[ctt template=”2″ link=”8agde” via=”yes” ]“Guys, you don’t have to act “manly” to be considered a man; you are a man, so just be yourself. You don’t have to prove your masculinity to anyone.” ― Miya Yamanouchi[/ctt]
I grew up under a strongly mixed belief system; one wh deep roots in tradition and religion (or as it were, faith). My dad was and is still deeply cultural. He holds on tightly to the beliefs in which he was brought up. So, I had and still have my own share of experiencing what it’s like to have an African dad; The “when I was your age”, “back in the days” never-ending conversations about how things were better, younger men were more respectful and life was fairly easy when he was a younger man. And as you can guess, those conversations never end because they often lead to yet another tale, then another and ultimately a long walk through history.
My mom, on the other hand, is deeply spiritual. I grew up seeing her take things like prayer seriously. She would pray for me while I was sleeping, going to school, preparing for an exam, trying on a new cloth or doing anything at all. Deeply peaceful, introspective, likes her space, has few friends, willing to be vulnerable, very organized and quite introverted.
I’m done talking family business. So, now to why I’m here:
I grew up as the young boy that everyone loved – I was brilliant, lovely, sweet to be around with, very respectful and quite handsome. Except that, as I grew, I had to come to terms with the kind of society in which I had been born. One that didn’t care about me, yet, had a million and one expectations of me.
So, I was told very often; you need to grow into a man.
You see, men shouldn’t cry – You take the pain in and absorb it, like a MAN.
At 15, I was asked why unlike my other friends, I did not have a baritone voice and because I didn’t know any better, I was worried. You should not like the mirror or powder or even pay too much attention to how you look.
Yellow, Red and Pink should not be found in a man’s wardrobe or anywhere near a man. In fact, why should you even care about colours; white, black and grey should be all you need.
You can’t be deeply religious as a man. Those things are meant for females. Just a few minutes of daily prayer would do.
You should watch movies like 300, Gladiator, Die-Hard, Commando and the likes. Boys over flowers should be alien to you.
You should have muscles! The more heavily built you are, the more masculine you are. Perfectly chiselled bodies and Adonis-like looks are part of the man-package. You can’t do without it.
And until all of these, you can’t be referred to as a man.
But, here I was, frail looking, soft-hearted, never had a baritone voice. I stopped playing football when I had my toenail ripped while trying to kick the ball. Well, asides the fact that it was a rough game, energy draining and not as interesting as having a conversation, reading and learning something new on my friend’s PC.
My first business was a library with several novels and as you could expect, females were my customers. I was shocked when for the first time someone told me pink, red and yellow were feminine colours and if I wanted to be taken more seriously as a man, I should opt for colours that depict masculinity – like blue and black and/ or grey. Those were boring colours, they still are.
I cried a lot – after a really emotional movie, during worship in church, when I missed someone, when I passed an exam, received a very valuable gift or felt really burdened.
With time, labels came. The ones who were kind enough called me “ajebota” and from the not too kind, “boy-girl”. And the rest I can’t even remember now.
For a young boy my age, that meant so many things. It meant I couldn’t walk into some circles or have a perfect relationship with whomever I wanted to.
Of course, there were many times I wished I was a female. They seemed to have less pressure, less expectation. Except, now, that I have grown and I am more exposed, I know better. So, maybe it’s not a “man thing”, its a human thing. But, again, I can only speak authoritatively for the menfolk because it’s something I have experienced, I have cried through, I have felt deeply and most importantly I am growing through.
I really longed to be a man – the man that people liked. I just wanted to be accepted by people and verified as a man. I tried. Then, I got affiliated with Google. And like anyone who searches for things that are not missing, I found things I wasn’t prepared to encounter.
It took me a few years after living in the trauma of wanting to be a man so hard to understand that Being a man isn’t performance based. I am a man and whether or not I conform to societal ideals of who a man should be, it doesn’t make me less of a man. That was the deliverance I had desired for so long. But, it was more than just that moment of rediscovery, It was a process of re-orientating myself towards living in my design and be comfortable in my skin.
The idea that a man has to do x, y and z things to prove that he is a man is one that is deeply ingrained into the fabric of every Nigerian as soon as you were born. I have seen male toddlers been screamed out when they cried out loud because, according to them, men should not cry. There’s no one way to be a human; neither is there one way to be a man.
We spend so much time affirming to people through various institutions that they bar unique, that they are different and each one has his unique call. Only that when it comes to wry it really matters, we forget what we once doggedly asserted. We now believe that all humans must grow up the same way. That all bits must like black, must play football, be dirty, must be class captains and must come tops in class. What we do with that is to stifle the humanity in men.
So we raise men to be all of these and wonder why they aren’t great husbands, empathetic CEOs or patient drivers. We missed it when we made them numb boys.
For all you know, we weren’t born to fit into already existing stereotypes. We were born to be free, to explore, to be unique, to soar, To LIVE.
When next you meet someone: someone different from you. Don’t be in a hurry to put labels. For if we were all the same, then wherein lies the beauty of life? On this journey, I have met men – Men who express love, who have been termed weak, men who believe in the right of the female gender a.k.a feminists, men who write, who love novels, men like me. Now, I cry when I want to, laugh as loud as I can, scream when in shock and shout when my passion reaches the peak. And I must say that I am still getting better.
When I am challenged with such statements, I sigh! I sigh because I’m torn between taking it out completely with such a person or just ignore. Most times I ignore completely.
Now, I’m on a journey. A journey of unlearning, relearning and learning many of the gender stereotypes I unconsciously absorbed whilst growing up in such dysfunctional society. I am learning to rest in the Confidence that the love of God gives and to accept his love for me. That, in itself, is enough empowerment to love the man I am becoming in Him. I have stopped trying to be a man, I have stopped trying to look more masculine. I am a man and I am not bothered by anyone’s idea of what a man should or shouldn’t do. There isn’t one way to be a man.
Drop the societal pressure. Let men, be men!
[ctt template=”2″ link=”cUop9″ via=”yes” ]Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations – Chimamanda[/ctt]