By Wanjiru Kihusa
Have you ever heard something that bothered you for days? The first time you heard it, it sounded like a good thing but then it sat in your head and refused to leave. And the more you thought about it the more you realized it was not a good thing. Maybe it was something someone told you. At first it sounded like praise, a compliment even. But then you thought through it and you realized it was veiled in sarcasm. Or it was an insult well hidden under something sweet. It happens a lot when people are discussing women’s achievements. Like when I worked in IT and client’s treated me with suspicion, not quite sure I was the right person for the job. And when I was done and fixed whatever the problem was I would be told “you are so good at computer stuff for a girl.” See that? It sounds like a compliment when really it is not. That is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Something nice and sweet but with ugly undertones. Something like this happened to me recently.
I have been writing about miscarriages and child loss for over two years now. In this time I have encountered many women with tough stories. Stories so dark that mine looked bright in comparison. Other times people have tagged me in posts on social media and I have felt so encouraged. However, something happened the other day that didn’t sit quite right with me. I saw a Facebook post I was tagged in. It read something like this.
My friend has had 10 miscarriages but now they have been blessed with a baby. Her husband has stood with her through it all. He is such a good man. We celebrate men like him.
I read the post quickly and even commented. I didn’t see the problem until I went to bed that night. And then just before I fell asleep it hit me. Wait, what? He is a good man for standing with his wife through 10 miscarriages? We should celebrate men like him? Isn’t that what a husband should do? Why does doing what he is required to do get him so much praise? As I thought about this all week I kept noticing similar patterns of reasoning. I noticed many instances of women being told to be grateful that they have good men. The reasoning? There are men who are beating their wives, others cheating, others not providing for their women. So if your man is working and providing for you, he’s not cheating and he’s not beating you then you have a great man.
I have been guilty of it too. Telling fellow wives and brides-to-be to appreciate their good men because they don’t do A, B, C or D. I hadn’t quite seen how faulty this line of thinking was until I read that Facebook post. Here we are expecting men to step up and at the same time setting such low standards for them. Bob sticking with his pregnant girlfriend does not make him a good man. He is supposed to do that. He is supposed to keep his word, support his woman and look after his baby. The more I speak about infertility and miscarriages the more I encounter people saying “wow he is such an amazing man for not leaving you”, and nowadays it bothers me. My husband not getting another wife does not make him a great man, it makes him a man. But we have seen men leaving, cheating, beating and not providing for their women so much that we have begun to expect it from all men. We have set the bar so low that when a man does what they ought to do he is seen as a hero.
I am not saying we don’t celebrate the men in our lives. By all means no. Let us appreciate them for the really good work they are doing at the office and at home. But let us require more from them too. Instead of being surprised that he got a job (compared to all those men watching movies at home as their women pay rent and fuel the car) let us celebrate his promotion. Let us celebrate when he is honored for being innovative at work. Let us celebrate when that big project he has been working on goes through. When we stop being surprised that he is doing something basic we will challenge him to be excellent. If we constantly gush and stand in awe just because he reported to work it says we don’t expect much from him. I repeat, I am not saying we don’t celebrate him. When he gets that promotion or aces that appraisal, take him to dinner, buy him a gift and make sure him gets some. But by all means let us not treat mediocrity as the norm to the point of praising it. It encourages people to do the bare minimum which, in turn, means no excellence.
This means expecting more from our men from the very beginning. From the day you start going out. You can’t put up with him ignoring all the red flags and then expect more from him when you’re married. Set the standards high from the get go. Don’t encourage the attitude that because he is not like so and so then he is a good man. Raise that bar sweetheart. We say that society expects a lot from us and so little from men. Let us remember, we are part of that society.