Questioning My Feminism : Whose Movement Is It Anyway?

Editor’s note:

I use Empire a lot in this article. According to Joyful Militancy by carla bergman, the book from which this article gets a lot of its data from, Empire is the name for the organized catastrophe in which we live today. It is not really an “it” but a tangle of habits, tendencies, and apparatuses that sustain exploitation and control.

The world has continued to evolve into a more complex entity. The social units that we once relied on in the past to make sense of the world and understand our place in it e.g the family, the community, religion, even the nation state have started to fall behind in how useful they can be to us. We are asking questions at faster rates than these units can answer, which has caused many to lose faith in them. Some have opted to create alternative ways of being and seek out different organizing principles to act as an anchor, something that stabilizes us and gives meaning.

When I was in my early twenties, I was greatly dissatisfied with the future I thought was compulsory to me. The seemingly compulsory pattern of go to school, get a degree, get a job, get married, have children and die seemed unimaginative and restricting, and I did not want those to be my only options. When I discovered feminism I was ecstatic to find an organising principle that I could put my weight behind. I was thrilled and grateful to have found something that attempted to make sense of the world and provide several alternatives of being. I could live my life in whatever pattern I wanted and others could too. There was enough room for everybody to exist and there was the possibility that we could all exist however we wanted as long as we didn’t infringe on anyone else’s humanity. It was a no brainer.

The more I learned about how Empire has been modelled to stifle the human collective imagination and to restrict us to a solitary way of being, the more I wished to get out under its thumb and help others get free as well. I connected with those who shared the same ideals and we began to grow as a community. I found my voice and began to write, using the knowledge and awareness I had to speak on things that I felt were important, and was always happy to hear that my words were resonating and that there was always someone who felt that way or had had a similar thought. Empire has made life so difficult that these small moments of joy in this community became greatly significant to me, and I fiercely defended both the community and the joy it brought.

So I’m not sure when the same place in which I had found joy and camaraderie became cloying and restrictive. What once was motivating causes extreme burn out, and not the kind of burn out that could be solved by taking a social media hiatus. I felt like I was falling short in so many ways, like I wasn’t doing enough. I was constantly on edge, like I was under surveillance and everything I said or did was being scrutinized. I felt like I was one statement, one stance, one position away from saying the wrong thing and losing everything.

I began to notice an almost puritanical way that things were starting to play out. There seemed to be a reduction of matters into a dichotomy of good and evil, and identities were either pure or corrupt. Rallying behind this cause was no longer about creating alternative ways of being but about vanquishing evil from our midst. It appeared to be taking on mythological dimensions – we, the victims have risen up against the perpetrators. We have taken up arms against a force of nature greater than ourselves and are the soldiers of the light leading the crusade against dark forces. Privilege has become a moral stain and all those who bear it are to be met with suspicion and contempt, because the privilege makes them morally suspect and inherently bad.

I wondered if I was being too harsh in seeing the parallels to a crusade. However I could not ignore the attempts to sustain that dichotomy of good and evil. Any attempts to humanize the perpetrators is met with a visceral reaction of ferocious rage that comes from the gut. e.g. at the mere suggestion of extending empathy to those who have caused harm rather than rendering them disposable. By doing so you take away something they need – the aggrandizing feeling of having your suffering contextualized.

If you take away this belief that the perpetrators are inherently bad and incapable of redemption it also means you are taking away the identity of the victim/martyr/savior. As explained in this Quillette piece on Understanding Victimhood Culture, victimhood culture is when your identity as a victim gives you status. It is not your virtue as a person but rather someone else’s treatment of you makes you virtuous. It leads to moral emaciation, because the focus on oppression narrows the range of moral discourse. When analysis becomes a trait that one possesses, rather than a collective process, it stagnates. When we are too busy pointing out who is morally lacking and not up to scratch we cannot think of solutions or create and live in alternatives that help us be otherwise.

We have adopted ways of combating the different ways that Empire manifests in our lives. Online spaces especially have given us tools to organise and spread information. We have found communities on these spaces and have taken them offline, to take action and to enrich our own spaces with those who share similar ideologies. In a society where homophobia, misogyny and other iterations of patriarchy seek to repress and control, we seek safety, security and certainty. Yet we are all influenced by these vices that make up Empire and even in the ways we seek relief from this oppression we can and most likely do end up replicating the very rigid systems that enforce Empire.

Let’s just say the truth – we all fall short. We cannot try to speak on the pervasive injustices of society without admitting this. It is the world we exist in. There are times where we are going to do and say oppressive things and we are going to hurt each other. Whether in overt or covert ways, we are going to be violent, collude in violence or accept violence as normal. Not a single one of us is immune from succumbing to the trappings of Empire.

Empire itself is self sustaining; any solution you think of to combat it can and will be subjected to repression. Surveillance, imprisonment, online bullying, doxxing etc lead parts of movements to be destroyed, co-opted, subdued and divided. A lot of those who exist within these spaces that combat oppression are well aware of the ways in which we are attacked and subdued just as any headway is being made, and how this makes us alert for any threat to that progress.

We learn to search for, anticipate and point out this pervasiveness, we train ourselves to search for any behaviour, past or present that indicate complicity. We are ever vigilant and suspicious. We sometimes feel helpless and unable to tackle the monolithic oppressive structures but convince ourselves that if we point out and root out those who are complicit, that that in itself is radical. Our sense of indignation grows and everyone is tainted. Oppressive statements must be dissected and attacked as soon as they are detected. Every week someone is being exposed. There is some sort of satisfaction that can be gained in this – in being the one to expose inadequacy.

When there is a monolithic vision of the right way of doing things, the right way of speaking, the right way of practicing your activism, the right way of practicing self care, it forces out the messiness of relationships and everyday life. We are forced to ignore the flexible changing ways that we actually exist and live our lives in favour of dichotomies of good/bad, radical/reactionary, woke/unwoke. In a society that fits everything into dichotomy you either win or lose.

We choose to see life as it is appears as something to be fixed, governed, disciplined and controlled and present that as a correct way of being. But that’s exactly why we found and grew these communities – to escape the prescribed way of being that society had told us was right!

This kind of approach is dangerous because it takes away people’s power. We are reduced to our statements and rigidly classified as either symptoms of the problem or causes of it, rather than allowing ourselves the complexity and changing nature that is our humanity.

“When politics become something that one has, rather than something people do together, it becomes like fashion:- it needs to be visible in order to function.” – Joyful Militancy

We begin to trade with a currency of good politics – good politics being the visible ways in which we show up; participating in protests and hashtags, public/online call outs, writing critical articles and Twitter threads, participating in social justice projects and being in a large connected network with other radicals. These are all important ways in which we create kinship and participate. But what happens when this is a key point of trade – that these practices must be constantly put on show? This is a way that capitalist notions of productivity are reproduced in the movement- if you are not doing something visible and tangible you are inadequate.

