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What Do Somali Men Want?
By Hassan M. Abukar

Jan. 09, 2011

Dead birds in Beeb, Arkansas

Dead birds in Arkansas, USA

In early January of this year, about 5,000 red-winged birds fell from the sky over a mile of land near Beebe, Arkansas (USA). The incident generated an intense speculation as to what led to the demise of these birds. Was it a disease that killed the birds? Were they poisoned? It became apparent, though not conclusively, that there was an odd explanation for the puzzle; noise. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Spokesman Keith Stephens stated that the birds, most likely, perished as a result of booming noise which could have startled them from their roost and caused them to die from stress. 

In my informal talks with Somali men, the issue they complain the most has been what they call ‘too much noise’ emanating from their women. “Our women are boisterous” (Qaylo badan) some of the men quipped. The good news is that no Somali man is in imminent danger of perishing due to the alleged frothing and yelling of Somali women.

This article is in response to my colleague Fathia Absie’s well-articulated and thought-provoking piece, “Enchanting and Reminiscing” that appeared in WDN. Ms. Absie, in a trip to Ottawa, had the opportunity to get together with ten smart, hard-working, and sensitive women. Among the issues that the group informally discussed was the absence of men in these women’s lives, and to the surprise of Ms. Absie, the women were not married. When she inquired about the absence of men in their lives, the women gave her a litany of legitimate grievances; from dashed hopes, shirking responsibilities, unmet expectations to tendencies to marry young women in Africa. I wanted to know what some of the Somali men were actually complaining about regarding Somali women. I am not here to speak on behalf of Somali men but instead I would like to share with the readers some of the issues that Somali men were talking about.
An Image of Somali Wedding

An Image of a Somali Wedding

Four issues have transformed the relationship between Somali men and women. They are, a) modernization, b) civil war, c) exposure to Western societies, and d) the rise of religiosity. The Somali civil war had incalculable psychological effect on many Somalis because it led to traumatic events such as experiencing violence, displacement, and undue trauma. The war disrupted not only the economic power of the country but also the family unit as it led to separation of spouses, loss of spouses, and chronic unemployment.
The arrival of Somali families into Western communities as refugees undermined the traditional role of men being providers to their families. For instance, the American welfare system is set up in a way that empowers women, in the name of protecting the children, but at the same time it indirectly makes husbands irrelevant. The welfare checks are given to the wives and, if husbands want to leave the household, then the better. Why there are so many single mothers on public assistance is a question that can partially be attributed to the diminishing role of husbands and lack of employment opportunities.

Then, there is the element of the rise of religiosity among many Somalis. Many Somali males, unfortunately, have abused the practice of polygamy. Many men have taken multiple wives when they are not in a financial position to even take care of one soul. In certain cases, the wife and the children are sent away to Cairo or Damascus and the husband stays behind in Europe or North America to foot the bill. There was a case of one man who took his family to Cairo, but instead of returning to the USA directly, he stopped by in Syria and got married. Furthermore, the man ceased sending money to his family in Egypt until the wife’s family had to send her, and her children, one-way tickets back to the States. Upon her return, the woman found out that her husband was furious and that he started the process of divorcing her because she had “disobeyed” him and left her “post” without his permission.


The secret lives of men

At the risk of oversimplification, Somali men want what Somali women crave for; Love, trust, respect, and emotional support. In addition, Somali men may want to be recognized as the head of their families. Men feel that their role as the sole breadwinner has eroded and, with that, they lost respect from their women. Contrary to popular books that men and women are entirely different (i.e. John Gray’s famous book, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus), the two sexes, though they may differ in gender, are not from different species. Dr. Christopher Balzina, in his book, The Secret Lives of Men, reiterates that when all is said and done, men, like all humans, want love and emotional closeness.  In a Gallup poll commissioned in 2001 by Rutgers University’s National Marriage Project in Piscataway, New Jersey, the majority of the respondents said that they wanted a “psychological companion- someone who shares their aspirations and fits into their life in a spiritual way”. According to the head of the project, “they [respondents] are not just looking for someone to change diapers and do dishes. They want a soul mate”.

Perhaps, Dr. Laura Schlesinger, an American psychologist and a talk show host, has been a vocal critic of the disintegration of families. In her controversial book, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands (2004), Dr. Laura, as she is commonly referred to, lashes at women who fail to grasp the essence of men. To her, there is no complexity involved in what is generically called “men”. She says, “Your basic male is a decent creature with simple desires: to be his wife’s hero, to be his wife’s dream lover, to be the protector and provider for his family, to be respected, admired, and appreciated. Men live to make their women happy”. Dr. Laura advises women not to harangue or mother their husbands because “if a man can’t find peace in his own home, where he should be able to feel relaxed, accepted, loved, and content, he brings hate coming home”. In other words, the more a woman avoids “tearing down a husband’s necessary sense of strength and importance” the better she gets a harmonious marriage. Women have the real power in marriage and can make their husbands happy or miserable depending on the way they dispense-or deprive-what men simply want; acceptance, approval and appreciation. 

