The ways in which men are socialised in our societies predisposes the creation of a particular type of man. A man who is sexually unfaithful within monogamous relationships, unable to be openly expressive about his deep emotional and interior life to the majority of his male friends, and perhaps even more significantly unable to be emotionally true to himself. I’m thinking here of men from Ghana, but also men from Nigeria. Yet I don’t think this is particularly a Ghanaian, Nigerian, West African or even an African problem. There is a part of men’s socialisation that almost seems universal in a global patriarchal world. And that part of men’s socialisation privileges being stoic, bottling up one’s emotions.
Men and masculinities are not a subject that I have ever written about. Even when the occasional male reader says to me, “Why don’t you write something for men?” My response has always been either: “I’m not interested in men” or “Why don’t you write it yourself? I will happily support you”. My reasons for this come from a political place and belief in the importance of writing from one’s personal standpoint, and experiences. Of course I’m interested in men. I almost can’t help but be interested in men. And in particular, as someone who writes about sexualities, and has incessant conversations with women about relationships, I end up talking about men a lot. Way more than I would like. And so I’ve had a lot of time to think about men. To wonder who men are. And by that I mean, age-old questions like, why do men act the way they do? What makes a man cheat? How come a man can date a woman for years and keep saying, “I am not interested in marriage”, but the minute he breaks up with that woman, and starts another relationship, he could willingly be on his way up the aisle in less than three months. I think the answers to these questions are rather boringly obvious, and women’s magazines (in particular) regurgitate these answers to women time and time again. Which is part of the reason why I as a general rule do not write about men, and why I have chosen to write about those issues that I believe are of primary importance to women yet do not get highlighted enough in the media that women overwhelmingly consume.
Recently I was emailing back and forth with *Abi, a Nigerian man resident in the U.K. He wrote:
I’ve always found it easier and more satisfying to have conversations with girls/women than with boys/men. Most of the time, at least. When I was younger I suspected I had ulterior motives that I didn’t want to admit to myself, but as I grew older I realised there was more to it than that. How I feel about anything is really important to me (as I imagine it must be to anyone), and I like to be able to talk openly about this with friends (when I feel the need to talk about what’s going on inside me), and listen to what they have to say about their feelings, but this isn’t something most of the guys I know (or have known) feel comfortable talking about for more than a few minutes. But I wonder if all guys are like that. They kid around with other guys, but meet up with their female friends when they really want to talk.
Abi got me thinking about my male friends with whom I have deep emotional conversations. I started to wonder if I happened to be just that one-woman friend with whom they could be emotionally honest, and so I asked Edem*, one of my closest male friends in Ghana, if he could talk to his guy friends when he was going through a difficult time. He laughed and said: “When my girlfriend left me, one of my guy’s came over and said, ‘Chale don’t stress. Make we go drink and fuck.’” I had to laugh as well. “Seriously? That was his solution?” To which Edem responded, “Yeah.”
As we continued chatting, Edem told me that he has only one male friend with whom he could talk about deep emotional issues. With all of his other friends he keeps the conversation light and liquored. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Edem’s one friend in whom he can confide, is the only man he knows who refuses to cheat on his wife even when his friends laugh at him for being pussy whipped.
I decided to speak to more of my male friends to find out how they deal with deep emotional issues. I started a Facebook chat with Uzoma* who lives in Lagos and asked him who he speaks to when he has a deep emotional issue. He said, “This once, I lost a very close friend. My girlfriend has never seen me tear before and when I did, she started crying too. I now had to start consoling her. She was scared that I was crying”. I tried to dig deeper. I wanted to find out how Uzoma felt when he had to start consoling his girlfriend when he was the one who was originally upset. He continued by saying, “It was cool. I felt like, I dunno… She’s a woman. Women could cry for pretty much anything”. I didn’t feel satisfied with that answer so I continued to dig deeper, “What do you do when you are upset? Very upset?” He said, “…I play football or play video games.”
I wonder about the consequences of being a conventional man in today’s world. How does one cope with the subtle and not so subtle pressure to be “one of the boys”, “to man up” when you are grieving. What does one say when you are persistently being told “Obarima ensu” (Men do not cry).
Is it any wonder then that men have higher suicide rates than women, and are both victims and perpetrators of the most violent crimes?