A culture of display

Society & Culture | By Sifelani X Zilawe, Graphic Designer | 11 January 2014

Urban African boys and the threat of feminized fathers, spineless husbands and weepy leaders

I became a father for the first time, two months back. What an incredible experience it was! The operating room was full of smiles, all eyes fixed on the beautiful new baby with awwws and aaahs punctuating the joyful words and blessings. The joy, the experience, gratitude and emotions overwhelmed me. Yet, I never shed a single tear.


I can’t express in words how much I love my wife. Though I never cause it, she cries a lot! Like most girls, she can cry on cue! TV, human suffering, happiness and sadness make her weep. She wishes I cried also. "It is ok, mi Tesoro, a man can cry and it is ok", she says relentlessly, with a soft voice and an overstressed accent whenever I feel sad or when overjoyed. “It is ok, cry, mi Tesoro, cry, it is ok.” Aiwa. It is not ok!

I cried 21 years ago on my father’s passing. This kind of crying is acceptable. I also cried after suffering a first and last heartbreak of the romantic sort some years ago, but because that type of crying is unacceptable, I immediately resolved to put on the pants and be a man as my father taught me.


As I mused on my wife's desire to see me turn on the waterworks, more questions surfaced, like why won’t I cry like modern men do? If Tyler Perry’s blubbering before auntie Oprah, ‘confessing dark secrets, to the public’ is the textbook example of the modern man, does that make me a pigheaded Cro-Magnon?

My mulling over stupid questions was just time wasting. I know what manhood is and what it isn’t. Do young men in Zimbabwe today have a clue? What do they believe manhood is, how do they express it and who is their teacher?

So, I set out to discover…

Observing Harare’s boys in their late teens to mid 20s, I wondered what sort of men these urban boys would become. Noticing their ineptitude at managing basic male to female interactions and seeing their failure to differentiate men's from women’s clothes was truly depressing. In pure horror, I imagined spineless husbands and feminized fathers in the making! Discovering the root of this disconnect from nature and departure from basic common sense became my next mission.

American Culture and the Mainstream Arts
Modern day arts and culture are influencing the urban youngster’s manhood. My friends and I were not spared the absorption of the powerful American urban culture in our youth but it was unlike the horror show of today’s imported culture. We knew back then that skinny pants and blouses were for girls even though Milli Vanilli wore them; the boys who suspended common sense to try that look were instantly straightened out by their fathers, grandfathers and uncles; occasionally through a decent hiding.

Most of my college mates wore baggy jeans and timberland boots from winter through to the hot summers because it was hip-hop. Five years before that, Mad Max’s petrol guzzling V8 Interceptor was every boy’s dream car. Five years before that our screen heroes were tough guys with beards, flaunting physical strength, aggression, homophobia and resolve like our dads. Man things were man things.

Today, college kids not only look up to cross dressing rappers with non threatening names like Kanye or Weezy, but they actually believe they are Kanye and Weezy; boys 5 years younger regard a Toyota Prius as a pretty cool car for its ability to exhale flowers and butterflies, while a lad 10 years younger is bombarded with images of metrosexual heroes who exfoliate and manscape! Even cowboys have stopped shooting each other when taking a break from murdering Indians; they are now preoccupied with romancing each other. A good gunfight is substituted by a pathetic love tiff! It would be hardly surprising, if in ten years time, our boys will have turned as out soft as wool. What good is a soft man in a blouse? They say clothing don’t make a man, and I agree; but when a man exhibits three or more feminine characteristics such as donning girlish clothes, frenzied crying, spending time grooming and hairdressing, it is probably best to engage the fathers, grandfathers, uncles and the rod. Oprah will only make it worse!

The moment my son was born is by far the greatest I have ever experienced; crying would not have made it more special and my not crying does not debase it either. As a Christian man, a husband, a father and an artist, I am open to help lost boys find their manhood again, to love their culture and most importantly, to know the ways of the Lord.