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With role reversal, men find themselves in the wilderness of identity

By Hezron Mogambi | May 10th 2019

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how the boy child has been neglected within the new and emerging societal matrix. The number of email messages that followed made me ponder a little before returning to this very subject; because this column deals with stuff many fear talking about.

Last week when I was lamenting about school fees, my colleague told me in a message; “Your daughter is better. Pay fees for her because she will remember you.” This was least expected. But why choose a girl? That such a statement should be so casually uttered is monumental.

For until recent years, patriarchy—enforced through the rights of the firstborn son—has been the organising principle, with few exceptions. For example, men in ancient Greece tied their left testicle in an effort to sire male heirs; women have been killed (and others killed themselves) for failing to bear sons: we all know this history.

The era of the firstborn son is totally gone. With the modern, post-industrial society outing things for men, there has come an unprecedented role reversal— and its vast cultural consequences are as real as they can get: men are in the wilderness of identity.

It’s clear that cultural and economic changes always reinforce each other. And the way the global economy is evolving is helping change and erode historical preference for male children. And this is a global phenomenon.

For a long time, we were accustomed to the same image: men are faster,stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources; women are programmed to find good providers and to care for their offspring, which is manifested in more- nurturing and more-flexible behavior, ordaining them to domesticity. This kind of thinking frames our sense of the natural order as we found it; and it’s more biological.

Lady’s car

However, this situation has completely changed. Urbanisation has brought changes. Thinking and communicating have eclipsed physical strength and stamina as the keys to economic success.

That’s why the buzzwords and drivers of economies nowadays are innovation and ideas. And because of what geopolitics and global culture is, ultimately, you either follow suit or end up marginalised. Men have found themselves in a tight corner. And it’s all true: A white-collar economy values raw intellectual horsepower, which men and women have in equal amounts.

It also requires communication skills and social intelligence, areas in which women, according to many studies, have a slight edge. Picture this: A middle aged man under a lady’s car. The car has stalled and so the man (a mechanic) is busy repairing the car as the lady takes selfies and posts them on social media. Once done, the lady pays the man what he considers to be good money and she drives off.

This is partly how I see this current violence against young women in Kenya. Mpango wa kando is a byproduct of this situation. In fact, in the latter, the man is just temporal. The truth is that men cannot believe that the situation has changed.


Men still think they can use their energy and deal with the new balance of power. Unfortunately, the truth is that the post-industrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength. What’s considered important today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus and even multitask—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male.

Paternal authority

The idealised family—he works, she stays home—hardly exists anymore. And governments across the globe have helped up this situation. Our school system is no better. A cursory look at schools and higher learning institutions' enrollment of girls shows the push for gender equality has led to near gender parity.

Within our higher institutions of learning for example, for more than 15 years, girls have been admitted to universities and colleges at lower cluster points than boys. Globally, it is a fact that boys are now more likely to drop out of school due to many factors.

Yes, women still do most of the childcare and all. But given the power of the forces pushing at the economy, this setup feels like the last gasp of a dying age rather than the permanent establishment. And this is the feeling you get when you read 'The Bachelors’ Ball' by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.

That the changing fortunes of men and reality: that men have been reduced to something— a paycheck— and now they are not even that. But reading through 'Quenching the Father Thirst', one gets to understand why even in terms of paternal authority including moral, emotional, social, and physical, men haven’t been spared. She is clearly the man.

How will the man (and boy child) survive in the unfolding situation? And the woman (and boy child)?

Prof Mogambi, Communication and Social Change Expert, teaches at University of [email protected]

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