The modern man in Kenya
By Odimegwu Onwumere
The essential question of the role of a man in modern Kenyan society continues to generate more questions than is readily answerable. Surely but gradually, the archetypal masculinity of man is being windswept into the ocean of gender equality.
The space that once enabled him to exercise his roles and responsibilities without losing his identity is being circumscribed.
When the news made it known that across Kenya, men were being progressively battered by their wives, quite a lot of people couldn’t believe it. Many thought it was fictional — rather than factual. Many Kenyans raced to newsstands to have firsthand copy of the newspapers it was reported.
An interest group recounted that Kenyan women have suddenly become deviant towards their men, ever since the government schemes which were carefully harnessed to draw attention to women’s rank in the society. According to this source, Kenyan women have become, rather more independent; in a very thrifty way.
Just last year, about five hundred thousand Kenyan men suffered tremendous domestic violence in the hands of their women. A survey of Central and Nairobi provinces by a group gave this indication.
How to nip this escalating phenomenon in the bud led a Kenyan men’s group weeks ago calling for men to stay away from food cooked at home by their wives within a period of six-days. The boycott was aimed at bringing to light the magnitude at which women are subjecting men to domestic violence and abuse in Kenya.
Like in most African countries, women are emotionally touched when men do not eat their food. This notion is not exempted in Kenya. Traditionally, women do the cooking and their men were supposed to eat to appreciate their wives.
What annoys the men deficiently is that Kenya’s government does not take domestic hostility against men critically. There was a suspicion that the government may be instigating the women to be battering their men.
The food boycott for six-days was for the men to eat together and brainstorm on the possible ways to liberate themselves from the iniquitous grip of their women. The biting-wit is not only that the men are battered physically, but even more horrendous, they are also emotionally spent. This in particular — was the reason for the men’s nationwide boycott of their women’s food; as lobbied through the men’s insurgence group – Maendeleo Ya Wanaume – and initiated by its leader, Ndiritu Njoka.
‘Development for Men’ is what Maendeleo Ya Wanaume means. Seeing how the society makes fun of men who are battered by their women and also take them as scrawny was the compelling factor that led to the setting-up of Maendeleo Ya Wanaume to give confidence to Kenyan men to speak out.
As the news of the food boycott filtered into the air, many Kenyans had their brain held captive, hoping to get some responses. Many see the outcry of the men as a “case of hegemonic masculinity in crisis”. To define the subject, some of them cited a text by a Michael Kimmel (1994) thus: 'Masculinity as homophobia'. It was noted that Kimmel, man, did quite a high-quality job in cross-examining masculinity; its failures, insecurities and pressures.
Many Kenyans outside the country, precisely in the United Kingdom, spoke on the matter. Majority of them, women, said that sex/gender role within the domestic environment has completely changed since most men lost their jobs in the UK, following the economic recession that recently hit the world.
They made known their point, saying that jobs like nursing, teaching, social work and care, which are regarded as feminine, were not as affected by the economic indentation as majority of men’s centered jobs in big companies were affected.
While the women were out for work to earn money, men resorted to working fulltime in the kitchen and to take charge of the kid(s). And the development was being widely acknowledged.
Like a seething volcano, the development in Kenya irks many. They say that the men are retrogressing to their ancient tradition which in its entirety recognizes total masculinity, whereas the women are moving from the domestic environment supposedly assigned to them by nature to grasp increased opportunities in the academia, political and social consciousness fashioned for them by the government.
Quite logically, there is far more than meets the eyes concerning this situation. The insinuation that Kenyan women are battering their men is also obviously not a con. Evidently, it has been revealed that Kenyan men are finding it very difficult to walk with modernity alongside tradition, but they will gladly accept sharing costs with women within condiments. However, they also believe that sharing household tasks is debasing to their integrity. One statement reads: It doesn’t make sense for men to cling on to the traditional gender roles while reaping the fruits of modern academic and civilized assignments which inevitably must reverse or at least interfere with the traditions.
What many Kenyan women want is a situation where there is deconstruction of what has been the hegemonic masculinity. They want their men to be ready to help with the kitchen, do homework with the kids, change diapers and get food supplies. They see relationships as a partnership and are ready to ever renegade their men perceived are still trapped in the old ways of thinking.
Kenyan women do not want their men to continue to be wedged in their tradition, which sees nurturing children, cooking, sweeping the house, fetching water, making a cup of tea for guests etc., as roles that are strictly left for women. However, majority of the men hold that all the fuming by their women is nothing but an eerie attempt to subject men to an archetypal violence in Kenya.
