I was having an interesting conversation with a friend of mine. There was an emergency at the hospital where he worked; it involved a woman – a wife and mother, who had run into a post-operative complication.
It was a really sad development and his heart went out to her; ”good people shouldn’t be made to suffer”, he said. I agreed with him and then I asked how her husband was faring.
”He’s strong but I know it’d only be for a while. Besides he’s ‘the man’ so shouldn’t show his emotions else he’s termed weak”, he added.
We had had a number of these ”feminist” conversations. His statement above was one of the many culture loophole conversations we had been having relating to forced gender differences in the African setting.
There are a whole lot of things that we grew up learning about societal and cultural inclinations as it concerns the African society – women tend and keep the home, men provide for their homes, male children are more ‘important’ than female ones, divorce is unheard of, family is sacred and so on.
While a number of them have promoted a rich cultural and moral compass for our society, a lot of others have left it impaired, loop-sided and downright injurious to the development of men and women alike.
We were subconsciously taught our male children were premium possessions; a golden medal to crown a woman’s bearing age. I knew families where children had to keep coming until there were too many female mouths to feed; and families where women were treated with disdain for a lifetime because they had bore no male children.
But somehow, when these prized possessions came, they weren’t raised with much gusto as preceded their arrival. We taught our male children that it was not okay to feel, and it was a taboo to feel anything in public.
”Don’t cry, you’re a man!”
Like Chimamanda Adichie says in her famous TEDtalk We Should All Be Feminists, ”We teach boys to be afraid of fear, of weakness, of vulnerability. We teach them to mask their true selves, because they have to be, in Nigerian-speak—a hard man”.
However, like I mentioned to my friend, we did teach them how to feel something – anger, pride, superiority, brashness, blind bravado and as human beings with innate capacity to feel emotions, they did embrace these fully.
So subconsciously, it is still okay for a man to feel anger, it is okay to feel superior to women or other men whom he feels he is better than. It is okay for men to feel rage and act in the heat of the moment because again, that is what ”hard men” do; these are what ”hard men” feel.
We raise men who have a narrow perception of what ‘being a man’ is, of what ”male” represents and it affects us all.
”We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage”, says Chimamanda Adichie in her TEDtalk.
So, here’s why you should cry, man; crying cleanses your soul and reveals its true form and depth to you. And with such depth of self-knowledge, such self-awareness you can conquer anything!
Why? Because the world is full of people and people facilitate your hows’, whats’, whens’ and ifs’ in this life’s journey. And by truly learning yourself, you indirectly learn how to deal with anyone you come in contact with because frankly, we all feel something – the entirety of humanity – at one point or the other. And these emotions are what connects us in spite of our many differences. Think about the passion of football, the sadness and outcry in the face of terrorist attacks or humanitarian crisis, or the solidarity in a march against injustice or an oppressive government. It’s all people, connected by a common emotion towards a cause or a person.
Don’t get me wrong, anger is a valid emotion as is feeling vulnerable or helpless. One kind of feeling isn’t more valid that another. One doesn’t make you a weaker person more than another would. Choosing what to feel or what to express is pure recipe for self-deceit, and limitations. teaching and raising our children to do same is even worse.
Emotions are meant to be accepted; and felt; and expressed the right way. Ignoring them or letting them build up is again, a recipe for disaster.
A flowing stream stays fresh and gives room for its inhabitants to grow and thrive; a stagnant body of water chokes life to death.
The Quiet One