The Gender Bender Butterfly

Just as many of my peers I grew up on vast amounts of cartoons and comics. The whole world stood still while heroes such Bravestar, He-man and Voltron battled their weekly foes. Of course back then all this was amusement and I watched the shows purely for their entertainment value. Watching these heroes gave me a brief 30 minute reprieve from bullies and home work. After that it was back to reality and planet earth. Apart from the clichéd good always trumps evil lesson I believed most of these cartoons offered nothing more than cheap escapism and no real value. However due to recent events that have been happening in the world around me, I have found myself referring back to one of these cartoons. I remember an episode of Samurai Pizza Cats I watched titled Gender Bender Butterflies. The villain in the show, the Big Cheese, had hatched a new plan to destabilise little Tokyo, mix up gender roles. He developed these butterflies that, when they come into contact with a male would bestow feminine characteristics and the opposite for a female. The butterflies made men worry about their manicures and cry at the sight of new born puppies and made women yell at sports referees and brag about their pay cheques. Back then it was nothing more than humorous since it presented a ridiculous scenario that my childish mind could not even envisage as a possible reality.

Recently however I have come to realise just how prophetic that episode was. Tradition has bred men to be masculine and women to be feminine. Our parents taught us that boys are hard wired to be in charge and in control of situations with some degree of aggression. While the girls played with dolls and skipping rope we played cops and robbers and rugby. However when we played it back then the only rule was to bring down who ever had the ball by any means necessary, points were rarely relevant. For the girls, they were taught to be loving, nurturing, and timid. Physical fights between boys and girls were rare when we were kids and when they did occur it was always the girl who was seen as the freak for being able to mould a fist, let alone throw it. These characteristics imparted during childhood would be the determinants of gender relations in adulthood. So basically male = masculine = in charge, strong, impervious, provider and female = feminine = submissive, nurturing, fragile, provided for. That was the way of the world.

Over the past couple of years however, the gender lines have become fuzzy and things are not as black and white as we were led to believe they should always be. The feminist movement has grown exponentially and with it has come many other social developments. Women are no longer the frail and fairer sex that they have been portrayed as in literature. Women have now developed more masculine characteristics and are tackling roles that have traditionally been reserved for men. In any society as in nature there is always a balance that must be maintained. As the wave of masculine and forceful women swept modern society along with it came the wave of the more feminine male who is non-confrontational, sensitive, in touch with his feelings and moisturises.

In so called more progressive societies such as America and Europe, women took the reins of being the sole breadwinners in the home while the males have assumed the domestic and care giving roles dubbed house-husbands. I point this out due to my own experience and situation in my home. My status as “house dad” is not a matter of choice but really a result of a hostile economic situation. I had a rather vicious disagreement with my former employers which led to me being handed my walking papers. I once started a business in my younger days but due to plain old naivety, it folded. This time around I believed i had matured and had amassed adequate experience to be a successful entrepreneur,  I welcomed the opportunity with both hands. The business world however is not always as willing to offer its supple bosom as budding entrepreneurs are to suckle. Things were not moving as fast as I had hoped so I had to set up my office at home. This however has had the side effect of making me the defacto housekeeper and nanny to our five month old son. My wife became the breadwinner, again, in the home and the one bringing home the bacon. Even though my business has only started bringing in some income, it is still infantile compared to hers.

I have come to realise that in any home situation, putting aside the issue of male and female, there are two main pillars that hold the roof up. There is the financial and planning pillar and the domestic pillar. When I was employed I was the financial pillar and even though my wife was employed she was the latter. Gradually, during the period that I have been economically inactive, our roles have been reversed. She now brings home the pay slip and bank statements while I ensure that supper is ready by the time she arrives. I even do the laundry on weekends and the dishes each night.

During this period I have also come to a realisation that I’m not as aggressive and confrontational as I used to be. I guess things came to a head one night when my wife suggested that we buy a dish-washer instead of a new stove. She had already done the calculations and came to the conclusion that our current stove can survive at least two more years. I then asked where she intended on situating it since we are currently challenged for space in our little kitchen. She simply replied by saying “I buy, you find the space.” Right then we were transported back in time to my Uncle Patson’s living room. She was the “man’s man” Uncle Patson and I was the modestly educated house wife Aunt Beaula. Those were the kinds of conversations they had. Patson would provide and Beaula would make a plan to accommodate the provisions. Before, this statement alone would have ignited a murderous fire in my heart and led me to savagely defend my masculinity with an all out attack. However no homicidal fire was set, not even a flame. I even started coming up with suggestions as to how to rearrange everything.

