A Sunday afternoon that started out as catching up with my friend MM turned into a raw and rather lengthy dialogue on masculinity. He may or may not have been indulging in some C2H5OH
((Maxwell's music plays in the background))
MM: One of the biggest issues of stereotypical masculinity is as dudes we can't admit that we fell in love.
ME: Why not? Why can't you do that?
MM: Because that's how the system, the structure is set up. As a man, you can't be vulnerable. You can't tell the world that this is how you feel. As men, we are required to stick within the structures of masculinity, which is not being vulnerable. I even try telling my best friends, "You know what? I love you guys." And their response is always " Dude, how much have you had to drink today?" One of my best friends would tell me, "You guy, I miss you...no homo". I'll respond and tell them, "Dude, we've known each other for 10 years. I miss you too but I'm not going to qualify it with no homo. I don't need to." And then they'd laugh and say, "Haha, by the way, that's true." I don't need to qualify my emotions, you know.
MM: Men wash dishes, men cook for women... You know I was actually thinking the other day that if I was to meet a super ambitious women... (long pause), woman
ME: (interjects) Woman
MM: (laughs) Yeah, a super ambitious woman. A lot of men talk about getting to where they are because they always have a woman...
ME: Do you believe that?
MM: It's not so much as a belief but as a why are the guys who show up on tv or on what we consider mainstream media like "I'm successful, but I have a wife." Or...
MM: "I'm successful AND I have a wife." Going back to not just the literature but even the context of how men succeed, women take up a lot of the labour men don't do. Like as a man, you are able to go to make it to a CEO position because we're able to go back to school, we're able to work 18-hour days, 20-hour days because when you get home, there's food, the kids' homework has been checked, you have a warm bed, the dishes have been washed, your clothes are ironed... You don't have to think about any of those things. Even from reading a lot of autobiographies, you never hear guys say, "I got to where I am in huge part because of my wife or my partner." You know? So you get the feeling that guys are painting themselves as a thing they are not. And I was thinking about it the other day and I was like, "If I could find a woman who wanted to pursue her dreams..." I'd be like "If I have a slightly okay job where it's not so much pressure, I'd support her. I'd stay home, maybe on weekends, 'cause I have a job, and..."
ME: So you'd be okay being a house-husband...
MM: Yes, the clothes would be washed...
ME: But you're talking about working and being a house-husband at the same time. Housewives don't have the luxury of doing that. They stay at home and take care of the family and the home
MM: Yes those are the housewives but for me, I need to work. I like to wake up in the morning and feel like I have something to do, otherwise, I'll go nuts. But, if my job is not as high pressure as hers, let's say you have a partner who's chasing maybe Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or CEO of their company... You know? They need to come home and find there's food. They need to come home and find that the kids' have been washed and the house is clean, and the sheets have been changed... And these are things we take for granted. You know? Like I'm single so I can take that for granted. I come home from work on a Thursday evening and find everything has been done by the cleaning lady. But now imagine if you're partners, there's two of you. These are not things we think about and a lot of the men who make it have women behind them doing these things that they don't think about. If I find a chick who's that ambitious, me I'll do those things. (Jokes) As long as she buys me a sneakers bar every so often. And these are some of the questions we need to answer when we're talking about, what does it mean to be a man now? Historically men have never been able to adapt to the fast way of the changing environments. Women have! That's why we find women in jobs men do. Like construction work. Nowadays if you go to construction sites you'll always find women
ME: Hmmm... Doing what exactly? Serving the men food?
MM: No. Not just serving them food. They'll also be laying bricks and shovelling cement. Historically women have been able to adapt way faster to changing environments than men have. And I think as men we need to get on board too. Like there's nothing wrong with staying at home and taking care of kids.
ME: Especially in the African culture. I think it's much easier for the westerners. I don't know. Africans and their egos...
MM: Yes but you know change is painful. Transformation is painful. So there have to be those of us who say, it's going to be painful but we'll do it.
ME: You would do it?
MM: I would do it... I would do it. In a heartbeat. As long as I love that woman. My love is a fire. When I love I love my all.
ME: That's good. You should never have one foot in and the other out when in a relationship.
MM: Like when I'm loving you I'll love you with everything.
ME: (Teases) Do you want to write a song about that?
MM: I can write a poem or a blog post
ME: Please do!
MM: But yeah. It's scary to a point where I don't even leave anything for myself. So let's say this chick gets her PhD and becomes a famous woman and she's doing all those things. Then she says, "Okay, err it's been real, I met a guy so cheers!" So what happens then?
