Women live longer than men, are ever more powerful, ever wealthier – and there’s talk that men are being left behind. Is Kenyan manhood on the brink? wonders Jackson Biko.
If you stop and turn your ear to the wind, you will hear something: a sweeping male-directed furore with a ferric whiff of discomfiture at the state of the modern man. Manhood is in peril. It is – some believe – teetering dangerously at the edge of obscurity.
In addition to thinking up great investment opportunities, chamas – I’m informed – have become forums in which women can dissect the failures of the modern male. Morning radio shows stake out days on which they discuss relationships, with the focus being on how the Kenyan man needs to pull up his socks. And in bars, legions of high-heel-sporting females chastise men for not stepping up to the plate, for shirking their responsibilities, for not being ‘man’ enough.
But it’s not only here in Kenya.
American writer Hanna Rosin – author of the book The End of Men – recently voiced her ideas in a presentation, now online at TED.com/talks, titled: ‘Are women leaving men behind?’. She argues – convincingly, and with impressive stats, I admit – that the power dynamics between men and women are shifting rapidly. And to the disadvantage of men.
Kenyan women, too, make no bones about their increasing impatience with the Kenyan Man. If this goes on for too long, it might just get into our heads that indeed our character is wanting. It’s not a happy idea.
But what is the state of the Kenyan Man?
Even though Kenyan Man might spend too much time staring into his beer glass, he still basically subscribes to the maxim that you’re only as good as your last manly responsibility. We strive to be better – but meeting the expectations of ‘old-style’ man and the demands of the modern era means a balancing act.
For instance, men in their 30s are increasingly involved in their kids’ lives. We are more respectful to women than our dads were. We are more open to changing careers, more open to new ideas – and our ethos for life is not etched in stone. In short, we find it easier to address and change our flaws.
But because we are in Africa, and the quintessential traditional African male was good for something, we will tend to reach back into those bygone ages to find something that we can apply in the modern day. We will pick elements that can serve us – albeit selfishly – in these new times, but we will appreciate the conflicts these might cause.
So we ask to have our food warmed once in a while, even though the microwave works just fine. So we wear leather jackets at 45, even though it screams ‘mid-life crisis’. So we oil our ashen elbows and use shower gel instead of soap. After all, image has become the easiest way to get a foot in any door, so we are just playing by the rules. And we still want to have a say in how those rules are laid down.
Don Draper, antihero of acclaimed television series Mad Men, proclaimed: “If you don’t like what’s being said, then change the conversation.” But the Kenyan man isn’t about to change the conversation now – not as long as we think we can dictate the tone in which this conversation is conducted.