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On Being an African Male and a Feminist
By Kelvin J. Shachile
What is wrong with a boy believing in the equality of sexes? This question rings in mind a month after I delivered a talk to a group of young men and women at an event in Nairobi. I am confused of what is the clear definition of what it means to be a man or a woman, really.
A few days after the event I got a call.
“Hey buddy,” My friend said from the other side. “Have you since then got something to do? We parted ways when you were still a budding feminist writer and speaker. Hope you got some light to see the kind of a world to write and talk about.” He says over the phone trying to talk with that foreign inflection as if his nose has been blocked, that makes him sound unwillingly humorous instead of sounding like an American as I guessed was his intention. I am left with no words to say other than just sit back and smile, give him a chance to say all his stuffs as I struggle to pick out what best I can use to derive some meaning. Unfortunately I found nothing.
I have a problem with the society. Because it has solely decided to define femininity with inferiority and masculinity with strength, we have chosen to make it clear for the girls to be calm, humble and gentle to be bright but not to the extent of being beyond the level that will scare men away. We expect boys to be strong, less vulnerable and have hearts like those of beasts. If a man doesn’t marry, we laugh and say he has a problem within himself but if a woman doesn’t, we turn to their mothers and say much about how they didn’t raise a good girl. If we see a man crying, we wonder the kind of a man he is but when we see women walk with their heads straight and confident we murmur of what she thinks she can do, because she has to be shy.
We human beings, are so much blinded by the first kind of a world we get and so much struggle to make it the only world that will forever exist. That is how culture and traditions are made. We end up coming up with a single story, build on myths and stereotypes that we use as a checklist to define what we expect from the others. Expectations of the society have become a prison that are holding the freedom of many hearts and souls behind the bars of culture and religion.
I won’t be surprised if the person who will read this piece and wonder why a young man in his prime peak of life at 21 is being motivated by the struggle that women go through to break the chains of the culture, traditions of the society, the doctrines of religion and the expectations of those around them to define their femininity using the same checklist on which Akoko was checked in Margaret Ogolla’s novel The River and The Source or being taken as a doll as in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. I know I am expected to think as a man, fight my fears, date girls and I should marry. I am expected by the society to be like those men sit in the big circle in coats who spend hours discussing and planning on female agendas and the possible ways in which they can be empowered, I am needed to show my masculinity in the African style that demands me to make my voice be heard and be respected by every woman who is close to me. But that doesn’t have a chance to corrupt my thoughts and make me feel more superior than my own mother, my teacher and my female lecturers or even those of my age whose capability to do the things I do far much better than I do.
I am an African man, a nature that makes me lack an option but to marry, not to cry and not to learn cooking, because cooking is for women. If it was in the earlier days, I would be expected to go hunting in the forest, without fear and bring home bush meat for my family. In the current times, I am expected to take alcohol and even smoke when I am out with my friends and they will understand, call me a man because that is what being a man to them means, strong and fearless.
I a man who one day will walk into my house and carry my daughter onto my shoulders and ask her what she wants to be in future. I will help her dream to make me proud but won’t wish her to be stepped down and seen from the angle of her gender as female instead of her capability to tackle what her life choices demand. Hope this statement won’t be the one to make you a feminist or get the thought of its importance, just because of the mention of a daughter, but let the same reason be part of what will propel you to find a reason to give a chance for those whose capability to be what they want to be go ahead.
I have a reason to be a feminist but then that doesn’t make me the only thing, I write and speak across many themes, as a geographer I have stories on conservation of nature, on explanations that the hot water from the underground at hot springs or geyser spots are not because of the fires of hell below us but it is because of the heat of the underlying rock materials in molten state from the core to the mantle. I write about the voice of the young, I advocate for conservation of positive culture, I critic the voices that seem to be blurring the freedom of the young African minds from being themselves and chaining them to take a form of imitation to be like them, the same voice that is leading to the extinction of melanin, the unsafe voice that is making our girls less comfortable with their skin color and the kind of hair they have. They need to find their purpose and love who they are, take the pride of the kind they were created to be and may be work to make their versions acceptable in the world that seem less interested in who they are. I write about the social problems, injustice, inequality, poverty and many other forms of its kind. Why not be defined by the general approach of being a writer on contemporary themes than being specifically termed as a feminist writer and speaker?
I am a man, a young gentle man for that case. But still I am so proud and confident to call myself a feminist because I believe there is a problem that has to be addressed. I face fear, failure, discouragement and low moments on the path I choose to be doing talks, writing and engaging on contemporary injustices, feminism and other things solely because that is not what an African young man like me should be doing. But I still stand strong, being propelled with hope that if those who feel the same way and see the truth in my words, come together and make this world a better place. A place where our children will be comfortable, a world where our daughters will rise with strength and ascend, scale the heights of success without fear nor unnecessary favors aimed to degrade their esteem, a world where boys shall be human and live as human.
Personally, I don’t see why I should not be a feminist.