The President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, caused ripples on social media on Sunday when he said:
“The head of the home never goes into the kitchen. It is now 45 years with Mama Janet, I have never stepped into the kitchen. That is how it should be.”
From the context of his speech, he used this as an example of how politicians and civil servants should stick to prescribed roles. Indeed, his analogy is so flawed that the import of his message was obscured.
If you asked me, a power-hungry ruler does not have the moral credentials to tell others how they should govern their homes. I am aware that gender roles is often a flash point of feminist arguments, notwithstanding, Museveni’s thoughts have sadly remained unreconstructed over the years even as the ground beneath our feet beneath is shifting.
Tragically, while much of the developed world enjoys enlightened and visionary leadership, several African countries are still trapped in the maze of gerontocracy – being driven by men who ought to be reclining in a nursing home for the aged.
Thanks to Museveni anyway, I had hoped to write on this issue since the time I wrote on How the Cult of Masculinity damages men. From the responses I read on social media so far, I realized that many Nigerian youths agreed with Museveni’s “wisdom.”
Now, we live in an age of social evolution. No one in his right mind would demand we dress, speak and live our daily lives the same way folks did way back in the 1960s. The times have changed; so have we. For one, no one back then could have imagined that we would be communicating with mobile phones or video calls as we do today.
Similarly, to hold people down with archaic principles and archetypal roles (sometimes disguised as “culture”) is to stifle societal progress in ways more than one.
No gender was born to perform domesticity and no gender was born to be enterprising. These are skills people learn in a bid for survival in a changing world. Women don’t have the ability to cook pre-installed in their wombs neither do men have entrepreneurship congealed in their balls.
Some norms may have worked well in the days of our fathers, but we no longer live in their era and we don’t have to live as they lived. Cooking does not diminish a man’s headship in his home; no, it doesn’t shrink his manhood. It’s a necessary skill for survival.
Even ancient history furnishes us with evidence that men at various eras have cooked – both in domestic and professional circles. The early man learnt how to smoke, roast, sun-dry and bake his food and his masculinity wasn’t washed ashore while at it.
Men have always cooked even without female interference, so let no man try to price his worth on not entering the kitchen for 4 decades. This is something I admire about French and Italian culture. Many of their men are in fact, better chefs than women. It’s here in Africa that we complicate simple matters and unnecessarily genderize some issues.
Each time people tell me “Oh you can cook? Wow, that means no woman can take undue advantage of you,” I marvel at such reasoning because men don’t have to be wrapped around women’s fingers for culinary benefits. A real man is supposed to learn what he needs to learn in order to survive – even in the absence of a woman.
I recently heard of a couple who are currently at the verge of divorce over unresolved emotional issues. The frequent cause of friction between them was that the husband usually arrives home from work at about 5 pm but he would wait up for his wife till 9 pm when she arrives home, expecting her to prepare his dinner.
He doesn’t know how to cook and he doesn’t want to learn it. So their two children go to bed hungry each night while their dad lies on the sofa, milling around social media, waiting for a woman who is still caught up in the soul-crushing Lagos traffic to fix his dinner!
Now, is this a display of masculinity or feminity on his side? If you believe men should never step into the kitchen, please answer that question. Of course, his attitude is a sign that he missed something vital in his upbringing.
That brings me to another self-survival skill: cleaning up. This entails personal hygiene, cleaning up utensils, clothing and one’s environment. This is an area that needs to be thrashed out among us guys because the society has told many of us over and over again that male grooming is a feminine past time. “To be masculine,” we are told, “is to wallow in your own filth and get high on your mess.”
This has resulted in a sort of imbalance: many ladies are raised to learn how to cook, clean and take care of their looks – as intending “wife materials.” But many guys weren’t raised to be “husband materials” so to speak. They were allowed to become educated pigs and overgrown spoilt brats.
They loathe doing their dishes; they don’t clean their own rooms; they don’t bathe properly and even refuse to take cognizance of their health. They are told that women will ultimately help them clean up, do their laundry and even teach them how to bathe! I’ve actually heard of men who expect their wives to help them flush the toilet after use.
It’s still understandable (though not excusable) for guys with busy schedules, but when an adult male who has his five senses complete and is not physically challenged in anyway still expects a woman to clean him up, feed him like an infant and attend to him like a deity, he has a defective upbringing.
The other day, I saw a screenshot from a woman whose husband stains his shorts and the bed sheets with fecal matter each time he lies on his back while making love. When she couldn’t take it anymore, she asked him why he doesn’t wipe himself properly after using the restroom, he gave a rather amusing and yet shocking answer: “Only gay men give such attention to between their butt cheeks” (!)
Indeed, life can be so hard having a village idiot for a husband.
Guys, it’s never too late to learn how to cook and clean up. Yes, getting professional help is fine, but one of the areas in which men excel better than women is the power to adapt, work and survive. Channel that natural ability and use it!