Celebrating East African Writing!
Her views: Why women can’t keep secrets
A man walks into a bar one evening to have a few drinks. He is emotionally in turmoil as his relationship with his girl is not working. They have just had a fight, and he needs to clear his head. He decides to join his friend at a table, and they drink together as they watch a football game. They get talking and the topic moves from football to cars and back. However, his friend notices the man is not himself and asks if everything is OK. The man responds in the affirmative, saying things could not be better. At the end of a very long senseless conversation and several bottles of beer later, two superficial friends part ways having shared nothing but a drink.
On the other hand, his girlfriend, angry about their argument, knocks at her best friend’s door, unable to stay at home because she needs to vent. Her friend opens the door and the minute she steps in, she tells it all and breaks down into tears. She explains to her friend how her man is not treating her right, how she is unhappy because of A, B and C. After a few minutes, her eyes are dry and she can afford a smile. She thanks her friend for listening and requests her to keep it between them, then leaves to go home.
When the couple meets back at their home, the lady is feeling much better, but the man is not. He is still furious and still needs to vent, but he is macho, he is strong. He is being a man.
In these two scenarios the lady has created a recipe for gossip while the man has not. Her friend might not be able to keep her word and could share this night’s events with her other friends. We however cannot be sure that given some information, the man’s friend could not have spread the word around too!
Give a woman a house, and she makes a home out of it. We know how to make the best out of every situation. We love whole-heartedly even when we know that chances are, our hearts will be broken. We share our deepest secrets even when we know that our friends will rat on us. So we go through life, smiling through our tears because it’s the only way we know how to deal with life’s blows. We roll with the punches and have tea with friends while talk about our joys, sorrows and disappointments serve as accompaniment. Unlike men, women do not have insufferable egos; so when things get rough, we talk about it, the inevitable gossip notwithstanding. Men hold it all in and prefer to save face by punching the wall, punching their women or drowning themselves in alcohol. They have to maintain that macho façade and cannot risk appearing weak.
In a society that has put so much on our shoulders and given us very little credit for all the hard work, we try to stay sane by sharing our lives with our girlfriends, psychiatrists, church leaders and sometimes even with our men if they care to listen. Once that chain of talk begins, it is hard to stop it; collateral damage in form of spilt beans is inevitable. We know that talking involves getting things off our chests and enabling ourselves to be able to take in whatever else comes our way. Truth be told, men are experts at generously dishing out stress.
For men to engage in gossip, they need to have something, besides football, to talk about. They would have to share their feelings and emotions for their secrets to be passed on. But judging from those one-liners in bars, clearly they cannot gossip even if they wanted to. They are by default spared this vice since anything a man shares with another is always an ego-booster, nothing genuine.
While men claim they will defend each other to their death bed, I find that loyalty exaggerated. All they have to say is “It wasn’t him”, we all know this line. His friend could have been caught in bed with another woman, but denial is the number one and only rule applicable. Outside of their clandestine affairs, there is nothing much to defend because they do not share secrets with each other. So when men act like angels and claim that they know how to keep each other’s secrets I ask, what secrets?
His views: Understanding the male code of silence
I must have been 21 years old when I came face to face with the full force of solidarity in Male Code of Conspiracy. We were at Dandora’s Awendo pub having drinks with my cantankerous and often abrasive male cousins and my ultra humorous older brother. This was, as had been proved before, a perfect recipe for disaster. Soon the drinks had taken the desired effects and tongues had become way too heavy and loose, making one of my cousins blurt out, “We have to tell him the truth!” He was referring to me.
Then my older brother protectively looked at me and curtly said, “That girl (my girlfriend at that time) is not good!” It was an order not a statement and as a man, I did not ask what he meant because I knew what troubles my male cousins must have undergone not only to break the news to me but to agonise on the right moment and place. You see, we all knew each other’s secrets and weaknesses too well, but a kind of an unwritten and unspoken code amongst ourselves made it impossible to discuss these matters. One of my cousins was going out (or is it in?) with up to five different girls, all of whom we knew too well, yet none of us questioned him or hinted to the girls the clandestine operation taking place under their noses. Somehow these girls never met and none of us ever gave in, however much the girls tried to pry information from us. We even indulged in numerous conspiracies to cover up for my cousin.
Ever since primary school days, boys, however much pressure is applied, have never been known to squeal. Girls, on the other hand, have been known to squeal at the slightest opportunity. And you don’t need to look much further than the Tiger Woods saga to realize that none of his golf buddies, who definitely were privy to his philandering, raised an eyebrow. When the story unfolded, the noise and owning up came from women out to make a meal out of Tiger Woods. So far we know of 15 female squealers. Where are the men? His caddy? Coach? Bodyguards? Chauffeur? Surely these men know something. And so far, the fact that none of them has spoken tells you a lot about this Male Code of Conspiracy.
So, why are men wired so differently from women in this issue of squealing out secrets? What makes a man so reluctant to divulge the secrets of his closest buddies or relatives? Men are brought up to be, and act, tough, whether in words or deeds. Ever since the Spartans invented the formula for measuring toughness by bathing new born babies in wine to taste their reaction to foreign bodies, the stage was set early for male toughness. There is a story about a Spartan boy who, in order to conceal a fox which he had stolen, hid it beneath his cloak and allowed the fox to gnaw him rather than let the theft be revealed. He died of the wounds. If he had been discovered, the disgrace would not have been in the stealing, but in allowing it to be detected. Hence, it is easy to find a man dying with a secret than breaking the Male Code of Conspiracy.
Most men detest meddling in other peoples affairs, privacy being paramount (cf Tiger Woods’ yatch named ‘Privacy’), thus squealing will just add to more problems of bearing the extra emotional burden leading to endless questions of ‘Did I or did I not do the right thing.’ Silence and feigning ignorance seems the best path of least resistance.
Drama kings are rare and while the average Naija movie is full of drama, twists and turns, it is agreeable amongst men that the average street man does not embrace drama in his own life. In fact, they shy away from it. Hence the neighbourhood housegirl who causes endless fights, the nagging housewife who squabbles endlessly, the querulous watchman are all a source of high drama that will clearly steer a man away from squealing.
Finally, for men, the Male Code of Conspiracy is a counter to Chama, that secretive and clandestine welfare society where women spend all their time male bashing. Not squealing is just the ultimate weapon that men deploy against these women.
First Published on East Africa in Focus.
If you would like this piece to be the Story of the Week, please vote below on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak, and 10 being excellent. The numbers will be tallied on Friday and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.