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Femininity, Masculinity, and the Nigerian Humanist Movement

Posted: Sat, December 31, 2016 | By: Nigeria

by Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Dr. Leo Igwe is the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement, who was recently awarded in recognition of his service to humanism. He was the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement and former Western and Southern African representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He holds a Ph.D. from the Bayreuth International School of African Studies at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, having earned a graduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Calabar in Nigeria. Here we talk about masculinity and femininity in Nigeria.

This essay was first posted HERE

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: I wanted to conduct a conversation series on masculinity from a humanist perspective in Nigeria with you, Leo. Why you? You founded the Nigerian Humanist Movement. So, to begin, and with this relevant justification as to your qualifications (doctorate as well), what is traditional masculinity and, by implication, femininity in Nigeria?

Dr. Leo Igwe: There is always a risk of conflation in responding to a question such as this because any answer could easily be taken to be all embracing and applicable to all. Definitely, an understanding of traditional masculinity or femininity that applies to over 170 million people in Nigeria with various cultures and beliefs presents a challenge.

Having said that, given the nature of this conversation, I offer a personal opinion. In brief, traditional masculinity or femininity is simply that idea of manliness or womanliness that is handed down from the past. This idea of what it is to be a man or a woman draws its moral and binding force from the fact that it was handed down to a generation that assumes it is expected to observe it, comply with it and pass it on without revision or alteration.

Thus as a tradition, this quality of maleness or femaleness is deemed sacrosanct. It is designated as the norm for social ordering, nurturing and cultivation. It is important to note that the idea of manliness and womanliness which people regard as the norm because they are handed down from the past differ from community to community, and sometimes from family to family, in fact from individual to individual. It is difficult to pin it down.

Generally speaking, masculinity is traditionally identified with strength, power, toughness, and leadership hence the notion of male domination in gender discourses. The male is taken as the natural head and is expected to be strong and should be capable of absorbing pain without crying. The male is nurtured to be the defender, the one who protects the family and who tackles anything dangerous or threatening. Womanliness is associated with ‘weakness’ and vulnerability. Marriage, childcare, child bearing and domestic duties are also linked to womanhood.

Persons are brought up to fit into these roles and expectations. Unfortunately, the emphasis is often, on women and their designated subordinate and subjugated roles. It is often forgotten that male persons are brought up by their parents including their mothers and sisters, nieces and aunts to fit into certain designated roles.

They are pressured sometimes against their will to be manly. These designated manly and womanly roles are well spelled out and mainly applicable in rural areas and among uneducated folks, or in religiously conservative environments. In such situations and circumstances, ruralness, lack of education and faith constrain the ability of males and females to break away from the traditions.

Jacobsen: These designated roles likely, come from Abrahamic religious traditions, as expectations?

Igwe: I prefer to say that supernatural traditions, not only the Abrahamic codifications, are at the root of these designated qualities of maleness and femaleness. In fact, traditional masculinity and femininity are embedded in indigenous religions that predate Abrahamic religious traditions in Africa. What we have in contemporary Africa is a situation where the faiths of Christianity and Islam only reinforce pre-existing religious and traditional notions of masculinity and femininity.

Jacobsen: How does the humanist perspective, in your opinion, differ from these views? How is it similar, even the same, as these views?

Igwe: A humanist perspective is the same with the traditional viewpoint in the sense that they are all human creations and constructions. They are all attempts by humans to define, designate and assign roles and duties. Humanist and non-humanist ideas of manliness and womanliness are devices to make sense of human associations and interactions. But the humanist perspective is different because it is a product of critical evaluation, not of revelation or blind faith.

The humanist view of masculinity or femininity is non-dogmatic and can be questioned and challenged. The humanist idea of male or female is informed by reason, science, and human rights. It is non-conformist and non-orthodox. Like traditional masculinity and femininity, humanist masculinity takes cognizance of the outlined duties and responsibilities. However, the humanist idea of manliness and womanliness is not cast in stone. The qualities and functions are subject to revision and rejection in the light of knowledge and individual freedom.

Jacobsen: If you were to define a humanist masculinity, how would you define it?

Igwe: It is the idea of maleness that emphasizes the humanity of men and males, the fact that men are human like their female counterparts. That males have emotions, entertain fear and suffer pain like their female counterparts. Simply humanistic masculinity stands for maleness as humanness. It stresses male care, compassion, and cooperation while acknowledging domination and oppression as a human, not as an exclusively male property.

The whole idea of humanist masculinity is vital in clearing this mistaken impression that associates ‘masculinism’ or masculinity with the subordination of women. There are cases of male oppression of women but is that masculinism? No, not at all. That should not be designated as what it is to be manly. Being manly should be within the ambient of humanity not without. Women do oppress men too but is oppression of men feminism? No.

Subordination of men should not be identified as feminism. It is an aberration of feminism. Just as feminism does not imply the oppression of men, masculinity should not be equated with the oppression of females. Thus humanist masculinity is – and should be–about the expression of hu-maleness or hu-manliness and not the humiliation and subordination of females.

Jacobsen: What is a way to inculcate a healthier, humanistic, masculinity in young men in Nigeria?

Igwe: Of course, it is through education that the inculcation of humanist masculinity can be achieved. Unfortunately, this goal cannot be realized in the form of education we have in Nigeria at the moment. The educational process is manipulated to preserve certain religious and traditional values and interests. The educational system is used to reinforce notions of masculinity and femininity that are incompatible with humanist and human rights values. So the inculcation of humanistic masculinity can only happen if the educational system is overhauled to foster and reflect humanistic ideas and values.


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