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I have often asked myself what it takes to be a man beyond the definitions of the society. As a child growing up, there were certain things ingrained into our heads by our families and the society at large: boys play football, boys don’t cry, boys protect their sisters, boys are the head of the home and so on. These are the parameters by which the society judges guys. If you cry you are seen as girly; if you play with a doll, you are a woman wrapper; playing ten-ten (I don’t know if people still play that game) that’s even worse.

I asked two of my friends – one male and the other female – to define who a man was.

The guy defined a man as someone who is aware of his social and emotional responsibilities and obligations. He believed that the key to manhood was security; that is a man must be able to provide for his family be it financial, leadership or spiritual.

The lady, on the other hand, defined a man as someone who has got his act together, has the ability to make quality decisions, has a mind of his own and is generally a responsible person.

One thing both answers had in common was the fact that in Africa you aren’t a man until you are married which brings me to some of the male sterotypes out there that are encouraged by our society.

Culturally or in Nigeria, men don’t cook, men don’t change diapers. Men pay the bills and leave the upbringing of the child to women. Being a man is being emotionally unavailable. I think a lot of us can relate to this; your dad brings the money home, makes sure your school fees are paid and your education is complete. The question however is how many of us know our fathers as individuals? What I’m trying to say is that while you know when your father is upset or angry, you never know when your father is sad – men generally are not taught to show sadness or how to show love. If a man did any of these, he would be termed a sissy by society. This is one of the reasons why those three simple words ”I love you” seem difficult for men to say .

Society also places a premium on married men, especially in the business and the corporate world. They are seen as more responsible. I don’t know where this idea equating manliness with marriage came from but I do know it’s ridiculous to think an individual is only a man when he has a family. Having a family doesn’t make a man responsible neither does it make you suddenly acquire the acumen to manage a project or take on higher responsibilities.

In all of this I think we should strive to redefine what men are. We should be allowed to be emotionally available for our spouses, friends and associates. We should take responsibilities for actions and we should not be judged based on whether we have a family or not. Men should have integrity and loyalty and other character traits that aren’t just skin deep. How will you define a man? Share your definitions with me.

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Moyosore Oyebolu is a dentist and reader of Nigerian history and literature. An on and off writer, he is currently improving on his dental degree and hopes to use all he has learnt for public service. moyo

You can contact him on Twitter @Moyooyebolu

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