Manly and masculine: what does that mean, anyway?
Is gender just a title limited to the genitalia you are born with or is it so much more?
My best friend Mark and I had been texting all day. I was bored and couldn’t watch TV since Kenya Power and Lighting wouldn’t let me prosper: there had was a power outage. I was sharing pictures of clothes I wanted to buy online.
‘Women’s clothes are so much prettier than men’s clothes. You think I’d look good in some of these?’ he texted.
‘Yup, you should try them sometime!’ I replied, giggling to myself at the thought of Mark in a crop top.
I was joking but I also thought that everyone should wear a skirt from time to time since they are pretty and comfortable. Also, there was no way men were more comfortable wearing trousers that constricted their groins.
‘Jess, I actually really want to wear dresses. But as a man, I would be judged, yeah? People would think I was gay… And cross-dressing isn’t really a thing seen on these Kenyan streets?’
I didn’t respond. I hadn’t expected that response at all. I had so many questions but wasn’t sure how to broach them without offending.
Did those unnecessarily tight trousers guys seem to prefer now hold masculinity together?
‘Jess, are you there?’
Mark was the kind of guy who bought his eight-month-old son blue clothes and bedding. The baby’s toys consisted of bears and cars and a bunch of other ‘boyish’ toys. He would go on about how his cute son was going to break girl’s hearts and the ‘boyish’ things he expected from the baby’s future. We had had arguments about this repeatedly, from before his child was born, since I found his outlook problematic at best.
‘Mark, what does gender mean to you exactly? I know we’ve talked about this in regards to your son, and agreed to disagree to some extent.
But what benefit do you think there is to live a ‘gendered’ life? Is this just locked to a penis or vagina? Where does that leave intersex people? And if someone doesn’t feel like their body and identity match, what does it then mean? Does their original gender last forever? What does a dress have to do with masculinity? What is masculinity anyway?’
Listen. Did I expect these questions to be completely answered in a text exchange on a warm afternoon with no electricity? No.
I mean, I was still working through my own thoughts on these issues.
I believe that if human beings could just be expected to live their lives as individuals, without attaching strange social norms to each one based on our sex organs, the world would be a better place.
I don’t, however, claim to know how this can be done. But the first step is likely allowing grown muscular males to wear what they’d like. This includes flowery summer dresses because you know what? They are comfortable!
What does ‘being masculine’ mean to you? Leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you.