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Masculinity in Nigeria: Rebellion vs Conformity and Power

Publisher: Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory 2015
Author: Gilia Banks

Hosted by the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC), this blog by Gilia Banks examines masculinity in Nigeria from the perspective of rebellion vs conformity to power. From a young age, right through to manhood and beyond, men and boys in Nigeria are measured according to the social construction of masculinity. Father’s drill values into their sons under pain of violence and shame for any transgression. From employment, to religious observance, to the style of their hair, boys are trained to be subservient to the masculine ideal; strong, heterosexual, anti-feminine. In this way, masculinity in Nigeria is the fight between conformity and rebellion for power and respect.

Banks references Graceland, a novel by Chris Abani that dramatises masculinity through the main character Elvis and his relationship with his father, who is keen to eradicate non-masculine traits, as an example of what boys in Nigeria experience daily. Conversely, the character named Redemption shows a different, more modern approach to masculinity that emphasises freedom and choice of expression. Redemption provides the rebellious element to the story which, although illegal and immoral, provides a symbol of freedom which Elvis uses to synthesise the two approaches for himself.

Banks goes on to discuss the role of religion, both Christianity and Islam, with reference to a news article by Alkasim Abdulkadir which highlights the ways in which religion can both challenge and reinforce negative masculinities. Banks concludes that masculinity in Nigeria is a complex construction intertwined with both religion and histories of colonialism. Young men are taught to look at masculinity as bravery and a responsibility, yet men must choose for themselves whether this means conforming to, or rebelling against, tradition.