"Song of the Day": Gender, Social Change, and Kenya's Boy Child
Isabel Pike (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Paper short abstract:
Has Kenya's "boy child" been forgotten? Drawing on 160 semi-structured interviews in rural and urban Kenya, this paper explores low-income men and women's perspectives on the pervasive, controversial narrative that "the boy child has been neglected."
Paper long abstract:
Drawing on 160 semi-structured interviews with men and women in rural and urban Kenya, this paper explores how low-income men and women use gendered language to talk about the economic struggles of poor men. I focus on the pervasive and controversial narrative in Kenya that "the boy child has been neglected." Through this lens, I make three main arguments about how gender is used to talk about poverty. First, familiarity with debates around gender inequality have become pervasive enough that many respondents are able to adapt the language of women's rights to call attention to the needs of poor men. Although on the surface, the boy child narrative appears to concern boys generally, it is deployed only to talk about poor boys and poor men, seen as previously neglected. Second, because respondents have witnessed significant changes in the gender order while their economic surroundings, in contrast, have remained relentlessly harsh, it is understood that the government and international organizations care more about gender than they do about poverty. The boy child narrative appears to particularly resonate with men in their late 30s and 40s, who consider themselves to be past the stage of "youth" and responsible members of their communities. Lastly, these simultaneous perceptions of gender progress and persistent economic hardship have transformed a simple phrase about young boys into a symbol of the complexities around introducing a language of gender equality into a context of extreme economic disparity.
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