Growing up being told one thing and then seeing another thing all my life makes me wonder if masculinity is even a real concrete concept or just an ideal created in more misogynist times? Do I look at it as more of a personal thing? Different to every individual as every man is different from their peer. Or do I simply live my life and wait for the answer to come to me? Masculinity, one of the world’s greatest mysteries.
Following Thursday’s Decoding Masculinity talk, I found myself left with many personal questions. Until I actually attended the talk, what masculinity is or what makes a man, never really came to my mind. From young I’ve always felt that I’ve grown up in two worlds: a Nigerian one at home with my family and then a British one whenever I’m outside the house. As a first generation British Nigerian, I always assumed I just knew what masculinity was. Since its been drilled into me from young, I never really questioned it; however now that I’m older and venturing out into the western world on my own two feet and can actually sit back and observe the world; the idea of masculinity that I’ve held felt somewhat incorrect.
From young parents, uncles, aunties and generally every older figure I had around me constantly told me how I, as an Igbo boy should act. Which I have and had no problem with as that’s all I know. All my life I’ve been told a man has to be strong, a man must be the head of the house, the provider and protector of his family. These ideals were only reinforced further when I would watch black families on TV shows like: ‘My Wife and Kids’, ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ and ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ for example; suggesting that rather than just being a Nigerian thing one could argue that these stereotypes are a black thing instead.
In the Igbo culture at our events and parties we have what we call the breaking of the Kola Nut, which is always an important item on the agenda, rarely ever missed. The Kola nut is a fruit taken from the Kola tree, albeit it’s odd flavor the kola nut symbolizes hospitality, respect and friendship. It comes up in the topic of masculinity because only the eldest man in the room is allowed to lead the ceremony and pray over and break the Kola nut, a woman cannot break the Kola nut even if she’s the eldest in the room. As long as there is a man present in the room he must be the one to break it. I didn’t really see the misogyny in this when I was younger but it always left me with the impression that to be masculine a man must almost be a leader of sorts as he was the one to lead the group in the ceremony, as I would have to also one day. Since it’s impossible for one to be born a leader, I feel by constantly reminding us of how we should act our elders were possibly conditioning us for our future roles as ‘masculine’ men. Also there were other minute factors I would witness like when a man eats he gets the bigger portion and things like that. So growing up I had a very set idea of what being a man consisted of. In simple terms to be a masculine man you had to be a leader and a provider to your people, mainly your family.
Now that I’ve reached manhood myself and I’m out in the real world rather than at home in the Nigerian world, I find myself questioning whether masculinity is even real especially as times are changing. As I said before, in my opinion I believe masculinity in the Igbo culture is synonymous with leadership, yet it’s a very normal thing, especially in 2016, to see women in leadership roles; the prime minister of our country is a woman for that matter. Does this make her masculine? I wouldn’t think so. Women have been providing for their families without the need of a man in their lives for years, especially in the western world where divorce seems to be a more common thing than in Nigeria. Without a man in the equation women have taken up the role of leaders and provided for their family naturally, suggesting maybe leading and protecting one’s family is more innate, rather than having anything to do with masculinity or femininity. In a national survey taken just two years ago by the Office for National Statistics there were nearly “2.0 million lone parents with dependent children in the UK” and “women accounted for 91%”. Does this make all these women masculine? No. So again I find myself asking; just what is masculinity? So again I find myself asking; just what is masculinity?