My current employment entails a lot of moving around. Just the other day, I walked into a hair salon for non-hair related errands. As I was chatting with the female employees, mostly explaining why I was there and what I wanted, in sauntered a girlish looking male. I could have been forgiven to think he was a woman with a quick glance at him, judging by his equally very female walking style and demeanor. I had to look again just to be sure that he was indeed a man. And yep, he happened to be one of the employees at the salon.
Encountering this man made me look back at all the other instances where I had walked into a salon and met a male employee who by all means acted female and looked female. I do not wish to jump into conclusions but such occurrences are usually attributed to the fact that these kinds of men, who act all girlish definitely have to be gay, in my country.
True to the assumption, some of them are indeed gay and not ashamed of that fact. It could also be a contributing reason for them to have a preference to work in the salon industry, seeing that their girlish tendencies could not be accommodated in the tough, male dominated fields.To be honest, rarely would you find a male with girlish tendencies working kazi ya mjengo (construction work in Swahili) or in the Jua Kali sector (informal sector) mainly a preserve for male workers.
But are we indeed right in dismissing all the men in the salon industry as gay “weak” men??
A few years back, there is a salon I loved to frequent. Two of the workers happened to be every inch the Meru (a Kenyan ethnic group they both belonged to) men. Both of them were married with a child each yet these same men, could give you the best nail services you would have ever wished for. I remember one of them sharing tips with me, on how I should file my nails so that they wouldn’t break easily if they were long and I had to do house chores. Eventually, they moved away and opened their own salon.
Seeing how Meru men in my country are considered males deeply in touch with their masculinity, would we then have been justified in concluding that these two men of the same community were gay? Better yet, do we consider the woman fraternity so fickle to the extent where people of the opposite sex, who choose to work in fields where there is a lot of interaction with women, are considered weak or having an abnormality of sorts?
If you ask me, I would prefer male hairdressers, manicurists and pedicurists any time over their female counterparts. I find men more sincere with their work and thorough than a couple of women in the salon industry.
In recent times, we have seen the word metrosexual being thrown around. Again this reminds me of an incident in the same salon where the two men I have talked about worked. One weekend, I decided to get a pedicure done. Lo and behold, just sitting opposite me was a father who had brought his lovely daughter to the salon, with really long natural hair which caught my attention the minute I walked in, to have it braided. Instead of leaving her in the capable hands of the hairdresser, this dad had decided to keep her company and while away the time getting a full pedicure done. He had even rolled up his trousers to the knees for the exercise!
And while I was a bit taken aback then, I really admired his parenting style. I mean, this was a typical African man, Black man even, for those who are more comfortable with that term, who had opted to do what has for years been reserved for the mothers and wives and that was, accompany his daughter to the salon and actually keep her company! I felt like other fathers could learn a thing or two from him. And so what if he was getting a full pedicure done?! Couldn’t a man be allowed to pamper himself at times?! Can we confidently call this man a metrosexual or gay even?!
I find the idea behind assuming all men in the salon industry to be gays as stereotypical and bordering on the homophobic. I’m no advocate for gays, don’t get me wrong. However, I wouldn’t spend my time hating on them and lumping them together in a category, I assume is befitting for them like working in a hair salon for example. As much as we would like to live in denial as Kenyans, the gay community is in fact in most of the fields in our country. Some of them we can’t even easily tell that they are gays yet they are bankers, economists, lawyers, businessmen, your cab guy, you name it.
Just because a section of men tend to be inclined to act more of female than male does not automatically translate to them being gay. And no, it is not a requirement to be gay in order to handle women in a salon. As a matter of fact, it would be insulting to insinuate that women matters such as hair dos, manicures and pedicures have to be done by men who are “out of ordinary” in their sexual orientation. And if we would like to stick to that stereotypical thought, then would it equally be in order to state that women in the matatu (public transport) industry are lesbians as well?
Being a rough, male dominated field, these women have to literally discard their femininity in order to fit in. They have to dress in trousers, have their voices transformed into a hoarse rasp just from all that yelling for commuters on a daily basis and actually act tough to be able to compete effectively with the men in the same field. Why doesn’t anyone feel inclined to call them lesbians for acting male and for choosing a field, that for years was reserved exclusively for men? Is it because we come from a society where everything associated with men is more serious, as opposed to what is associated with women and therefore, women who venture into it are meant to be applauded for it not branded?
Have we actually taken time to understand the motivation behind these women choosing to work in the matatu industry? Have we thought of something to do for them in order to uplift them and in the process get them back in touch with their femininity? Most of these women are single mothers fending for their children and with the non-employment issue in our country, even a male dominated field could do for them. For some, being in this industry is actually a passion. Something they love to do.
Isn’t it time that we also thought of viewing men working in the salon industry as people of the opposite sex who were passionate with everything beauty related? Perhaps it could have been the only thing that they are really good at and if at all it puts food on the table, why not?