ME: Oh, so you're scared of that happening? Of your efforts not being recognized?
MM: No, I want you to recognize my efforts...
ME: By staying?
MM: I don't need you to stay, I just need you to recognize my efforts
MM: Like when you write your autobiography, when you tell people out there that you are successful, you need to say " I am successful because..."
ME: MM stayed at home and took care of the kids and folded the clothes...
MM: Yeah! This is something a lot of the men don't do. Actually most men. Like you hear the top ten richest people in the world are men, right?
ME: Mmmm... well I'm not sure. Warren Buffet...
MM: Or five, whatever. All men. So these men are men with families, they're men with wives. They didn't just wake up successful. When I wake up, I'm thinking of how to prepare breakfast, right? That's an extra 20 minutes in my day I'm using. If there was a woman or a partner in my life... I use the term partner because not all of us date women. If there was a partner in my life who would wake up a little earlier than me, make breakfast, when I wake up I shower, eat breakfast and go to work it would be way easier
ME: So is that when you're in a relationship or when you're married? And should that come as obvious?
MM: A marriage and a relationship
ME: No! They're two completely different situations. One you can walk out whenever you feel like it, the other...
MM: No you can't!
ME: YEAH?! For marriage, there's a whole legal contract that's binding you, so it's not as easy...
MM: Those are semantics.
ME: No but it is the reality as well
MM: Is it?
ME: YEAH! You can leave a relationship and get into another one but you cannot leave a marriage and get into another without the law coming for you...
MM: You don't need to get into a marriage. The fact is, you've left the marriage, that's what you need to focus on. You've left the marriage. The laws are details.
ME: Yes, but unfortunately you have to do what the law says. So if you're going to get into another marriage you have to have the first one annulled. And with good reason.
MM: Well then for the purpose of this interaction we should not talk about marriage...
ME: (Confused) It was just a question but... okay
ME: We digressed from our topic... You make it sound like the assigning of responsibilities should be automatic...
MM: No. You have to have that conversation about what works for you. You might have an 8 to 5 which is not strictly 8 to 5. More like 6 to 9, because you're probably a lawyer. And, I have an 8 to 5 which is more like an 8 to 4. But I think that as partners you should shift the responsibilities as the context changes. If you get home early, you cook or you wash dishes. If I get home early, I'll cook and wash the dishes. You cannot say that you'll sit and wait for your partner to come home and do the dishes because it's his or her day for doing the dishes. No! Contexts change and as partners in a relationship we have to allow for that context to change.
ME: But, in this society, whether we are in the 21st century or not, there's still that whole mentality of it's the woman's role, and you'll still hear people talk about it jokingly, but deep down they really mean it; That women belong in the kitchen. I've had some male friends tell me that when I've paid them a visit and I was like "Huh?"
MM: But that's the society. When you're having a relationship it's not about you and the society, it's about you and your partner
ME: I hear you but unfortunately, most men still have that traditional perspective
MM: Which men?? Fuck them! Leave those men alone
ME: There are men who will reason like you do until they settle down and it's like all that evaporates. All those years of living alone are suddenly a blur. Do YOU carry that same reasoning into a marriage?
MM: I do my best to. Yeah! The idea that men can't do anything for themselves is a form of misogyny.
ME: Are you married?
ME: So you cannot say that
MM: No but in my previous relationship I used to wash dishes, traditionally "the woman's role", but I washed dishes
ME: All the time?
MM: Yeah! Except when something came up and I couldn't wash dishes. But then again my ex did not like washing dishes, even if I asked her to...
ME: Now that explains why you enjoy washing dishes so much
MM: Yeah. Even if I asked her to wash dishes, she'd get a bit resentful. But it's not because she's a bad person, it's because she didn't just like doing it. When she'd show up and see that I did the dishes, she'd be so grateful and I'd be like, "But someone needed to do them..."
ME: So for you-you're more concerned about the dishes being done and less of it being a woman's role?
MM: Yes. I don't see why that shouldn't be part of masculinity. For me, the idea we've been fed of what masculinity is hasn't worked for me. And the idea we've been fed is, you need to be rich, you need to be dating and fucking multiple women at the same time... At the most, I have a nice house. I am not sleeping with multiple women at a go. First, there's no time, and then, there's no bandwidth
((Enter Jazz music))
MM: The idea that to be a man and to behave like a man I need to have a bass voice is false. I don't have beards, I don't have muscles. I am not your stereotypical guy. So I have to redefine masculinity for myself. And for me, masculinity is supporting my women partners in what they are doing. I say, women because I am heterosexual. Shouldn't that count for something? Shouldn't it? I don't need to be a "manly" man with muscles and all. I am with my partner and I am the best for her. Even if what the best for her comprises not being part of stereotypical masculinity. Does that mean now I'm not a man?
