A while ago, a poem by Asma Elbadawi titled ‘Boys will be boys’ was doing the rounds on Facebook. Her spoken word poem was about masculinity. In it, Asma mentioned that a man’s pride is attached to his toughness and lack of emotional expression. She called men to break the cycle and be brave enough to open up, forgive and be vulnerable.
Outrageous! Call men to ‘open up’, ‘forgive’, and ‘be vulnerable’. Incredulous that such a call was made by a woman!
What I found fascinating was that most of the comments focused on the later. How can a woman, and Muslim woman at that, talk about men and their feelings? Who does she think she is, a man? It’s not like men ever comment, direct or dictate on the nature of women!
But seriously, why does women’s view in this topic even matter?
I believe, that as women, our perception and understanding of manhood matters for three reasons:
Our choice of husband
Family background, age, religious practice and occupation are commonly checked criteria in the early stages of an introduction. It takes a while to get a better feel for someone’s character and manners. What does ‘strength’ of character mean to you? At what point does protectiveness over a wife is control? How is it possible to explain bruised arm as ‘her fault’?
On the flip side, I was running a workshop based on the book ‘Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus’ by John Gray. We came to an exercise where either husband or wife would write a letter to their spouse to help mend a drift, explaining their personal emotions and how they feel about their spouse. One of the example letters I used from the book was written by a man. He mentioned how he felt vulnerable in a particular situation. One of the female participants was unhappy about this and said that if her husband wrote such a letter she would think he is weak and loose respect for him.
So you see? The kind of man you think would suit you is absolutely influenced by your opinions of what makes a man a man.
How we raise our sons, nephews and other boys in our families
I hear women complain about their fathers’ iron fist hold on their families and the unfair treatment they got compared to their brothers. Others complain about their brothers’ disinterest in and disengagement from family affairs and how much of the load has fallen on the womenfolk. But I hear a lot more women complaining about their husbands’ lack of appreciation and help in raising the children and with home chores. Yet, to my surprise, many of those women seem to be raising their own sons in incredibly similar ways their own fathers, brothers and husbands were. If one keeps doing the same thing over and over again, how is it possible that the outcome could change?
No one is perfect, even women! And there are many great examples of supportive men in their various roles out there. I think here awareness is key. What is it that is not working? What would be wise and practical approaches to make the changes? Whose advice and support do we need to get there, from both men and women?
Our own sense of self
Some people define themselves through others. They may seek something because someone else whom they perceive as better is also seeking it. Or they may reject something because someone else whom they perceive to be worse has it. In neither case are they deciding based on the merits of that thing in relation to them and their life and independent to what others think.
What some women seem to be doing is, “If a man can do it, I should do too”. To show strength, I bottle up my emotions; strong men do not show their emotions. How we look after ourselves links to the presence of a man in our lives, “Why get my hair done? I am not married/interested in attracting men.”. Or that as a women you should or should not behave in a certain manner because how it will make a man feel.
How would it be if a woman’s intentions and actions were motivated by a greater purpose: to please Allah, the most merciful?
That would allow for a holistic and longsighted approach to life because those actions and intentions will bring balance to society and help cultivate her place in paradise through every role she has. It won’t be a matter of being a daughter, mother, wife, divorcee, never married, childless, employed or unemployed. labels that for many women are burdensome. It would be a matter of being an honoured creation and servant of Allah who will fulfil her role as a guardian on this earth with all the talents and blessing bestowed on her.
This is a conversation worth having!