Transformative practices become measuring sticks for comparison and leads to woker than thou competition. It intensifies the climate of shame and fear: the shame of not doing enough, the mistrust of those who are not seen to be doing anything and the competition between those who are doing things – those who have been doing it for a long time and those that recently started and have yet to ‘catch up’. Even for those that do catch up, they might still be resented for not getting there soon enough and will be regularly reminded of the ways they once fell short.

This is something to examine especially in the wake of social media and its inclination towards public performance. To be seen to be doing things is not the same as actually doing the things. When we stake value in the things we are seen to be doing, when hypervisibility becomes (social) currency, what is not seen becomes irrelevant. And this is unfortunate because there are incredible ways in which we show up for one another, the ways we do things without any fanfare of need for recognition. We diminish these private acts when we stake value on how one appears to be doing the work.

At the same time, because invisible work does not count, invisible harm can also can be seen not to count either.

Many people while publicly espousing the right politics have had terrible interpersonal relationships. The placement of importance on visible work over invisible acts means that mistakes and transgressions are often rationalized within the framework of the cause.  We buy into the dichotomy of hero and villain. We minimize wrongs against others because they are not systemic. They people champion the greater good, they have kilometres of credentials and have spearheaded this and that cause therefore can never be guilty of what they accuse others of. We are urged to put “petty differences” aside for the greater good. We are supposed to let abstract ideology get in the way of real messy relationships and interactions.

It bears remembering that we are all born into the same capitalist society, we are all marked in some way by violence and trauma. We are all very capable of replicating and passing it on to others, but it is our responsibility not to. Trauma is ubiquitous, we all bear some form of it, and therefore it can never be a viable excuse of bad behaviour.

“When the culture of any organisation mandates that it is more important to protect the reputation of a system and those in power than it is to protect the basic human dignity of the individuals who serve or are served by it, you can be certain that shame is systemic, that money is driving ethics and that accountability is all but dead.” – Brene Brown, Braving The Wilderness

“This is why I don’t believe in the concept of ‘self sacrifice’ where self sacrifice means that we do things that go against our needs, our desires, oh potentials and for the sake of our political work, we have to repress ourselves. This has been a common practice in political movements in the past. But it is one that produces constantly dissatisfied individuals.” – Silvia Federici

Too often activists and progressives that identify with a particular set of issues respond to their potential allies with distrust, especially when they hurt and disappoint us. We shut them out for having outdated politics or because they do not wield the same language. The overemphasis on changing behaviour, using correct language and calling out other people for not acting and speaking in the right way can lead us to look down at communities we came from. We distance ourselves from our past by criticizing everyone who talks like we did not too long ago.

To remain pious the priest must reveal new sins. To display good politics there has to be a contrast with someone who displays bad politics.

However many progressives in their respective movements were not always believers in its tenets. They held problematic views for most of their lives. There is an unspoken idea that we saw the light because we were better people, because we are the “good guys.” But this isn’t necessarily true. In all our problematic years, the information was available. There were people making these same points back then. Why did we remain unconvinced for so long? Why would we then paint anyone who is in the position that we were once in as irredeemably evil?

The alternative that many of us have taken is mastering the hypercritical language and one-upping one another every chance we get. When we position ourselves as the ones to spread the word to the unknowing masses, we can fall into the trap of positioning others as stupid and ignorant. There are those who pretend not to know how Google works and expect to have their hands held, and I’m not saying that you expend energy on them if you don’t want to. What I do mean is that when everyone is under scrutiny, it becomes hard to tell the difference between wilful ignorance and genuine curiosity. We close our ranks to those that don’t know because we believe they are naive, ignorant and in some cases we even frame them as the problem itself. In any case we end up excluding many of those who are supposed to be centered by anti-oppressive practices and others who haven’t been exposed to the constantly evolving language of radical communities.

“I am not so concerned with how we dismantle the master’s house, that is, which set of theories we use to critique colonialism, but I am very concerned with how we build our own houses.” – Leanne Simpson.

The space a movement creates from the beginning is key—the tone and openness, or lack of it makes a big difference if one wants to focus on new relationships with one another. You cannot think of a problem, give voice to it, share it with others, if you fear that you will be dismissed, ridiculed, or told that it is not important. A space that harbours a climate of competition, comparison, mistrust, an emphasis on public performance and hypervigilance makes for a closed and eventually nasty space for those not fully familiar with it. People do not stay in movements that organize in this way as these practices isolate the movement from the very people it aims to liberate. If they do remain, it is with a strict obedience to hierarchy and adherence to a “right” way of being.

Sometimes these divisions get in the way and people hurt each other in seen and unforeseen ways. We are but products of the many messy relationships that shape our lives over time, and sedimented habits get in the way of us growing and moving forward together. However we do have the power of transformation within us. There are and have always been spaces where alternatives have been functioning. Seeking them requires difficult and sometimes painful conversations, but the ability to think past either/or situations is the foundation of critical thinking.

I would imagine that the points I have made are not unfamiliar to those who occupy radical spaces. These conversations do take place albeit in hushed tones; this is one of activism’s worst kept secrets. It’s easy to point fingers to specific people and be like “well THEY are like that, those people over there!”. First of all, no, because these are behaviours that arise in all of us. Secondly by doing so we go back to square one- of seeing a problem and pointing it out, of searching for the flaws in others, of being the one to provide answers. The best way to deal with this is not to attack it but to try and understand it and find ways to dissipate it.

“Perhaps it is more important to be in community, vulnerable and real and whole, than to be right or winning.” – adrienne maree brown

Friendships and kinship are the best ways to combat…well anything. With my friendships I have found support, love and care and have learned and continue to learn how to give these things back in kind. When we find support we are able to confront the things that we are up against, and life doesn’t seem as hopeless or as bleak as it does when we are on our own. Those we love can be our reasons to stay alive when we do not think we can go on. They can help us leave horrible situations, and also help us examine our own bad habits without shame or judgement.

However our society emphasizes heterosexual pairings and does not stress the same importance on deep platonic friendships, or even friendships within the familial units we grow up in. We are taught to make friends based on flimsy connections. These friendships that are more often than not based in leisure are easy to abandon as soon as something unfavourable happens. There is little to no incentive to actually think a division through and move forward.

Some of the unsustainable bonds we make are through common enemy intimacy – the enemy of my friend is my enemy, the friend of my enemy is my enemy, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. A lot of emphasis on the enemy. We hotwire a sense of connection by hating the same people and disliking the same ideals. We inherit beef that we know very little about to show loyalty. These connections can be wildly intense and gratifying, there is so much outrage and anger and pain we can discharge this way. These are not sustainable nor is there any real connection – just an unspoken treaty to hate the same people and things. When it’s all over you’re very likely to suffer from what Brene Brown calls a integrity hangover. You ask yourself questions like “did I really participate in that? Did that move us forward? Am I engaging in the same behaviour I find loathsome in others?”

