All around the world, the definition of what makes a man has changed drastically. This has seen the rise of controversial TAGS such as metrosexual, or more recently, slay king, and BEING today’s typical macho man is increasingly a struggle. STEPHEN MBUTHI and WAMBUI VIRGINIA explore THE PHENOMENON
We have to admit that times are a-changing. There is no longer one set of characteristics that define a man, as was the case say 50 or so years ago. They even have to be sectionalised, with some being termed traditional, others metrosexual, yet others, slay king.
Where the traditionalists berate it as being a bit on the fence, the metrosexual man is intricately aware of the subtle details of fashion and dressing, prefers cocktails to beer, and has little to no interest in sports or politics.
But, traditionally inclined urban men are also complaining of stigmatisation. Holding firm to the belief that a man should dress and behave “like a man”, society often describes them as out of touch and draconian. So, in these most modern of times, we see a social clash between two ideologies. Men who think it’s ok to be in touch with their feminine side, and those who think it just isn’t.
Metrosexual or slay king
Sharp, trendy and always current. He’s highly concerned about his wardrobe, hair, skincare routine and fitness regimen. In short, he’s got a bit of a softer side, at least in contrast to the traditional macho image that many men aspire to.
He might be a regular at the salon, indulging in everything from massages to manicures without a second thought. He’s no stranger to big name designers, frequents a line of boutiques and confesses a great appreciation for bettering himself in every possible way.
“I am not afraid of completely embracing my masculinity, and I do not let my fashion choices affect my manliness. I could wear bright colours like pink and other pastel shades, which other men would normally avoid,” says Obed Mwaganu.
“Men aren’t supposed to be picky about the kind of soap they use. Just give a man a bar of soap and a bottle of shampoo and he should be done with his bath,” he adds. “On the other hand, a slay king will not use just any soap. His bathroom will be lined with body washes, shower gels, vitamin enriched shampoos, moisturising conditioners and other fragrant body care products, so that he can step out of the shower smelling fresh,” explains Mwaganu.
For K24 TV’s deputy business editor Zawadi Mudibo, it’s part of the job.
“I like to stay hygienic and practically speaking, if you are right handed, it will be difficult to cut the nails on your right hand and file them to match perfectly with the ones on your left hand.
It is just sensible to get someone else to do them both, and you get a uniform result. Furthermore, when you go for a manicure, the cuticles are removed for a clean look. In my line of work, presentation is everything and when meeting the who’s who of the business world, you need to put your best foot, or hand, forward,” he says.
Mudibo admits that he does get some flak for that. “There are some people who insist that a man who takes care of himself is a bit queer and attention seeking.
Also, at first, my wife thought it was a bit weird for a man to take so much care of himself, but over time, she has come to appreciate it. In short, I feel it depends on who you are, and more so what you do and how you want to be perceived,” notes the TV presenter.
Nex Kauppi, working in corporate Nairobi, asserts that looking presentable shouldn’t be a question of masculinity or lack thereof, that one should concern themselves with.
“Dressing is very important. People who insist that it doesn’t matter are in denial of the fact that we are all judged by first appearances. Dressing is the first introduction you give yourself before what line of work you are in, or even before people can judge how intelligent you are.
A well dressed man means that he takes his reputation seriously. There are reasons we wear our best clothes to job interviews, because we want to put our best foot forward,” he says and adds that there is a science to dressing well.
“For instance, you shouldn’t wear wide shoes with slim fit pants, because you will look unbalanced and the overall appearance will lack harmony. When you take the time to dress well, you consider which colours and which fabrics go well together, and so on,” he notes.
Symon Ng’ang’a, a 46-year-old mechanical engineer, feels that traditional gender divisions are not without reason. “For instance, it is considered un-African for a man to carry a baby. While modern thinking insists that there’s nothing wrong, traditional culture explains that in public, a man should always be alert to protecting his wife and child.
Traditionally, men and women were both taught how to relate with each other and their duties according to their genders. This includes dressing; a man should dress and act like a man,” he says.
“Men were considered manly back in the day because they understood the heavy responsibility that being a father and husband entails.
Whenever I see a man carrying his child, I doubtlessly question his understanding of what is a man. Those were the things that were taught to us growing up. But, the modern trend is that everything contemporary and more liberal is better than the traditional ways. That is simply not true,” adds Ng’ang’a.
Some women tend to agree. Nairobi resident Mary Anyango analogises the concept to electrical works. “The difference between men and women is like the difference between a plug and a wall socket.
The usefulness of the plug is to be exactly the opposite of the socket. In electrical and plumbing jargon, you will find male and female parts and they only exist to work with each other. Similarly, in humanity, there are men and there are women.
Their bodies are different and their minds are different. They are not competing with each other, and modern women should understand that real feminism means trying to become a better woman. Complimentary, not competitive, to a man,” she says, adding that a man should behave like a man and a woman should behave like a woman.
“I would like to urge or young men to be proud of being men and our young women should try and not feminise them by insisting they dress in funny clothes,” advises Anyango.
Dichotomy of interpretations
Ken Ouko, a sociologist at the University of Nairobi, notes that masculinity is one of those operative words whose interpretation has always been as deceptively subjective as it is universally divisive.
To many modern men, masculinity translates to a stereotype-laden existential caricature, conformity to which invariably invites the labour of a lifetime. In the traditional sense, masculinity was typically represented by an insouciant he-man mentality that allowed men to rule the roost without having to crow.
“Then, women accelerated their own evolution and mischievously decided to redefine masculinity to suit their own parameters that the modern man is now expected to conform to, failure to which one is written off as a pretentious citizen of the masculine nation,” he says.
According to the sociologist, today’s man has to contend with having to cope with himself as well as having to measure up to the feminine standard of masculinity.
“The existential trap for the modern man is that he is expected to simultaneously look James Bond suave, while at the same time oozing the Rock’s machismo. The modern woman wants her man to be super brand model in the day and Tarzan by night; beauty and the beast rolled into one. Unsurprisingly, this is part of what is causing the ballooning of the gay generation.
Men are literally rebelling against their female counterparts, with a good number electing to give womenfolk competition at looking smooth,” explains Ouko. “In fact, as it were, the concept of the alpha male has been drastically redefined away from the muscular hunk, and more towards the eye candy man,” he adds.
A number of women have no issue with this modern man. “It is a free world, and who are we to tell or judge people on what they do. Everyone should do what they want. I have no problem with men who ‘slay’.
I like the fact that they take care of themselves, and how well cultured they are. In this day and age, I do not think anyone should be judged on how they handle their business,” comments university student Cindy Mwikali. Yet others, such as Cindy’s friend Joan Mutune, do not agree with how liberal the society has become.
“I agree that everyone is entitled to freedom of expression, however, I think it’s an acquired character that forces an individual to act in a certain way, so that they can be acknowledged within their social circles,” she observes.
Time is by no means turning back, and that has divided the younger population. On the one hand, there are men unrestrained by tradition and breaking hitherto taboo expectations.
On the other hand, there are those who feel that many of our social problems stem from straying away from traditional conservative values. Doubtlessly, the debate rages on, and at least for now, to each his own.