Are African men ready for reversed gender roles?

Friday, February 5th, 2021 00:00 |
Reversed gender roles.

The 21st Century is marked with fast change and diversity in the workplace and at home. There is increased participation of women in the workforce and in leadership. While this breaks away from conventional traditional norms, some men are slowly embracing the idea of caring for the family to support their wive’s career growth

Nailantei Norari @artnorari

There are instances in marriage where one spouse has to forgo their dreams in order to help their better half achieve theirs.

While this is normally what is expected of the woman, the modern man is also catching up and forgoing their dreams, jobs and aspirations in favour of their wife’s. Doug Emhoff is one such man.

He took a leave of absence while he was campaigning for his wife Khamala Harris to be vice-President of USA and quit his law firm when she won.

What the coverage of this does not show is perhaps the amount of work Doug put into cofounding the law firm and how the decision to choose his wife was not exactly an easy one.

His show of support and devotion spawns the question, can Kenyan men resign to support their wives and if so what are the reasons behind their decisions? 

Cultural expectations

In a short dip stick research we did among our male friends, most said they would not resign to support their wives.

Part of the reason they gave was that they have been culturally socialized to be the families’ providers and that their sense of self-worth is directly linked with the provision role.

Some shared just how depressive the job losses were in 2020, and how having bounced back it would be foolhardy for them to resign for their wives, even if their spouses were earning more and able to provide.

Some saw no reason not to, with most citing the Covid- 19 upheavals as their reason for a flexible mindset.

“I have no problem staying home with the kids and even looking after them. If there is anything that 2020 taught me is that there is no place for gender roles in today’s society.

I was a banker and lost my job. I now use my car as an Uber driver with my wife who is in management earning five more times than I do,”  Njuguna* says. 

He  adds that he drops off the kids at school then starts work and picks them later.

“It helps that I have friends who would do the same for their wives. Some have moved counties and countries to go support their wives who found better work elsewhere,” says Njuguna.

He is one of the men who have no qualms with reversed gender roles. But while this is okay, there are some cultures where the man is expected to provide no matter the circumstances.

In most Muslim households, the man provides everything including the household supplies and paying the nanny, which modern families allow the woman to take care of as they are deemed smaller expenses.

In the Somali community, the provision role for the man is taken a notch higher as he is expected to take care of not just the wife, but her entire family too.

While we are ready to lay all the blame for men’s need to define themselves by being the provider on culture, Dr Francis Kerre, a sociologist at Kenyatta University partly agrees. 

Women providers 

“It is true we are products of our culture and that part of our decision making is influenced by our cultural templates.

However, African culture is not monolithic in nature. So while there are some communities where the man was the provider, there were other communities where both the men and women shared the provision role equally,” says Kerre. 

He cites the example of communities such as the Ewe community, an ethnic group in West Africa, where women were the providers yet the society did not crumble.

Kerre adds that we need not use culture as a convenient defense for the things that we do not wish to do and instead look deeper within ourselves to find the true reason why we are the way we are. 

Mutual agreement 

While many may rush to dismiss men’s fear that their wive’s affection will wane if they cease to provide, there are many women who subscribe to this school of thought.

They apportion love and affection proportional to the money their spouses have. But there are women who are willing to lead in the boardroom and go home and perform wifely duties.

“Many who say that the place of a modern woman is not being a wife are practising toxic feminism.

A corporate woman can also cook for her hubby and support him in any way. She is the CEO in the company, but a wife and mother in the house,” Ken Munyua a leading psychologist in Nairobi explains.

He expounds that this requires demarcating roles depending on where she is and when adding that it is important that the family functions as a single unit with both partners working towards the same goals.

Munyua emphasizes the need for communication and partnership to forge mutual agreement on what needs to happen in work situations similar to that of the US Vice President and her husband.

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