By Wanjala Wafula
I have decided to lay down the recollections of my childhood that have taunted me for a long-time now.These are remembrances that are occasionally startlingly spectacular, often crucial, and basically life reassuring. I attest to the fact that these reflections are all pieces of bravery and uprightness as interpreted by me. In these reflections, I lay bare the bones of what it was like to be a child, toughie, an offender by subjugation and an assumed master of it all
As a child growing up on the slopes of Kulisiru Mountain in Cheptukutumi village Bungoma County, I loved playing diverse roles in society but mostly those that touched on what my heroes were doing in society which was fighting evil. I remember growing up in the days of American movie star Rambo and I remember the days I would traverse the entire village looking for ‘trouble makers’ while touting a T-shirt branded: no Man, No Law and No War. For me, Rambo was a strong and powerful man who used his assumed skills and capabilities to fight evil and that was what I wanted to be. Mine was a society in which the lost perpetually were leading the blind, and yet still somehow we found our way home. As a child, I was socialized to accept as true that violence was tolerable as long as it was used to combat evil.
I want to be honest here. The crux of the matter is that we were molded as young men to be combatants against that which we perceived as our natural entitlement. We were thought, that young men represented the desires and aspirations of our ancestors whose presence in our daily lives was manifested in the roosters, bulls and lions that characterized our times. I learned as a young boy that my relevance in this life was synonymous to how much baggage I would load to those created to be ‘seen and used’ and not to be heard and respected. I am talking about women and girls here.
Back in Western Kenya, I was naturally preset to form alliances that invaded our neighborhoods in order to get women and girls through force. I was “cultured” that if one has command and uses that authority, through fierceness to contest evil, then it is not only acceptable, but commendable. Do not blame me for accepting and practicing the male dominance and subjugation against women and girls theory because I was not the only boy who learned this lesson. The use of macho traditional idols who use violence to fight “evil” can be found in every single culture and all through history. In this case, I am not alone.
I can swear that I was programmed into the dominant conception of masculinity in the African culture. I was taught that men are expected to be certainly competitive and forceful. I was socialized to believe that being a real man is therefore marked by the tussle for control, conquest and supremacy. As a man, I was taught that a man looks at the world and sees what he wants and takes it. It was drilled into my mind that Men who don't measure up are weaklings and hopeless. I was taught that at no time would I be equated to women even though they still insisted that I should have qualities traditionally linked with women like caring, kindness and sensitivity. The punch line in each of the conversations I had with the elders was that it is men's supremacy echoed as robustness that describes us and must outdo any female like quietness. Those characteristics of manliness must triumph for a man to be an "actual man”
I am not suggesting, of course, that every man accepts that understanding of masculinity as cherished by the people on the slopes of Kulisiru. But, I see it validated in key institutions and activities. I see the thinking accepted and tolerated in families, business, schools and colleges, civil service, the military and sports. I see it reinforced through the mass media. I was recently at a cultural event and witnessed how male heroes reflect those characteristics. I have for over four decades seen men who take charge rather than seek consensus. I have seen men seize power rather than look for ways to share it, and are willing to be violent to achieve their goals.
At a function in Zambia’s capital Lusaka, I came across four religiously radicalized men plotting attacks against cities on the Eastern Coast of Africa. They were sitting on the next table from where I was and spoke in the Swahili language unaware that it is my second language. I informed the Zambian authorities about it but I have started to realize that ‘clean’ evil does not exist. In reality, most of the arguments that emanated from the men were a result of miscommunication.They limited their worldview to seeing their “enemy” as members of “the other group”, with differing opinions, etc.
The only irrefutable fact relating to violence is that it produces violence. Men and boys are socialized to be violent yet it’s the same violence that men and boys equally suffer from. I submit therefore that what can be steadily predictable in response to the use of violence is: revenge, escalation, cruelty, bereavement, lost opportunities for development, and an increased vulnerability to members of society who are already greatly vulnerable and at risk including women and girls
I have an idea, it's time we stopped trying. This masculinity thing is an immoral deal, not just for women, but for us men and boys. We need to get rid of the whole idea of masculinity. It's time to abandon the claim that there are certain psychological or social traits that inherently come with being biologically male. If we can get past that, we have a chance to create a better world for men and womenBringing Up Boys