BY MPHO KUHLMANN
Shortly before his death, University of Botswana sociology lecturer Log Raditlhokwa painted a depressing picture about the state of masculinity in Botswana today: “Most men are in pain. They are grossly disaffected. They feel defeated and abandoned… If nothing is done to help them overcome their existential problems, the rate of suicide will rise sharply. We will experience a spate of violence against women. Their spiritual distress also stems from the progressive deterioration and failure of human relationships. This is partly a function of the ethic materialism. Many people nowadays establish relationships with a view to extracting some material benefit from others. Women’s increasing self assertion is also shocking and paralysing males who have not learnt how to handle liberated women.”
Julie Livingstone, a research scholar with Rutgers University noted that, “although the bleak picture that Raditlhokwa paints is far from the universal state of masculinity in today’s Botswana, a spate of violence against women has indeed accompanied a rise in male suicide, much as he predicted.”
The pressure on men to be caretakers, breadwinners and protectors all in one actually shapes their lives and plans. For example Phetolo Gaseitsiwe a single father who works at Capital Bank in Gaborone has deferred marriage plans until he is sure that he can play all those roles. “The only reason I’m not married is because I want to finish my master’s, improve my career, make more money, buy land, construct a house that’s the only time I’ll feel comfortable about marrying and starting a family. Everything always leads back to the fact that since cave-men hunted; at the very core of every man’s identity is the desire and profound burden to provide. This is how he says ‘I love you’. Of course in a setting where the two people are married, a woman’s contribution makes the financial burden lighter but at the back of a man’s mind he feels that it is his responsibility, and trust me, it weighs constantly and heavily on most men’s minds. A man’s family is his priority, but over the years, men feel trapped between the need to put in long hours at work so as to provide the best for them and the fact that his wife complains that he spends too much time working. In a man’s mind, that’s being caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand he just wants to be thanked and appreciated for how hard he is working for them and then on the other hand, he is also concerned about his competence as a husband and father, two things that define his masculinity”
Gaseitsiwe told Sunday Standard Lifestyle that, “one of the things that make men doubt themselves is the fact that he can’t provide. Even from a young age, at a subconscious level, society nurtures boys to ‘measure up’ and girls to be ‘lovable.’ He says women don’t understand that if a man can’t provide only the best for his dependents, he feels inadequate.
Kgomotso Jongman, an independent therapist at Jo’Speaks says “There are societal beliefs and pressures such as “men have to be tough and strong,” “men don’t cry,” “men are allowed to express anger, but not hurt or sadness,” “men must provide and protect,” and “men must achieve and perform.” The pressure on men to be financially well off has been there for many years. Now it seems to be made worse by the fact that young women want a man that works, has money and drives a flashy car. This is the reason why men get depressed, because they feel like when they don’t have all the above then they are not men. Even in instances where both the man and the woman don’t work the pressure is always on the men to provide. Contrary to popular belief, men don’t have big egos that need to be caressed or cut down to size, they have fragile egos that fight like hell to live up to expectations and thus hopefully never to be broken, especially by questioning their abilities as a man.”