We Should All Be Meninist: Against Toxic Masculinity

An open letter to society not a redefinition of feminism but for feminism.

I was born in the famous busy city, Lagos Nigeria, but as a boy, I felt I was born with a disease–being effeminate–you may wonder why it seemed like this to me but the answer is not far-fetched.

I’m no one’s idea of a Nigerian man and this is how it has always been. It’s not all arrogance, rage and dominance. I don’t watch football. I don’t do cars. I like to play dress up. I love to cook. I hate video games. I care about skincare. I’m scared of guns. I’ve never thrown a punch. I do not smoke.  I don’t view women as sexual objects. I scream when I see rats. I’m a lamb in sheep’s clothing. I do not drink alcohol. I’m not violent. I don’t take pleasure in asserting my dominance. I never bullied. I’ve never laid my hands on a woman. I take “no” for an answer. I say thank you and accept help. I’m patient, kind, vulnerable, graceful and non-judgmental. I talk (loudly and proudly) about my emotions and mental health and I am normal.

As boys, our lives are still constricted by traditional gender norms, being strong, athletic and stoic and when you are not, you are told to ‘man up’.

I wish I had grown up in a society where saying to another man, with a warm embrace ‘I love you’ is normalized. A society that normalizes, boys speaking up when they have been sexually abused.

Toxic masculinity could be silent and unconscious but as you grow gradually, you find out you’ve grown and inculcated the traits too: to Suffer pain in silence, have no needs, never lose, Show no emotions other than bravado or rage, Don’t depend on anyone, Don’t do anything that could be construed as weakness, Never snitch.

Boys will always be boys now seems like a sort of getting out of jail free card. The truth is boys will be what we teach them to be, boys will not be boys, but men.

We teach boys not to cry, making them feel like they have to be hard, to be self-reliant, tough at all costs. We teach boys to be afraid of weakness and vulnerability. We teach boys that it is okay to be nasty, dirty or untidy.

I wish I grew up in a society, where being a man was not an automatic ticket to wanting sexual pleasures at all times, ‘No I don’t want to see your boobs flashed in my face’.

Don’t teach boys that they shouldn’t express their emotions. Don’t humiliate them when they’re upset. Don’t attempt to ‘toughen them up’.  Tell them ‘It’s okay to feel what you feel, it is normal, it is admirable.

I want to aspire to an outstanding career, not because of the idea that I  would have a family to feed one day, but because it is something I desire.

The term ‘effeminate’ itself, I believe is a social construct created for men who act a certain way, as if to say there is a guide book to being a man, or how you should behave like a man. Being effeminate does not automatically make you gay and being gay doesn’t make you any less of a man. We must raise our sons and daughters differently to build a world of happier men who are truer to themselves.

Boys need to be taught to be human, teach him to stop and say ‘I am scared, my feelings are hurt, I need help’ and not be considered feminine. Boys need to be taught that they can care about their skin, fashion, beauty and still be called Men. Boys need to be taught that if they have traits that are socially considered ‘feminine’ it is okay.

What if boys were taught not to link masculinity with money, dominance and power. I wish I was allowed to play softball instead of football. I wish I did not have all eyes on me when I walked towards the makeup class and not the woodwork class.

I want to make dinner and not be appreciated for being that ‘Man that knows how to cook’. My strength should not be proven by how well I can fight or what heavy items I can carry ‘I won’t carry that, because I am a man but because I can, and if she can let her, that does not make me less of a man’

Allow boys, be the boys they want to be. Focus on his interest and not his gender. He likes pink and not blue. There is no war on men and there is no need for anyone to prove their masculinity through aggression. No one benefits from toxic masculinity, it is patriarchal, and it is failing. It is failing women, it is failing society, and it is failing men themselves.

Teach boys that there is no such thing as emasculating. Teach boys that it is okay to care about their skin, fashion and beauty.

If we have feminist conversations with more boys, more men, more people, it allows us to be  truer versions of ourselves in the world. Men opting into parenting and caring roles, and being present in the lives of their children shouldn’t be lauded as special cases. There are more men than we think who are willing to opt-out of patriarchal boxes if the alternatives aren’t shrouded with shame. I think the biggest piece of work is reimagining what the world can be like if we choose not to accept the status quo.

We are raising a new generation of men.

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