Masculinity and Patriarchy seen in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”

The most dominant thing or concept that I have noticed in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” is the excessive valuing of the African tribes of masculinity which also had lead to extreme patriarchy. The subject of feminism is also notable regarding this novel, but I think we have already had enough of feminism and radical resistance to patriarchy that we now have to understand men and masculinity – despite centuries or millennia of oppressing Eve’s descendants. And what I have noticed is that the African tribes have been enslaving each other for thousands of years that they have become a match to other races (particularly the whites, or Europeans) enslaving their whole African race.

Our idea of masculinity was so bad that we only often associated it with its shadow aspects like being a jerk, testosterone-driven, competitive egomaniacs. I think it’s only because men themselves over the centuries understood that being a man means to be strong, proud, competitive, and dominant to the point that they’ve become assholes and that they reject everything that’s feminine or effeminate. Unfortunately I had no brothers to observe, but I’ve noticed in my own father that he subtly rejects femininity that he sees (through the form of scornful jokes) because he himself rejects his own feminine aspects for the fear of being seen as effeminate and weak. Men’s own perceptions of masculinity is so distorted that the world only knows its negative aspects. Contrary to what we believe that they are strong and courageous, men are actually usually driven by fear that’s why they resort to oppressing women and other weak-looking people or animals in order to feel good about themselves. This fear is shown in an excerpt from the novel:

“Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children. Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father. Even as a little boy he had resented his father’s failure and weakness, and even now he still remembered how he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was agbala. That was how Okonkwo first came to know that agbala was not only another name for a woman, it could also mean a man who had taken no title. And so Okonkwo was ruled by one passion – to hate everything that his father Unoka had loved. One of those things was gentleness and another was idleness.”

As I was pointing earlier, men, for centuries, had an unhealthy concept of their own masculinity. The difference between male and female energies is that the female energy is creative and random while the male energy is focused and driven. So between the two, the males are more likely to assert their leadership. But one disadvantage of this is that the dark side of masculinity perpetuated vertical thinking or comparative thinking, wherein there is always someone less than or better than us. It created the idea of competitive hierarchy, where than can be only one person on top. From the patriarchy inside the home wherein the father is thought to be the head of the house, this idea basically spread in communities, societies, and nations – and therefore propagated feudalism during the medieval times wherein the societal hierarchy was so harsh. And afterwards came colonialism which is not a surprise because for centuries, people had been living thinking that there’s someone always “less” or “better” than them.

Men’s idea of masculinity is having control and power. Oftentimes their victims are whom they oppress to assert their leadership. It was shown in this particular excerpt of the novel:

“He wanted him to be a prosperous man, having enough in his barn to feed the ancestors with regular sacrifices. And so he was always happy when he heard him grumbling about women. That showed that in time he would be able to control his women-folk. No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man. He was like the man in the song who had ten and one wives and not enough soup for his foo-foo.”

And because of the perpetuated “vertical” or “feudal” thinking brought by patriarchy, it is sad that men associate weakness with women, and that when a man is called a “woman,” it is considered a grave insult. Okonkwo especially loved to label weak men as women, and hated everything that’s considered feminine. What’s really wrong in this kind of thinking is that we point who’s the strong one and who’s the weak one, when in fact all are equal despite our differences. The yin and yang are equally powerful and need each other naturally. However, throughout the centuries, our ancestors have instilled the idea that men are higher than women and therefore women have no right to assert themselves. Yin and yang should work equally or there would be an imbalance. This imbalance of the yin and yang in the planet can be seen through the series of world wars that we had. Those were the horrible times of aggression and violence because the masculine energy of the world was imbalanced and out of control.

Another mistake that most people conceptualize when it comes to masculinity is that they oftentimes associate it with aggression and violence. We have lots of sports nowadays that promote violence like boxing and wrestling. And as we have read in Achebe’s novel, the African tribes were fond of wresting – and the winners of these contests receive high praise from the society and can even get a high status in their community. Sometimes this association of aggression and violence with masculinity also leads to rape and domestic abuse. No wonder men are always unfairly seen as assholes and troublemakers. There are excerpts in the novel that show this:

“So Okonkwo encouraged the boys to sit with him in his obi, and he told them stories of the land – masculine stories of violence and bloodshed. Nwoye knew that it was right to be masculine and violent, but somehow he still preferred the stories that his mother used to tell, and which she no doubt still told to her younger children – the stories of the tortoise and his wily ways, and of the bird eneke-nti-oba who challenged the whole world to a wrestling contest and was fully thrown by the cat.”

“Worthy men are no more,” Okonkwo sighed as he remembered those days. “Isike will never forget how we slaughtered them in that war. We killed twelve of their men and they killed only two of ours. Before the end of the fourth market week they were suing for peace. Those were days when men were men.”

Men use aggression and violence to prove their strength because through the centuries, strength is also highly associated with masculinity. Hercules is the kind of guy that women would undoubtedly desire – because of his muscles, strength, and being a demigod. There were also popular tales of damsels in distress saved by knights during the Middle Ages, and until now women still like that idea of being saved. But men wanted to show strength so much that they usually suppress their emotions. They see emotions, especially crying, as a sign of weakness – and are only appropriate to be seen in women. This suppression of emotions is very unhealthy, so being a man must be hard.

“Even Okonkwo himself was fond of the boy – inwardly or course. Okonkwo never showed emotion openly, unless it be the emotion of anger. To show affection was a sign of weakness – the only thing worth demonstrating was strength. He therefore treated Ikemefuna as he treated everybody else – with a heavy hand.”

However, women are not attracted to violent men. We actually adore masculinity in its highest form: being a provider, in action, in control, on the move, responsible, strong, focused, abundant, intelligent, and having authority (in a good way). Women want men who are able to love and take care of them, so it’s ironic why for centuries men went on dominating, abusing, and oppressing women when it’s the opposite of what women want. For thousands of years, we know that patriarchy has dominated our cultures yet it is obvious that masculinity, or men in general, have not yet come into their full power. Why? Because they keep on kicking down women as if they are constantly threatened of them. But I guess that’s just how the world works right now. The African tribes and the western colonizers actually don’t have many differences except perhaps their skin colors because these two races have been already practicing living in a hierarchy for centuries. There is just no good outcome in hierarchical thinking, as we have observed in the novel and in our own world history.


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