What do women want?: Versions of masculinity in Kenyan romantic fiction

Publication year
English Studies in Africa

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This paper is an analysis of masculinity in relation to romantic writing in two texts: Asenath Odaga's Between the Years (1987), and Riana (1991). The two texts are taken as representative of the wide range of writings currently available in the Kenyan market, that have successfully inserted themselves into the space of romance, in order to deal with pressing issues of gender, romance and marriage. We argue that these texts offer insights into the expectations and hopes that the female protagonists have for men. Romantic love and the expectations that go with it, are used as the springboard into an analysis of how masculinity is constructed around issues of monogamy, fatherhood and wealth. (77)


Almost without exception, men in romance novels are unfaithful and promiscuous. Indeed, in both of the novels under examination, the plot is driven by the exploits of two male protagonists who cannot remain faithful: the first takes a mistress in the city, the second another wife in Europe. The novels spend a great deal of time rehearsing the exploits of men and so demonstrate models of what masculinity should not be. Only towards the end of the novels, when the long-suffering wives of the two protagonists leave them, do the men come to their senses and recognise the values of monogamy and commitment to family. In these plots of last-minute reform, we see rehearsed a model of an undesirable masculinity, tamed and domesticated. (78)