A Man in a Women's World

Ghana is a man’s world. This is tradition, this is culture, this is a reality, one that is hard for an American woman like myself to swallow. Andy and I held two-day men’s workshops, one in our respective villages, that would confront issues present as a result of the appalling inequality between men and women. We discussed everything from sex, how our bodies work (and how complicated women’s bodies actually are. Wish you could see the looks on their faces as I explained the menstrual cycle), gender inequality, fatherhood, family planning, romance and love, sexual consent/rape and domestic violence. We were incredibly impressed by how honest these men were, even when it was hard to hear. It was not until day 2 when most of them were, possibly for the first time in their lives, able to see how harmful and real this inequality is. One of the more powerful exercises proved to be reading the following guided fantasy, A Man in a Women’s World. It left them uncomfortable, anxious, and most said, made them feel pretty sad. You know, when I look at my strong willed female students, I dream for them a world where they don’t feel inferior because that is what they were told all their lives. I hope that their daughters have all the opportunities that their sons will have.

And there is this crazy idea that it starts with the men. Andy and I did what we could to open their eyes to what life is like for the other half, and it made their skin itch. We’ll let them take it from here. Here are photos from the event, and below is the guided exercise.

I would like to guide you on a trip. It is a trip to a place very different from the society you live in today. This trip will put you in a place that might make you feel uncomfortable at times. Even though you may feel this way, try to follow along with the trip and concentrate on the feelings it touches in you.

Find a comfortable position, and close your eyes. Let your body relax. Listen to your breathing, and begin to take deep breaths in and out. Relax all of the muscles in your body.

I am going to ask you to imagine a world that is very different from the one you are living in now. Because it is different, it requires you to stretch your imagination. Let yourself imagine as fully as you can. If you become distracted at any point, just notice that and return to the process.

Imagine for a while that you live in a society where women have much more power than men. The entire society is set up to favour women. Most people in positions of power are women. This has been the case throughout history. This includes presidents, traditional leaders, police officers, military leaders, church leaders, and businesspeople. Men would like these positions of power, but women know this and are determined to keep men from gaining too much power. Occasionally, a man holds one of these positions, but most are held by women. When men complain about the inequity and lack of representation in these positions, many women leaders tell men this is nonsense and cite the occasional male leader as an example.

Most women believe that they are superior to men because women have more power. Many men also feel this way, not because it is true, but because it is what they have heard from other men and women all of their lives. Men and women believe there are certain things that only women are capable of doing. Women often say, “That is a woman’s job. A man would never be able to do that.”

The job market favours women over men. It is much easier for women to get hired in jobs that pay well. Men are usually left with jobs that pay very little. Often, these jobs include taking care of children or other domestic duties. Although men feel that they are just as capable of doing the work that women do, many women do not believe this, so opportunities to prove otherwise are rare. Even when men hold the exact same position as women, they make significantly less money than their female counterparts.

Women are generally physically stronger than men. Because of this, women often use their strength to control and abuse their male partners. Many men know that this is not fair, but they have very few other options. If the men complain about the abuse, they are often abused more. Many men would like to leave these relationships, but they cannot because they are financially dependent on their wives. Furthermore, their mothers and fathers tell them that they would disgrace their family name if they left their wives.

Within the home, men do the majority of the chores. Even when both members of the couple work outside of the home, it is the man who must prepare the food, take care of the children, and clean the house. When men prepare meals, they serve their wives and daughters, no matter how young, before themselves and the sons. When a family does not have a lot of food, the men and boys eat less food than the women and girls. The father will feed the sons before himself and go without food if necessary in order to give what little is left to the sons. In addition to receiving less food, the boys also receive less health care than the girls. If both a boy and a girl have malaria and the family has enough money to treat only one child, the girl will get the treatment, or more of it if it is divided between them.

In part as a result of malnutrition, and in part due to a system that favours girls, boys do much more poorly in school than girls. Boys are not encouraged to learn, and if a family needs to take any child out of school for work, a boy will be removed for many reasons. One reason is that a boy’s education is not worth as much as a girl’s since his chances of getting a good job are small. Also, it is not as attractive to a prospective wife to have a well-educated husband as it is to have a controllable hard worker. Finally, since almost no boys go on to higher education, primary school is seen as a wasted effort for boys.

Parents usually treat girls and boys differently. Girls are given more freedom, whereas boys are treated more strictly. When boys misbehave, they are punished, but when girls misbehave, parents often expect such behaviour and simply say, “Girls will be girls.” Also, girls are allowed to do things that their brothers are not allowed to (stay out late, walk to town alone) even though the children might be the same age.

Women see men as sexual objects. Because of this, men feel incredible pressure to look attractive. As a result, men spend much more time than women concerning themselves with their appearance. Women, on the other hand, care much less about how they look. Also, because men are thought of and treated as sexual objects, women often try to have sex with men. While men might be interested in these opportunities, they quickly learn that society does not accept men being sexually promiscuous. While women are applauded for their sexual exploits, men who have sexual exploits are stigmatized for theirs. In fact, such behaviour is known to lead to disapproval from family and friends.

Increasingly, children of all ages are living on the streets, trying to make their way without the support of families or national welfare institutions. Although both boys and girls fall into prostitution as a way to survive, boys use this method much more than girls do. This is due in part to the sexual objectification of men, and to boys’ feelings of powerlessness (created, again in part, by the messages from school, family, and society that they are not as worthy, smart, capable, resourceful as girls). Boys are also desirable sexually because they are perceived to be less likely to carry disease. Women are increasingly looking for younger and younger boys, and because a woman is so powerful in this interaction, the boy often has no chance to insist that she use protection. The rates of HIV and other STIs are growing exponentially among street children because of this situation, especially among boys.

These are examples of the way life is in this imaginary world. Women have more power than men, and men suffer greatly because of it.

This excerpt was taken from the Men As Partners Manual, created by Peace Corps in association with QHP, CHPS-TA, CEDEP and GHS.


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