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.

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