When all that binds us is what or who don’t like rather than who we are and our potential, changing our mind or challenging the collective ideology is risky. We have to foster relationships strong enough to hold us when we go up against the institutions that oppress us. We should roll up our sleeves and start doing the hard work of learning how to work through conflict and pain as if our lives depended on it – because they do!

While we can decide to focus on cultivating our own gardens, it is hard to create alternatives in isolation. The real work is reaching across the scars that oppressive systems have left us with, making kin across these divides, and repairing and maintaining trust.

Kinship across the divides is indeed important, too important not to get it right, or at the very least try. We cannot continue to reject diversity of thought precisely when it gets difficult. How can we demand nuance when talking about broad spectrums of gender identity, sexuality etc yet double down on binary interpretations of good and bad, with us or against us? If we are interested in building mass movements to destroy mass oppression, our movements must include people not like us, people with whom we will never fully agree and people with whom we have conflict.

Those who have caused harm can be understood simultaneously to have the capacity to transform lives and as perpetrators of violence. To admit to the former is not to deny the other. We must be open armed in our quest for justice – we can name the violence we have suffered under others WHILE leaving room for those who have caused harm to be accountable and come back into the fold. Ultimately according to #BlackLivesMatter founder Alicia Garza, building a movement is about restoring humanity to all of us, even to those of us who have been inhumane. Movements are where people are called to be transformed in service of liberations to themselves and others.

“When you know better, you do better.” – Maya Angelou.

I am in no means saying that now you lower all your boundaries, make friends with your abusers and forgive those who have trespassed against you in order to be woke. In a world with so much interpersonal violence openness and vulnerability are incredibly risky. Love and friendship can also be weaponized and the risk of betrayal makes us wary of forging new connections or getting too deep into one.

“For joy to thrive, it must have sharp edges.” – Joyful Militancy

Strong boundaries are the most important thing in all this. It is vital that we know when to put them up and when to lower them, when to update those that are porous and discard of those that no longer serve us. It is respecting others boundaries as much as you want yours respected, and asking when you are unsure of them.

In a culture that requires you to fit in and conform, asking questions is seen as malicious antagonism rather than being valued as learning.

If we wish to transform we have to continuously question the things we do, the spaces we inhabit and what our capacity within them is. Firstly because there is nothing wrong with asking questions and seeking alternatives. But also because questions are open ended. They imply that there is wiggle room, and that nothing is finite.

If anything the entire movement towards seeking justice is questions – what can we do together? How can we support each other? How do we create room for disagreement and difference without a total shutdown? How do we create spaces where people can be vulnerable and safe but still not create complacency? How do we prioritize relationships over ideologies without losing our integrity? How do we undo the culture in which both survivors and perpetrators are rendered disposable while institutional violence continues to thrive? How can we direct our anger and pain in ways that topple power relations? How do we build, maintain and repair trust?

Being the one to provide answers to ways of being creates limitations, and that is the opposite of what we strive for. We should not allow complacency of thought – to ever think that we are “done” and have identified all the ways in which we experience and reproduce oppression. To avoid this complacency is to always be mindful of what we are responsible for, whom we are responsible to and what we can be held accountable for.

Ethical Sex : Part IV – A Thousand Words For Snow

It never occurred to me to call what happened between us rape until about a year and a half later, when he texted me to ask, “Are you telling people that I raped you?”

I remember revulsed panic being replaced by a deep, trembling rage. What concerned him was not that he might have raped me, but that people might think he did. At the time I was too stunned to engage in a conversation on the nuances of sexual assault, but I don’t believe I should have had to. Though I often thought of that night and how it was one of the last we spent together, I had never thought about it in those terms. I refused to get drawn into a discussion, torn between a desire to yell at him and a need to end the conversation as soon as possible.

In retrospect it may not have even occurred to him to question his actions. It’s been said that we need to get rid of this idea that rape only occurs between strangers or on pain of death or bodily harm – that in order to qualify as victim one has to fight back and be overcome. An encounter between past lovers who fucked before and after does not have those hallmarks. He may not even have known of which night I was thinking, which is freshly lacerating in its own way. Still, his concern was for himself, not me, and that was nothing new.

I’m not sure exactly what we said – I deleted the text thread soon after. It makes analysis difficult, because my memory is no longer reliable after all we went through. I thought and spoke about him so much it’s possible some details changed in the re-telling. Certainly I’ve never been able to ask him for his side of the story. It was too hurtful while I was still trying to get over him, and now that so much distance has been achieved I don’t see the benefit in re-opening channels of communication.

I did not in fact accuse him of rape. A few weeks before he texted me I had tried to explain to mutual friends of ours “what happened”. How come we could no longer share a space. How come the last time I saw him I left in tears. How come I stopped calling, stopped coming over. It was part of a longer, more complicated story, but an important part.

I reminded them of a night spent talking and drinking in their sitting room, and how after dinner and whiskey and easy meandering conversation the attraction to him felt almost visible, as did anguish at our situation.

When I told them that after they left for bed and we were alone he had persisted despite my asking him not to, I had never really thought about what this meant. In the moment of re-telling, it was an instance quoted to prove that he did not pay attention to what I wanted from him and never really had.

Raw pain made me ask what sort of a person continued with sex despite tears. “If someone you were fucking started crying, wouldn’t you stop to ask if they were okay? Make sure they’re good? I mean who does that?” It was a question I’d ask more than once. As for how long I cried, or how hard, I can’t say – whether he even noticed it when he looked at me, whether he was too drunk to be concerned.

So I told them about refusal and then what followed. A year of coming home from the club to cry on the floor of my room, stifling hands over mouth (those tears I remember). Depression. Two weeks unable to leave my house, reading Helen Oyeyemi and starving until I had to go back to work. Suicidal ideation. An obsession with knives, hours spent imagining how I would do it, how I would kill him. There was no real conviction or intent, but how those ideas gave me comfort. That life can be disrupted I already knew, but it was comforting to think that the possibility of me disrupting life was real.

(When you see how easily and simply a life can change, even through inaction, you realise that every aspect of how we live our lives was invented by someone, and the texture of the sky changes. You respect nature more, and learn to remember that nobody really knows anything, that someone had to invent the word for everything.)

In the days that followed that text conversation, as I revisited that night and my narration of it, I realised it did sound like rape.

So then I had to ask myself, fuck, was I raped?