What Shamu thought me

Many men would find Dr. Laura Schlesinger’s caricature of men as too simplistic. But one writer took upon herself to train her American husband who was annoying her by his disorganization and the way he hovered around her talking about various topics while she cooked, leaving dirty socks and used tissues on the floor, and constantly losing his keys. Amy Sutherland’s piece “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage” in The New York Times  (June 25, 2006)  –later published as a book-was an attempt to improve her relationship with her husband. “I wanted-needed- to nudge him closer to perfect, to make him into a mate who might annoy me a little less, who wouldn’t keep me waiting at restaurants, a mate who would be easier to love”, she said.  

The writer was writing a book about the techniques animal trainers use to make, for instance, dolphins flip or elephants paint. It is a simple strategy: you reward good behavior and ignore the bad one, and the writer found out that “the same goes for the American husband”. Ms. Sutherland realized that animals do tricks not because trainers nag at them but because they are rewarded. Trainers use what is called “less reinforcing syndrome” (L.R.S).  When, for example, a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer does not respond in any way; avoids eye contact, and then goes back to work. The idea is, according to Sutherland, “any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away”.

The techniques helped Ms. Sutherland improve her marriage. If her husband lost his keys and bugged her about finding them, she would simply ignore and would keep doing what she was doing. Instead of allowing her husband to crowd her in the kitchen when she was cooking, she would either ask him to help her cut some of the vegetables or give him a bowl of snack far away from the kitchen so he could munch. But who said men are simple creatures. One day, Ms. Sutherland came home after a visit from her dentist. She was edgy and kept complaining incessantly about her excruciating pain, but her husband was calm and listened to her without uttering a word. Then she realized that her husband was giving her L.R.S silence and was, in fact, training “the American wife”.
Somali men have mostly complained about the following issues;

  • Yelling. There is a perception among some of the Somali men that Somali women shout a lot. Of course, Somali men have difficulty asking why women yell at them in the first place.
  • Lack of respect. Somali men also mention that they do not get much respect from their women. The men want to be recognized and treated as the head of their household. In the West, that has been an issue for many women. Some women want that responsibility for themselves whereas others want to equally share responsibilities by having collective leadership.
  • Weddings. I have heard numerous men complain about their women going to weddings. Most of the complaints are about the frequency of these weddings and the lateness they are concluded.  But one man told me that he hated his wife going to weddings because “she always dresses nicely for weddings and never for me”.
  • Police. Some women are fast to call on the authorities or throw their husbands out of their homes over arguments. It is great that women have the law on their side but some women go overboard and abuse the system. What is odd is that 90% of the times, the women take back their husbands. I saw a Somali man who was brought to court on domestic violence charge but it turned out that his wife was upset because she thought the man was headed to Africa, not to visit his mother, but to get married.
  • Home Meal Cooking. Some men have brought the issue of home meal cooking because apparently they neither get it nor do they know themselves how to cook. What is strange is that many Somali men are spending a great deal of money dining out without the company of their families, day in and day out. One Somali restaurant owner bragged that most of his patrons were, in fact, married men.
  • Lack of Quality Time for Couples. Some men told me that their wives were so busy with the children and household chores that they were too exhausted to spend quality time with them. One man who went to Africa and got married to a ‘young’ girl allegedly claimed that his wife had lost interest in intimacy.  
A Picture of two Somali Restaurants in London

A Picture of two Somali Restaurants in London

Some Somali women have given up on Somali men. One woman told me a crude joke;

“What is the difference between Somali men and U.S. Savings Bonds?”

“The bonds mature!”

But there are others who still have faith in Somali men despite the disappointments. A female friend aptly summarized the whole issue of Somali men’s complaints as the following,”; Men want to lead us without being the breadwinners; they want us to respect them and be “Raalliyooyin” (proper tarditional wives) yet they do not show us any respect; they do not want to help us with the household chores, and men want their children to listen to them when they do not spend time with them; they have all the time for their friends discussing politics at cafes and no time whatsoever for their wives and children”.

Hassan M. Abukar
Wardheernews Contributor
E-Mail: Abukar60@yahoo.com

Related Articles:

* Is there a shortage of viable and available Somali men? By Mohamed Mukhtar
* Enchanting and Reminiscing By Fathia Absie
* The Inglorious Absentee Father in Contemporary Somali Politics By A. Duale Sii'arag
* Somali Women in the Diaspora: Women in Minneapolis By Yasmeen Maxamuud
* I, a Simple Woman By Sharif Amin


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