MM: Or, think of it this way. Someone says I'm not a man because I read feminist literature. Like hmm, I'm still a guy...
ME: (Stunned) So what should you be reading? Captain America?
MM: I should try to aspire to be like Jack Reacher. Jack Reacher is a man's man, but even him he's a bit feminist... So for me, I got to a point where I was like this masculinity does not work for me. I can't buy a Range Rover to be a man, I can't buy a serious car to be a man. Because of one, I can't even afford it. So because I'm not doing it now I'm not a man? Stereotypical masculinity is based on societal positions. But how many of us can achieve those? I can't! I come from a privileged background and I have a nice job. If I can't do these things when I come from a privileged background, what about that guy who comes from the "gutter"? So for me, masculinity is a weird concept. At the most basic for me, my definition of masculinity is I am who I am. And it doesn't even have to be because I am straight, which is a whole other problem. Why do we call us straight? Straight implies that everything that is not straight is crooked, which is not right. Being gay is not crooked. So maybe I should say I'm heterosexual. I have friends. I have friends like you... Isn't that good enough to be a man? Do I have to be Superman too? I can't be Superman. I tried and I failed.
ME: What do you mean you tried? What did you do?
MM: I tried taking on everything at work. I said yes to every job I was given. When I took on all of those things, there were things I didn't do well. That doesn't make me any less of a man. And I think we need to get rid of this idea of being a manly man. A lot of my friends aren't manly men. So maybe at the end of the day, each of us has to define what masculinity means to us. When I wake up on Monday and I'm working and I'm trying to make the world a better place, that's' good enough for me.
ME: So do you think masculinity is defined by how we're brought up?
MM: In large part yeah. My dad, for example, always made sure we were never out of school, we were never kicked out of our house and we had food. For him, his idea of masculinity is taking care of his children.
ME: Did he make that outrightly known or did you just pick it up?
MM: It was implicit but it used to be hammered into us every single time. My dad used to drink a lot back in the day. When he'd come home he'd say "Isn't there food? Isn't there a roof over your head?"
ME: What else do you want? Aren't you going to school?
MM: Aren't you going to school? What else do you want?
ME: (In agreement) Typical Kenyan parents' responses in short
MM: He used to say that and it took me a long time to understand where he was coming from. He did his best with what he had. He did his best with what he knew. Our parents weren't evil, they just did their best. Maybe it wasn't THE best for us, but they did their best. And looking back my father was the best dad I could ever have. THE BEST! I'll die saying that. He wasn't perfect but he did what he could. And it worked for him. Now for me, someone who I am not sure whether or not I want children... The thing is, I'm scared I won't be able to give them the quality of life my parents gave me. I won't be able to bring them up the way my parents brought me up, or even better.
ME: You've just talked about doing things your own way. So why can't you discover your own way of parenting? Why does it have to be exactly the way your parents did it?
MM: I know, but it's still scary. I talk with my father and he tells me he goes to class and he starts talking, because he's a lecturer, and all these guys have their pens ready to put down whatever he says. And he's like, "These guys have so much hope in me. They put so much faith in me, that I'm going to do the right thing." And he does the right thing, but I'm like, "Will I be like my dad and do the right thing?" And the thing is, you do not do that thing other than the right thing because you're evil. You do it because you believe it is the better option. Because I don't believe that people are inherently evil. And that's what scares me about being a parent. Like, "What if I ruin this child?" Because even now at my age, I still look at my dad and I'm like, "I want to do what Papa did. He did XYZ, even me I'm going to do XYZ." And then things will work out.
That's the question I've been asking myself. What does it mean to be a man? And I think what makes you a man is giving your life to something that matters. Something that makes the world a better place. And if we're not making the world a better place, then what are we doing? Making money? I've seen money, I've been around money. I know what money can do and what money can't do. The thing that I think is lacking in all these things that attempt to make the world a better place, is empathy and self-compassion. You tell someone, "Hey, you know what, you messed up, but you're human. All of us mess up." Or empathy. Try to see where someone else is coming from.