Despite all the time spent on and offline with the thoughts of smarter people it had never occurred to me. Obviously a boundary had been crossed, but none of the sex we’d had before that night had ever been straightforward. Drunk sometimes, or sober, always fun. Sometimes loud and sometimes biting down on shoulders to keep silent. Often as an act of infidelity for him, indiscretions in two different relationships and the rebound time in between. It was a constant that I badly wanted to have sex with him – though not like that, on that night. Not as a misstep or convenience or after-thought. This was what was already between us on a night where I can’t be sure of much. We had shared the same bottle of detail-blurring whisky. Months later we were still able to share moments of non-sexual intimacy, singing along to the same songs and going halfsies on mzingas. I wrote memories of him that moved the people on my Tumblr. We had sex the very next day, even, and in the evening, after agreeing that we just shouldn’t hang out any more, he dropped me at the Modern Coast bus station on Mombasa Road for the 9.30 bus.

I liked him a lot more than he did me, a fact already acknowledged between us. Because of this, because I had already caught feelings, I had asked him to stop asking, to stop touching me, because Lord how I loved to have him touch me. It wasn’t the sex itself I didn’t want, it was the inevitable heartbreak it would bring. That was what I was asking him to keep from me, and that was what he ignored, and should have cared about enough about to stop. I wanted him to stop, for my sake and his.

So was I raped? Certainly I was hurt. I had sex I didn’t want with someone I wanted, who didn’t want me. Our mutual friend – a man whose intelligence and spirit we both respect – must have called it rape, when he called him out, or else why text so. But I didn’t want to have to know I was raped. It did not make me calmer to think that I was, acceptance as the first step to healing. Healing, if such a thing exists, came through other ways. It was easier to talk about it as part of a larger falling out, or to say I stopped being where he was because I liked him too much, which is kind of part of what happened anyway.

It unsettled me that the details I laid out could in fact be put together in the shape of assault. To say he raped me (who I wanted so long, in whom even at this distance I can see the shape of a life we could both have loved) to have this conversation would put us all in a position where we have to decide. How do we choose who and what matters more to us? Fathers of daughters and husbands of wives, friends of old with the bonds of time and experience – how does this incident fit? It still doesn’t sit easy. So they apologise for my pain, and they wait.

***

It is so hard to make the word rape liveable. We use it easily as a shorthand for violence – strewn liberally in male poetry and Game of Thrones realism and short punchy tweets about countries that are taken advantage of. It is understood as code for shocking violence, human cruelty beyond all accepted norms, or else as a quick way to describe how badly the other team lost. How then to fit it in amongst people who are still friends with the same people and laugh at the same tweets? After using it as a punchline, how does it then apply to those strangers who were in fact threatened with death? And then again the same word for those who know exactly what was done to them. How to use it in a way that makes sense?

Unable to speak in any other terms, in the absence of violence and with only our soreness the next morning or the tiniest of blood spots on the tissue as mementos, sometimes we say it was a bad night, just bad sex. Chalk it up to experience and say it doesn’t really count. It happens to everyone. How much of what we call bad sex consists of violation?

The ubiquity of a thing demands multiple descriptions. It may be that we need broader vocabulary: a thousand words for each of the ways our bodies are taken from us.

***

The exact number of words the Inuit people have for snow is a matter of debate, mostly because the phrase became a cliche and people are pedantic. There’s two interesting little articles about this from Washington Post and BuzzFeed. They pretty much recap the debate, although neither quotes any actual Inuit people,oddly enough. I claimed a thousand word count because I like how it sounds, and I am invoking the snowclone trope, if you’ll forgive me for it.  

While the extent of vocabulary does not determine one’s cognitive abilities or reflect intelligence (shoutout to cramming the longest words possible into primary school compositions), it is obvious that it eases communication. Other mediums engage other senses, but words are handiest.

One of the snow debates fusses over whether the words used are distinct from each other or merely a piling upon of multiple suffixes onto one base word, and if so, should they really count. Whatever the case , “piegnartoq” for “the snow [that is] good for driving sled” is better than just “snow” as far as instructiveness is concerned.

Old words die as their people move beyond needing them, and whole worlds die with them. In the new worlds that follow, birthed by our endless capacity for invention, words take shape as they always have: through acclamation. So we work it out through slang and academia, analogies about cups of tea and posts advising against making children hug people they don’t want to: a milieu from which we’ll create a teachable scale of violence that’ll be passed around, memeable and therefore inescapable. Words that will tell exactly what was hurt, and so what must be mended.

So keep talking, and forwarding, and sharing, and comment below. Moderators may intervene.

Ethical Sex : Part III – Difficult Questions

Consent can be a complicated topic. Even to me, that sounds like a controversial statement, but it is complicated, and that should inform how we approach it.

When the conversation of consent went mainstream, it was initially very binary. It did not always aim for nuance. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a criticism, it was a necessary measure at the time. When an idea like “no means no” was widely controversial and incited debate among large swathes of the population, where else would you start but the bare bones basics? The conversation has grown since then, and it’s echoes are being felt in institutions around the world. Even so, I feel like the full potential of this discussion has not been realized. The conversation is still largely one of condemnation, or to put it another way, centred around the clearer boundaries of consent. This is important, but it is not the only subject.

I want to address the difficult questions about consent that we don’t normally ask. You may have thought of them, but felt inclined to say nothing. Part of this hesitation no doubt comes from how a number of the conversations are framed; that there are no questions to be asked, that you should already innately know these things. But I think the larger part is a fear of the answer. The fear that asking that question will lead to a conclusion that you would rather not be true. Or if it is, you might prefer not to know. It might say something about you, or it might shine a new light on someone else. Either way, sometimes it seems easier to just stick to what is already clear. What is already known.

Unfortunately, while the big, clear cut categories might be safer ground, they are only part of the story. For those of us who consider consent important, which should be all of us, we would like to have ethical sex lives. And for us to do that, it requires a deeper inspection of consent. We have to delve into areas that may make us uncomfortable because of our past conduct. We have to take a look at behaviour from people close to us that is simpler to just leave alone. We need to go to where it is complicated and messy and through our combined effort, find answers. Perhaps these conversations are going on somewhere, but we need them out front — where everyone can learn.

For a while now, I have been asking people who speak on this subject a question. When both parties are drunk, what are the dynamics of consent? The most common reaction is a hesitation and usually, there is no answer. That seems like a pretty big gap in the conversation because for many people, that is not a hypothetical scenario. Drunk sex is incredibly common. Odds are, you’ve had it. Is this a question you’ve asked yourself? Do you have an answer? I know I don’t have a clear one. And I think, if we are to have ethical sex, it is a question we should be asking and trying to answer.

Can a drunk person give consent? For most people, this is an easy question when only one party is drunk. But when both are intoxicated, there’s a lot less debate or, really, any kind of conversation. What are the rules and boundaries here? What accountability can there even be? With the memory loss and impaired judgement that some experience, is this an environment that ethical sex can even occur in? I’m going to go out on a limb and say, probably not.

