After a period that felt like eternity, I was thrown a life line. It was a junior entry level position that I was exceedingly over qualified for. Just as junior as the position was, so was the salary that came with it. I felt underutilized and underemployed by being there. I always saw myself as modern man with modern world views. Just not about masculinity I’m now embarrassed to say. Truth be told one cannot ignore the cultural changes that have come about in terms of the traditional gender roles in the world and African society. Now women hold offices as high as those of their male counterparts and have shattered the age old position of being lower on the social and economic totem pole. Women are just as tenacious business people as men are. That economic gap that used to exist between the sexes is quickly closing and it is not unusual to see a female CEO of a multinational company. This is a product of the global feminist movement that has fought to give women a foothold in the global economy. Women are now waiting later to get married if at all in order to work on their careers and some prefer to be single mothers who are well capable of providing for their children. These occurrences add to support the fact that ladies do not have to marry a man for financial stability anymore. Like Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin said way back in the day, “Sisters are doing it for themselves”. However those who do want to have male partners still prefer to have to have financial equals or better still one in a better position. Every woman is a princess waiting for a knight in shining armor to slay the dragon and carry them away on his white horse, even if they absolutely don’t need one.
Being under-employed really throws a monkey wrench in those works. Lynnett and I had been dating together for seven years before we got engaged for a further three. I had no intention of keeping such a long engagement but my economic situation forced me to keep pushing back the marriage date. The toughest part of it all was having to see just how much the rest of my peers had zoomed past me at lightning speed. I also saw just how much my situation impacted negatively on other aspects of my life. I withdrew from friends and family. I was once a very outgoing character but just receded into a shell. Having to look at all the disappointed faces of all who thought I was going straight to the stars was a just too much for me to bare. In addition I never really got to experience or enjoy my early young adulthood because I spent the better part of my twenties trying to dig myself out of a muddy financial pit. All in an effort just to justify my manhood.
Instead of allowing the darkness that is self-pity completely consume me, I dug deep into myself and found what I had lost, my masculine energy. I worked twice as hard as all my workmates combined and made sure that my efforts were noticed. And after 8 months of blood sweat and a cocktail of both I was promoted two levels higher than my pay grade. When I saw my new pay check I wet myself with the overwhelming sense of self achievement. I finally earned more than my wife. I felt like my testicles were growing back and filling up my sack again. I wanted to buy a frame, have my paycheck, title and the letter detailing my perks enlarged and hung up for all to see. It was at this point that I felt like I had just received my invitation back into the elite club of “Real Men”. Men who used a paycheck to take care of their business. Most of all I wanted to tape it to my manhood and rub what I perceived as piteous looks from my wife right in it and yell “I’M THE MAN IN THIS HOUSE, WOMAN. AND HERE’S THE PROOF!”. I felt proud and was the king of my castle all over again. But in the center of all that celebration I felt an even deeper shame for feeling that way. Lynnett never took my manhood away neither did she belittle me for earning more money than I did. If anything she was my loudest cheerleader and was nothing less than patient, respectful and knew exactly what to say to inflate my ego to the right levels.
Through various discussions with friends, strangers, elders and internet forums I realized that I was not alone. I represent a whole generation of products of a society that calibrates a man’s worth by the number of zeroes on his bank statement. This has become the modern day interpretation of the olden day powerful physic and manly aggression when it comes to the working class swagger. All is well however as long as those zeroes are not outnumbered by the ones on his wife’s. As much as the world has changed now that there is more economic parity between the sexes, I cannot escape the fact that a man is the head of the home, the breadwinner, protector and provider. The inexorable fact is that all these are tied into being gainfully employed. I know marriage is supposed to be a fifty-fifty situation. I know Lyn loves me no matter how much money I make. I know my paycheck doesn’t make me Alvin. I know there is a whole lot more that makes up the essence of a good man than how much bacon he brings home. I know all these things. But Is simply knowing these things enough to realign perception of manhood? Are we as African men lost on the fringes of and ever changing world as we hold on to the century old constructs of masculinity? And ladies what do you expect from the men that share that share your lives?