Thursday, February 29, 2024

Do you know why men rarely open up on issues which trouble them?

I may be wrong, may be not, but men rarely open up on issues which trouble them.

A few who have opened up have either been disappointed by the response from the society, and sometimes end up dying painful deaths.

For instance, I recently read a story shared by blogger Edga Obare about a man from Homa Bay who was seeking for help after his wife of three children begun to frustrate him after he had paid her college fees.

Instead, many people blamed her for paying fees for his wife, while others questioned his motive of sharing his story.

But that aside, take the case of Isaac Juma, the enthusiastic Harambee stars and AFC Leopards soccer fan murdered in cold blood in his Mumias home over what turned out to be a land tussle.

A number of times he used his platform in the soccer pitch to tell the world that his life was in danger. But who cared to intervene?

All these fell on deaf ears! I salute Juma, at least, for coming out to speak about what troubled his heart: the issue of land. Most men, however, do not disclose their pains and are victims of normative male alexithymia.

APA dictionary of psychology defines normative male alexithymia as a subclinical form of alexithymia found in boys and men reared to conform to traditional masculine norms that emphasize toughness, stoicism, and competition and that discourage the expression of vulnerable emotions.

It is not uncommon to hear of platitudes like ‘men are born to suffer’, ‘men don’t cry’ and analogous hackneyed old statements.

Silence then becomes the only way out akin to Noelle-Neumann’s Spiral of Silence where dissonance occurs between an individual’s personal opinion against majority view for fear of being isolated.

Psychologists attribute silence among men faced with suffering to patriarchy and masculinist constructions of gender ideology.

Often, when men seek help or support, they are either ignored, like the case of Juma or altogether ridiculed like in the case of the Homa Bay man I earlier mentioned.

Unsurprisingly, increased focus on the girl child is enhancing perception that men do not have problems.  We failed to recognize Juma’s feedforward messages splashed on his body and placards he wielded.

Ordinarily, such should have opened an honest conversation regarding the primary message he intended to convey. His was phatic communication, a ‘small talk’ that ought to have opened the way for ‘big talk’.

Studies have shown the way in which men cope with psychological suffering. Recent findings suggest the use of negative coping styles to the tendency of some men to adhere rigidly to certain stereotyped features of masculinity.

First, men are not often encouraged to talk about their feelings, a trait considered inherent in weaker species! To survive, they must be bold enough to suppress any emotional load.

It is safe to argue that there has been over-focus on the girl child by the Government and Non- Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in terms of programmes and interventions targeting the girl child.

A status of the boy child report recently conducted by National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) found out that boys are given family responsibilities at an early age and are often urged with platitudinous statements as earlier noted.

Findings from sex difference studies reveal that men place more emphasis on social connections that provide instrumental support (practical assistance or tangible help from others, for example, help that requires physical or financial aid) whereas women tend to seek more emotional support.

Juma and another unidentified man. (Photo: Courtesy)

This partly explains why most men will feel ashamed, a feeling that they are not real men if they express feelings of vulnerability. Because of normative male alexithymia, masculine identity of men conflicts with their emotions and the desire to express them.

Society shares a fair portion of the blame for it has granted the fairer sex all shades of emotional support; be it emotional sustenance and empathy which takes the form of someone being available to listen or offer sympathy during times of crisis leaving the boychild with Hobson’s choice of intrapersonal communication.

Juma’s ‘Beware my land is not for sale’ was meta-communicational. A metamessage is communication about communication.

I do not hold the view that his preferred channel of expression was low on signal and high on noise. Signal-to-noise ratio is a useful concept in understanding noise (anything that interfere with your receiving a message) and its importance in communication.

For example, a post or feed that contains lots of useful information is high on signal and low on noise.

Communication is punctuated, that is, segmenting of the continuous stream of communication into smaller pieces which can be calibrated as causes (stimuli) or effects (responses). In the case of Juma, his communication offered stimuli that required response.

The more we continue to bury our heads in the sand, the more we promote the extinction of the boychild.

The writer is a communications specialist

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