She needed to cry,
Gave her his shoulder to lean on,
Soothed her and whispered in her ears,
He said 'All would be fine, my dear',
She doubted it but felt comforted,
She’s okay now, somebody cares,
He needed to cry,
He called her and said he needed her,
She said, 'Baby you sound like a girl',
'Men don’t need anyone', she said,
He called his guys, 'Please be a friend',
They said 'Guy, be a man',
He called his parents, 'I need your warmth',
They said, 'You’re a man, we trained you well',
Looking in the mirror, he smiles wryly,
He picks up the blade and whispers,
'If men don’t cry, at least men die'
Poem by Ibilola
I have been wondering about the male child for a while now, because of the stories I have been hearing, stories of male Nigerian kids. Sometimes, these stories grip me and leave me breathless.
One story I heard from a neighbour. She said she knew of this kid, Tunde*, who was her own neighbour at her former residence. She had watched Tunde grow up over the years, living in a communal space where everyone interacted and knew one another well.
When Tunde was almost a growing older, she noticed something weird. He wasn't developing at the rate a boy his age should. Now we have to understand, in some Nigerian communities, kids move around naked, playing with their mates, oblivious to their nudity. Every grown-up you meet who grew up in those kinds of communities will vehemently deny that they ever pranced around in their birthday suits, but we know they did. We know.
Apparently, Tunde still had the penis of a 3-year-old. It looked like Tunde was going to have a tough time being a teenager. Unfortunately, he was already getting old enough to start understanding his body and noticing differences between his own sexual growth and that of others his age. This was unfortunate because he didn't have any kind of support system to help him make sense of what was happening to him.
Tunde’s mother, a housewife, paid more attention to his sister. Even though she saw him naked every day, she never noticed. And where was his father? Well, he was not at home most of the time, and even when he was, they weren't close enough for Tunde to go to him with something so personal.
This seems to be happening all over Africa, especially in Nigeria.
Men are expected to have everything figured out.
When growing up, boys are often ignored when emotional issues come up. When they leave the nest (home) and venture out into the wild (university), they start dating and are expected to be strong for their girlfriends. To be the rock of any relationship. Then they get hitched and their wives expect them to be emotionally mature and to provide a broad shoulder to cry on.
When exactly do men get to be insecure? When do they get to cry and express their feelings?
When do they get to just let go and stop being so 'macho' all the time? In Nigeria (and pretty much everywhere else), it is regarded as 'unmanly' for a dude to cry.
That word in itself is suspect. Unmanly: not behaving like a man. One might as well say 'unhumanly: not behaving like a human'. Because, last time I checked, it is human to cry, to be emotional. So why do females seem to have the monopoly on expressing their feelings?
What happened to Tunde was, unfortunately, normal. Boys grow at different rates and his growth deficiency would have most likely straightened out eventually, with time. But he didn't know that. Nobody told him. So he would probably have grown up feeling terribly inadequate and shy.
These deeply rooted insecurities could have made him short-tempered with his female companions, and unable to keep a relationship. Maybe opening up to someone – a friend, a girlfriend, his parents – could have helped him get better, but everyone expected him to figure stuff out on his own. He was a man after all.
Stop the macho man syndrome
The poem above, written by a friend, gets it right: this 'macho man syndrome' has got to stop. It has more far-reaching implications than we care to admit. And none of them are good.
The next time I hear 'be a man' from someone, I am going to scream.
What does that even mean 'to be a man'?I strongly believe that being able to express our emotions in all their messy forms is an integral part of what makes us human, irrespective of gender. Men have as much right as women to show their emotions, and they should not be ashamed of that.
*names have been changed
Do you think men should 'men up', or is it okay for them to express their emotions? Share your thoughts below, or on our Facebook pages Love Matters Naija and Love Matters Africa.