Life is all about context. Not everyone who takes something without asking is a thief. Not everyone who makes a sex joke is a chauvinist. Not everyone who is nice to a white person is a racist. Not everyone who makes sarcastic comments is an activist.
Let’s talk about my friend Sam. He lives in Lang’ata and spends a lot of time on Twitter. Last week, he went out with online friends. After a fun night out, he called a cab, came home, and blacked out. The next day, he woke up on his sofa in his underwear. Apparently, some thugs had followed him home and carried everything except his sofa, because they couldn’t get him off it.
Being a normal middle class citizen, he went to the police. They laughed as he gave them receipts for all his electronics, complete with serial numbers. They took his statement, and told him he was the third guy in the building to be robbed that week. They asked him to fuel their car so they could inspect the crime scene.
They didn’t ask if he had flashed a lot of cash at the bar. They didn’t ask if he knew the cab driver. They didn’t ask if he had noticed the thugs following him. They didn’t ask if he had locked the door behind him. They didn’t ask why he didn’t hear the thugs when they broke in, or how much he had to drink.
Now, let’s think about a different story. Let’s think about my other friend, Susan. She lives in the flat next to Sam’s. She was with him at the tweet-up, but she came home much earlier. When the thugs were done with Sam, they peeped into her house. Her door was locked. Her lights were off. The rest of the building was quiet. They had a lot of time. And they were hungry.
Susan didn’t go to the police, because she knew what would happen. The cops would ask her if she knew the thugs. They’d ask if she had flirted with them at the club. They’d ask if she was sure her door was locked. They’d ask why she didn’t call for help. They’d ask her what she was wearing. They might ask if she was a virgin, how many men she had slept with, or whether she had enjoyed herself. They might ask her to tell them, in detail, what had happened. They might even ask her to show them.
So instead of going to the police, Susan takes a shower and scrubs herself so hard that her skin bleeds. Then she calls her sister, who comes with her husband to take Susan to hospital. She moves to a different neighbourhood. She loses her confidence, becomes ashamed of her womanhood, makes herself as unattractive as possible.
She never leaves the house unless she has to, and when she does, something as simple as a hello from a male, or a tap on the shoulder from a makanga makes her scream. One day, she notices Sam across the street. She stares at him in hatred and fear, then rushes past, pretending she hasn’t seen him. She wonders where he was that night. She wonders if he heard the thugs, if he knew the thugs, if he was friends with the thugs. She might never trust Sam – or any other man – again.
Last week, there was an argument on Twitter. A woman said the only way for women to stop getting raped is for men to stop raping women. A man said women should stop blaming men and do something about it instead. Others said women should stop dressing provocatively, and that they should avoid being alone in dangerous places.
The average woman isn’t afraid of being raped by strange men in a dark alley. She knows enough not to go there. The average woman is afraid of being raped when she’s in a matatu on her way home, and the only other woman in the matatu has alighted. She’s afraid that if she follows the other woman and alights at that stage, far from her own home, she might be attacked by random men outside. But she’s equally terrified of staying in the matatu and having the men inside turn on her.
The men in this matatu might be rapists. Or they might be normal guys. Husbands, fathers, brothers on their way home from work. They might not even be aware that there’s a woman in the matatu with them. But for this woman, the terror she feels will be worse than walking through any dark street. It will follow her until she gets home and locks her door. And even then, she won’t feel safe. Not completely.
The average girl isn’t afraid of being attacked in the forest as she fetches firewood. She’s afraid of being called to the staff room by her male teacher. Or being invaded by the rugby team from the school across the field. Or being followed by the watchman who always smiles a her. Or being asked for a cup of tea by her uncle. Or being sent to serve food to her sick father while her mother is at the office. Or being locked in a room with her best friend’s brother.
The average woman isn’t afraid of being raped by rioting student mobs, soldiers, or violent hawkers. She’s afraid of being raped by her boss during overtime, or being attacked by the man who called her for an interview. The average woman isn’t afraid that nobody will hear her scream. The average woman is afraid this man will hurt her and nobody will believe her.
So she keeps quiet and hopes that if she just shuts off her mind, it will be over soon, and he’ll go away. She will never tell anyone, because they will ask her where she was, why she was with him, what she was wearing, why she didn’t fight back. Worst of all, she spends the rest of her life doubting her morals, blaming herself, wondering if she did something to make this man think she wanted it. And there are men who – when they eventually find out what happened – will ask the exact same thing.
I’ve undergone a violent rape, and as much as it broke parts of me, it made other parts stronger. I’ve also been in situations with men that I knew and trusted, men that I had been intimate with. I told them what I did and didn’t like in bed. I even told them why. I told them it reminded me of past experiences.
Then these same men, who claimed to respect and care for me, went ahead and did what I asked them not to. Maybe they thought it would be different with them. Maybe they thought I was missing out. Maybe they thought they could erase my hurtful memories by doing the exact same thing. I didn’t scream or lash out or fight. I knew they weren’t him. So I froze, stayed completely still, stopped participating, let these men that I cared about use my body in the exact way I had asked them not to.
It didn’t matter that I had said no, because in their minds, I simply didn’t know what I was missing. And because they were nice guys, and they smiled at me when they did it. They figured if I had really wanted them to stop, I would have MADE them stop. Because they apologized for going against my wishes, they didn’t think it was rape. They thought that because they said sorry, it was okay. They thought that when my body went still, I was mildly annoyed, and that they’d make it up to me later. They didn’t think that was rape.
