Male disempowerment and male sexual behaviour in Kisii and Dar es Salaam
Recurrent observations by men as well as women interviewed were that “a real man needs to demonstrate that he can handle more than one partner”—especially when a man needs to strengthen his self-esteem. According to men in Kisii “a man needs at least three wives: one to bear his children, one to work and one for pleasure”. However, most men had not even been able to provide a bride price for their present ‘wife’. With one ‘wife’ only, a general observation by men was
Masculinities, Sexuality and Socio-Economic Change in Rural and Urban East Africa
that “a man needs to go outside to feel like a man”; “wives always complain. To get affection he has to go to his outside partner”.
According to the Tandale ward officer in Dar es Salaam who constantly dealt with divorces filed by women, women are much more hard working, more inventive, and they have a strength that men do not have. Contrary to women, many men feel destitute and have “no tactics to deal with their problems”. According to my male and female informants “when husbands are crushed down economically they suffer from feelings of inferiority”; “a man’s ego is hurt”. As a result, “men lose their vigour and women take over”. And “when a man has lost control over his household and is humiliated by his wife his pride is hurt”. In this situation, there was general agreement among men interviewed that in order to “build up our pride” and “boost our ego”, we men need to ‘relax’ and to be ‘comforted’. Relaxation and comfort are provided by ‘extra-marital’ partners.
Men as well as women also agreed that it is impossible for a man to stick to one partner only. Men have a constant need for sex—contrary to women. ‘Outside partners’ can be more or less casual partners, more permanent partners or nyamba ndogos (small houses) as they were referred to in Dar es Salaam. These latter partners are seen as serious threats by ‘wives’, as husbands tend to give whatever little income they may have to the nyamba ndogos and not to their own household.
Women’s sexuality was not a neglected issue. Even if Kisii women were expected to be passive and sexually submissive, this was not a general feature, and women complained of men’s inability to perform well sexually—often because they were ‘weakened’ by local brews. In Dar es Salaam ‘Amazon women’ who may even endanger men’s physical health, strength and wellbeing were often heard of. Such women also have the capacity to drain a man of life and energy (by loss of semen). Similar observations are made by Haram (1997) in a study from the northern part of Tanzania. A man can be ambushed, lured and ‘milked’ by women. Women employ certain techniques to capture a man’s mind—without them being aware of it. Women are like serpents. They create a certain smell when they are hunting for lovers, a smell which men cannot resist (Haram 1997). Hence—many men cannot resist and are drawn towards women whether they like it or not. From that point of view, women’s sexuality also represents an active and threatening power. Therefore, men do not only have to be on guard, they also have to be in control. Such control increasingly seems to be manifested in aggressive behaviours, sexual violence and even rape—which were daily events both in Kisii and in Dar es Salaam.