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To Be a Real Man

To the Arewa man I will raise one day,

When my younger brother, K, was young – maybe 4 or 5 years old – he had a shirt that said: “Real Men Wear Pink.” It was my favourite shirt of his because it made sense. It was more than just a t-shirt; it was a philosophy, an ideology and a way of life. Unfortunately, he grew out of it, and I was sad to see my mum give it away even though that was the only reasonable option. Since then, I can count the number of times I’ve seen him wearing pink clothes. I mean, he does wear the colour once in a while, but not enough to be ridiculed for being ‘too feminine’. It’s a colour he hasn’t completely invalidated but one he wouldn’t want to be seen in too often in fear of being looked at funny or being called derogatory names. Men in pink are assumed not to be masculine enough. In other words, they are not “real men”. But real men, as my brother’s t-shirt accurately pointed out, do wear pink.

Pink is assumed to be a feminine colour – hence why baby girls are showered with pink presents and boys are given blue presents. But masculinity and sexual orientation are not defined by the colour of one’s shirt or the kind of necklace around their necks. Toxic masculinity encourages aggression, domination and a need to be “a real man”, without a clear definition of who a real man is and the responsibilities that masculinity carries.

A real man is not afraid of being exactly who he is. A real man can be kind and gentle too. Masculinity does not equal manipulative nor violent; a man does not need to gaslight or judge women to prove he is ‘manly’. A real man is not intimidated by the success of women – especially not his wife. He is self-sufficient and supportive. To be a real man is not to be unwilling to apologize when wrong or scared to shed tears when needed. A real man can be tough when he needs to be but emotional when he has to be, without ever going to extremes.

I’ve seen how our society treats men “who act like women” and the consequences are, oftentimes, beyond repair. I can imagine how important being a “real man” is to you and how dehumanizing and emasculating being called “dan daudu” must be. Today, it almost seems like being a man is about being controlling; or having the people around you terrified of you; the “alpha male”. Today, you might misconstrue being the authoritarian whose wife bends over backwards to serve you as being a real man – doing her best to be perfect because she is scared of the repercussions of doing otherwise. But it is not.

There are many ways to be a real man. But society has raised many of our men with a single template of what masculine should be – one that is detrimental to our development. I can’t tell you what a ‘real man’ is but I can tell you what it isn’t. Toxic. If ‘masculinity’ continues to be harmful to society, including men themselves, that version of masculinity must be destroyed. Who does it help that a man can’t enjoy the simple pleasure of wearing his favourite colour of kaftan because society has told him that his preferred colour is not for men? The only way to destroy these stereotypes is by letting the term “real men” die a slow, painful death. We are all real men, it just depends on who’s asking.

Yours in Pink,

Mama.

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