For decades the boy child has unwittingly benefited from the male-controlled societies that have always prized the boy child over the girl child. As the world evolved, much attention and research has been focused on empowering the girl child to rise over this patriarchy and take control of the narrative. As less focus was placed on understanding the boy child, they are forced to shape their view and understanding of society and its requirement of them based on an archaic and flawed way of thinking.
In the past, men were the providers and protectors of the more ‘vulnerable’. Whichever way you look at this, it was a daunting task and an enormous weight a man must bear but as time went by, society evolved, the girl child was empowered and emancipated. Girls have risen to positions of power and have excelled at them. One would think this would lessen the load men had to carry but just as something primal, the old ways still ring about in the boy child’s mind, remnants of the old generation’s wisdom passed on from generation to generation. A boy’s father and grandfather will always chime into key decisions in the boy’s life and effectively steer it based on the old way of thinking. “Work hard, be strong, look after your family” is still the Swiss Army knife advice given to young boys in their formative years. The iteration of this bland advice given to young men in turn created the inability for men unable to seek help, express emotion and are willing to do anything to appear to be successful.
The seemingly unharmful statement ‘Be a Man’ created a trend that forces them to turn off their emotions and compartmentalise feelings that should essentially be dealt with to create a healthy way. The social-cultural norm has made it okay to believe that it is easier being a man than being a woman and blurred out the fact that men are shamed for essentially ‘wearing their hearts on their sleeves’. The inability to process emotion has created a cycle of damaged and vulnerable men who abused women and developed toxic ‘manly’ habits.
Consider this; Kenneth is born into a middle-class family with two successful parents who, without a doubt, expect the best from him. Kenneth has grown to watch his father as the main bread winner that he views as this emotionless powerhouse of masculinity. His is automatically placed in this process of growth and socialisation that dictates the specifics on how a man is supposed to behave. The gendered social upbringing he is surrounded by has already frowned on emotional expression and glorified the importance of outshining the girl child and all his peers even in situations where he may need to seek support. As a young man, Kenneth gets a job, he is making a steady income and decides its about time to get married. He identifies a potential suitor and courts her. He is fixated on the general norm of dating that dictates that he should be a protector and provider and now he feels stretched thin by trying to keep up with these societal norms. Too late, his parents keep broaching the subject of marriage and so does his girlfriend of two years.
His father says its time to “be a man” and start a family, and so he does. He is married now with two kids and is struggling to contend with life and all it throws at him, he needs help but feels like it would emasculate him to ask his wife, so he keeps struggling. Now the entire relationship is in jeopardy, he thinks his family is a burden and now he resents them for stealing his youth. Kenneth cannot let his parents know he is failing at life and he thinks seeing a therapist, appearing weak or complaining makes him less of man. He then resorts to drinking, cheating and being abusive to his family. Unbeknown to Kenneth, accepting help, expressing his emotions and being open with his spouse and parents about his struggles would have saved him from his current predicament and that’s the cycle we need to end in order to achieve lasting change among the boy child. Parents should be able to encourage openness from their sons and teach them that struggling through life is life itself, not the image of male perfection and dominance that has been touted since time memorial. With the recent advancements in girl child empowerment, the boy child should be able to rely on his female counterpart for support in the financial, social and emotional aspects of life. He shouldn’t have to feel like he will appear weak or give into the demands that society has vigorously instilled in everyone for millennia.
The swiss army knife of advice, “be strong, you are man”, should no longer cut it. A boy should be able to seek proper help and be listened to, he should be himself and not have to live a façade just to appear manly, he should be able to struggle and know that its normal. I believe society as a whole need a dose or realism and stop fixing bullet holes with plasters. We as a society need to be sensitive to mental health so as to mitigate the negative effects ignoring it has caused. Children deserve to be raised in happy homes, wives deserve real, well adjusted husbands and fathers need support and guidance.
Most of the problems we have in society are because of two reasons; we act without thinking or we keep thinking without acting.
At InPACT, through our Men on a Mission initiative, we provide a safe space for young men to discuss issues that affect them by exploring gender norms that affect young men, social-economic challenges and find solutions to said challenges. Our gender transformative initiatives and micro-enterprises are all designed to enable young men to overcome barriers and gender constructs that place young men in challenging and often times, abusive situations. A problem shared is a problem solved, let’s have this conversation and put an end to the viscous cycle created by silent suffering of young men.
A Ugandan Boy.