Towards the end of 2013, there was a political crisis in Southern Sudan that almost degenerated into a full blown civil war. As neighboring countries like Kenya and UN agencies rushed to rescue their own from the troubled country, one thing caught my attention. Women and children were among the first to be rescued while many men who were thought to be less vulnerable were left at the mercy of the merciless rebels. I didn’t make this observation in Southern Sudan alone; the trend is replicated in all conflict prone regions where there is a rescue mission. For those who watched the movie “Titanic” can agree with me that the rescue mission started with women and children when the ship was sinking.
When I was a young boy, my guardians made me stifle my emotions because men were perceived to be strong. Showing emotions like crying was a sign of weakness. That lesson remained engraved in my mind and that’s why I can count the number of times I have cried ever since I was a boy. Nowadays, we also witness the government and countless NGOs coming out in support of the girl child. The boy child is left to fend for himself. In case he encounters molestation from a stranger, friend or relative, he’ll rather keep it to himself than talk it out.
It is unfortunate that in Africa, men are perceived to be strong and are never vulnerable. Will Storr, who is a journalist with the Guardian magazine had this to say when he was reporting about the vulnerability of men during wars in Africa in 2011; “In Africa no man is allowed to be vulnerable, you have to be masculine and strong. You should never break down or cry. A man must be a leader and provide for the whole family. When he fails to reach that set standard, society perceives that there is something wrong.” He said this while reporting about cases of men being raped by rebels during wars experienced around the world. Most of the victims ended up keeping to themselves for fear of being perceived less of a man. Our policemen do not make things any better when a man goes to a police station to report a molestation case.
This perception has made men to be caught in a terrible, vicious cycle: they adhere to societal expectations that emotions matter less to them, so their emotions are not attended to. Yet men are, in fact, so sensitive they literally unplug from their emotional lives. Imagine a world where boys emotional needs were accepted as requiring more attention; and men, despite appearances, are recognized as painfully sensitive. We wouldn’t be having senseless men brutally killing their family members out of slight provocation. We wouldn’t be having hard core criminals trying to prove a point to the authorities. We wouldn’t also be having drug addicts who resort to drugs to numb their feelings.
In response to this awkward position we are in, few organizations have been formed to mitigate the problems we face. We need more organizations to come out and address these issues. It is also high time we should focus on the boy child. Let’s not focus much on the girl child at the expense of the boy child. Men are desperately crying in silence but since their tears are not coming out, the society is not hearing them out. This can’t be achieved when our perception is still intact. Let’s change the perception that men can never be vulnerable and start listening to their plight.