But, That’s Not What They Were Fighting For

The day Maitú snuck out,
to slit her ears,
to wear hangi,
I am sure she didn’t envisage
the day, when girls are stripped
      on streets.
When she, went back and
undid the deed,
I am sure, she did not see,
live video feeds,
Of legs apart on back seats,
with a voice
calling for a bottle.
There are those of us, who never had the chance
to meet grandmas,
who with their husbands names,
hidden under their teeth,
passed on violently, and loyally
at the hands of oppressors.

This what we have here,
This #Mollis era,
     This is not
What they were fighting
     for.

And That, Today, I Swear To Be True.

Time, in its infinity,
Found the space for us
            To Face,
Each others Smiles,
To see each others truths.
 
In it we, finitely,
   entwine each others roots.
So, we met.
And birthed the clarity, that we
   could make a nest.
In which to stick our sticks
   together, and
Split our bets.

And that,
   Today,
I swear to be
            True.

Life, and its participants
may choose, as they choose,
And ultimately,
            I choose you.

You are proof, that we,
can work together, a testimony
            of sorts,

Like the fact that clay
   can make pot,
   with daylight,
is a blessing
            of sorts,
and on the days the sun
wont flinch, above
            cloudy brinks,
   We will light
each others way
no matter, what who thinks.
We will have laughter,
Our across the room winks,
Or more like knowing
glances, will paint a frame
   around reality.
            Meaning;
You, are what is real to me,
   and I to you.

And, that, Today,
            I swear
   To be
            True.

As a daughter, as a mother,
As a father, as a son,
We’ll outreach our hands,
in search of each others,
And
reach back, when
   the time comes.
What I’m saying is,
   I’d like to spend,
the rest of my life, with You.

And that,
            Today,
   I swear
            to be true.

Why I Would Not Wear A Mini In Town

I have to start by saying, I am not at my most comfortable in crowds. Even group discussions make me a little nervous. High levels of attentions from strangers scare me deeply.

It is not once or twice that I have heard calls on the street, that are more aggression than admiration. Men who I walk past from whome I have to put my head down and walk fast. That is behaviour that is not only brought on by dress. It is simply brought on by the fact that you are a woman, who that man thinks is attractive on that day. All you would have to do is your hair and wear heels.

Then come the videos.

In the first one I watched, the brutality inflicted on her nudity was a jaw cracking, back handed slap to the parts of me the see beauty in feminine sexuality. My heart pounded in my mouth, and my hands and knees, clenched tight, shook. I was very pregnant at the time, and even my baby became uncharacteristically still, usually play full and kicking at that time of the day. To know, that that act was possible, and in plain view of other human beings has broken me in ways that I’m yet to learn how to express. I am still triple checking what I wear when I get dressed.
There are multiple cultures of influence here.
Just to be clear, it is not, the illusion of decency or hypocritical morals that stop me from wearing a mini in town.
It is the threat of violence and intrusion,
It is fear.

I chose not to find out the gender of my baby until birth. It is stories like these that made my first reaction to finding out she was a girl; fear. In fact, during the height of the #MyDressMyChoice debate, the same fear made me actually pray that I would have a son. This world is too often unkind to little girls. I still pray for her everyday, and she is a driving force behind me wanting us to talk about these issues. I hope the world is a little safer, even just a little… for her, and for her daughters’ daughters and sons. I wrote most of this article at the time the topic was trending, with her in my tummy.

The Moral Argument

Dressing is a an aspect of culture, it expresses loyalties to a place or manner of thinking. Ultimately, the “wrong” dress, is any dress that symbolises a subscription to an alternate facet of culture. A far removed example of this, is the way that high school kids get bullied for having ‘shady’ shoes.

My great grandmother told me the story of removing her hangi  she told me the pain wasn’t that bad, that she couldn’t have them, or she wouldn’t have been able to stay in church or school. She had to cut open the inner sides of the traditional piercings and sew them together, so that she could continue learning and worshiping at the missionary church. It was there that she got, and learned how to use  diapers. She reads and writes fluently in Kikuyu, and still has all her teeth. Also, I’ve seen pictures of my Cucus in minis. Culture is dynamic.

