Emasculation. What does it feel like to be emasculated? Like the snow. I am standing at the window in my room in my aunt’s apartment that looks out into the street. It is winter in Orange, New Jersey and I am visiting with family. This is the first time that I have ever seen snow collected in puffs and blocks on the sidewalk. It fails to meet the clear and exacting standards that my mind and the collective work of centuries of poets have placed on it. It is no crisp, powdery white substance that beckons with innocence and purity. I can see no angels in its slopes and contours. It is a muddy black, half melted and mostly sludge, unable to determine its own path but subject to the whims of society’s long-reaching hands trying to shovel it out of the way and into the form that meets its requirements. I see something of humanity in its foamy depths. We are kin, sibling-prisoners to bonds we were born into.
Yesterday, my cousin and/or sister (as I am wont to call her by culture) had said something that had thrown me into deep introspection. We had been bingeing on Netflix and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, on reclining couches. The holidays had never been so golden. The statement had catapulted us into one of our trademark, incessant verbal disagreements. I will not call them arguments as I refer that term to the more seasoned processes of dialectic. This was nothing more than a repeated thrusting of words at each other in the darkness of sheer ignorance and stubbornness with no other aim than to win. This was no dignified meeting of the minds but a desperate primal fight to be right. Sibling rivalry is such a terrible thing, especially in competitive families. As is common to such disagreements, the topic was irritating.
“I rather like that character, she seems nice,” I had commented.
“Nah, she’s fat,” was the dismissive rejoinder.
All hell broke loose.
Looking at her, I could not stomach the sheer hypocrisy and wrongness of her words. She was fat and whenever I pointed this out, she accused me of body-shaming her and being backwards. She had stated that she was proud of her body on many occasions. Yet, here she was conforming to the societal mindset that women had to look a certain way to be liked. Perhaps, I was so passionate in my responses, as I have always felt insecure about my body. It did not help that I had just finished eating a proper Nigerian dinner with the accompanying astonishing amount of carbs. My belly was swollen and the rest of my body spindly. I have never liked my body, it refuses to allow me to be fat or muscular. It is very tiresome. Why have I never liked my body? It is because, I have allowed myself to fall prey to the mass sexual objectification of the male figure, to the extent that I have contemplated lifelong celibacy. It seems almost absurd to me that anyone will ever be attracted to me in that way. Needless to say, our argument ended with her calling me a “Mr. Feminist”, in as derisive a tone as she could manage. The intent of the phrase did not skip over my head. She had intended to belittle my arguments by referring to me as something she felt I would hate to be called. The result of the perpetuation of the dominant-chauvinist-male as the ideal man.
Two days later, we were gridlocked in a more demonstrative disagreement. This time, over a muffin. She did not want me to eat the last frozen blue berry muffin and had decided to eschew Gandhi’s teachings in her demonstrations. At ten years old, ‘Siba was as stubborn-headed as they come. Powerful shoves were executed in a series of attempts to take the muffin borne aloft in my right hand. A sudden anger rose then in me at this girl that refused to back down and was pushing at my patience. This girl that did not recognize that I was older and a male and as such my wants were ranked higher in the scheme of things. She was making me to feel like less of the budding young man I saw myself as. In defiance, I took a bite of the blueberry muffin that I really did not want in the first place. A final more daring push was received before my assailant stormed out and slammed the door crying out petulantly for a quick exit of this infuriating cousin from her life. Standing there in the familiar dark of the kitchen still clutching the muffin, I mentally congratulated myself for resisting my baser instincts and not hitting her back. Yet, there was still a small niggling voice that asked why hitting her was ever an option. Was the muffin worth it? No. So why then was I so infuriated? It then dawned on me in graduating scales of shame that the reason why I had been so upset was that I had felt emasculated. If I had slackened the rigid grip I usually retained on my anger, even just a little, I would have begun my journey down the well-worn path to domestic violence. Eventually, I might become one of those men that are reduced to monsters by society and the media for hitting women. Forgive me if it sounds like I am defending these men. In my heart of hearts I do believe that domestic violence (and most forms of violence) is wrong and no excuse can detract from the threat it poses to society. I am only asking that we consider that these monsters were in some tiny way created by the exacting and unforgiving standards we impose that are almost unattainable.
When deciding to write this article/essay, (call it whatever you may) I had a discussion with one of my oldest friends about what the message of the article was. It was she that made me realize that the standards of society are inalienable. It is my understanding that humans are social creatures and thrive in orderly situations. Order naturally must have laws, standards and measurements that help to uphold it. We as humans will always end up trying to create a generalized definition for things that can be accepted by all and so stereotypes will always be a part of us. I understand this. I am not writing to suggest that we overthrow our conventional understanding of what it is to be a man, we will always have this. I am asking however, that we as humans stop holding ourselves to such rigorous, unattainable standards that attempt to homogenize a diverse group. Humanity should always be diverse, there is beauty in this.
What should we do then? Take note of the generalized definition of what a man or a woman is to the world, break it down, tear it apart and infuse it with our own identity. Let us be proud of who we are and let no person, rule or idea tell us that we are anything less than good. In the spirit of this, I stand on the pinnacle of the world beating my chest and proudly declare, I am Boluwaji.