By Mankhokwe Namusanya:
Your man has got a friend. No! That is not factually correct. Your man has got friends. Maybe five.
But five is such a big number for a man. Let us say, three.
Your man has got three friends. Two, you do not like. You just tolerate. You get along with them not because they have any particular appeal to you. They are just a part of that compromise deal you and your man struck. Without telling.
However, there is the other one. This one you like.
If, today, divinity would show its face before you and ask you to make one wish – just one – it would be that your man should be friends with only this one. If you were sure that divinity would be less judgemental, you would request that it makes your man’s friend your man.
Oh, I forgot to say: this your man’s friend also has a lady. You envy her. Because, more than once, you have crushed on this your man’s friend.
You have seen how he treats his woman. Or, rather, how he wants you and the outside world sees that it is the way he treats his woman.
You have seen Facebook posts from the foot of Mulanje Mountain, in those tea estates, of a happy couple. You have seen those WhatsApp status updates from the shores of Lake Malawi, of her, as pictured by him. The captions to all those posts have been as if they have been nipped from lost chapters of a Shakespeare manuscript. Breath-taking. Fresh. Delicious, were they food.
More than twice, you have wanted to read them out to your man. To tell him how love should be written. Tell him how life should be. But the devil plotting to wreck your relationship is not yet powerful, so you have not.
But, you are human, so you have ever mentioned it to your friend. Like just a comment. A callous word. A misplaced yet appropriate statement.
Your man goes out with that his one friend. He says the other two will join them there.
There, in the club, your man refuses to get drunk. Or, rather, stupidly drunk. The other two, mostly frustrated with life that has been peppered with broken relationships, do not say much on his decision. They drink to their merry. Peacefully.
But that friend of your husband, the one you like, urges him to drink more. He throws a round, actually.
Your man says no, he does not want to drive while worst drunk; he does not want to leave you a widow (or a single lady with a bad memory of what could have been). That his friend, your favourite person, insists he should drink.
“We don’t do that here,” he picks on that meme.
When your man keeps fighting, he calls out to the entire club. Says that they have a Mrs in their midst – in that chauvinist section of the club. Your man becomes a joke. He drinks, if his resolve is weaker like your admiration of him, just to impress the others.
When he comes home, you despise him.
The other time you had a fight, when he told this friend that the two of you were in a bad place but still he loved you and wanted to make things right, he acted as if he were listening. Then, again, he acted as if he were suggesting good advice to him.
“Let her cool off, she will come around, you know women.”
“Have you tried calling her, or leaving her a sweet, romantic message. Saying all those nice words women need to hear when in that place (he assumed your anger was emanating more from being ‘in that time of the month’ than from being genuinely hurt by his actions)…”
When your man told him that he had tried all that but it really seemed that it was not working, he had suggested like a mistake:
“There is that lady at my workplace. That one with big eyes, a firm waist, a huge laughter. The one who welcomed you that day. She is single. She wants a man. I know she likes you. You should try her. Wait, let me call her for you. You should not sleep alone tonight…”
Then, again, when he told him that there was an intern at work making passes at him. The friend laughed and asked:
“Why would you tell that to me, don’t you know what to do?”
“I really don’t. She knows I have a woman but that doesn’t seem to deter her. It would be ridiculous for me to report her…”
“Report her, how did I even end up being friends with you?”
Then he told him to go for it. Give her what she wants. Get his peace of mind. Nobody will know. As a closing remark to his argument, he said:
“Do you trust women? You think your woman would pass such an opportunity?”
Anyway, I meant to say: in dealing with toxic masculinity, it is not enough to just target the men exhibiting it. Target the circles that such men occupy. Broaden the conversation. Toxic masculinity is a product of social conversations as exercised within tight spaces of friendship.
And, yes, toxic femininity as well is a product of social spaces and social interactions. WhatsApp groups, specifically for women, being chief of them.