Kenyan culture picks and chooses aspects of western, eastern and local cultures. The idea of long skirts is taken from Victorian culture, not African culture, and the idea of many wives from the later.
To dwell on the notion that a woman is dressed in the “wrong way” when outnumbered and overpowered, is to suggest that to outnumber and over power is less “wrong”.

I do agree to some extent, that there is a place and time for different attires. I know, that some people are more closed minded than others, and its not exactly fun to be the focus of perverted oglers. There are, so many less depraved options for dealing with disagreements on this topic though. If sexual assault is to be the new form of cultural expression, the only logical result is the oppression of women, as Women’s forms are much easier suited to receiving pain, than to inflicting it. We are made as receptacles, with the exception of the giving of life.

So while we dress these perverts as justified, we should not rush to put angelic Colobus skin wings, on them. To suggest that those men were championing African culture, is to suggest that African men are completely devoid of self control or moral compass. What a shameful lie!

The Punishment And The Crime

Her arms were being stretched apart by two different people at opposite ends, her right leg, equally tug of roped so that her restrained position, was the stuff of nightmares or sadist porn. Its from this position, completely defenceless, that she was being kicked, slapped and hit. Even the strongest man would be powerless in this stance, but they chose this as the means to “punish” someone with a fraction of their strength. Even thieves are not restrained in that way for their beatings.

Speaking of which, we may be overlooking a crime we would normally not. The victims are left relieved not just of their attire, also of their purse/bag, phone and anything she may have stashed in her bra for emergencies; they are robbed of EVERYTHING. This outnumbering tactic is used in other robberies. Men are picked up off the ground, relieved of their shoes and pocket contents in urban streets as well.

Aside from being straight out of the misogynists hand book, the phrase “she asked for it” is a means of defence. It allows us to sit back in well upholstered chairs, away from the idea that it could happen to anyone we know or us, because ‘we know how to avoid it’, and do. Like the response, “was your window open?” As the primary response to “My phone was stolen in town.” We would rather avoid the problem than face it.

The purpose of punishment is to discourage the idea from becoming action, because there is direct consequence. Victims extent of nudity, is determined by where she is. If you put the same levels of exposure on a cat walk, in 1824 or in Gypsys where there is security, she is safe. The problem is not one of dress, it is one of security.
It is that in the places where these things happen, there is no security. There is not enough threat of punishment for the crimes, so it’s worth a try.

These women are left dressed thickly in the dusty shoe prints of the kicks they receive. Wouldn’t a shuka be a more appropriate solution to someone who is underdressed? These men, are the self appointed plaintive, lawyer, judge, jury and executioner, who sentence passers by to violent, sadistic sexual objectification. That is the kind of man, you pray is never one of your robbers, if you have a daughter in your house. I can only imagine, the person who commits unspeakable things in broad daylight and on film, would jump to heinous in the cover of night. My resolution, is that, that is the kind of man, we need off our streets. What they have shown us is a preview, they are testing waters. The next steps, of higher brutality and depravity are waiting only for us not to react to the first.

The focal point of the social media debate was one based more on the moralities of fashion, than the actions of these, sexually deviant criminals. While we sit behind our computer screens, hitting like buttons and sharing their breathless screams, the men who defiled them, have one hand in their boxers, and one hand on a drink, as they relive their public wet dream. Robert Alai, though he keeps us up to date on current affairs… seems to have a fascination with dildos, that he seems to think are a good way to address any social issues that are sexually oppressive to women. I understand that the existence of dildos can be a little emasculating, and my sympathies go out to him for that unfortunate fact. However, the effect of a person whose opinions are generally respected championing the rights of perverts are much more detrimental than comical.

Pick a team.

I don’t mean the closed minded kind, like men against women. I mean, who do we protect? Conservative fashion choices? Sadistic men? If your daughter or sister, makes an erroneous fashion choice, will you support the above punishment then?

Ultimately, a communities loudest objections, are things most likely to be changed. So, if you are spending 90% of your time analysing and critiquing the actions of the victim, then that is who you are telling to change. The past victims may not be in your communication range, but the women who are in your range are receiving this message:

“If you don’t want to be stripped don’t dress, or behave in certain ways. You are responsible for your own safety, so if you put yourself in dangerous situations, you are asking for it.”

