Problematic – I was & I am
I, like most people who were raised in Nigeria, held traditional & problematic views when I was younger.
There were definitely some generally accepted things that I think never made any sense to me but there were others that I truly believed, for varying lengths of time.
I don’t remember ever understanding why people thought women were inherently bad at math & science but I was definitely someone who cared about “body counts” & wanted “my women” more chaste than I was. To save myself from any more embarrassment, I shall refrain from making this an exhaustive list of downright wrong beliefs I held.
I’ve also been the person that did not speak up against manifestations of these “tenets”, even after eventually realising that they’re wrong & that they hurt women. I’ve been the (selfish) person that didn’t speak up for fear of some form of social ostracism & mockery. I’ve shut up because I didn’t want to be a “dead guy”.
Are these things that I’m comfortable with?
I just think it’s important to acknowledge it. I don’t think it’s useful to pretend they never happened. In fact, owning your shit is one good way to remind oneself about how pervasive and powerful certain ideas can be.
I also don’t think it’s something to wallow in. I don’t think anybody should accept that this is how they are because it’s how they’ve always been.
It is tempting to continue to perpetuate this behaviour because it is easy to continue. By continuing, you’re protected by sharing the beliefs of most of the world. By changing, you’ll be subject to most of the world trying to shame you for doing so.
You’re socially rewarded (by men & women alike) for how well you adhere to these standards. Throughout history, new (contradicting) ideas are always met with resistance, mockery & shaming.
So why should a rational (normally selfish) human being forgo comfort & (social) reward for varying degrees of ostracism?
Well, my hope is that most men reading this don’t like being selfish. I hope they’re people who want to be caring & good to the people around them. I hope they’re not complacent and as such, comfortable with being “normally selfish”.
If these things do not resonate with you, then reading this has been & will continue to be a waste of time. Close the tab.
If you’re still here, I want to first say to you that these feelings and occurrences are normal. Being “normal” doesn’t make them any less wrong, it’s just good to know that you’re not fundamentally broken in some unfixable way.
This is especially important in today’s (internet) climate where it feels like people are saying that it’s the worst thing in the world to be a man (as men have always been).
However, the reaction to being called the worst thing in the world (whether the accuser is correct or not) shouldn’t be to protest by continuing to do things that I know deep down aren’t right. Being obstinate per the bad things I can address because I feel attacked makes me a worse person. It means I’m okay with harming people because they refuse to acknowledge that I’m “not that bad”. Doesn’t that make me exactly what they say I am?
Whenever I compare myself with my past, I feel like there’s undeniable progress. I am personally proud of this movement forward. However, I don’t think it’s the kind of improvement that necessitates praise and/or reward from anyone but oneself.
The motivation for putting effort into being the kind of person that changes in this way shouldn’t be external praise (which admittedly feels great whenever it happens). One should want to be a better person.
Furthermore, I think it’s important to remember that I cannot “take full credit” for whatever changes I was able to implement. While there’s something to be said about becoming someone who is receptive to new ideas, someone who is willing to challenge themselves, “progress” is rarely ever achieved in isolation. There are always occurrences that trigger you to see things differently. There are always people (mostly women, in my experience) who tell you what’s fucked up. Some people are nice & patient about it. Others are more aggressive & impatient with their expression (which is valid because it must be frustrating to be on the receiving end of systemic marginalisation). Sometimes, these two kinds of people are the same person at different times. I try to always remind myself to be grateful for experiencing these people & occurrences, even if they didn’t end with hand holding & tears of joy.
Today, there are still things I struggle with. A good (somewhat relatively less embarrassing) example is my relationship with money. The whole toxic masculinity package of valuing yourself, a man, by how much money you have. I know it’s problematic, I understand how it’s bad for men and women…it’s just difficult to completely let these ideas & habits go for the reasons highlighted above.
I’m also 100% sure that there are a great many other things about myself, outside the scope of my awareness that are problematic. It only makes sense that there are. I have gone through the cycle of complete-lack-of-awareness-to-realization too many times to think it won’t ever happen again. Nobody’s perfect.
I will never be perfect.
It’s quite possible for the above fact to inspire complacency – what use is attempting to improve something that will never be perfect? I definitely feel this more often than I’d like to admit publicly.
Sometimes however, it simultaneously humbles me and pushes me to be more receptive to ideas that mean I’ve been fucking up. The part of me that aspires to self improvement latches on to this as an opportunity. I personally prefer when this happens and I’d much rather it happens way more than the alternative.
I assume that I’m not the only one that feels these things. I know for a fact that just knowing that one isn’t alone can make things less difficult to navigate.
I want to be better and I want other men to feel the same way. That’s why.