Dr. Leo Igwe is the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement and former Western and Southern African representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. On August 16, 2017, we published an interview. Here, we talk about gender roles.
Igwe and I had an extensive conversation on the nature of gender roles in the context of modern Nigerian. The sub-text of the conversation came from modern and Indigenous spiritualities of the African continent, the colonial religions seen in Islam and Christianity, and with the pre-text of humanism rejecting these Indigenous and colonial supernaturalisms to define gender.
When we began to talk more, the emphasis of the conversation focused on the humanist masculinity. What is it? What defines it? How is it constrained, defined, and set about in practical terms?
Igwe stated, “It is the idea of maleness that emphasizes the humanity of men and males, the fact that men are human like their female counterparts. That males have emotions, entertain fear and suffer pain like their female counterparts. Simply humanistic masculinity stands for maleness as humanness.”
There comes more emphasis on the care, compassion, and the cooperation of the masculine in a humanistic framework. That, as human beings, men can act in cruel, mean, domineering, and oppressive way.
That these can be cross-gender, or occurring in any gender, traits, which tend towards the personally and socially destructive. “The whole idea of humanist masculinity is vital in clearing this mistaken impression that associates ‘masculinism’ or masculinity with the subordination of women. There are cases of male oppression of women but is that masculinism? No, not at all,” Igwe said.
The idea being that basis for the humanistic man, the masculine self grounded in the philosophy and life stance of humanism, comes from the concrete rather than the supernatural and the non-subjection of women.
In modern vernacular, this means the empowerment of women and the inculcation of the notion and actuality of equality for men and women. Of course, as seems historically and presently the case, most males act masculine in one form or other; most females act feminine in one form or other. There should be flexibility within the humanistic frame while acknowledging some connections between the biological sex differences and the associated tendencies in thoughts and behaviours in genders. However, the bigger category remains human.
“Being manly should be within the ambient of humanity not without. Women do oppress men too but is oppression of men feminism? No. Subordination of men should not be identified as feminism. It is an aberration of feminism,” Igwe explained, “Just as feminism does not imply the oppression of men, masculinity should not be equated with the oppression of females. Thus humanist masculinity is – and should be–about the expression of hu-maleness or hu-manliness and not the humiliation and subordination of females.”
The conversation concluded on the ways in which to inculcate this other modern masculinity. Igwe lamented, “Unfortunately, this goal cannot be realized in the form of education we have in Nigeria at the moment. The educational process is manipulated to preserve certain religious and traditional values and interests. The educational system is used to reinforce notions of masculinity and femininity that are incompatible with humanist and human rights values.”
It leaves questions about an overhaul to the fostering and furtherance of a humanist or humanistic oriented educational system with the best interests of the child in mind.
Dr. Leo Igwe is the founder of the Nigerian Humanist Movement and former Western and Southern African representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He is among the most prominent African non-religious people from the African continent. When he speaks, many people listen in a serious way. He holds a Ph.D. from the Bayreuth International School of African Studies at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, having earned a graduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Calabar in Nigeria. We have talked or I have written on Dr. Igwe here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
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