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.
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.
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.
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 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”.
Some Somali women have given up on Somali men. One woman told me a crude joke;
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
* Is there a shortage of viable and available Somali men? By Mohamed Mukhtar
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