It’s been said that there is no one masculinity in society today but a number of masculinities, shaped by the intersection of gender and influences like status, religion, and sexuality. Age is also an important factor, so here I have the privilege of discussing with Chude Jideonwo on how the role of masculinity and the understanding of what it means to be “male” in our society contribute to the prevalence of sexual violence as an epidemic.
Share Anonymous: Let me start by asking you, what do you think are the differences between being a man today as you experience it and what you perceive in previous generations?
Chude: The difference is that previously men had clarity of role and function; it wasn’t necessarily a positive thing in society. Men were the owners of women, were the dominators of women, and women were meant to serve them as mothers or wives, but now there’s a certain confusion by feminism, by women empowerment, by progressive values, and they’re wondering “we were told that being a man came with all these privileges, but suddenly people are trying to take them away from us”, and so they’re a bit confused.
Share Anonymous: What can you say about the acceptability of cross-gender friendships? For men now, it’s far more acceptable to have females as friends, not only as romantic partners.
Chude: Anything that brings down barriers between human beings for self-actualization or in order to build meaningful relationships is a positive thing. Many of the privileges that I dictated earlier – to be honest, are quite foolish, so it’s a good thing that now we have more minorities, more people who were not part of the conversation, become actively integrated into the conversation. Now we have more humane, more balanced, more equitable relationships and a breath of experiences that humanity is benefiting from.
Share Anonymous: With how things continue to change and evolve in terms of the general understanding of the meaning of masculinity and how that informs boys and men’s behavior, there’s a new liberalness in our social construct that has somehow put the traditional notion of masculinity in the back burner. While there are advantages to this for both women and men, there are also negative aspects – young men behaving badly, if you will. For example, revenge-porn, slut-shamming, openly condoning violence against women, etc. Tell me a little bit about this side.
Chude: It’s not really liberalness that is causing all of it, it’s the fact that people who were used to having a kind of social power are losing it, and so they’re lashing out. It’s a reaction to human progress, and this has always been the case. America had the civil war because Abraham Lincoln wanted to free the slaves, America was a bit upset about how Obama got marriage equality and the people against that reacted by voting in an opposite of him, that is Donald trump; that is society. For the fact that people react negatively to change doesn’t mean that change is bad because the previous arrangement has been oppressing minorities, the powerless, or the relatively unpowerful, and so unfortunately this is how change occurs in society. People who are enjoying certain privileges will fight all they can to protect those privileges, but unfortunately, those privileges only exist at the expense of other people. So what people call liberalism, has helped us build a more equitable society and that is always a positive thing.
Share Anonymous: The older generation grew up with the expectation that the world would be pretty much like Don Draper’s in Mad Men, for example. Their fathers’ world looked like that, and perhaps they expected their world to look like that. Most feel a sense of loss to the old way of doing things, some are fighting very hard to hold on to that tradition, while few are more accepting of the new ways and are adjusting; What about the traditional, inherited idea of masculinity would you say is toxic or poisonous? Do you think what makes it toxic is also what makes some men feel it’s ok to harass, abuse, or rape girls and women, even in marriage?
Chude: I say it’s nonsense. You know, there’s no one way to be a man; Scottish people wear skirts, another example is the dress mode in Jesus’ time – those pictures we see of people wearing robes. If anybody wears a robe now people will think something is wrong with him. Society often confuses rules for religion so people make a set of rules based on their context, based on their geography, based on their history, and suddenly other people want to maintain those ridiculous rules even though the context has changed, even though society has changed. What is masculinity? Masculinity is supposed to be the expression of Male values. What are Male values? Are Male values static? How we behave now is certainly not how we behaved 4 million years ago when we were Homo-Sapiens, and Homo-Erectus; so life evolves, societies evolve, people evolve, and the human body evolves, etc. So masculinity is a social construct, it doesn’t mean it’s a negative thing but social constructs must evolve as the society itself evolves. So I’m not beholden, I think human beings would be remiss to hold onto a particular ideal of masculinity, feminity, history, sociology, the world moves and we must move with it.
Share Anonymous: So do you think what makes it toxic is also what makes some men feel it’s ok to harass, abuse, or rape girls and women, even in marriage?
Chude: Yes, it is. It’s a loss of privilege, previously men could rape their wives without any problems, fathers slept with their daughters and daughters said nothing about them. So the loss of that power has made these people desperate. What they used to get without consequence now comes with social consequences and actually legal consequences; so there’s a revolt against such acts. Revolt is a positive sign, it means that progress is indeed progress. I wish it’ll be faster, I wish that more women wouldn’t have to suffer for the offended egos of small men and boys. But then, I’m so proud of Nigerians especially on social media, we’re talking more about these things, we’re woke, we’re conscious, and so there’s very little room for people in digitally connected, educated space to get away with such terrible behaviors.
