When boys become girls

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The shamba boy (a farm hand) had arrived. Or so my mother announced. Shamba boy! Not really. Those skinny jeans and that tightly fitting top; I could name him Gisele Bündchen, after the Brazilian supermodel.

It’s not just him. It’s every other young boy nowadays. Walk through your neighborhood, walk through a shopping complex or mall, walk through the streets of Nairobi and tell me what you see. For some, it extends even to mannerisms. I would have you know that today, a man can carry a purse or a handbag known as a man’s purse or murse, men wear scarves and skirts or kilts yet they are not Scots, they tie their hair in buns or spot dreadlocks plaited in lines and indulge in a vast array of beauty treatments. Boys have become girls!

Bespectacled and busy Annie Mwaniki, an administrative assistant with USAID’s Aphia Plus Project rightly informs that it is the 21st century; men are dressing very freely, as they want to. Young men’s dressing decisions depend on themselves not their parents. We mustn’t forget peer pressure. Boys, young men are looking at their peers in different parts of the world and desire to look like them. They imitate.

Dressed in the standard yellow garb of a parking attendant, average heighted and of lean build, James Leteipa opines that the world is changing and that as long as you are comfortable with what you are wearing, you are good to go.

While Annie has seen feminine fashion items such as piped and skinny jeans on boys, James says sometimes you cannot differentiate a boy’s shoes from his mother’s and I would add his sister’s or girlfriend’s. The colors and appearance are girl like. What does this tell us about society?

I would say that societal values are becoming a tad warped. When a parent can see that his or her boy child is dressed as a girl would and does not put his or her foot down then there is a problem. For James, the reference point is one’s parents as well. For him, society will always judge. As long as one’s parents are fine with what one wears society can be kicked to the curb. The argument is that as Annie puts it, “People dress the way they feel like and according to their personalities.” In other words, people, young men included are free to choose what they want to wear. She reiterates that there is the need to fit in, there is peer pressure and boys find it hip when they dress as their counterparts in the Western world do.

It could then be said that the line between appropriate and inappropriate dressing for young men has become blurred. Good fashion sense is however relative and James states that how you like to dress might not please another. If you are comfortable in your apparel, that is what matters. As a mother, Annie lets her son choose his own style but advocates for decency as far as appropriateness is concerned. Decency should be defined. Both Annie and James think of decency as some of the clothing traditionally ascribed to men; shirts, men’s trousers and men’s shoes. In addition, Annie wouldn’t want her son to have his hair worn long in dreadlocks for example. Clean cut is best.

The metrosexual male defined as a man keen on his appearance and in touch with his feminine side is what young men may claim to be. The term metrosexual is associated with English journalist Mark Simpson who first defined it in a 1994 article for The Independent, a British newspaper. Simpson describes the effect of consumerism and media proliferation specifically the men’s style press on traditional masculinity.

The worry is precisely that, that young men can have problems with their masculine identity when they dress as young women do. Gender identity, how you feel and express your gender is very important. Gender is a social status and gender roles are defined by culture. Kenyan culture is housed in its forty two ethnic groups which affirm traditional masculinity especially where dressing is concerned. Young Kenyan men should be keen on this affirmation.

Moreover, metrosexuality connotes homosexuality for some. Young men should be careful about what they call themselves and the notions they subscribe to. Like gender identity, our sexuality affects who we are and how we express ourselves. Boys shouldn’t only look to the media and friends (peers) as influences for sexuality.

They should also remember their culture and religion. One’s sexual orientation shouldn’t be susceptible to peer pressure. Sexual health comprises our values, our sense of self, our self image and the quality of our relationships. Young men need to have parents and guardians who hold them accountable for their dressing sense.

Perhaps and more specifically when parent is mentioned, the father-son relationship or paradigm can be called upon. Father-son relationships are essential to boys’ development. Despite the generational difference young men may face when it comes to bonding and emulating their fathers, a strong relationship between the two can teach that appropriate dressing especially for men outlives this disparity. The call is for fathers to take on the challenge and guide their sons dressing choices.   

And so when young men return to the presented argument that dressing sense is individual and relative, the counter is that no human being lives for themselves. No man is an island. We must be conscious of how our dressing affects others and be sensitive to this. It is part of learning to be a social being. Without rules, norms, society wouldn’t be. When one conforms to the norm, they are building society at large. One shouldn’t just board a band wagon, be part of a crowd. From where I sit, the verdict is: it is commendable for a man to be interested in his appearance but could our boys steer clear of fashion items and accessories that are both traditionally and contemporarily women’s. Call it being fashion conscious, call it metrosexuality. I say: please boys, be boys.

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