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“You are not man enough – man up”

“You are not man enough. Be a man. Man up.” These are common phrases we hear in our fast-changing social environment. But has this pushed men in a corner?

Early last month, an Instagram photo of Sauti Sol’s member, Chimano sparked a storm online. Chimano, known for his fruity way of dressing, doned his signature eyebrow ring, posted a photo of himself in a rather characteristic pose that clearly displayed chipped  black nail polish on his agreeably petite cute fingers. From the torrent of negative comments, many people questioned his sexuality.

Despite claims that he is gay, Chimano, known to have the biggest voice in the band, has not come out to deny these claims. He is just an example of many men who have been criticised for revealing their feminine side. For Eric Otieno, a 30-year-old accountant, this phenomenon is not strange to him.

He admits that he loves hugging people a lot, but restrains himself for fear of being told that he is gay. “I hate seeing people in pain and I always feel like hugs are the greatest comfort to give. But people look at me strangely when I do that,” he says.

Raphael Obonyo, 35, a youth advocate, is another man who admits to have faced criticism for doing house chores, which are supposedly meant, for women. “In my neighbourhood, Korogocho slums, we used to fetch water, and there are people who thought that we shouldn’t do that — as it was a task meant for girls and women,” he confesses.

Historically, men have been the dominant sex. Yet in the recent past, masculinity has been in crisis. According to Urban Dictionary, fragile masculinity can be used for someone who tries too hard to fit the male stereotypes for fear of looking too feminine in the society.

Image and behaviour consultant Mwenesi Musalia argues that masculinity is a question of perspective that varies from culture to culture and from one society to another.

“What counts as being manly in one place might not be the same in another. However, certain things remain constant. Like the fact that boys and girls are inherently different and express themselves differently based on their bodies and physiological composition,” he explains.

Ernest Wamboye, a counsellor who runs Powerhouse, an empowerment programme, thinks that fragile masculinity compels men in society to feel pressure to act in a certain way to be considered manly. In some worst scenarios, this may include violating the rights of women. 

“Masculinity reaches a point of fragility when its foundation is based on something temporary. Our culture generally teaches boys that they are man enough when they have three things that I like to call “Girls, Gold and Glory.” Girls refer to a man’s ability to attain and retain female attention for sexual conquest.

Gold refers to the man’s ability to gain as much money material possessions as possible. Glory refers to social dominance and prominence. Men who struggle to get the 3Gs are often seen as sissies and not man enough. The trouble with this definition of masculinity is that the man is constantly intimidated by fellow men who have more Gs than him.

It is detrimental in relationships with females when the man finds out the woman has sexual integrity, financial stability and is unaffected by social pressure,” he argues.

But since time immemorial, masculinity has always been pretty fragile. For instance, in the Victorian era and before then, men, especially butchers, wore heels, but stopped doing that when women began wearing them. Why? Because it was no longer seen as a masculine trait. The same thing happened with the colour pink.

Raphael argues that the advent of technology has seen some of the roles that were regarded as male roles be hijacked by women, which has put pressure in men as they are regarded as fragile every time they fail to conform to expectations that other men have not approved of. For him, growing up in a household where either male or female did things such as house chores grounded him on his perceptions of what masculinity is.

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