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Backward cultures are keeping boys in the past

By Babere Chacha and John Wahome | February 18th 2021 at 13:03:29 GMT +0300

A travel agent Eryck Wikki (left) from Poland in an arm-wrestling contest with Robert Charo (right). [File, Standard]

Last week in this space, we joined the unhappy choruses of alarmed observers who have raised concern over the dire plight of boys and men in the hands of powerful and unforgiving pro-women forces pervading the world. Being part of the suffering throng, we can count numerous opportunities in the form of scholarships, contracts, tenders and plum jobs which we lost even before we ‘bid ‘on account of being born male.

We, therefore, feel obliged to do a sequel and final article today as part of our empathetic activism for the boy-child who we feel has been thrust into a perilous trajectory of total emasculation.

We insist that the rise of the number of men who have become slaves of virility-enhancing products - most of whose names consist of a violent adjective and a vicious beast (such as Nyuki Matata) - is a feeble and dangerous attempt by the current crop of Kenyan men to re-enact the triumphant masculine sensations their forefathers apparently experienced.

However, this attempt to base contemporary masculinity on sexual competence alone is an exercise in futility, especially when viewed in the light of the present-day gender metrics which have evolved beyond recognition, thanks to the rapid and random globalisation process.

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Similarly, the traits that used to define men culturally such as stoicism, physical strength and courage have been overtaken by time and no longer count for much. In fact, with modern economics allowing women greater freedoms, having a provider husband and protector father is no longer a do-or-die necessity. Finally, the increasing irrelevance of the agrarian economy where muscle power mattered has greatly and irreversibly diminished the value of the man as breadwinner.

In the legal sphere, the zeal of the law to subdue the libidinous ravings of men has increasingly been cleverly exploited by subtle young women who weaponise consensual encounters – albeit ill-advised – resulting in numerous male teenagers serving unfair jail terms. The ripple effect of this practice is immense psychological damage to the incarcerated youngsters who realise the magnitude of their misdeeds only much later, and to the devastated parents who have all but lost their children forever.

The assumption that the whole world should embrace ‘progressive’ new gender norms cooked and served in Western capitals does not hold in practice. Even in urban settings where the demarcation of gender roles is blurred, it is not easy to discard entrenched cultural beliefs and practices, as Chinua Achebe so brilliantly demonstrates in No Longer at Ease where England-educated Obi Okonkwo is helplessly beholden to powerful Igbo traditions and their exacting requirements of a ‘real man’.

There is indeed much credence to the aphorism that “you can take an African out of the village, but you cannot take the village out of him”.

The relentless pursuit of men and boys unto death is not limited to the realm of the job market and other social entitlements. It sometimes attains a deathly flavour. In some far-flung rural communities where the only utilitarian measure of the worth of a man is cross-border aggressiveness, it is nigh-impossible to elude or defy tradition, because doing so has life-threatening ramifications. Young Pokot and Turkana men living around the Kapedo and Suguta areas of northern Kenya find themselves in a confounding conundrum.

The dowry requirements sometimes run into hundreds of head of cattle, and literally forces them to raid neighbouring communities or else suffer the ridicule of remaining bachelors for life. Bearing in mind that the current constitution is vociferously supportive of traditional cultures, a rhetorical question automatically arises: Should these perennial Kapedo combatants be classified as murderers, or resilient cultural practitioners? We do no raise this question to countenance savagery and anarchy, but to inspire a more creative, diplomatic, and less kinetic response by security forces sent to such troubled hotspots in future.

In the other parts of the country such as central Kenya, culture continues to clash seriously with emerging social paradigms. Men have reacted to their perceived imminent descent into irrelevance by trashing Christianity and embracing ancient mountain deities.

A revival of traditional religions, creatively woven around national politics and fiercely defended, is being marketed as a sure route to the elusive machismo and warrior dignity once personified in the legendary Mau Mau freedom fighters.

In a region awash with school drop-outs who would find metaphysical shortcuts to solving life’s difficulties quite appealing, some people feel that the leading elders’ councils should instead proactively guide the youth away from snuff and brew, and usher them towards modern digital economy.

So, how can boys and men wiggle out of this disadvantaged position? Is it by picketing on the streets? This would look sheepish, and indeed ‘unmanly’. Is it by attending every convened Men’s Conference? But to empower ourselves through education - which is now liberally available even on online platforms - should ensure that we do not lag too much behind the privileged gender.

In sum, there has been gross failure in keeping the laudable women empowerment efforts strictly pro-women. Instead these efforts have been hijacked and transformed, with an unspoken rider that for every woman who comes up, a man must go down. 