The women are however happy that “the brunt of Gender Based Violence” is now directed against the men. “Flawed masculinities,” they described it as, “for any meaningful engagements and enhancement on the promotion of women's rights in Kenya.” The men’s interest group on the contrary has created more perceptible issues of men and the boy child in Kenya. Mostly, it has created public seats for people to exchange views.
Notwithstanding, most women see any woman calling on the men to responsibilities such as nurturing of children as mad. To them, this chore is clearly the role of women and that any action contrary to that is synonymous to violence and abuse against men.
There is an agitation that Maendeleo Ya Wanaume shares its view with other interest groups in the world. Its hypotheses are seriously questioned. The accuracy of the group’s statistics of men battered in Kenya by women is in doubt. There is a claim that MYM, short form for Maendeleo Ya Wanaume, said in one media story that 60 per cent of women admit to battering men, which means that out of any three Kenyan women two are batterers, a point that is refuted by many women. On the contrary, many Kenyan women don’t wish to discharge that there are some abused men worldwide, let alone Kenya. Their problem is on the statistics, which they say don't seem right.
On Citizen TV, Sunday 31st May, 2009, an unplanned Swahili programme took place and many Kenyans interested in the discourse were not notified in time to be prepared with research for clarifications on some of the issues emerging from the MYM’s report. Mr. Njoka, the Maendeleo ya Wanaume chairperson, was a co-panelist. The issue of construction of masculinities, ordering and labeling were discussed. Njoka was requested that he shares the report and clarify what research methodology was applied. Kenyans believe that the way this report was presented leaves more questions than answers. They see it as “being more of ridicule than seriousness”.
The modern man in Kenya is being caught in-between having to furnish for his traditional roles where the modern women see him as no longer the sole “protector and provider”. The women believe that in the current society both the women and men are providing and protecting. Conversely, in many quarters they say that with this mentality, things are not going down well in Kenya; it is leading to hurt egos and exhume low esteem.
Many women deny that women's empowerment are to blame for the violence against men in Kenya. And the fact that Kenyan women have been declared as husband batterers, it is for the men to shape up, for mutual co-existence. Although, they accept the fact that when anyone talks about violence or abuse, the person should not eschew the fact that women were created double-barreled-mouth. And some uncouth ones use it in excess to violet their men immensely.
They thus far define ‘Violence’ as not only physical, emotional beating has turned and ruined some men in their homes.
Some biased Kenyan women no longer believe that there are different body chemistries that constitute both a man and a woman. They see man and woman as one and should be equal. This brings the issue of ‘violence’ to a serious burner.
As creatures, no doubt men are volatile in nature, by muscle. While women, are double-barrel-mouth. Many Kenyan women agree this. All of these they say are ‘violence’, no matter how anybody may look at it or see it. So, it baffles them when women are shouting “violence against women”, whereas not telling the world that women should also stop their own natural “mouth-violence” against men.
Moreover, they agree that no sensible man would see a woman on the road and start to violate her, and vis-à-vis. They believe that there are men and women who, out of maturity and self-nurturing, have been able to curtail “muscle and mouth violence” against each other.
The conservatives among the Kenyan women are of the view that it is shameful for any woman to disobey the men no matter how highly placed the woman is. They say that women should succumb to the ‘positive’ men’s will at any given time.
Their belief is that “the men are always right”. This is the way nature made them. Therefore, the women admonish the liberal amongst them in Kenya to study the men, especially their husbands, to know when they wake up, the time they go to the office, the time they come back in the evening and the kind of food they would want to eat, and make sure that everything is prepared for them, even when the women are also working. And until the women understand the nature of men through respect, which will in turn create love from the men, there may not be near-end to violence among them.
The conservative Kenyan women believe that a woman is supposed to be full of prayers, and not full of problems with the men; that for a woman, monitoring the many-whereabouts of a man is just a hectic waste of time. They hinged their point, saying that most men have no time to even pray. If a woman is staring down on a man and expecting that he must do the house chores instead of pleading with the man to help her, she is wasting her time. This is what a woman should do; not nag or batter or abuse the man.
They also pinpointed that even in the countries where laws were created in favour of women to cut the violence excesses of men against women, some men still prefer to die rather than see themselves being humiliated by women, or better put, go to jail, because of their wives.
Women only feel dehumanized and shout “violence against women” when they get trapped in the debasing images of men they have wronged. Women must show the world that they also abhour mouth-lashing their men.
Women’s clamouring for women’s right without attaching decorum to it is their treacherous way of achieving racial justice, which they understand is both impractical and immoral.
In Kenya, the modern men no longer teach women in the home that might make right, but women are the ones teaching the men. They hope that they could solve conflicts with their borrowed might.
In the very end, bad-mouth is the worst form of violence against men.