she is clean. At puberty, she begins to experience the pain of menstruation, but she soon learns that despite the pain, she needs to keep a straight face because, in the future, menstrual pain cannot be an excuse why she would not go to work or take care of her young ones. She is taught to ignore the pain and focus on the task to be done. Crisis management was not something she learned in a business school or corporate seminar; it was something she learned right at home. From very early on, she learns to multi-task. She can be cooking while at the same time doing laundry and attending to “Junior” and watching her favourite soap opera. She cries when she needs to. She expresses her anger, joy, disappointment, approvals, frustrations, whatever it is that weighs on her mind. She has been told from a young age that she can do that because she is a girl, so she has developed the capacity to be expressive with her feelings. Emotional Intelligence is not something she learned from a master class; it was something she learned right from home. Even without an education or access to economic opportunity, this woman already has developed inbuilt capacity. Then add to that the power of education. Knowledge is indeed power (irrespective of whatever Cersei Lannister thinks). She discovers through education knowledge about arts and science. She discovers History and reads about the struggles of other women that have gone before her. She is taught her rights. She understands them, she believes them, and she knows that the only person who can limit her is herself. When she is out of school, she doesn’t find it as hard as the men to get a job. Why? Because she is better prepared. She is more motivated. She doesn’t go to the interview room with a sense of entitlement. She goes knowing she might be disadvantaged because of her gender. So, she goes in prepared. Far prepared than her male colleagues. She’s done her research to not just look the part, but “know” the part. She gets the job. But she doesn’t stop there, she increases her capacity in knowledge and performance. Very soon she adds influence on capacity. She is not a weak woman. She is strong.
Consider how the boy is raised. From a very young age, he is excused from everything. When he should be watching his mum cook, he is told, men don’t cook. He is pushed to his father who clearly does not have his time. The same requirement of cleanliness is not demanded of him. When he makes a mess, he is excused because “he is a boy”. He hears that a lot and very soon, he begins to believe it. He begins to live it. He learns that food is usually served, clothes are usually washed, and mummy is usually there while daddy is never around. He grows up developing no capacity for anything. He cannot multi-task. He has never been taught to. He can only handle one thing at a time all his life. He does not understand pain. He cannot stand blood. When he breaks a leg or arm because of the usual rough play, he sees how everyone goes into pandemonium because of his injury. He gets the idea that because he is a boy, he is more valuable. Therefore, he expects to be so treated all his life. He expects that he merely needs to show up and he will be acknowledged. His sense of entitlement is built from a very young age. He is taught not to cry. Whenever he does, he is shamed and told “Boys don’t cry”. He quickly learns not to express himself. It is better to keep what he thinks and feels to himself because “boys don’t talk like girls”. He goes to school and his teachers in school organize debating sessions of “Boys are better than girls”. Of course, he is on the boy’s side. He listens to what other boys say and he realizes he is not the only one. Other boys feel the same way he feels too that girls talk too much and are as dumb as Mr. Bean. The fact that the best student in the class is a girl doesn’t mean anything. That perception has already taken root from very early on. That boy gets out of school and expects to get a job by design. He expects to be considered above the girl because he is a boy and by default a leader. When he is asked what his salary expectations are, he rolls off a list of demands of big salary, company car and other “entitlements”. The fact that he has just entry-level qualifications is lost on him. He lost the job. But that is not what pains him. What pains him is that he lost the job to a girl. That girl that was looking like bonga fish. Whose face resembled Zelda, that girl that couldn’t help introducing herself to other applicants when what they came there to do was “fight to be employed”. You see, he has grown to believe that the only intelligent woman on earth is either his mum or sister” and that everything is about a fight, a war, about winning and losing. This experience builds up resentment in him towards women. He finally gets a job and begins to climb the corporate ladder. He decides it’s time to get married. He needs a “befitting” woman to be his wife.
The likelihood is that this male will marry an alpha female, a strong woman like the one described above. This is a complete mismatch because this boy has not been trained to handle this kind of woman. She has more capacity than he can handle. She can multi-task and handle several functions at once. He can’t. He can only focus on one thing at a time. She knows how to handle crisis because she has learnt to ignore the pain and focus on the important task. By experience she knows the pain won’t last forever. He crumbles at the whiff of a crisis. A job loss feels like a death sentence. A loss of income feels like he just lost his manhood. She is emotionally superior to him from years of learning how to express her deep feelings and hurts. He is closed up. He won’t talk because men are not supposed to talk or cry. He believes talking and crying are signs of weakness, yet he holds in bitterness when she has expressed hers and moved on. He believes men are to be always obeyed by their women without question. She thinks not. She believes she has the right to question him including the right to say no to sex. What we see here is a recipe for disaster and the reason why we are beginning to see patterns of reactions from men of this age like we have not seen before.
The men of this age have not been taught to “handle” the women of this age. Most don’t understand how to manage her. They have not been taught how to put a woman like this “under control”. The examples of women they have always seen are those who, like their mums, have ceded their rights for the sake of “keeping a home”. They have not been shown how to handle a strong woman. What they have been taught is how to marry a weak one. So, the reality that the woman they married is not that weak, fragile, vulnerable person they had envisioned, leads to patterns of behaviour we are beginning to see from the menfolk. Sometimes these patterns of behaviour manifest in “the silent treatment” of men to women. In some cases, it leads to men just walking out of their marriages. (We are seeing a lot of that these days). The most serious of these behaviours are those that manifest in violence. We are seeing more incidents of domestic abuse, and in the worst cases, murder.
This is why we need to have this conversation. It is not a simplistic one. It is multi-dimensional. We need to talk about the roles of fathers in shaping the lives of their children, especially the males. We need to confront the issues that impact male dysfunction. If the foundation is bad, everything built on it will be bad. We need to discuss the identity issue. What does it mean to be a man? What stages do you go through from being a male to a man? The issues are vast, and the solutions are equally daunting. But it starts with an acknowledgement from men (first) of an acceptance of the truth and a willingness to be better. Once we can embrace that reality, we can set ourselves on the platform to be exactly how our creator has made us to be.
Let the conversation begin.