 

Dr Chacha and Dr Wahome both teach at Laikipia University

Last week in this space, we joined the unhappy choruses of alarmed observers who have raised concern over the dire plight of boys and men in the hands of powerful and unforgiving pro-women forces pervading the world. Being part of the suffering throng, we can count numerous opportunities in the form of scholarships, contracts, tenders and plum jobs which we lost even before we ‘bid ‘on account of being born male.

We, therefore, feel obliged to do a sequel and final article today as part of our empathetic activism for the boy-child who we feel has been thrust into a perilous trajectory of total emasculation.

We insist that the rise of the number of men who have become slaves of virility-enhancing products - most of whose names consist of a violent adjective and a vicious beast (such as Nyuki Matata) - is a feeble and dangerous attempt by the current crop of Kenyan men to re-enact the triumphant masculine sensations their forefathers apparently experienced.

However, this attempt to base contemporary masculinity on sexual competence alone is an exercise in futility, especially when viewed in the light of the present day gender metrics which have evolved beyond recognition, thanks to the rapid and random globalisation process.

Similarly, the traits that used to define men culturally such as stoicism, physical strength and courage have been overtaken by time and no longer count for much. In fact, with modern economics allowing women greater freedoms, having a provider husband and protector father is no longer a do-or-die necessity. Finally, the increasing irrelevance of the agrarian economy where muscle power mattered has greatly and irreversibly diminished the value of the man as breadwinner.

In the legal sphere, the zeal of the law to subdue the libidinous ravings of men has increasingly been cleverly exploited by subtle young women who weaponise consensual encounters – albeit ill-advised – resulting in numerous male teenagers serving unfair jail terms. The ripple effect of this practice is immense psychological damage to the incarcerated youngsters who realise the magnitude of their misdeeds only much later, and to the devastated parents who have all but lost their children forever.

The assumption that the whole world should embrace ‘progressive’ new gender norms cooked and served in Western capitals does not hold in practice. Even in urban settings where the demarcation of gender roles is blurred, it is not easy to discard entrenched cultural beliefs and practices, as Chinua Achebe so brilliantly demonstrates in No Longer at Ease where England-educated Obi Okonkwo is helplessly beholden to powerful Igbo traditions and their exacting requirements of a ‘real man’.

There is indeed much credence to the aphorism that “you can take an African out of the village, but you cannot take the village out of him”.

The relentless pursuit of men and boys unto death is not limited to the realm of the job market and other social entitlements. It sometimes attains a deathly flavour. In some far-flung rural communities where the only utilitarian measure of the worth of a man is cross-border aggressiveness, it is nigh-impossible to elude or defy tradition, because doing so has life-threatening ramifications. Young Pokot and Turkana men living around the Kapedo and Suguta areas of northern Kenya find themselves in a confounding conundrum.

The dowry requirements sometimes run into hundreds of head of cattle, and literally forces them to raid neighbouring communities or else suffer the ridicule of remaining bachelors for life. Bearing in mind that the current constitution is vociferously supportive of traditional cultures, a rhetorical question automatically arises: Should these perennial Kapedo combatants be classified as murderers, or resilient cultural practitioners? We do no raise this question to countenance savagery and anarchy, but to inspire a more creative, diplomatic, and less kinetic response by security forces sent to such troubled hotspots in future.

In the other parts of the country such as central Kenya, culture continues to clash seriously with emerging social paradigms. Men have reacted to their perceived imminent descent into irrelevance by trashing Christianity and embracing ancient mountain deities.

A revival of traditional religions, creatively woven around national politics and fiercely defended, is being marketed as a sure route to the elusive machismo and warrior dignity once personified in the legendary Mau Mau freedom fighters.

In a region awash with school drop-outs who would find metaphysical shortcuts to solving life’s difficulties quite appealing, some people feel that the leading elders’ councils should instead proactively guide the youth away from snuff and brew, and usher them towards modern digital economy.

So, how can boys and men wiggle out of this disadvantaged position? Is it by picketing on the streets? This would look sheepish, and indeed ‘unmanly’. Is it by attending every convened Men’s Conference? But to empower ourselves through education - which is now liberally available even on online platforms - should ensure that we do not lag too much behind the privileged gender.

In sum, there has been gross failure in keeping the laudable women empowerment efforts strictly pro-women. Instead these efforts have been hijacked and transformed, with an unspoken rider that for every woman who comes up, a man must go down. 

 

Dr Chacha and Dr Wahome both teach at Laikipia University


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