Sistas wear the pants in Kenya

There is a grand battle raging in Kenya that has pitted brawn against brain and male machismo against girl power.

The movement has been triggered by a steady feminisation of money and success and it is claiming many male scalps along the way. The saying: “It’s a man’s world” has been booted on to the backburner and newspapers and magazines have been left debating the effects of the gender war.

One of the local dailies pretty much summed up the situation in a headline: “Are Kenyan women wearing the trousers?”

In picturesque hamlets across rural Kenya women have taken over the running of households as they join numerous small and medium micro-finance initiatives sponsored by government and NGOs that empower them to open small businesses that bring food to the table, pay school fees and provide a steady income for their families.

Now financial institutions are scrambling for this niche market, which has almost become a movement. Loans for women’s organisations trickle in steadily whereas men’s groups seem to be treated more as an afterthought.

The decades-old girl-child initiative has finally borne fruit. The girl-child is now a mature woman climbing the corporate ladder with few or any signs of being from the so-called “disadvantaged sex”.

On the streets of downtown Nairobi you will see them dressed to the nines, toting bags of confidence. They wear power suits or seductive, trendy outfits and sport manicured nails, with fashionable handbags on their arms while perched on their designer high-heel shoes. But they also love wearing the trousers.

If you have a look around on every street corner in Nairobi, you’ll notice most of the cars are driven by women. They sit on the boards of blue-chip companies; they are directors, managers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, pilots and top entrepreneurs. In fact, with the number of female role models these days, young girls don’t have to look to men for inspiration anymore.

Our march towards the middle class has left us churning out a well-educated workforce that will soon make Kenya the gateway for investment in Africa. Shimmering glass buildings are springing up everywhere alongside the superhighways that will take us there. Apartments that cost R1.4-million a pop are being bought as though they are going out of fashion. And in the middle of this unfolding Kenyan dream, our sistas are the ones who are sharing in the spoils.

Working-class women are filling up campuses to acquire undergraduate and master’s degrees in the popular evening classes throughout the city. Recent statistics show that women are crowding out the men in popular MBA classes.

It’s something that men are looking at with trepidation as they grudgingly troop back to class, concerned that our overenthusiastic sistas might make them irrelevant. The women are fired up, with motivational books their Bibles and Oprah Winfrey and Tyra Banks their gods. At seminars with top international motivational speakers, women are filling the aisles.

But, as the success of the girl-child is seen everywhere, an important element seems forgotten — the boy-child.

The vacuum has even come to the attention of women’s organisation Maendeleo ya Wanawake. A few years ago it set up a department to deal with the boy-child, prompted by his neglect by society, which has resulted in such children turning to crime, alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence.

The boy-child is still stuck in the dark pit that is the rat race. He has been left to his own devices. For a boy to be lifted out of the cycle of poverty, he has to be exceptional. For a girl, it seems, all she has to do is be a girl.

With high unemployment among the youth, it’s men who are sidelined as women get priority in the job market. So although the industriousness of our women is recognised and life becomes much easier for them, men are stuck in a crisis of confidence, leaving in its wake another crisis. Our educated women have an attitude that they can go without men and they go out of their way to show it, which leaves most of us feeling unwanted by the opposite sex.

For those sistas who believe in marriage, the rule of thumb is to be a partner rather than a wife. They usually hold on to their maiden names, separated from their husband’s by a short dash.

Apart from the usual norm of us being called “useless” and “dogs”, women complain that we are either not “man” enough or that we don’t know how to be men.

But the gist of the matter remains the changing gender roles that have left us confused about what manhood really means in these times. Take a look at our role models. Our fathers mostly had traditionally submissive wives, not the modern, assertive and sometimes domineering wives who are ready to take on their men with eyes blazing. The ladies complain that “men do not provide leadership at home”, that “men spend too much time with the boys in the pub” and that “they are all players”.

It has become a trend to bash men from every corner with insults and expletives, which has made some of us give up even trying to change with the times.

Nightclubs are packed with ladies who relish dissecting any man foolish enough to chat them up. Then they go home whining that there are no good men left in the country. The tragedy is that men have stopped courting ladies because they feel there are no women around who are “wife material” these days.

A top female radio presenter and columnist, a sassy lady who speaks her mind, once tried to gauge the problem. She propped herself up at the counters of some of the posh clubs in the city and no man made a move or offered to buy her a drink. And these places were full of young guys with money to burn.

To be fair to our sistas, many guys celebrate their 35th birthday while still living at their parents’ house. The fact is that in most homes, women have a college transcript whereas the men hustle. Some guys cannot even hold a conversation with a lass without a beer in hand.

To some extent, I agree with women that the pool of men rising to their potential is diminishing. But as much as we want to understand our well-heeled sistas, they keep changing the goalposts.

We are now expected to be romantic to a fault and, as in most romantic soaps, also successful in life. Women say they love us even if we lack money and a good job, but they go on to shun us if we don’t have both.

The rich playboy who is generous with his money is called a “nice guy” and empowered women will gladly court the successful married man and become the second wife while, in the same breath, calling such ladies unprintable words.

One of our main set of grumbles about our empowered ladies is that they drink like men, they want to win every debate and, worst of all, they have to make us feel inadequate to stroke their own egos.

The gender war will not end soon unless our women come off their high horse, our men step up and, most importantly, society turns its attention to the ticking time bomb that is the boy child.

Munene Kilongi is a freelance journalist who lives in Nairobi


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