African Masculinity 👨🏾
What do men talk about?
Guest post: Written by Julian Obubo
On this episode of the The MIX Project podcast, our special guest Ade Bamgbala, Louisa and I discuss the construction and complexity around forms of masculinity, and more specifically, African masculinity.
Popular culture will have you believe we (African men) don’t stray far beyond the topics of sports, sex and material things, and if we do, we keep it very superficial. Whilst my lived experience has found this to be untrue, I can understand why this myth persists, and how we, African men, consciously and unconsciously maintain and propagate it. Listen now, and let us know your thoughts.
What you value, is what you’ll commit your time to. So another way of looking at this topic, is to ask “What do men value?” When you put it this way, it becomes a clear to see why this myth of sports, sex, and material wealth still holds sway.
African culture has historically conditioned its men to judge their worth on their ability to acquire material wealth; a pressure that has been quite stifling for the diaspora. From childhood, boys are groomed to become accumulators of symbols of power; often that’s a good education, lots of money and beautiful women. They’re told to acquire these, not because it will bring them internal peace and happiness, but because they will get respect and validation from society.
In the pursuit to accumulate, boys are encouraged to eschew sentimentality. Sentimentality is regarded as feminine, and will only be an obstacle to becoming a man. The messages boys receive tell them to suppress or deny their emotions. It’s no wonder then, that too commonly, African boys and young men grow up unable to adequately articulate their feelings, especially when it comes to matters of the heart.
We have feminism to thank
This hard, toxic masculinity is bound to come crashing down. It supports a patriarchal social organisation that elevates men who are emotionally stunted, boorish and materialistic and penalises anyone who deviates from its strict prescription of masculinity. We have feminism to thank for shining a light on the many ways our society prospers at the expense of women, and just as importantly, the many ways our definition of masculinity is detrimental to men.
Although we are very far off from an equal and just society, I’d argue that feminism has permanently re-calibrated societal expectations of men and this has allowed for a much needed appraisal of what men value. We’re now seeing a world where men cry in public, discuss mental health issues, express genuine contrition for infidelity (I see you Jay Z) and are proud of being engaged and active fathers.
I can say, albeit anecdotally, that I see these societal changes reflected in the conversations I have with my male friends. We still have a long way to go…but by talking about it, we’re each taking small, but necessary steps in the right direction.