Of course, many of us have had drunk sex in numerous circumstances where all the parties involved enjoyed it, where it was consensual. The problem here, is the doubt. The uncertainty of whether knowing consent was given or not.

Drunk sex offers a good entry point into this kind of conversation because it highlights the kind of situation where there is no clear villain. Where it’s not really that simple, or if it is, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. How many people prefer to drink for a confidence boost, for lowered inhibitions, for that adventurous push that make social interactions easier? How much of the prevailing sexual culture is learned and practised around such interactions?  How many people just enjoy drunk sex in and of itself?

I don’t think I have dug enough into this topic to unequivocally say that drunk sex is always wrong. What I can say is that it certainly is not the easier option it is often portrayed to be. It is dangerous. It opens doors of where consent is blurred. It might not have been given, it might be given and forgotten, it might be given and remembered but compromised because it would never have been done sober. It creates an environment where you may violate a person’s boundaries and more than that, leave them feeling that they were the ones at fault. In the end, it comes down to one simple question. Is the risk that your partner(s) is not actually consenting ever worth taking?

At a minimum, it requires more introspection, more communication between parties and more boundaries set when sober than it gets now. If you are going to engage in drunk sex, it is imperative to know beforehand how to hold yourself accountable and how to ensure you are always within your partner’s boundaries.

But having ethical sex is not entirely based on your own attitudes because sex is not an individual activity. It is important to know what views other people bring and how they affect your sexual relationship.

The other day, I was among a group of men talking about how to avoid having sex with a woman. I’ve listened and been part of these discussions often, I’ve just never given them the level of inspection they deserved. There was a dynamic of sex that I had never truly questioned and so some things that should have never set off alarms in my mind.

The entire premise of the discussion was that when a woman initiates a sexual encounter, she is unlikely to take no for an answer. A question that seemed to resonate with almost everyone was what to do when you turned her down, and she said “what’s wrong, don’t you find me attractive?” Another was how to proceed after you said no, and she refused to accept it (“I know you want to”) and went straight for your pants. The offered solutions were “you just have to physically run away” which was met with the kind of laughs that said, I find that funny but only because of how true it is. The other was, “sometimes you just have to go along with it, what else can you do?”

We saw the matter of women and consent dealt with last week and so I won’t go into again. What is important here is the attitude many men carry about how to handle this. It is a common misconception that men should always be ready for sex, that they can’t and don’t say no. Many women receive a “no” with hurt or anger or as a challenge. As a result, it is often easier to just accept and “go along with it”. When you, as a woman, receive consent, it might be important to be sure that it is actual consent, not resignation. Not damage control.

I have read about and heard from women who have sex when they do not want to. They are not forced, there is no coercion, but prevailing attitudes say that this is what is supposed to happen especially in relationships. Verbal consent is given, sometimes with the performance of enthusiasm, and all the apparent forms are observed. Still, there is something wrong with that. Something unhealthy about someone having sex with you because they believe they would be a bad girlfriend, or a bad partner if they did not.

In these cases, it is not your fault, but that is not the same thing as saying you are completely free of responsibility. And what is your responsibility? There’s no easy answer to that. Sexual relationships are varied and how you interact, and what you are willing to share, is not a constant. People bring a lot of thoughts and beliefs with them, some completely uninspected, and it is not always possible to dig into that. What you can always do, is make sure that your partners understand that it is okay and consequenceless to say no. That they can always change their minds. That what they want is important.

And so, while consent can be a complicated topic, the answers are what they’ve always been — you only have to think about them deeper. Receive consent, yes, but with what society is, that is not always just a simple yes or a seemingly enthusiastic response. Communicate, yes, but the depth and breadth of that communication must encompass a wider range. Consent is not a matter of limiting your liability, it is about engaging ethically and honestly with someone else. The effort must extend beyond your needs and wants and what is easy.


As we roll out the Ethical Sex series, we would like to receive your contributions and thoughts, which we may post, add on or talk about in our final article. We do not claim to be experts by any means, we are simply willing to undertake this journey, learn something and be better. Join us and hopefully we can help each other find the right path.

Email us at: submissions@34.193.184.231

Ethical Sex : Part II – When Women Violate Consent

We each have an inalienable right to have domain over our bodies, minds, and choices. Good people don’t violate consent, and we all would like to see ourselves as good people, right? Truth be told, that isn’t often the case, as consent violation crops up in several aspects of our everyday lives, whether we perceive it as such or not.

Introspection is key to self improvement. It would be wanting of myself as a feminist to wax lyrical about the importance of consent if I did not look into my own interactions with others. Looking back on my sexual encounters, I started to remember instances that made me cringe. I remembered taking “later” “not now” “I’m busy” as challenges. Instances where my partner would initially say no, but I persisted until they caved because I could clearly see signs of arousal. There are even times I sulked and even threw a fucking tantrum when they did not agree to my pestering.

Pressuring partners into sex…hearing them say they weren’t in the mood and still trying to change their minds…  that’s coercion. It was hard to believe that I have violated and/or disregarded consent over the course of several interactions without clearly realising what I was doing was wrong. Why? It is because I am a woman.

An article on how to seduce a man from LovePanky.com, a site that describes itself as a “guide to better love and relationships” says

“Seducing a man is an art, and one that’s thoroughly enjoyable. Just watching a man feel flustered and awkward because of the sexual tension you’ve created is a rush that few things can give a girl. A few of these tips may be sneaky and scheming, but hey, we’re not playing dirty. We’re only using the advantage of being a woman! Find out how to seduce a man who’s not your own man, and make him sweat with desire.”

Thousands of publications have articles on this. From Cosmopolitan to Playboy, you are sure to find a few seduction tips peppered into the sex section of a lifestyle magazine. Not all examples are as extreme as the one above, but the general message is loud and clear. Women’s attempts to convince men into sexual activity are supposed to be taken as cute, appealing and welcome acts.

The truth of the matter is, if you have to convince someone showing even the slightest measure of reluctance to sleep with you, then the sex is not 100% consensual. It’s not necessarily rape, but it is a form of misconduct. Even if someone physically gets on top of you, they are not making the decision freely if something other than their own desires are influencing them. Consent should always be enthusiastic, never ambiguous. It shouldn’t have to be coaxed out of someone.

Coercion is when you make the consequences to saying “no” to intimacy so great that it removes any reasonable choice. An example would be saying something along the lines of ‘its either we have sex now or you forget about it, this is because you don’t find me attractive…’ yet any reasonable human being understands that not wanting sex in the moment is not the same as not being attracted to the person.

