While each society has its own gender roles, there are a few roles that universally belong squarely to either of the sexes. Apart from the Maasai, who thought their women were strong enough to build houses and look after cattle, most communities will have men take up duties that require physical strength and leave the females to cook, clean and take care of the home.
Women are expected to be nurturers because nature has bestowed on them the role of carrying babies within them. Females across species, with the exception of the birds, take an active role in the upbringing of their young ones during the formative stage and beyond.
It’s very normal to find a heifer surrounded by her progeny to an anonymous generation for as long as they remain in the same herd.
We would like to think that with the change in times gender roles are gradually fading and any gender can step up to take up any role on the home front. This is rarely the case. While the man can cook and clean, the woman is rarely expected to trim the hedge when there is a male in the house or a woman to dig a pit latrine while the husband cleans up the house.
Plumbing work is left for men and any male worth his salt will not see his woman dangling on the roof to repair a leaking gutter.
Is it then safe to say that men have adapted well to taking up some of the otherwise feminine roles in the home? Women may not like it that they are the gender associated with cooking and cleaning but nature has it that they were created with wombs and mammary glands, which makes them the initial carers of the little ones in a family. In a hard-line political negotiation, this primary bestowment would be cut as an irreducible minimum to be qualified as female.
In developed countries, men have fluidly adapted to taking up house chores and other duties that were previously considered female roles. In households where both parties are working it is only fair that the chores at home are shared equitably among the family members. However, it will be delusional for a woman living in a developing world, and whose husband plays the role of a sole provider, to expect her man to cook and wash.
A few men who grew up in affluence and attended prestigious schools may partake in cooking roles like preparing nyama choma for the family on a Sunday afternoon or feeding the clothes in the washer.
They are also the few men who will open car doors and present their women with flowers on random occasions. But you would be expecting so much of your husband, whose only interaction with modernity is when he goes for salary in Homa Bay town once a month, to cook for you on your firewood stove or even express any of these western acts of chivalry that he has never interacted with.
This latter group of men believes solidly in their roles as heads of the family; they do not want to see their sons in the vicinity of the kitchen but will expect them to bravely kill a snake should one find its way in the house.
They believe in men being masculine and will do all the menial work in the home. However, whether the woman is present at home or not, they will never get into the kitchen to fix their own meals. The kitchen will be an alien place for them where they only enter to fix leaking pipes and roofs.
However, this should not be a reason to limit men or women from developing their personal abilities or pursuing careers.
While some careers, which are predominantly male, may require the use of brutal strength, women should not be discouraged from pursuing them. Similarly, men can choose to be hairdressers, chefs and other careers that were previously reserved for women.
The point here is that, however much we flexibly approach this generational blind spot of gender roles we have to admit that we have to be cautious not to push the development too fast as to break its gradual evolution.