Letters from TZ

Now the boy-child becomes an endangered species

Diehard feminism is no longer as popular as it used to be. Many of the radical feminists who made their home on the fringes of the movement, gradually made their way to an area slightly left of centre. Any self-respecting feminist now understands that while we must always fight for our rights as women, life works best when it runs on the wheels of compromise.

In the throes of the feminism era however, the girl-child movement found its legs, and quite deservedly so. In Africa, the fervent push to protect her life and dignity coincided nicely with the rise of a profitable creature called the ‘non-governmental organisation’ (NGO). There was a time when every NGO and its donor were pushing the girl-child agenda. She was the poster child for development work in Africa. There was no mention of the boy-child because it was assumed that the focus had been on boys and men for centuries – it was time for a shift.

Since then, the fervour has died down somewhat. The girl-child has grown up into an empowered woman. But what happened to her counterpart? Well, according to a concerned group of people on Twitter, society is paying dearly for turning its back on him.

At the centre of the recent Twitter debate was one Marcus Olang’, a Kenyan media personality who unapologetically declared his pro-man stance. “ I am openly and unashamedly biased for the boy-child,” he tweeted. “The fight for the girl-child has its numerous loyalists. Mine is the boy.”

This was one of many tweets that fuelled a fiery conversation on the social network and drew in several other ‘tweeps’, many of whom had similar views.

“The boy today doesn’t know what his role is because it’s all “Girl power, free the girl”. Hence a generation of guys – I refuse to call them ‘men’ – that believe that manhood is about beer and body count,” an impassioned Olang’ continued.

Techie-blogger Robert Alai tweeted his agreement saying, “We have empowered the girl-child to the point that the boy-child is trampled on.” He would however, qualify this statement. “Family is not fathers and men alone,” he continued. And you can’t blame it all on men. It’s complicated.”

But Olang was having none of it. “There’s nothing complicated about it from where I stand. The bedrock of family is the man,” he tweeted. “My focus shall remain on the ever ignored boy-child. The boy is just helplessly looking on, ignored, no one showing him what his role is. You don’t solve an issue by ignoring another. When we empowered the girl and left the boy-child wondering what happened, chaos ensued.”

As a former diehard feminist – even though I have since hung up my bra and taken on a more collaborative approach to gender relations – I was rankled. Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it, without ever having to bake it, I thought. Typical. Where were they when the boy-child was trampling all over the girl-child? Did we hear a peep out of them then? Trust them to blame us for all their problems. Wimps.

But after taking a few deep breaths and making a valiant attempt at rational thought, I began to see that there was a point in there somewhere, obscured though it was. Men are, in fact, needy. Olang’ himself confirmed this point when he posted a link to an article that Hugo Schwyzer wrote for www.jezebel.com titled ‘The Rise of the Needy Man’. Schwyzer writes that men are indeed in crisis. “So many young men increasingly turn to women not merely for emotional reassurance, but for direction, order, and stability. While there’s nothing new about women nurturing their boyfriends and husbands, in the past, that emotional encouragement was part of an explicit quid pro quo. However imperfectly the ideal was in practice, the goal was usually the same: men provided, women soothed. For a host of reasons, guys are providing less financially than ever before. At the same time, men’s yearning for comfort, reassurance, and direction from women seems to be getting louder and more urgent.”

Schwyzer writes that men’s aspirations seem to have diminished as women’s ambitions have increased. If you put that in our East African context, the girl-child was elevated and the boy-child was kicked off his pedestal – the result? Empowered females on the one hand, and disillusioned man-children on the other. Some might see this as a role reversal. Schwyzer calls it the ‘masculinisation of emotional dependency’ and the ‘feminisation of success’. Which is a needless mouthful of big words because the truth of the matter is, quite simply, that women have come into their own and men are not happy about it. That’s what I’m calling it.