Being in touch with your emotions: the Paradox of Sensitive Masculinity

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It’s a beautiful morning in Harare; there is a definite chill in the air heralding the advent of winter. As I sit in a cozy cafe, indulging in a cappuccino and perusing the morning papers, I can’t help but giggle as I read about Zimbabwean men getting in touch with their emotions. The Musasa Project, which advocates for women’s rights and the eradication of Gender Based Violence (GBV) has called for men to discuss their emotions as a way for men to curb their frustrations and reduce the need to lash out at their female counterparts.

The idea is truly noble, but as I look around me in a restaurant full of exclusively male waiters and eavesdrop on their conversations, I am struck by how strong they are. I wonder how to break the gender stereotypes they have already grown up with. I assume they were told to never show emotion, to be strong for their families and to be the breadwinner despite the harsh economic climate. How is this strong man suddenly supposed become ‘in touch’ with his emotions or teach his son something he does not practice?

Jacob Maforo, the YMCA secretary general suggested that, “We (men) should always ask ourselves this question: imagine one day you wake-up as a woman, what benefits will you get? How will you treat the new life as a woman?” (“Stop Defending Foreigners.” Daily News 13 April 2012: 4. Print). I think perhaps the better question would be: look at your daughter, your sister and your mother, how do you want them to be treated? Imagine your home without them. How would you survive?

I guess the true question is how do we make this masculine man sensitive without stripping him of his long embedded idea of strong masculinity? How can we effectively break the cycle? As I get ready to leave, a chill runs down my spine, I wonder how will I raise my future son?

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