“We have a cultural problem” – Diversity Prize Finalist, Solomon Ayodele bemoans toxic masculinity

Few drives are as noble as ones that compel us to make life better for the largest majority of people. The nobility of purpose is however, not enough to hoist an idea up long enough for the person pursuing it to attain their end goal. Solomon Ayodele, who describes himself as a Boy Rights Activist, knows this on a deeply personal level.

The distinction is necessary for Mr Ayodele to distance the work he does from the anti-feminist movement known as Men’s Rights Activism, which has a history of violence across the western world.

What is the work he does?

Providing a bottom to top solution for the myriad of problems that feminists have pointed out about men and the patriarchal society that enables, nay encourage these problems. Many of his fellow men and feminist women he said aren’t big fans of his work, but he just about manages it regardless.

His work, which was recently recognised by The Nigeria Prize for Difference and Diversity endowed by Founder of human flourishing company; Joy, Inc., Chude Jideonwo, involves working with secondary school boys across Nigeria to dismantle the menace that is toxic masculinity. He emerged as a finalist for the award. A recognition he said came as an almost shocking surprise.

Toxic masculinity refers to the idea popularised by feminist theorists used to describe the patriarchal notion of “manliness” that perpetuates domination, homophobia, and aggression. This notion promotes violence – domestic, gender-based, and targeting any male group that doesn’t conform to it, and normalises exempting boys and in due time men from accountability. “Boys will be boys,” but what kind of boys?

“I grew up in an all-boys household and I was able to see how little boys are guided growing up,” he said about what he believes precipitates the problems with toxic masculinity that feminists have been working tirelessly for over a century to dismantle.

“The problem with men is that they are rarely raised to grow out of their childhood, and we owe that to them,” he added.

Mr Ayodele’s work is not made easy by the kickback it faces from men who dread what they term “the emasculation of men.” It is not a new accusation. Kickbacks against the deconstruction of toxic masculinity are as old as feminism itself and get louder by the day, especially in Nigeria. Mr Ayodele had faced his own share of it.

“I was kicked out of a national TV station once because I was speaking about the sexual abuse of boys,” he confided to Chude Jideonwo in an interview ahead of the Nigeria Prize for Difference and Diversity award ceremony, “the producer was like, “cut, cut, guy why are you making up stuff?”

The silence of boys and men about their sexual assault, which a UNICEF report said occurs to 1 in 10 boys before the age of 18, is rooted in toxic masculinity. The notion that men are too strong to be violated by women – which erroneously assumes only women could violate men and other men don’t, is why men won’t speak out. Add homophobia to the mix and the trauma of boys molested by men and other boys fester in silence while the problem continues unabated.

Despite how heavily his work benefits from the work of feminists theories over the years and how deeply the intersectionality of his goal with some of the key goals of feminism runs, he has been hesitant to align forces with feminist organisations. There is a running mistrust of male ‘allies’ among feminists and for a good reason.

Last year, Nigeria’s feminist circle and observers with no interest in feminism witnessed the unravelling of self-acclaimed ‘King of feminism’ Solomon Buchi who rescinded his alignment with feminism because some feminist principles are counter to his Christian faith. It ignited a conversation about allyship and the place of men in the fight against the oppression of women. This arrived mostly at the conclusion that the place of men must belong in educating fellow men rather than in the thick of women’s business ‘mansplaining’ and taking up space in a discussion about oppression their male privilege will always shield them from understanding.

Mr Ayodele understands this and honestly hopes that collaboration will be possible in due course. “Years of oppression of women got us here,” he said about the scepticism of some feminist organisations he had reached out to in the past. 

“I honestly believe collaboration is inevitable,” he added.

A survey ran by his organisation, Boy’s Quarters Africa, to check the toxicity of over 1000 men found the default masculinity of a disturbing 95% of participants to be no less than 98%.

“We have a cultural problem,” he said.

The work ahead is arduous and one man cannot do it alone. Solomon Ayodele hopes that the boys his organisation has and continue to work with – over 6000 across the country to date, will be better equipped to take up the work in the near future.

It is a case of, ‘it is a marathon, not a sprint,’ but until men are aware that there is a race to build a better country and they have a role to play in it the cultural revolution we seem stuck in the dawn of will remain a dream for too long. It is a sad realisation to arrive at; that 10% of a population of over 105 million will continue to suffer trauma in silence because some men are resistant to the idea of change.

Hopefully, that changes soon, for the good of all.

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