Admit it, We Killed Feminism

Watch as a woman with access to equal opportunity to greatness is stifled by the standards and expectations we set on her because society’s standards are not the standards of equality yet.

There are things I wouldn’t like to admit to myself. Things such as the encroachment of stupidity in my surroundings that seems to be a willing indulgence as opposed to a tragic outcome of schools becoming the meeting point of kerosene and fire as opposed to the best possible brains. Things such as the need for activism, more especially gender based activism in an age where it is generally accepted that we’ve done enough damage with the empowered girl child and need to collect the boy child from a drunken stupor after he drops out of school because there is no room for him on the path to a board room chair. Things such as saying women need to break the glass ceiling because we’ve got the idea that once she’s broken it she will become a bitter viper who will work herself to the bone to keep other women under her feet. I don’t like to admit these things, because they are truer in the real world and not hidden behind fancy words of ideology on a paperback best seller on how to get your life together. I live in the real world, not between the pages of fiction.

The real world counters humanity with racism and war, love with dogma and stigmatization, equal opportunity with discrimination and systemic abuse. Sometimes I think books exist solely to distract us from the reality that assaults us in the real world. I don’t like to admit it to myself but the last street boy I encountered in a book was Oliver Twist and we all know what utopia he ended in. I walked past a starving street boy last week, tossed ten shillings into his cup and felt good about my soul. Good enough that I wouldn’t admit to myself that society was broken and that the thought of him in an orphanage was comparatively worse than having him on the street. I haven’t seen him since and I feel better for thinking him dead than suffering elsewhere in this November rain. It’s a far cry from a story book ending but it’s hard to admit reality.

I don’t like to admit that despite singing the song of equality we still need social media movements and hashtags to fix society. Two weeks ago, on live TV, a controversial (former) lawyer in the form of Miguna Miguna was hosted on popular TV show Jeff Koinange Live alongside business woman Esther Passaris.  It was the intention of the host that the two would have a debate about their gubernatorial aspirations for Nairobi County as they dissected what issues are facing residents and their plans to address these issues. From the public discourse surrounding the aftermath of the show you would be hard pressed to mention what issues were discussed.

On the rare occasion where you can’t say allegedly because the event is caught on tape, the former lawyer verbally and psychologically assaulted the woman as a watching nation looked on. And it turns out even worse was said behind the scenes with the word rape being thrown around as casual debate ammunition. We got angry, but not outraged. We took to our social media pages and asked, “How could he?” and “She should sue him” amongst other positions in the exchange. But we didn’t get past an amused anger that dissipates with the setting sun.

Why?

We’ve seen it before and we did nothing. Remember the altercation at Nairobi County Council offices between Evans Kidero and Rachael Shebesh? We got angry, we took sides, we did social media, then we did nothing. In more ways than one we keep doing nothing towards gender equality because we don’t fundamentally understand what gender equality should entail.

The real world counters humanity with racism and war, love with dogma and stigmatization, equal opportunity with discrimination and systemic abuse.

When do we talk matters gender?

Never in the right place, never at the right time and never with the right people.

We’ve got the attitude of a cavalier generation when we discuss things such as gender and politics. A crowded pub along an out of the way road on a sluggish evening is hardly the setting for a serious talk about gender parity. But it’s our invariable setting as men complain about how women drink just as much as them and have discovered the path to infidelity with varied success. “They want to be equal to us!” they will slur, no longer able to fully open their eyes. They will say this because they have been taught that gender equality is measured in how much one can drink and a woman downing ten brown bottles is muscling in on their territory.

A quaint café or restaurant on a sleepy Sunday afternoon will be the setting for this discussion over cakes and tea while talk of ‘chama’ money hangs delicately in the air. How a man should also be able to cook and do laundry because women have moved to offices and don’t have the time to do it every day. The complaints center around helpless men with their beer bellies and inability to get dressed without someone’s help. They will say this because they have been taught that gender equality is measured in house chores and the ability to raise children and a man who won’t bend in this direction is keeping them from their true status as an equal.

We want to talk about strong women when they campaign to run for elective office but not when we buy skuma from Mama Mboga who is supporting a family of four. We want to say a man is progressive when he marries a female CEO but not applaud the father raising his daughters to be independent minded go getters. We tell him to be careful, that no one will want to marry them, that education is good but so is starting a family. We cut them down young and feed them reasons to be bitter when they are older.

Who Sets Standards for us?

What is the standard for success and what is the standard for equality? Who even set these standards to begin with and why do we follow them?

Claim whatever feminism or parity you wish but don’t forget you live in a society with standards set in stone. Watch a bright young girl graduate with top honors in whatever field but her mother say in a speech she is now expecting her to bring a good boy home as they plan the wedding. Watch as she lives her life, succeeding in her field, but chasing after a man because her biological clock is ticking and the family is expecting grand-children. Watch her find a man who suits their bill but not hers because he is rich enough to bankroll their aspirations, not necessarily support her dreams. Watch her fade from brilliance. Watch as a woman with access to equal opportunity to greatness is stifled by the standards and expectations we set on her because society’s standards are not the standards of equality yet.

Standards we find in the real world allow a man to chase after as many women as he likes because he is sampling the filed but a woman who does the same is immoral.  Standards we’ve set allow us to laugh about sugar daddies but look with contempt at sugar mummies. Standards we’ve set allow white people to be expats in foreign nations as everyone else is an immigrant. Standards we’ve set allow a woman’s price to be valued in marriage, children and cooking while a man skates along on his ability to be male. Standards we’ve set allow us to excuse a man who beats up his wife because he was disciplining her but laugh at a woman who beats up her husband because he’s not ‘man enough’. Standards we’ve set allow us to call one domestic abuse and the other an unfortunate incident amidst laughter.

We’ve agreed to live with double standards. A headstrong man is called determined; a headstrong woman is called stubborn. A bossy man is called a leader; a bossy woman is called a bitch. Not by anyone else, by you; the same individual who will stand up against discrimination against women and children while holding onto the same standard that gave men the privilege to discriminate against women and children.

In a storybook setting you would have your absolute stance. You would champion for equality and refuse to back down from the fight from a contrasting standard that has, in your mind, contributed to the mental imprisonment of women and kept them from attaining their full potential. In reality…you would try to reconcile the two ambitions for your own survival. Compromise, that’s how we got here.

After his comments to Ms. Passaris, Miguna Miguna defended himself saying he was a father of four and would never attack anyone based on their gender. But he had. And somehow it had been alright for him because he had children and his victim was not his child or spouse or relation. She was an unknown. And that often makes it better, at least in our heads it does, because we can isolate the victim from a group. It stops being an assault on women but on one woman. A white man shoots a black man in America and says, “I’m not a racist, I’ve got friends who are black”, as if it makes it any better.

We’ve learnt to work compromise into our lives, the more convenient the better. I’ll slap you and it’s not violence against women because I’ve never slapped my sister who is a woman.  I’ll not accept your invitation to a dinner date even though you’re expressed feelings for me because of your tribe because my dad works with so many of your tribesmen, heck, we live next to each other. You are the best candidate for the job but I’ll go with a man who’s less qualified and that’s fine because I’ve employed women before.

Our accepted compromises and protection of societal standards is likely what keeps us from really achieving gender equality. That’s not something a hashtag will defeat. I don’t like to admit that to myself but that’s the reality. Gender inequality is here because we don’t have the face to admit it and do something that truly challenges it.

Admit it.

What is the standard for success and what is the standard for equality? Who even set these standards to begin with and why do we follow them?
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