I’ve also realised that I’m more in tune with myself and have no problem expressing my feelings to my wife. I used to believe in the “never let them see you bleed” school of thought and this fuelled the macho man in me. I realised however that it also fuelled the rage and depression whenever I hit a brick wall because I had no one to off load on. The guys’ solution was always a round of beers or a punch in the shoulder and an instruction to “man up”. These days I ask my wife how her day was and genuinely listen to her while she unravels the events. Our communication is better now and I can safely say our marriage has vastly improved. So now comes the question; As a result of my circumstances, have I evolved into a new man or have I simply been castrated?

True, the customary views of masculinity are still rife and really have no tolerance for deviance from the norm or modifications or additions of any kind. One may argue that the phenomenon of the new male is restricted to the more progressive and excessively liberal societies such as America and Europe and traditional gender roles are still and will always be observed and greatly respected in Africa. Men are macho and aggressive, period. Really? Already the pretty-boy image is being peddled by sports stars (the definitions of modern manhood by the way) at every turn during prime time viewing and men are buying into it. Shower gels for men, scented aftershave, hair shampoo and face moisturisers are now all the rage and the metro-sexual is the new macho. How long do you think it will take that pretty-boy to realise that aggression really doesn’t go with his new image. It’s going to be hard to start a fight in a club while your hair smells like a flowery meadow and your face is radiantly spotless.

One may argue that I’m simply putting these views forward in support of my own situation but hey that’s how I see the world. Clearly I’m not content with being a “house dad” and will continue my quest for a financial stability, but I cannot deny the good that the Gender-bender butterfly has brought about in both my attitude and my relationship with my wife. Shifts in men’s gender views and perception on roles will inevitably come either by force such as my situation or by choice. Is this the next stage of evolution or is this the end of the so called real African man? I don’t have the answer to that. Hopefully time will tell. In the mean time however my wife will be teaching me how to knit a cardigan.

A Pocket Full Of Kryptonite

If you tell yourself something for long and often enough you will at some point start to believe it. Whether the affirmation or mission statement concerns one’s work personal or love life, compelling repetition has proven to be the fuel in one realising their end goal. I say this because this was the case in my own life. Ever since I was a gullible child of five, I idolised Superman. From the first time Christopher Reeves donned the iconic blue and red pantyhose in the first superman movie back in 1978, I was hooked. Please understand, seeing pictures in early comics and magazines had nowhere near the same effect that actually seeing the hero depicted in moving visuals. The man was faster than a bullet, had square jaws, perfectly jelled hair, impervious to harm and for some reason no one recognised that it was simply mild mannered Clark Kent without the glasses. The man’s mystique was mind boggling. From that moment I wanted to be Superman. I would tie my swimming towel around my neck as a cape and would perch on the top of my bedroom wardrobe scouring the city of my room for evil doers. My unfortunate pillows and He-Man action figures received numerous beatings for their evil plots to take over my shoe cabinet. In my childhood innocence I was convinced I could very well be the man of steel. I even started doubting my paternity and begged my father to tell me the truth about the burnt patch of lawn in our back yard. I was confident that was where my Kryptonian ship had landed. The truth was my idiot uncle was helping my father change the oil in his car and in a moment of genius decided to dispose of it on the lawn. I however did not buy into this conspiracy. I was Superman.

Psychologists have postulated that childhood trauma, in most cases may carry on into adolescence, and well into adulthood. In my case it was not trauma, but the firm belief that I was Superman incarnate. I was always a small child so I was an easy target for bullies back in school. Still when confronted by these agents of evil I would pout my lips and push my chest out in as heroes’ stance. This however didn’t deter the evil doers from beating me to pulp for being insolent but I still believed that I had to grow into my super powers and then they’d be sorry. I identified with both sides of the hero because I was as meek and mild mannered as Clark was and at the same time I had my bouts of plucky heroism. So I was the perfect fit. I did take into account his one weakness, kryptonite. I searched high and low for any deposits of the wretched mineral in order to avoid it in future and there was no sign of the green stone. So I believed I was safe not knowing that it simply came in a different form.

