It was a gathering of great minds and social achievers that I have witnessed in the recent past and the merriment equaled the status of the affluent crowd.
They all arrived in all comportments and style and the ambiance at the members only club told it all. Some of the men were accompanied by girls only half their age while the women had boys the age of their sons by their sides. Some of the men came accompanied by fellow men while some women came in twos.
The parking bay was a true reflection of achievement as the latest brands in the motor vehicle industry were on display. I actually saw more than three helicopters in the adjacent open field and the security at the venue was topnotch. Those of us only invited to be part of the crowd had very little expected from us except being reminded about a world we only experience in our untamed imaginings. It was after two hours of merriment that two incidences happened in swift succession.
The first incidence was when a rude female intruder stormed the party and attacked a man claiming the man, who was in the company of two young ladies was her husband who had not been home for weeks.
She piercingly affirmed that all the wealth the man had was hers and she ordered the man to surrender the car keys and all her credit cards. The man obliged and the woman left after shouting vulgarities that I will not divulge in this third rate column.
The second occurrence was a brawl between a man in a company of a young lady and another tipsy man. We later learned that the two men were involved in a same sex relationship and that one of them felt betrayed. The tête-à-tête that followed form the entirety of this submission.
Conversations about the two incidences were sparked off by the DJ of the night who loudly whined about the vanishing value of manhood. He incessantly compared what it meant to be a man in the past and what it is now. He sort the views of the men in the gig and even played special numbers that spoke to his line of thought about manhood.
At one point he invited the “real” men whose ancestors are proud of to dance to a special number and only a handful timid men staggered to the floor. In his words, “ surely the time to change is now”.
The assistant DJ took over the mantle from his senior and continued with the same line of thought. “ There were days when the husband was always right. There were days when a wife had to seek permission from the husband before going to bed as well as before turning the back to him in bed. In those days if the husband beat the wife and then came a visitor, the wife could smile as if nothing happened. Those were times when before going to bed the wife could be in her nightdress with no panty or bra, to allow the husband to do as he feels like”, he just could not stop humming.
It is becoming increasingly palpable that the walls of patriarchy dominated by intense masculinity are collapsing and men are facing the uphill task of having to find their place in the budding dispensation. These are times when what defined a man in the African context is being aggressively challenged in an arena dominated by the same men. While culture as enshrined in patriarchy and masculinity entrusted the providing role in the family to men, current revelations lay bare the fact that more and more women are taking over the role of providing for families and that some men are now glaringly playing the role of ‘swindler’.
An infuriated tablemate at the lavish gig vociferously complained about “ manhood being under siege” claiming that men are now taking on jobs that were traditionally a reserve of women. In my view, “the know it all” men and boys are having a hell of a time contenting with bright and career savvy women taking a lead in the academia, banking, health, politics, science and agriculture. In his words “ its now more rewarding to invest in girls than boys”.
A man’s only world is slowly fading away as more men are performing duties that they have been socialized not to indulge in. More men are having to take on performing domestic chores and playing a greater role in children upbringing.
A visibly disgusted reveler unveiled to me at the bash that “many of us are now doing things we were never prepared to do. Can you imagine me having to change the napkins of my baby”? Do you know that men are now “getting married” and society is accepting it? he fumed. I was brought up knowing that I am the king of the home yet I have to content with second position in the home given the fact that my wife pays rent and school fees and I even drive her car. I miss the days when wives had to wait for their husbands before they made any decisions. I long for the times when women never worked hard during the day to avoid getting fast tired in the night as it is today.”
The two men occupying a table behind me were largely withdrawn. They occasionally exchanged glances and spoke in hushed tones. It was until the master of ceremony declared that gay activities were not allowed at the party that hell broke loose. “ Why do you morons use homosexuality as a scapegoats for social evils”, one of them thundered as several others applauded. This is state-sponsored homophobia being propagated to sidetrack objective debate on sexuality and is being used to sway the masses against sexual minorities, affirmed yet another. The root causes of homophobia in Kenya stem mostly from tradition and customary interpretations of religion, which promote rigid models of social existence based on a reproductive foundation of humanity and sexuality.
The air of official impunity within Kenya around homosexuality issues has opened the door for violence targeting sexual minorities who continue to be assaulted and exiled from their families and communities as is the case here. “This is my body and its is my business” said another as he caressed himself. “ Lets go have fun” duds commanded the gigantic man clutching on the hands of another man even as a sizable crowd stormed out the venue.
A recent survey reveled that there exists a link between the skyrocketing cases of sexual/gender based violence in the developing world and besieged patriarchy and masculinity. The report undertaken in five high performing African economies unveils that the failure by the male gender to appreciate the steady progression of women is driving them into alcoholism, drug abuse, crime and leading to the stalling of career progression. The report blames negative socialization of men and the continuation of pervasive practices to this trend.
I learned several lessons from the gig one being that women in the region have achieved a lot in terms of social, economic and political developments yet a larger percentage of them are not aware of the achievements or their capacities do not allow them to enjoy the same .
Additionally, the variance in the levels of women empowerment and gains across various geographical regions within a given country or the region continues to undermine uniformity in terms of progress thus calling in place the need for more collaboration, synergies and the sharing of the best practices.
Many of the achievements are still in theory in many ways and the real test of what women have accomplished is in getting the masses of women across the region to understand , demand, exercise and enjoy their new found freedoms and opportunities.
The writer is a Programs Director of The Coexist Initiative, a not for profit synergy of men and boys community-based organizations committed to eliminating all forms of sexual/gender based violence, fostering the respect of the rights of minority groups and enhancing HIV prevention in Kenya. Visit: www.coexistkenya.com or www.menspeak.coexistkenya.com