WTF does "be a man" mean?
“Forgive me. In case you are the one who found the body, I am really sorry. It had to be someone, you know. I have chosen Jo Nketaih’s poem as my suicide note: “They said you came looking for me. I didn’t drown; I was the water.” Where do atheists go to when they die? lol. Amen.” -
In May of 2019, Chukwuemeka Akachi, a young poet and first class final year student of the University of Nsukka Nigeria, committed suicide. Prior to his suicide, he left a suicide note. In fact, he had been leaving a lot of those on the days prior to his demise:
“My mental health has been on life support for a while now. Thanks to those who call. Text. Visit. Speak to me. May we always remember. May we never forget. You may have added a few hours, months or days to my time here. But you know life support is expensive, right? Thanks for trying. Amen.”
Popular opinion as per his Facebook posts, has it that he was depressed right from childhood. In his last years, he wrote a very beautiful and insightful piece of, and on his life: “16 notes on how to end a life” In this piece, he narrates(to marvel) fragments of his depressed life as a child, an adolescent and finally, a young adult(at the time of his death) Akachi was an amazing poet/writer and always put out his feelings of depression and his desire for suicide in his poems. Nobody ever noticed. Or if they did, they just didn’t care enough.
Coincidentally, Akachu’s suicide is one of the reasons I didn’t take my own life in that same 2019. I had been so depressed that I felt I needed to end it. I wrote about ending it. Most people didn’t notice. A Facebook friend reached out to my sister — I still respect him for having an eagle’s eye. In a world of insensitive people, he’d likely be my king. Why did I want to end it? Story for another day. But there is one thing that stands out from Akachi’s story and it is that he was a boy. He was an excellent poet and a depressed one for that matter — still, he was a boy. And so, he wasn’t allowed to be weak or express his weakness even in his poetry. When I write, I hope my words can express the feelings my mouth fears to pronounce, or at least, that society hates to hear from men. So, I mostly write because I hate speaking, but also because I love the freedoms writing gives me. With my pen I can be meek, weak or just stupid. I could also be perverse. Thousands of years on, the world still basks in the misgivings of the patriarchy it seems to fight against. Not that they want it gone, no. They just want to sound politically correct. And you will hear them tell you(a man) to speak out your worries and fears. They’d challenge you to cry and then mock at you. They ask you “Why can’t you be like a woman?” whilst challenging you to “Be a man” when you dare to feel or speak like a woman.
Society has made the male think he has a choice — that is to choose between being weak and being strong. But the male knows(and if he didn’t know, he should know) that the only choice he has is to be strong or have the semblance of being strong, at least. Every man out here would tell you how he lost more than half of the respect they used to give him when he started bitching about his problems, especially to the women who were supposed to matter the most to him and so, understand and condole with him more. Every man has at least 25 times in his life heard the famous expressions “man up” and “be a man” But truth be told, no handbooks were ever handed down to us teaching us on how to “man up” or “be a man” Not even oral tradition, did we get. We were forced to grow into “manning up” and “being men” When our fathers and big brothers won’t cry when beaten, and/or bitten, we knew we couldn’t do less or worse. When they would prefer to bundle their problems within them until dying of stroke or heart attack by 60, we knew that’s how men were destined to live. So we weren’t explicitly taught how to “be men”, but we were told, repeatedly and authoritatively, to be nothing less than men. So men, we grew up being, even if it meant dying at 60 or not crying when we wanted to.
In Esther Villar’s The Manipulated Man, she explains how society has made the woman to be lazy and exploitative of the male gender. She even tells us that the bare minimum: make up and dress up, things we thought women did or could do for us, were in fact done for other women. So in this cruel world where a man is not supposed to cry or show an iota of weakness, he isn’t even allowed to feel a woman’s love or get her affection/attention. Even mankind should have been womankind because the world notices only women and their worries and frivolities. There is this popular saying “Nobody cares unless you are rich, popular or dead” and I’d say “Nobody cares unless you are rich, popular, dead or a woman” And when they say “Be a man”, what they really mean is “Be dependable and disposable” And I had to discover really late that a man has no value unless he is rich or resourceful.
So what does it really mean to “be a man”? In a patriarchal setup, a man was mostly seen as the provider and protector. He was never seen crying or bitching about problems. He had things under control. The patriarchal man defended his homestead from all aggressors. The men knew no pain. They knew no weakness. They knew no problems. They were men. This very practice(though not so bad), was passed down from generations to generations and the children who couldn’t live up to these principles were referred to as “women” or weaklings. Why? Because society had designed a portrayal of the woman as being weak and needing protection. So we had to be “men” for our sisters, girlfriends, mothers. We couldn’t tell our problems unless we wanted to be asked “Are you a woman?” Was society right about it? Is society right about it? I mean, given that today, there are movements in favour of the emancipation of the woman and in the allocation of equal rights to all… Given also that in today’s world, some women are more physically, financially and mentally able than men… Given also that in today’s world, some men cannot helpt not being “men”, do we still live by the unscripted laws that require men to be “men”?
In a society where there is nothing like Male privilege(or maybe there is?), it is hard to not “be a man” or aspire to become one. And though the times have changed and you often feel the need to not “be a man”… Though society might tempt you into telling your problems or shouting out your worries and grievances… Though your woman might kiss you on the neck and ask you to spill everything out… Always remember that they once told you to “Be a man” and though they might have been deviating from that discourse, they meant every word they said and it is in the best interest of your ego to BE and REMAIN that MAN they have always wanted and thought you to be.
I am not a man. Just this boy who still seeks to break conventions. Thank you for reading my rant.