Such an ultimatum takes your partner on a guilt trip which forces them to go along with your request, not because they want to [which should be the cornerstone of all sexual interactions], but because losing you will be the bigger loss. Other consequences could involve invoking your wrath; ‘if I withdraw consent my partner will get mad/accuse me of cheating/drag me on Twitter/ghost me/spread rumours’.

When you believe your partner in that moment owes you intimacy, and you are just expressing your feelings [if you really loved me you would; ], there is a good chance you are being coercive. If someone says “no” and your first instinct is to prepare for a fight instead of immediately accepting their choice, you are gearing yourself up to be coercive. Even insisting on a reason as to WHY you can’t be intimate [you know I really like you, why are you doing this, is it me, please tell me why] is right on the path to sexual coercion.

Discussions about consent tend to focus on men’s understanding (or lack thereof) of consent.These conversations takes precedence over all the others, now more so in the wake of all the Hollywood scandals and the subsequent rise the #MeToo movement. It is fantastic that women are coming forward to share their stories and it is important to cultivate an atmosphere of safety for those who do. However a quick Google search on consent shows how it is framed as a male issue – as if they are the only ones who don’t know about this.

There are dangerous implications in taking a gender focused approach; (i) that men are the only ones who need to be certain that they have ongoing enthusiastic agreement ii) that women are never the perpetrators of coercive sexual contact;  both of which cause a lot of damage. 

A 2010 report from the The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, found that over their lifetime, women were vastly more likely to experience abuse perpetrated by men, as were male victims who were penetrated without their consent. “But among men reporting other forms of sexual victimization, 68.6% reported female perpetrators,” the paper reports, while among men reporting being made to penetrate, “the form of nonconsensual sex that men are much more likely to experience in their lifetime … 79.2% of victimized men reported female perpetrators.” Women are equally capable of consent violations and other forms of sexual violence.

Sexual violation (of whatever degree) is usually regarded as a violent crime accomplished through physical force, and because women are not usually perceived as physical aggressors, thousands of encounters are usually downplayed. As women, we do not think ourselves capable of coercion of any sort. We see the term ‘seduction’ as a means to an end, to convince an otherwise ‘unsure’ party that this is what WE BOTH want. Stereotypes about women include the notion that women are nurturing, submissive helpmates to men. The idea that women can be sexually manipulative/coercive, dominant, and even violent runs counter to these stereotypes.

This jarring collection of notes compiled by The Atlantic that details men’s encounters with women includes this painful statement,

“How does a woman rape a man?” The whole situation put me in an odd place—emotionally, and at odds with how our culture views men who have been sexually assaulted. I guess I refused to see what happened as rape because, like many, that word is reserved for what happens to women—and to be honest it’s often related to physiology. When you look around the culture, you see the idea of a woman forcing a man into sex as either not a bad thing—because men are always supposed to be ready to go—or that it’s physically impossible. The majority of talk around men being raped in our culture centers on sexual violence committed by men in positions of power on young boys, like what happened in the Catholic Church. Or it’s inmate-on-inmate rape in prison. My scenario was neither of those.

The perception that men always want sex is an extremely dangerous one. It’s still the default assumption about men, still casually reinforced basically every day. This grossly dehumanizing stereotype is extremely destructive to men and oftentimes leads to the disregard of their consent. If the societal expectation is that all men always want sex, there is a great amount of pressure put on them to prove that they are ‘real men.’  This pressure is by extension placed on whoever is having sex with men – if a man denies or withdraws consent, it is regularly seen as being a problem with the partner  “you don’t find me attractive!”; which ties into the false perception that “they always want sex, so how could he possibly say no? It must be me!” rather than it being a simple denial.

If you want a look at how casual this perception is, look at the responses to the tweet below.

It is important that we as women actually let these conversations happen as they are a direct implication of our actions. There is NOTHING to joke about here. A quick one time apology would not have sufficed if a man decided to joke (repeatedly) about disregarding a woman’s consent if she brought it up as a talking point on the TL. We must be willing to introspect and ask ourselves whether we’d be comfortable hearing the things we’ve said if it was the other way round.

Women may have (inadvertently) gotten into the habit of pontificating but it’s time to re-learn how to converse, and how to increase our perspectives and evolve our outlook. If we constantly put men to task on calling each other out, we as women should be willing to do the same, both as individuals and within our ranks. Remember, consent is gender-blind, and therefore so is its violation.

We are all capable of violating boundaries, and we can only better respect them once we admit that. You cannot understand consent without first understanding boundaries. Boundaries are set for a very good reason. Most times, they actually have nothing to do with you, and other times they could be. You aren’t in control of those variables, what you ARE in control of is what you do AFTER you’ve been told no. Show respect for your partner’s self-advocacy and self-awareness. In doing so you’re showing that you respect their choice. If you can’t respect their choices, then I guess it’s time to examine your own boundaries.


 As we roll out the Ethical Sex series, we would like to receive your contributions and thoughts, which we may post, add on or talk about in our final article. We do not claim to be experts by any means, we are simply willing to undertake this journey, learn something and be better. Join us and hopefully we can help each other find the right path.

Email us at: submissions@34.193.184.231

Ethical Sex : Part I

Every now and then, something so significant happens that it immediately creates a clear line of demarcation between the old world and the new. The effect is so sudden and pervasive that on the timeline of human progress it resembles nothing so much as an explosion. In my reckoning, social media belongs on this list. While it’s ubiquity makes it easy to take for granted, it is without a doubt the greatest facilitator of discussion and thought the world has ever seen.

Social media does not just give us information, it steps past the systemic bias that shapes narratives and avoids the hands guiding the lens to what is and isn’t important. I’m not going to act like there are no negatives to this, there are several significant ones, but it cannot be denied that there is power in receiving information firsthand. In hearing personal experience and seeing it echoed in different forms around the world. To see the discussion happening and growing before our eyes in language we understand and contribute to. There has never been a better time to learn or to understand.

Few areas show this effect more starkly than the field of feminist thought. Not too long ago in the Kenyan sphere, sexist viewpoints were regularly aired and executed without much regard to their rightness or wrongness. It was not something that regularly invited comment or frankly, widespread attention. It was common, banal even. While this fact did little to blunt the effects of what was happening, many people simply didn’t know any better.

Since then, through the tireless work of many incredible women paired with the explosive effect of social media, we have a different story. Now, everyone who regularly uses twitter has a fairly good understanding of feminist concepts — even the hard line misogynists. After all, they are always the first to comment “the feminists will come for you” under a problematic tweet. They wouldn’t do this so efficiently without a keen understanding of what was and wasn’t problematic and I think we can safely assume that they didn’t decide to dive into feminist literature. It was social media that brought the information their way and in this, proved to be an effective tool for teaching even those who were not looking to learn. (The fact that they clearly know better but refuse to change condemns the content of their character more than anything else.)