Everyone has rights to their own opinions, so if that is actually what you want to say, go right ahead. I however, think the above objections are saying  something else too. Namely:

“I would never want myself, anyone near and dear, or anyone at all to go through that. The crime in question is one of a nature so overpowering, that I’m left looking for ways to reclaim ownership of my sense of safety and boundaries of power. “

I’ve mentioned already, that if the same out numbering was inflicted in a man, he would also be defenceless. The numbers in the mobs are extremely intimidating to any one lone passerby, and they are being violent and aggressive. So, in these street scenes, the answer to “where are the good men?” Is that like us, they are scared. Rightfully so.

Scare tactics work. Although ‘Anything you can do, we can do better’ is a fun sing along for a little girl, as a back bone principle of feminism, it is small minded. Oppression can not be overcome by oppression. We have to remember that in the long run, working as a team is the most strategically feasible target. So, are you on the team of the defenceless? Or is it more important to hide behind your own fear based moral high ground?

What can we do?

For starters, we can start questioning the perpetrators actions more than we do the victims. From there the rest is: anything you can. Do anything you can to stop these guys, even if that means sharing #MyDressMyChoice messages when you think some people make atrocious wardrobe decisions.

On The Objectification Of Men

Sometimes, its better for people to represent themselves in matters that have to do with standing up for themselves. Yet, not all the time. In other instances, people who are being oppressed in a certain way, are precisely the people who can’t say a thing about it.

When you can’t say a thing, you are voiceless. Your problems are overlooked, as not important enough, or not urgent enough. There are many reasons why this happens, topping the list of reasons are two things: shame and fear. Now, the feminists reading this, may be wondering why I would be posting on such a strange topic. Wondering why the objectification of men, should even come up, when the objectification of women is so rampant, so bill board loud. I’ll tell you, objectification is the kind of treatment that is passed on. When you objectify me, I will in turn, look for someone I can objectify more, because that’s the only way that I can get it off my chest. It works in a similar way as; hate breeds hate. The only way to truly end the cycle, is to stop doing it altogether, not to pass it on.

Let’s start at the beginning, in the school yard. Not being very good at the careful games of hop scotch and skip rope, I was not very welcome in the girls games. Instead, I played catch and catch with the boys on most days. For some reason or other, being accepted by the girls, was an unattainable goal, so I aimed instead to be accepted by the boys. That is where my dislike for being called a girl started. The boys, being told every other day by adults not to ‘be a girl’, passed the message on readily to each other (and so, because I wanted to be one of them, to me). “Don’t be a girl” still sits a little uncomfortably in my memory’s play list. It carries with it a list of instructions that are not articulated.

I am going to skip over the insinuation that being a girl is less, because it would digress the point of what I’m saying. The list of instructions that is insinuated by that phrase goes something like this:
Don’t be weak
Don’t be emotional
Don’t show your emotions when you have them
Be brave
Be strong
Be silent when something is wrong.(or at least be brave about addressing wrong things).

These instructions don’t stop in the playground. They continue into night clubs, board rooms, choma joints, hospitals, marital relationships… To be a man, you must be strong. You are not allowed to express emotional upheavals, because that is weakness, that is womanly. That conditioning, is silencing. It is the kind of thing that becomes ‘he wont answer his phone’ because he has been taught for his whole life to shut emotions out. The natural result is that if something threatens to break through the barrier he’s been taught to put up, he has to shut it out, even if that means escaping, shutting down. Even if it means hurting someone else’s feelings, because he has been taught, that letting those emotions take over would invariably make him worthless as a man.

The phrase “Be a man!” looms threateningly, suggesting that men should not ‘hesitate’ or ‘overthink’they should be instantaneously ready to be called into action, jump to be a hero in the face of danger. That is what “real men” are expected to do. Another phrase comes to mind, “Men are dogs!” usually used to describe the sexual infidelities on one man, by condemning the entire gender. Men are expected to take this particular phrase lying down, both literally and figuratively. Anyone who defends the entire gender of men against this phrase will automatically be seen as stupid, naive, or both. It is a foregone conclusion, therefore, why resist it. If you punish me for a crime I have not committed, especially a fun one, I would commit it, just to even the score.