Share Anonymous: Why do you think marital rape is not recognized in our constitution?
Chude: Because our constitution was made by old men, our entire criminal code was made by old, chauvinistic men. That’s just the truth, it’s not an insult, it’s not like I don’t respect their intellectual achievement but these were people who owned their wives, people in whose presence women could not speak, so obviously they thought that if you married a woman you owned her, after all, you paid a bride price for her. So you owned her, she’s your property and you’re supposed to discipline her when she goes astray. That’s why I’m so proud of the Not Too Young To Run Campaign, we need women, young women, and young men who can begin to work towards changing those stupid laws that say a man cannot rape his wife.
Share Anonymous: You said something about bride price; do you think bride price should be scrapped?
Chude: Bride price is nonsense; bride price was relevant for a period of time when there was trade by the batter. There were different contexts in the society, a common thread, of course, there’s the fact that those things were not necessarily positive at that time, just as the killing of twins was not positive at that time, but let’s even excuse them for ignorance, we’re not ignorant now, we know that a woman can be Ngozi Okonjo-Iwuala, Obiageli Ezekwesili, and they don’t belong to their husbands, we know that… are you going to say that President Jonathan owns Patience? Does Patience think her husband owns her? Does Diezanni think that her husband owns her? Does Michelle Obama, Angela Merkel, Hilary Clinton think that their husbands own them? I don’t know, but I doubt it. So obviously that rule is archaic, even as a symbolism it’s dangerous, it’s still that symbolism of a man owning a woman and we now know better than such disastrous tradition.
Share Anonymous: Let me ask you, what does it mean to you to be a good man?
Chude: To be honest I think to be a good man is the same thing as being a good human being. There’s no one way to be a man. There’s no one way to be a human being, but there are things that are important: respect for other people, kindness, empathy, the ability to serve others; you know I’m a Christian, so those are the things that are captured under the fruits of the spirit. Love and kindness and other things, so whether you’re a man, woman, transgender, whatever you are – these things confuse me these days, whatever your gender is, just be a human being, just love people, be nice to people, be kind to people, be empathetic, that’s more important than how to be a good man or how to be a good woman. Be a good human being.
Share Anonymous: Does the same idea come up when you hear, “Man up, dude! Be a real man.”
Chude: It’s stupid. I really got upset when my father died and people would tell me to “be a man”, and I would lash back: “are you crazy, what does it mean to be a man?” Why did God give me tear ducts if I’m not supposed to cry? Why did God give me a nervous system? In Nigeria and most of the world, manhood is a performance and we have all these ridiculous norms and the people pushing them don’t understand their origins but they want to swear by them. What “does man” up mean? What was wrong with people in those days? It’s really nonsense, there’s no one way to be a man and there’s no one way to be a human being. There are fundamental principles that help the world be a better place: kindness, love, service, patience, gentleness. “Man up” means closing your emotions, but please I beg you, don’t Man up! Woman up! If man up means being gruff and impolite then please we don’t need that, don’t man up, woman up. It’s just nonsense, it’s just society labeling people so we can build tribes and protect certain privileges, and it’s not very useful.
Share Anonymous: So where do you think men learn the idea of “real man” from?
Chude: From their parents, their fathers. You know Things Fall Apart, you hear Okonkwo’s son also begin to say: “women and their problems” because he heard his father say it. That’s where it comes from. It comes from movies, movies that celebrate manhood as if it’s inherently superior to womanhood. It’s culture, it’s social conditioning. It’s a repetition of mores consistently overtime, maybe it’s written in our genetic code or DNA on some level because of repetition. People would often say: “it’s natural”, but the fact that it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good. Animals are polygamous but that doesn’t mean that human beings are polygamous too. Humanity has spent years trying to protect from the natural, which is why we build houses, why we cut our hair, there’s nothing inherently positive about either what is natural or what is traditional. We must determine what works best for us based on our peculiar context.
Share Anonymous: So there’s the idea of “toxic masculinity and healthy masculinity”. I think every man knows what it means to be a good man and some want to live up to those ideals. Yet sometimes in the name of proving you’re a real man, some are asked to betray their values. It’s said that there’s a tremendous amount of gender policing that goes on among guys. How do you deal when you’re in a group and some guy makes a sexist comment, makes a comment that directly degrades or objectifies women?