This is a normal part of being a guy, right? Some girls play hard to get. You smile, charm, seduce them, and at first they say no, but in the end, they give you what you want. Some girls even ask you to play rough. So you think all girls are like that. But they’re not. You don’t look in their eyes when you fuck them. You don’t hear them cry into their pillows when you fall asleep.
You don’t see them scrub their skin because they feel used. You don’t see the fear in their eyes, fear that if they refuse, you won’t like them anymore, fear of what you’ll tell your friends the next day, fear of what their mothers or fathers will think of them. In the morning, you talk, you drop them home. You forget they said no. You think if they really wanted you to stop, they would have MADE you stop. You don’t think it was rape.
I can see how guys like that would feel challenged when someone says, ‘Men need to stop raping women’. They feel personally attacked, because they know they’ve crossed the line. Or maybe they feel indignant, because they’re one of the ‘good guys’ and hate being blanketed with all the rest. They say, ‘Women should stop blaming men.’ They say, ‘Feminists just hate men.’ They say, ‘Little boys get raped too.’
I’m not refuting any of that. I’m saying men don’t spend half their lives looking around in fear. A man doesn’t stop breathing when he realises he’s the only man in a room full of women. A man doesn’t wear protective underwear just in case. A man doesn’t think twice about reporting a crime because he will be asked what he was wearing. A man doesn’t look at every woman in his life – his mother, his daughter, his wife, his boss, his best friend – and wonder whether they will turn around a rape him.
A man does not feel afraid, unwanted, or ashamed because he can be sexually attacked by a woman – only for the woman to turn around, pay dowry, and claim him as a spouse, sanctioned by religious texts, societal mores, and cultural beliefs. A man does not walk around wondering if some woman will rape him for wearing too little, punish him with rape for refusing to give in to her advances, or ‘correct’ him with rape for preferring same sex relationships.
A man does not feel filthy and disgusting because a woman looked at him a certain way, or whistled at him in the street. He doesn’t hurry away from those whistling strangers, wondering whether they will follow him home, break down the door, and violate him in the worst possible way. He does not plan his route home every day to avoid groups of women, even in broad daylight.
This is what women live with, every moment of every day. Dressing ‘decently’ or staying away from dark alleys doesn’t solve the problem. Talking about the fear we live with is not blaming men. It’s stating facts. And branding me a feminist and dismissing my opinion as a result doesn’t make women safe. Changing the attitude and actions of rapists everywhere is the only thing that will make women safe.
There are men who believe a woman’s only role on the planet is to be fucked. Those men rape their mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, random strangers, and they feel no shame, because they think that’s what women are for. But there’s a different kind of rapist. The kind that thinks he can impinge on a woman’s sexuality without asking, because even though she said no, she didn’t really mean it.
Men don’t understand how violated a woman feels when a random man grabs her ass, when a guy gropes her breasts in a matatu, when a man touches her thigh in a crowded room, when some stranger whistles at her in the street, or worse, when a random man looks sexually at her teenage daughter. Rape is a physical crime, but it’s also a mental crime, and the psychological effects stay with a woman long after the physical scars have healed. So calling me a feminist just because I spoke out is really not solving the problem. The problem will only end when a woman feels safe to walk, sing, speak, in her house, on the street, in a construction site, in a matatu, yes, even on social media forums.
Now, let’s go back to context. I found this video today. It talks about a black woman who faced racial discrimination at a supermarket. A blonde, blue-eyed woman was served by a cashier. The cashier was nice to the blonde woman, polite, chatty, and accepted her cheque without complaint. The next customer was black. The cashier didn’t smile or chat with her. Instead, she asked for two forms of ID, then checked the blacklisted cheques form, to see if the black customer’s name was on it. All this while the black customer’s ten-year-old child watched in shock and near tears.
Here’s what the cashier didn’t know. The blonde customer she had just served was actually half-black, and was related to the black customer. The blonde customer politely asked why her black friend was being treated differently. Other white customers joined in, and the manager came over to fix things.
The video explains it beautifully. Because it was the allegedly white woman that spoke up, the matter was seen for what it was, and was resolved amicably. If the black woman had spoken up for herself, everyone would probably have assumed she was playing the race card and being an ‘angry black woman.’ It’s all about context. So let’s look at this rape thing again, only this time, let’s do it in context.
When a ‘feminist’ speaks out against rape, the issue gets overshadowed by her feminism. For that matter, if any woman speaks out against rape, abortion, or gender equality, the issue is side-stepped. It stops being about mistreatment and becomes about ‘uppity females’. When any woman talks about matters that affect her gender, the average man feels attacked because, well, he’s not a woman. Even a statement as simple as supporting education for girls is turned into an accusation about ‘ignoring the boy child’.
Let’s look at things in context. Women fear rape every day. Don’t make our burden heavier by going on the defensive, and by accusing us of blaming men. Victims of crime accuse their attackers. Survivors of rape do the same. So don’t play the victim. Don’t take it as a personal attack when a woman tells you about her ordeal. Help her to feel safe again.
In the video above, a ‘white woman’ protected a black one from discrimination. Don’t be the man that attacks the ‘feminist’ for daring to speak against the violence she faced. Be the man that protects women, all women, even feminists, from being violated in the worst way that any woman can be. And the next time a woman says no, even if she’s smiling as she says it, be man enough to listen.
♫ Tied my hands ♫ Seether ♫