Masculinities under economic strain: Too macho or just fake?


By Daniel Mususa

The mini skirt phenomenon has been a hot potato in public debate for some time now. Lately, events like the “Mini-skirt march” held in Harare by concerned women, has brought this emotionally charged dispute to the fore of public discourse, drawing contrasting reactions along the way. Women have for some time been calling for society to respect their right to wear what they want while society and its self-appointed custodians of morality have castigated this, labelling the proponents of these views with all sorts of names including “prostitutes” “uncultured” “of loose morals” and “HIV-carriers.” Whether clothing alone can indicate a person’s “unculturedness” and “HIV carrying capacity” cannot be adequately explored in this discussion. What matters is that society shapes our response to other people’s behaviour. As men, society teaches us to accept, and justify our beliefs even if they are prejudicial to others. I am made to see prejudice only in my fellow men’s individual actions, not in invisible systems that confer male dominance over women as groups.

Much of the resentment and disdain for the mini-skirts and the abuse of women wearing them is because people have problems in their private lives. Women wearing mini-skirts is nothing more than an easy outlet for people’s frustration with their own lives. Society has taught me, as a man to be fake about the goings on in my life; to hide my fears, to use any excuse I can find to blame someone for doing something-anything. This is the source of the male problems: society wants us to be macho-strong, aggressive, unemotional. Society is not willing to adapt its expectations of how men should behave, society says you must not cry, you must have money, to show your woman that you are in control (even if you have no whiff of a clue of what is going on) then so be it. When a relative passes on, as a man you cannot wail and throw yourself to the ground in anguish- you must be strong, hold it in and watch while your female folk cry-it is their duty to cry, to ask God why he has taken one of us.

I grew up being told that “you are the father of the house” “your sisters must kneel when giving you water to drink/wash hands.” Resultantly, I have a sense of entitlement that women should do what I want and if they don’t, they must be punished for it. This is far from who I am. When I hear of a woman (some woman somewhere) who has been raped, murdered or publicly undressed because of whatever flimsy reason, I want to cry, my heart cries inside me. I do not want to celebrate; I do not blame her for wearing a short and ‘provocative’ mini-skirt. I want to strangle the culprit, to feel his last breath leaving his nostrils but I cannot. Why? Society has taught me to be macho in fact to be too macho and fake. It has instructed me since infancy, that when a woman is raped it is because she has done something to induce the rape. Society has taught me to be a “man,” to be ‘strong’ and not show my emotions but focus on so called important issues. It has taught me to be outraged by women who ‘loiter’ in the CBD at night, that there is no error in men chasing after these ‘loiterers’ and transacting sex with money. Society has wired me into NOT seeing the logic, strategic and practical needs that make women call for the end of gender based violence. It has successfully installed a ‘pro-culture’ software in me which instructs me to detect, detest, mock and question the sanity of the husband who lets his wife go out to march, to engage the powers that be in demanding adherence to legislation which promotes the equal treatment of women and punishes perpetrators of violence against women and girls.

I am not asked by society to say who I think I am, rather I am instructed to adhere to how society defines me and how I must behave as a man. When I grow up and become a man, society has these things that I should live up to. I have no options because if I don’t I will be given names, nasty and belittling names. I cannot ask myself if I want to strip someone’s wife, daughter, sister, mother or aunt because she is wearing a mini-skirt? Am I provoked by the mini skirt? I am dazed by her beauty more than provoked by what you told me is her ‘nakedness.’ Do I want to wolf-whistle at her because she is walking alone? Do I want to join the bandwagon of dagga-smoking, bronco-drinking and sweat-filled hwindis and airtime vendors in howling insults at her because she does not care about what you have to say about how she looks? You have taught me to be too macho as to hide my own fears, insecurities, uncertainties and project them everywhere else besides myself. I find myself a victim of stereotyping, boxed into behavior that does not resonate with my character and personal dispositions. I am and do what you want me to. I am skilled at hiding myself, I was macho but now I am too much, I am just too macho and fake and you know who taught me? You.

Have mini-skirt wearing women increased in number? Have women reduced the length of their skirts since those nostalgically remembered days when life was still life, whichever period that was, if it existed. I think not, economic challenges have deepened. Men’s problems have increased. Their egos are battered and so they take it out on those weaker than them, expressed through violence including women in miniskirts. The length of the mini-skirt has not changed!

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