Chude: The other day I was at the airport and there was this guy standing with me, I didn’t know him from anywhere but he just assumed that we’re bound by some tribal cues (you know, I really like these questions you’re asking me) and he said: “look at that woman, my mate wey we comot school together, she get uniform and I dey here because I no get nyash…” to be honest I think I was a coward because I was just so tired, like where do you begin? How can he think that I share the same nonsense that he’s thinking about? Unfortunately I didn’t say anything because I’m not convinced that’s the best way to change people. I prefer to create platforms that change people. Ynaija.com has a gender and sexuality blog that focuses on these things and I think that’s a more useful way I can positively encourage and partner with platforms to speak against these issues. My social media pages are very clear about what I think about these gender roles, about what I think about sexuality. So I think that’s more effective than talking to one particular person who is just venomous. I think maybe I should think about it more, maybe I should have replied him but I was just weak, I was just offended; how did he think I shared the bigoted views that he has, so I don’t usually say anything.
Share Anonymous: I think it’s the whole bro thing…
Chude: Yes, they think we have a bro code. But personally, I don’t share the bro code or any code for that matter because people have been telling me for most of my life to stop behaving like a woman. So at the end of the day, I’m not just interested. It’s just Neanderthal behavior, and we no longer live in caves. There was usefulness to it when we were living in caves and we were bent over, but now we stand straight, we live in houses, and we have human rights, sigh. It’s just a terrible world when people are beholden to things that don’t make sense anymore.
Share Anonymous: What about this notion that says that in every group of guy friends, or most groups of guy friends there’s a rapist or a guy who would be, or is violent toward women; men and boys know these things, what can you say is the responsibility of “good guys” who would never rape or beat up a woman?
Chude: I’ve never heard that, but I don’t doubt it. I guess it is to socially delegitimize rape, men are speaking out… I think what happens is that when you talk, then the talk coalesces into a new social order and so even if you’re unable to convert the people now, the people who are born into that new social order will not continue that behavior. There’s something to creating the conditions that make it uncool to behave in a particular way. It won’t change things immediately but because society is defined by norms and mores, you change the language of the norms and mores, you create new ones and the new people entering the society do not even have an old reference. Of course, education helps. That is why I’m thinking that maybe I should have educated that guy, but social media conversations are also a form of conversation; education is not just when you go to school. Education is whatever opens your mind to new realities. I also think we need to change laws, we need to change the symbols of society – movies, culture, etc. but at least – yes, and talking about it is something.
SA: ok now, let’s bring it to the context of friendship. Let’s say you’re alone with your guy friends, what is the responsibility of “good guys” who’d never do these things to women have a responsibility to shut down or to educate their friends, not only strangers?
Chude: Remember when Billy Bush and Donald Trump were talking that nonsense about grabbing women by their ****, people say he should have spoken up but I have sympathy for him because I understand how difficult it is to interrupt an idiot when an idiot is speaking. But you know, I think that we have a responsibility to make it clear where we stand. And to be honest, I do make it clear where I stand in public but in private I just feel too tired. So if I was Billy Bush I probably wouldn’t have said anything. But maybe we do need to take personal responsibility in private conversations on what we hear and how we react to what we hear. That is a very useful way to think about it.
Share Anonymous: You’d be a father someday, how do you raise a boy to navigate this world between good and real? What advice would you give to parents on raising a good man?
Chude: My child is going to be a balanced human being. He’s going to understand fairness. Chimamanda has an excellent book on this topic: Letter to Ejiawele, which completely captures what you should teach every young woman and man. Everybody needs to read that book, how to raise a feminist child. Basically, it’s how to raise a child who believes in the equality of everybody and believes in fairness and decency. It’s such a remarkable book. That’s how I want to raise any child I have, whether biological, or adopted, or whatever gender.
Share Anonymous: What would you say to men who are resistant to the idea that masculinity should change? There are men who think they’re custodians of the old, traditional masculinity; how would you get them on board? I know that may seem difficult because it’s like saying, give up what’s been working for you and what you were born into (power, privilege, everything). But every single man is genetically connected to a woman. They know what it feels like to love a woman and want them to thrive and be safe. They’re fathers, sons, brothers, partners, lovers, friends, husbands. So they may already be doing things the new way without even knowing it; how can this notion be brought home in a way that makes it more acceptable and integrated into our daily lives?
Chude: What does that mean? Custodian of what, who died and made them custodian? I want to slap them; these things make me so upset. Who died and made them custodians of how somebody should live their lives? God? Not God, obviously. I want to round them up and lock them up because they’re making people unhappy. That’s why I speak boldly on these issues, through my bog, even though it doesn’t make so much money but I keep at it just to effect change. It is culture – culture is a good way of opening people’s minds, it is movies, it is TV, it is Plays like: Hear Word. How do we fund things that effect change and open people’s minds? And opens their realities? How do we create contents that make people think? Like what you’re doing, how do we popularize it at the grassroots? I think culture is the best way of changing people’s minds and then useful long-term education can now help cement these things in their minds.