I say all this to emphasize that as we acknowledge the power of social media to fuel powerful conversation, we must ensure to use it to its full capacity. It is not enough to simply have these conversations, but they must evolve as well. We must have the conversations that are easy to avoid, because perhaps we are implicated or they are complicated with no easy answers; because they make our lives harder.

Over this month, Will This Be A Problem will run a series on ethical sex. The running theme will be consent. While we have heard a lot about consent, it has been one of the most consistent topics on social media for a long time, there are areas that remain lightly explored. This is not to say that they are not being discussed, only that they could be louder. The information could find people easier.

We intend to ask questions and, if not find answers then perhaps encourage a deeper search for them. This series is for those of us who already accept that consent is essential but want a more examined view of it to ensure they live ethical sex lives. To do this, we have to delve into areas that may make us uncomfortable because of our past conduct. We need to go to where it is complicated and messy and through our combined effort, use this platform to find our way.

We shall look at how women navigate receiving consent and their reaction to its withdrawal. I think it is obvious why much of the conversation has targeted men, they are the main offenders after all. But issues need not be equivalent to be worthy of examination. It is time we had a serious conversation about the toxic assumptions regarding men and sex, and how many women do not truly consider violation of consent a topic that affects them.

We shall also tackle the harder more complicated aspects of consent. Away from the clear boundaries that we should all understand by now, we will explore situations that are common but many of us do not think about deeply. Questions we should be asking ourselves and how to come together to find answers.

The aim of this series is not to attack or condemn, but to grow. You cannot fix a problem if you do not understand it. You must look at it, define it and only then can you have a reasonable chance at finding a solution. We want people to think better about sex. Safe sex is not just about condoms and the physical aspects, but the thought process that leads up to it as well.

In the beginning I said there has never been a better time to learn or understand. This is true. But it also requires effort on our part to work. As we carry on with this series, we hope to hear from you. To receive your contributions and thoughts, which we will add on and talk about in our final article. We do not claim to be experts by any means, we are simply willing to undertake this journey, learn something and be better. Join us and hopefully we can help each other find the right path.

Email us at: submissions@34.193.184.231

The New Gospel

Excuse me sisters, would you hold on a moment. If you would allow me just a minute, I wish to tell you about the gospel of “real feminism.”

In the beginning some men (not all men) got together and decided to fix feminism. They saw there was clearly a problem and came up with definitions and priorities for feminists to adopt. They even suggested legitimate mediums “serious feminists” should use (not twitter). When they were done, they looked upon their work and they were pleased. They called it, real feminism. This is how our gospel was born.

Unable to contain their excitement they brought their creation to other feminists but they were often rejected. Prophets are after all not welcomed in their own homes (or even the homes they move into uninvited and try to renovate). And so it was decided that the old feminists were heretics and heathens to the cause. They were given many names to mark them; new feminists, twitter feminists, militant feminists, lazy feminists and so on. The prefix did not really matter so long as one remembered to include a dismissive tone when they said it (for example, Beyoncé feminists.)

The old feminists accused our prophets of being anti feminist. Our prophets laughed (intellectually) and said, “No. We have no problem with feminism. Look at the feminism there, we like that. And feminism in the past, it was serious, we loved that. This feminism of yours is the problem.”

“So the feminism that’s here and now, the one in spaces that you occupy…that one’s a problem?” Asked the feminists (bitterly).

“No no no…we don’t mind feminism. It just has to be real feminism. You know, the real one.”

“It seems to us,” said the feminists (emotionally), “that the further feminism is from affecting you, the more likely it is to be ‘real feminism’.”

“That is not it at all.”

And that is how the first great debate of feminism was won.

The old feminists went away more bitter, more man-hating and pretending even more to know where Ukraine was on the map. Unfortunately, their rebellion would not end there. Say what you will about them but they were a tenacious lot. They would not be gone for long. They popped up again as the prophets spoke the truth of how old feminists did nothing for men, the boy child and their issues.

“But we do! All the time,” interjected the old feminists (rudely).

“Lies!”

“We do! And even if we didn’t…why don’t you do it? Why don’t men come together and try help each other instead of spending all their time attacking us?”

“Go back to the kitchen!”

“Right…When in doubt- misogyny.”

“Listen to them,” said the Prophets, “so emotional. It was JUST a joke. Calm down.”

“You know why you don’t know what we do? Because YOU don’t pay attention to those issues. If you care for men’s issues so much why do you never talk about them? Why is it that the only context you discuss them in is as a weapon to wield against feminists?”

“Coz” they said.

And thus the second great debate of feminism was won.

On it went. The “real feminist” proponents showed the old feminists all the things they weren’t doing. The old feminist claimed to have done them by presenting evidence among other underhanded sneaky tactics. The proponents told them the flaws of old feminism schools of thought and the old feminists asked if they had even bothered to read or research those works as if this had anything to do with it.
And somewhere along this path the old feminists for whatever reason, started to get angry. By doing so what the prophets had been saying was proved true, old feminism just made women unreasonable which was bad for everyone.

This is the foundation of our church. It is true sisters, you must embrace feminism, no one is saying otherwise. But it must be real feminism. You can’t just go and be a feminist, it is a process. There are rules and directions and you have to listen to the people who know things. I know it seems weird and counter-intuitive that men should be telling women about the female experience and such but hey…man is the head of the family, even the global family. And where do ideas come from? Yeah. Exactly. The head. Sticking to outdated feminism has already brought so much grief. It destroyed our morals, it destroyed the family unit and remember all those times it destroyed society? I’m sure you read about it in papers and blogs everywhere.

Sisters, the brotherhood of real feminism is here for you. Do not be scared of us. We want the same thing as you, equality in all things, even feminism. All we suggest is a just division of labour. You can be the feminists and we will tell you how to do it. It’s only fair.

Bless you.

Compliments That Matter

Mirrors are actually one of my favourite things. No philosophical reason behind this, I simply like how my face looks. I love the way my skin glows softly. I like how my eyes slant ever so slightly. Even the beauty spot on my collar bone is looked at adoringly. I know I am pretty and I enjoy that fact. I spend a ridiculous amount of time deciding what colour of lipstick complements my complexion. When I am going out somewhere, I take the extra effort to look my best and on such days, the amount of selfies I will take is dangerously close to infinity. Simply put, I love my face.

Don’t get me wrong. I may be vain but I am not foolish enough to assume that the best thing about a person should be based on how they look. If one day I was stripped of my looks, you know what would happen to me? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Without my looks, I am still me. I still have a brilliant sense of humour, I am eloquent and I am intelligent. I do my best to treat others with respect and I make an effort to be open-minded. My looks do not determine my character, my outward appearance is not a determinant of the kind of person I am aiming to be.