Maybe the most obvious male attribute that is used to measure manhood is physical strength. Yes, we have moved past times when the guy who brings home the lions head gets the girl (at least on this continent). Yet, physical strength in a man is still a prized attribute, I know I’m not the only girl who likes to feel ‘protected… safe’. This expectation is so high, that any man that is not tall and strong, will have anything negative he does, attributed to ‘small man syndrome’. This strength is not meant to be used outwardly, in any uncalled for situations eg. I don’t want you to beat up the guy I gave a giant hug to, before you have a chance to find out he is my cousin. “Wah! He is so buff!” is always meant as a compliment, therefore being strong, is something we encourage men to aim towards. The stronger, the better.

Now that our silent men are strong, and excused for crimes before they have committed them, what comes next? I have to state that what I am about to describe, is something that I am not sure happens to white men. It could, but I have not seen it or heard it, so I can not assume it does, I can only address what I know to be true.

Memes of Nigerian mens’ ‘assets’, the constant romantic and campus comedy references to ‘A Big Black C***’, references to dildos that are meant to imitate ‘A Black C***’, countless giggled conversations about size and girth, songs like “One minute man” and the conversations that quote the song. Men hear these conversations too. Their belly sizes are measured and ridiculed, either too round or too skinny and unattainable body standards are set by models and actors who look good for a living. We may easily state that they don’t mind, that they don’t complain, that it doesn’t bother them, BUT we have already established that, complaining, allowing themselves to look bothered is not allowed. They have not been allowed the privilege of saying that ‘small things’ bother them since toddler age. Many boys would have been discouraged these displays of emotion from before the can speak a sentence.

Painted sign posts site Nguvu za kiume as a priority all over Nairobi, radio shows receive calls from women whose men ‘can not perform’ who are then ridiculed and advised to look for help. In fact, a mans roles in the marital home, could be described as achieved, if he can do two things; provide and perform. Modern day economic circumstances make it such that, unless a wife comes from a a lower class than her husband, it would be impossible to sustain their standard of living and raise children unless she works too. Resulting in a perpetual threat to the ‘provide’ portion of of a husbands ‘duties’. Current economic trends leave a man with only one validating action, one source of ‘proof of manhood’: his sexual performance.

Right, let us look at what we have built up, what we have created, in our sons and our brothers. What is it we are expecting, when we place the above ideals on the head of a ten year old, sixteen year old, twenty three year old, forty five year old male person?

a) Someone who suppresses emotions
b) Someone who conceals his desires and grievances
c) Someone who is expected to be physically strong
d) Someone who is expected to perform well sexually
e) Someone who is expected to be sexually promiscuous

Then comes feminism. Feminism has many many forms. In fact, though I consider myself a feminist (someone who campaigns for equal rights for women and men) I can not count the number of arguments I have had with fellow feminists on one ideal or another. The beautifully written and performed poem, Fake Deep describes so many discrimination’s against women, but in its essence completely tramples on the freedom of speech of men.

Men are given mixed messages, ‘bring me flowers!’, ‘don’t give me flowers! I want real love!’, ‘open the door for me!’, ‘I can open my own doors! I’m a strong independent woman!’. When the truth is, there is no rule book for the social subtleties that are merely symptoms of feminism. We are not confused, we just have different opinions. The appropriate thing to do, would be to get to know each other, truthfully. Forget the games, that state that if a girl who openly expresses that she wants to have sex too, she is a slut or that if a man talks about anything more personal than his day at work that he is too emotional. Those games, create a world where no does not mean no. They set young girls and young boys up for the kind of misunderstandings that scar people for life.

It is nearly impossible to afford someone else a privilege you do not have yourself. If we do not afford our men the privilege of being able to express themselves, what makes us think we can expect them to understand us when we express ourselves. All they will understand, is that we as women are incapable of keeping our emotions in check, simply because that is what they have had to do for their whole lives.

Equality struggles, should try to remain true to their objectives. If we aim to oppress male expression, more than it has been oppressed for so long, the only result, is a push back. That push back, will find our younger sisters, our daughters, pushed down onto their backs. Not because men are animals, but because, men are human beings. They too seek affirmation, validation and recognition.

We set our women up to expect men to be strong, sexually driven and insensitive. Then, we look on astonished, when they are just that.

Surely, we should try a different method, if we want a different result.