The problem lies in the expectations society has of men. In West Africa, for example, men are expected to set up a home, marry at least one wife, and accumulate and provide for children and other dependents. Those who fail to perform these duties forfeit the respect of their elders, women and their peers; they cannot become “real men”.
When the breadwinner role becomes impossible to fulfil – as it did for millions of men across Africa during the economic crises of the 1980s and 1990s – men have other facets of masculinity on which to draw in order to recover their self-esteem. Some of these alternative masculinities are positive……. but many traditional expressions of manliness are socially destructive
This is a difficult subject to discuss – one needs to be critical about the interaction between economic and social forces without sounding like an apologist for the worst aspects of masculinity [Disclaimer: I am male]. A particularly shrill example is David Willletts’s numbskull comment that feminism was to blame for the lack of working class jobs for men. It sounds like Men and Development avoids these tropes:
Legal and institutional changes can embed or trigger cultural shifts, but in many cases the latter exacerbate gender inequality by entrenching harmful masculinity norms. As Andrea Cornwall notes in Men and Development, for example, laws that oblige divorced men to pay alimony without also obliging them to provide child care cement the notion that men should be breadwinners above all else, and that women should take responsibility for caring. Microfinance programs’ targeting of women reinforces the idea of the reckless, irresponsible man who cannot be trusted to invest in his family. And the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients, itself based on a misleading perception that all such men are perverted or violent, perpetuates the stereotype of men as aggressors and women as helpless victims.
I have written before about the dangers of taking men out of the question (Tim Ogden also has some good thoughts). Our tendency to do so is a natural reaction to the relative plight of women in developing countries. Yet, despite the fact that men are the cause of so much woe, we can’t ignore them as part of the solution .