Sometimes, its better for people to represent themselves in matters that have to do with standing up for themselves. Yet, not all the time. In other instances, people who are being oppressed in a certain way, are precisely the people who can’t say a thing about it.
When you can’t say a thing, you are voiceless. Your problems are overlooked, as not important enough, or not urgent enough. There are many reasons why this happens, topping the list of reasons are two things: shame and fear. Now, the feminists reading this, may be wondering why I would be posting on such a strange topic. Wondering why the objectification of men, should even come up, when the objectification of women is so rampant, so bill board loud. I’ll tell you, objectification is the kind of treatment that is passed on. When you objectify me, I will in turn, look for someone I can objectify more, because that’s the only way that I can get it off my chest. It works in a similar way as; hate breeds hate. The only way to truly end the cycle, is to stop doing it altogether, not to pass it on.
Let’s start at the beginning, in the school yard. Not being very good at the careful games of hop scotch and skip rope, I was not very welcome in the girls games. Instead, I played catch and catch with the boys on most days. For some reason or other, being accepted by the girls, was an unattainable goal, so I aimed instead to be accepted by the boys. That is where my dislike for being called a girl started. The boys, being told every other day by adults not to ‘be a girl’, passed the message on readily to each other (and so, because I wanted to be one of them, to me). “Don’t be a girl” still sits a little uncomfortably in my memory’s play list. It carries with it a list of instructions that are not articulated.
I am going to skip over the insinuation that being a girl is less, because it would digress the point of what I’m saying. The list of instructions that is insinuated by that phrase goes something like this:
Don’t be weak
Don’t be emotional
Don’t show your emotions when you have them
Be silent when something is wrong.(or at least be brave about addressing wrong things).
These instructions don’t stop in the playground. They continue into night clubs, board rooms, choma joints, hospitals, marital relationships… To be a man, you must be strong. You are not allowed to express emotional upheavals, because that is weakness, that is womanly. That conditioning, is silencing. It is the kind of thing that becomes ‘he wont answer his phone’ because he has been taught for his whole life to shut emotions out. The natural result is that if something threatens to break through the barrier he’s been taught to put up, he has to shut it out, even if that means escaping, shutting down. Even if it means hurting someone else’s feelings, because he has been taught, that letting those emotions take over would invariably make him worthless as a man.
The phrase “Be a man!” looms threateningly, suggesting that men should not ‘hesitate’ or ‘overthink’they should be instantaneously ready to be called into action, jump to be a hero in the face of danger. That is what “real men” are expected to do. Another phrase comes to mind, “Men are dogs!” usually used to describe the sexual infidelities on one man, by condemning the entire gender. Men are expected to take this particular phrase lying down, both literally and figuratively. Anyone who defends the entire gender of men against this phrase will automatically be seen as stupid, naive, or both. It is a foregone conclusion, therefore, why resist it. If you punish me for a crime I have not committed, especially a fun one, I would commit it, just to even the score.
Maybe the most obvious male attribute that is used to measure manhood is physical strength. Yes, we have moved past times when the guy who brings home the lions head gets the girl (at least on this continent). Yet, physical strength in a man is still a prized attribute, I know I’m not the only girl who likes to feel ‘protected… safe’. This expectation is so high, that any man that is not tall and strong, will have anything negative he does, attributed to ‘small man syndrome’. This strength is not meant to be used outwardly, in any uncalled for situations eg. I don’t want you to beat up the guy I gave a giant hug to, before you have a chance to find out he is my cousin. “Wah! He is so buff!” is always meant as a compliment, therefore being strong, is something we encourage men to aim towards. The stronger, the better.
Now that our silent men are strong, and excused for crimes before they have committed them, what comes next? I have to state that what I am about to describe, is something that I am not sure happens to white men. It could, but I have not seen it or heard it, so I can not assume it does, I can only address what I know to be true.
Memes of Nigerian mens’ ‘assets’, the constant romantic and campus comedy references to ‘A Big Black C***’, references to dildos that are meant to imitate ‘A Black C***’, countless giggled conversations about size and girth, songs like “One minute man” and the conversations that quote the song. Men hear these conversations too. Their belly sizes are measured and ridiculed, either too round or too skinny and unattainable body standards are set by models and actors who look good for a living. We may easily state that they don’t mind, that they don’t complain, that it doesn’t bother them, BUT we have already established that, complaining, allowing themselves to look bothered is not allowed. They have not been allowed the privilege of saying that ‘small things’ bother them since toddler age. Many boys would have been discouraged these displays of emotion from before the can speak a sentence.
Painted sign posts site Nguvu za kiume as a priority all over Nairobi, radio shows receive calls from women whose men ‘can not perform’ who are then ridiculed and advised to look for help. In fact, a mans roles in the marital home, could be described as achieved, if he can do two things; provide and perform. Modern day economic circumstances make it such that, unless a wife comes from a a lower class than her husband, it would be impossible to sustain their standard of living and raise children unless she works too. Resulting in a perpetual threat to the ‘provide’ portion of of a husbands ‘duties’. Current economic trends leave a man with only one validating action, one source of ‘proof of manhood’: his sexual performance.
Right, let us look at what we have built up, what we have created, in our sons and our brothers. What is it we are expecting, when we place the above ideals on the head of a ten year old, sixteen year old, twenty three year old, forty five year old male person?
a) Someone who suppresses emotions
b) Someone who conceals his desires and grievances
c) Someone who is expected to be physically strong
d) Someone who is expected to perform well sexually
e) Someone who is expected to be sexually promiscuous
Then comes feminism. Feminism has many many forms. In fact, though I consider myself a feminist (someone who campaigns for equal rights for women and men) I can not count the number of arguments I have had with fellow feminists on one ideal or another. The beautifully written and performed poem, Fake Deep describes so many discrimination’s against women, but in its essence completely tramples on the freedom of speech of men.
Men are given mixed messages, ‘bring me flowers!’, ‘don’t give me flowers! I want real love!’, ‘open the door for me!’, ‘I can open my own doors! I’m a strong independent woman!’. When the truth is, there is no rule book for the social subtleties that are merely symptoms of feminism. We are not confused, we just have different opinions. The appropriate thing to do, would be to get to know each other, truthfully. Forget the games, that state that if a girl who openly expresses that she wants to have sex too, she is a slut or that if a man talks about anything more personal than his day at work that he is too emotional. Those games, create a world where no does not mean no. They set young girls and young boys up for the kind of misunderstandings that scar people for life.
It is nearly impossible to afford someone else a privilege you do not have yourself. If we do not afford our men the privilege of being able to express themselves, what makes us think we can expect them to understand us when we express ourselves. All they will understand, is that we as women are incapable of keeping our emotions in check, simply because that is what they have had to do for their whole lives.
Equality struggles, should try to remain true to their objectives. If we aim to oppress male expression, more than it has been oppressed for so long, the only result, is a push back. That push back, will find our younger sisters, our daughters, pushed down onto their backs. Not because men are animals, but because, men are human beings. They too seek affirmation, validation and recognition.
We set our women up to expect men to be strong, sexually driven and insensitive. Then, we look on astonished, when they are just that.
Surely, we should try a different method, if we want a different result.