As puberty rolled around the world started making little sense. I started noticing girls as the fair and glorious creatures they were and they noticed me in not so much the same light. I tried the same tricks that my chick magnet cousin Simon pulled to get dates and he did exceedingly well for himself, still the formula didn’t work for me. Simon was the captain of the basketball team, was an active member of the Junior Lions club, and was in the running for school head boy post. I however had managed to land myself as the benchmark for the other end of the spectrum. My confidence was shot and my Superman experienced his first Kryptonite encounter. The fact that I attended the same high school as my female-adhesive cousin really did nothing to alleviate my woes. The constant comparison to him was a continual kicking to my nether regions and I took it with a defeated spirit. Instead of rising to the occasion I cocooned and receded into a mass of self pity and disenchantment. All the words of discouragement poisoned my spirit and threw me under the proverbial bus. One may scoff at this and say I was being melodramatic but all those who care to cast their memories back will remember how much a young man’s worth was calibrated by his popularity with his peers during this time in life especially with the female species.

The difficult time of wet dreams, pimples, and Playboy Magazines passed and I found myself in my first year college student studying Hospitality management. That is when I met my college sweetheart who happened to be the one of the hottest girls on campus. The fact that she chose to be with me was not only a source of constant perplexity for many but also a major self buoyancy boost. Remnants of my adolescent experiences still lingered in my life but i felt that if I could bag a girl like this then I could conquer the world. The blue and red super suite had returned and I felt the big red “S” burning in on chest again. This assertion permeated to other parts of my life. I breezed through my studies and graduated with honours. I was even recruited by the leading hospitality group before completing my studies. I was the hero I always dreamed I’d be. As all great romances go it didn’t last with my college sweet heart and we broke up right after graduation. She had outlived her purpose towards the greater good anyway. I then met my exceedingly beautiful wife Lynette when i was management trainee for one of Zimbabwe’s leading hotels and she fit right in. I completed my training and was appointed a department head managing 193 members of staff. That wasn’t enough since the Superman in me wanted to soar to greater heights. I worked hard till the bosses in huge air conditioned offices with two assistants noticed my efforts and decided to recruit me for their General Management Development Program. There I was, on my way to becoming the general manager of a hotel at the tender age of 26. I was that good, or should I say “Super”.

I believed in my own greatness and invulnerability I believed I was incapable of making a wrong move. I decided that my then employers were incapable of carrying me to the heights I envisaged so I discarded them in favour of not only a more established hospitality group but a new country all together. I moved to South Africa promising Lynette a life of plenty and abundance since I was Superman and all adversities trembled at the mere sight of me. Unfortunately this was easier said than done. My prospects faded and I found myself unemployed and down on my luck. Lynette turned into the super heroine for our home while i became the damsel in distress. She brought home the bacon while I waited to receive it. Regrets from job applications came hard and fast, financials were tight and small disagreements gave birth to even bigger ones and those procreated exponentially. I came from being a “Super” God-like life form, flying faster than a speeding bullet, to being a creature of frail flesh and blood. The Superman persona abandoned me once again.

With all this time on my hands I took stock of my life and listened to my friends and relatives on what they regarded as realities and facts. The world was never inhabited by super heroes, but simple mundane humans who scrape through meagre existences. I accepted that Superman was nothing more than the product of Jerry Siegel’s imagination and had no place in the world of the living. I had to deal with my issues just like the rest of the world. I dispensed with the Super silliness and packed away the super suite to the bottom of my “nothings” closet. I managed to get a job that I was exceptionally over-qualified for with a menial salary but it enabled us to make some sort of living. I was content and the world was the heartless witch I was supposed to take it as right from the beginning.

One summer day after a long and tedious day, I came home exhausted and just sank into my favourite couch. Lynnette came from the bedroom with her hands behind her back and asked me to close my eyes. When I opened them she had a Superman T-Shirt in her hands and she whispered, “I want my Superman back.”  At that point I felt a deep sadness over come me. I realised that I had played a major part in killing my Superman. I’ve been collecting kryptonite since I was in high school by listening to detractors and nay-Sayers that it stuck to the lining of my pockets. I abandoned my beliefs and decided to listen to reason and sanity. As I listened to every one of these I put a piece of kryptonite in my pocket that further weakened me and my super being. In a world where there are such seemingly insurmountable problems, maybe a super hero in all of us is exactly the fix we need. I believed I was superman and in that belief I accomplished most of my life’s milestones and the minute I stopped I fell off the wagon.

So now I resolve to get rid of all the krytonite I’ve been collecting in my pockets over the years and shield myself from any more. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to look for a telephone booth to change in.