I haven’t talked about women being stripped in Nairobi because I didn’t know what to say about it. No, that’s not true. I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I just didn’t think it was appropriate. Because nobody has a right to strip a woman. Ever. Period.
And yet …
And yet I constantly talk to my almost-teenage daughter about clothing choices, and the consequences of those choices. And on the day the first stripping video came out, we had another one of our talks. I can only hope it sank in.
In some ways, I have a pretty simple view of the world. A man’s role is to provide and protect. A woman’s role is to nurture and support. That’s why I got the womb and he got the penis. Of course we can help each other in those roles, but in the end, our roles are still our roles.
And this is where the problem comes in.
I’m a single mum, and I left my baby’s father by choice. He was violent, abusive, and unfaithful, things I still haven’t forgiven him for, even though I sometimes think I have. After many years together, I made the difficult but necessary decision to leave. It was ugly, and it was dramatic, but it had to be done. To save my life. And to protect my child.
I’ve been blessed, because unlike some single mothers, I’ve had it fairly easy. The earlier years were harsh, risky, terrifying. But right now I have a well-paying job, a nice, comfortable house, and a healthy, happy child. Life is good for us.
Unfortunately, I do have days when I think I want a husband. And at moments like that, I wonder if I qualify to have one. After all, I don’t cook, I rarely clean, and I’m not having any more children. So … can I really ask a man to provide and protect me (and my child) when I’m not willing to make him dinner or have his babies?
That video up there *pointing* is supposed to be all about religion. It’s supposed to remind church types (and mosque types, and temple types, and other types) that protecting women is part of their duty to God. When I bumped into the video on whatsapp, I didn’t consider the religious aspect. What I saw was a woman being attacked and a group of men coming to protect her. And that’s what touched my heart.
Because over the past few weeks, two women have been stripped by men for ‘indecent clothing.’ A third woman was sexually assaulted in a matatu because of her dress, and a three-year-old girl was raped by two of her uncles in some twisted attempt to punish her mother. All this was done by … men. And caught on video. While other men (and some women) watched.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. I’ve heard of women being stripped before. Even at Embassava. I guess it’s just the first time someone caught it on tape and shared it online. So when I saw the video about religion protecting women, all I saw was the woman on the verge of attack, and the men that built a wall around her with their bodies. They protected her, the way all men should protect all women.
Of course once the video got on YouTube, the nasty comments started. Some women felt the video demeaned us, depicting us as fragile little things that need men to come rescue us. Some men felt the video was sexist because it ignored the violence against them. After all, statistics say a man is far more likely to suffer violence than a woman.
Let me just address that first, play devil’s advocate for a second. A comment like that probably comes from a man who feels belittled by the women in his life, who has watched women all around him succeed while he suffered frustration and want. Let’s say a man like that sees women as strong and domineering, and feels no protective instinct towards his mother, sister, daughter, female boss. Because without that context, a man who watches that video and makes a comment like that … is nothing but an idiot and a jerk, the kind of man that gleefully and publicly strips some random woman.
Now. Let’s consider that sexual violence leaves much deeper scars than physical violence. That the average man is both bigger and stronger than the average woman. That stolen stuff can be replaced but stolen sexuality can’t. Then let’s consider that in the average situation, if a man was bothering a woman and another man showed up, the harassment would probably stop. Because THAT is what this video says to me.
Of course the woman in this video isn’t ‘indecently dressed.’ She’s not drunk, or rude, or bitchy, or mouthy. She’s not walking in a risky part of town, or wandering around in the dark. She’s not intimidating men with her success. She’s not ‘provoking’ the interest that these men have in her. Her only crime – because it is clearly a crime – is being female.
And it’s not just about stripping women at bus stops. It’s about raping children. It’s about abducting school girls. It’s about groping workmates. It’s about catcalling strangers just for not having a dick. In all these situations, if some men had built a wall around these women, the attacks would have stopped. Immediately.
Now, back to my earlier point. As a woman who’s done with babies, who pays her own bills and lives off take-out, who will probably never wash her husband’s underwear … am I worthy of this kind of provision and protection?
Well, we live in a changing world. The kind of world where I can go to work and provide for myself and my child. The kind of world where I could walk out of a bad relationship and thrive. The kind of world where some of the world’s best chefs (and parents) are men.
50 years ago, as a daughter born in rural Africa, I would have stayed with that man until he killed me (and my child). 50 years ago, even if I had run away, I would have had no way to look after my baby. 50 years ago, I would have cooked, cleaned, and shared my man whether I liked it or not, because that was the only option for me.
Today, my daughter is confident, educated, happy, and by God’s Grace, safe. She has every opportunity I can give her, and she knows she can do, have and be anything she puts her mind to. I’m hoping and praying she won’t make the same mistakes I made, especially when it comes to men.
So, yes, I can fight my own battles, and I have taught my daughter to fight hers as well. Yes, I am powerful and wonderful and capable, and I’m not waiting around for some knight to come and save me from myself. That said, I still have a womb and the hormones that come with it. I still have a nurturing instinct that I exercise on my child, my brothers, my friends.
And I still feel the need for protection from a penis, by a penis. So I hope that we can go beyond hashtags, beyond protests, beyond mini skirts, and get all our men to realise it’s still in their nature to protect us. Because if they do, then nobody can hurt us anymore.
♫ I’m alive ♫ Qqu ♫