“Na wa, forreal??” is what you’re probably thinking. “No way!” some of you probably shouted. But, hear me out.
I was talking to my friend recently and she let on that she just got her son a doll. I looked at her like “huh?!”. She got a bit defensive and explained a bit more, but I assured her that I wasn’t judging, just wanting to understand.
My friend said she was trying to raise an empathetic man.
That line got me thinking. Every day, on every social media, we Nigerians are always fighting an endless battle of the sexes, it seems. We wish we had a man who was expressive or even just give us cuddles, tickles and affection, especially after Marriage. But we don’t bring them being comfortable being empathetic, then suddenly hope they will fall in love and act against decades of social conditioning. And yes, this conditioning starts from childhood.
Psychologists, educators, Childcare experts have done a lot of research (which I can link at the bottom of this post) saying that in all their studies, playing with Dolls made Girls empathetic. The girls relate to their dolls, give them names, character, clothes and care for them, teaching them to nurture. But because we don’t let Boys play with dolls, or cry or let them show emotion (“you’re a man, you have to be tough! Nigeria is hard!!”), they grow emotionally stunted. With no outlet to be expressive because it is seen as “unmanly”. The sad thing about this, men end up hurting and don’t know how to express it. There is a reason a lot of suicides are committed by men, they can’t talk about Depression because it is seen as “unmanly to talk about feelings and pain and being lost in this time (We all know Nigeria and the world is so confusing right now, imagine having to chest everything and act like you constantly have the right answers and are in charge, every single minute of every day!)
Way before I had this convo with my friend, I noticed a shift in the way Nigerian Mums are bringing up their sons. Boys are being made to help in the kitchen, a popular Consultant Paediatrician always makes a point to hug her sons and make them show physical affection (she told me “I don’t want anyone coming to complain that I raised a hard man”). I’ve seen my aunt tickle, dance and cuddle even her teenage sons (and she’s a Psychiatrist). Same with my sister who has never, ever told her son “you’re a man, don’t cry”. So maybe these women are all thinking the same thought as all those experts.
Still, the thought of giving my son a doll alarms me, what will people think? Won’t he be endlessly mocked? Am I willing to expose him to such misunderstanding and hurt (you know our people never try to understand anything different from the norm). Besides, I have my internal Patriarchal mentality to beat, I have to be comfortable enough to let him play with teddy bears first, then dolls. So I asked my sister what she would do:
Well, when you put it that way…?