Men have a complicated relationship with loss. I was sharing space with a friend who visited yesterday for tea and conversation. We agreed that because of poor socialization for boys around emotions, they grow up to struggle dealing with difficult sensations that cause pain in their adulthood.
Women tend to be attuned to loss from such a young age. It may not seem outright but I imagine experiencing menstruation each month since puberty gels with strain and loss. The body lets go of an unfertilized egg in such horrendous demeanor, on a three to four to sometimes seven-day streak. If it isn’t hurting breasts it’s bloating, or muscle aches, constant fatigue, abdominal cramps, diarrhea or constipation, feelings of irritability, food cravings, mood swings and God knows what else. And still be expected to show up for all slated duties functioning like a healthy human being.
Exposure to such bodily discomfort alters the brain, preparing the body for the monthly labour that periods are.
Further, in the Abrahamic religious cultural norms, a woman loses her agency right from birth. As included in the punishments dispensed upon Eve in Genesis 3:16, on top of enduring birth pains – which King James version aptly puts “in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children”, her desire shall be for her husband and he will rule over her.
The Latin root of the word rule means “to keep straight, direct or govern”. Please read that again.
There is too much loss for being a woman before she even starts her life that she is forced to work her life around loss until it becomes second nature.
Even the fact that a woman leaves her people when she gets married to a man, to become one with her husband’s people, has a sense of loss. In fact in some cultures a woman is viewed as a guest in her own home because culture depicts one day she’ll be married off to belong elsewhere.
Men don’t experience that loss of sense of belonging in this context. Their wives become part of the men’s patriarchal families. In some instances, the woman becomes homeless if separation or divorce happens. I suppose it is among the reasons many of our grandmas and mothers squeezed themselves in abusive marriages for fear of homelessness and social contempt.
Remember bride kidnapping was such common practice. Abducting young girls and forcing them into marriage. So many of the long marriages we celebrate constitute old grandmothers with so much hidden pain. Silenced pain. These men definitely raped them in disguise of marital sex. The women gave birth to multitudes of children, many dying of illness. So much loss.
Men, of course lose their agency from childhood too. They don’t get forced into early marriages nor do they have clitorises to be slit in FGM, which is nowhere equivalent to circumcision for what they both symbolize.
But men, from early militarization to be unbreakable instead of resilient, for different reasons as joining the army, becoming a warrior, building industries and cities; lose the balance between mind, body and spirit, such that they only exist in the realm of body and mind. The spirit is wounded to serve the political greed of the upper class by ensuring they are not in touch with their human side; the one that helps them feel, or connect to others healthily.
In the civil wars that have happened all over the world more prominently in the 20th century, both men and women get raped as a symbol of subjugation. And while we hear of female rape in these incidents, we barely hear of male rape.
But because in patriarchal setups, men are viewed as anchors of society, it is needed that they remain stoic and unmoved even in the face of violence, trauma and abuse. It becomes the identity they peg their worth on, such that if they lose it, they fear to be stripped of the privileges of being a man. Like respect and honour.
For families that undergo miscarriages or the loss of a child in any form, you often find understandably, the women are more expressive in their manifestation of pain. Even the mourners flock the women to comfort them. Men, at most, get a pat on the back while they sit at a corner alone, struggling with their feelings and needing to be strong for everybody because they are supposedly the pillar of the home.
There exists no postnatal, postabortion nor postmortem care system for grieving fathers apart from the traditional communal healing which is magnificently diminutive.
It is time we reconfigured masculinity from the beginning, or we perish.