When I read this, I finally saw in the simplest way, the thoughts I had been formulating on beauty. I know people who are gorgeous and others who are plain. Some have extra beautiful features and others aren’t conventionally beautiful. Some have body shapes that deserve to grace the catwalks and others have bodies that are going through life. Now, should we as a society sit around and figure out a way to compliment people on their looks so that they can feel worthy of being who they are? Should we tell someone that despite the fact that they are making an effort in school or with volunteer work or with their friends that at least they have nice eyes? Should we tell someone, that the only time anything will matter about them, is when their looks will redeem them? If I may ask, if a person is ugly does it matter? If a person is fat, does it matter?

Pause. Take a minute and ask yourself, should a person’s looks matter this much?

I do not deny the fact that when I see a pretty person I will be awed. I will appreciate and think “Wow”. However, I won’t go out of my way to befriend or value this person more because of how they look. If a person is ugly, I will notice but I won’t think, “Damn it, I cannot be bothered with this person. Look at them, they must be horrible”

Moreover, we always look at people and insist on comforting them about their looks.

“One day, someone will love your face….one day, someone will hold you and they will look past your big nose and love you”

Ok, you know what this person is saying. That people need to forgive you for your looks in order to love you. Someone should sit down and redeem your looks with their love. Do you seeing the utter ridiculousness of this? Why should someone need to do this?

Why can’t you say “My goodness, someone is going to love your cooking or I envy the person who gets you, you are so funny”

I know what you are going to say, that people are attracted to what they see. However, I am not talking about immediate attraction. I am talking about love and respect. Things that take long to be formed, things that grow with time. These things can come about based on who you are and not how you look. And if someone only loves you or respects you based on how you look, you are not the problem. They are.

Society has forced upon us unnecessary standards of beauty that very few people can live by. We look at each other and dissect ourselves on an unwritten universal rule book as if we are toys in a factory. So, why don’t we try to be better? Why don’t we shed these standards and start appreciating each other for our experiences, for our contributions, for the memories we create and maybe when we start making it a habit, people would realise that they are so much more than their looks. And with that we may come up with a society that is based on character rather than looks.

Let us start giving compliments that matter. Tell someone you love how they remember minute details about people. Tell your friends you like it when they laugh at their own jokes. Tell that random classmate that you think it is absolutely brilliant the way they make an effort in school. Let us figure out ways to show people that they don’t need a pretty body feature or the perfect waist to matter. Let us stop placating each other with our looks and start raising each other up based on our characters.

As the prose aptly put:

“What’s beautiful is that you can make anything happen. Stop being beautiful. Get ugly. Go be alive”

Oyunga Pala and The False Victim Complex

Oyunga Pala recently published an article entitled “Why I Am Afraid of Female Bigots”. In it he talks about how he was a panelist at the Future of Men discussion panel and how the men there were vilified by the women and pushed into a corner when they voiced their opinion about the issues that were being discussed. He also discussed how certain men’s issues were being pushed out of discussions and that we should address them more often instead of always focusing on the bad things men do.
I was at the Future of Men, in the second row. I sat there and I listened to all the comments that were made, at least for the first hour then I walked out in protest. I’ve written about it before, and I am going to write about it again. When I read this article it pissed me off to high heaven and I felt that just tweeting about it angrily was not going to help very many people so I decided to dissect the entire article and explain just WHY I was so mad. Because Oyunga Pala did not say anything new, he simply jumbled up several YouTube comments and stringed them into a deceivingly eloquent mess. I’m going to pick up key sentences from his article and break them down into what they really mean.

It soon got confrontational and any man who so much as dared to speak his mind (be politically incorrect) was shouted down.

Oh yes, the talk at Future of Men did get confrontational. The men who did become politically incorrect were shouted down. What Oyunga Pala fails to mention is WHAT EXACTLY made women so confrontational. Maybe it was Tony Mochama (a man), famous author who is currently under investigation for allegedly assaulting a woman, saying that women should be beaten if they decide to get too vocal. Maybe it was the fellow (a word for man) in the back who questioned why there were so many women present when this was a talk for men. Or the (same) guy who denied there even being a problem in the society. Maybe it was the dude who said that women shouldn’t dress a certain way and expect not to be treated how they dress. I mean if  you sit in a room where ludicrous comments like these are being thrown at you, are you going to sit there quietly?

Do you want a free pass to be politically incorrect? Do you really know what entails political correctness? Why would you want to be on the wrong side? Are male thoughts synonymous with political incorrectness? Is that the normal way in which a male mind functions? Please explain because as a woman I may not understand this.

Now in case you didn’t know, political correctness is the attitude or policy of being careful not to offend or upset any group of people in society believed to have a disadvantage. As human knowledge progresses our language changes in order to reflect our understanding of what is appropriate to say. Now you may not owe the world an explanation for everything you do say, nor do you have to change everything about yourself so that you can accommodate everyone; that’s impossible. You’re not here to please everybody. HOWEVER making the decision not to promote language that harms a large group of people (and clearly as he said, we were more than the men present, so I’m not lying) is not that hard. The way we talk to and about people is a reflection of who we are. So if you want to be rude and insulting to women, you better expect someone to get confrontational and shout you down.

For as long as women feel unsafe and aggrieved, ALL MEN are to blame and any man who doesn’t express open solidarity with women is a sexist. Therefore in order to avoid an argument, most men withheld their opinion and left the forum feeling vilified, attacked and guilt ridden.

*sigh*
Sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s sex or gender. It is a system that puts a gender at a disadvantage while raising another. This is a system in which ALL men benefit from. It is because of this that women hold men accountable when they are speaking up against sexism. Not all men are responsible for all the horrible things that happen to women however some are. Women are not harming themselves; they are not being harassed by imaginary creatures or being raped by wood nymphs. It is men who are responsible for these acts.
I can see through your self-flagellatory tactics though, where someone has to jump up and pat you on the back and tell you “not all men are sexist! I can’t believe they would say something like that about everyone in the room! Poor baby, have a cookie.” It’s a childish tactic, comparable to a kid who throws himself on the ground in order to appear injured. You’re not fooling anyone, what you’re doing is refusing to take responsibility for your male privilege.
It’s not your fault you were born a man. There is nothing you can do to eliminate your privilege, not unless you have a magic wand that will crush the patriarchy in one wave (and if so why haven’t you?) What you can do is accept that you benefit from a sexist society because the odds are most likely always in your favour. Instead of wailing like a prepubescent toddler about how mean women were to you, you could take stock of your privilege and try to offset the imbalance of power. If you were actually aware of your male privilege, you would be helping stop the perpetuation of misogynistic beliefs, but instead you want to try to pose as the victim.

Men feel the need to be apologetic and adopt a change of behaviour in order to maintain decorum to suit women’s expectations.

Oh really? What exactly is the problem in maintaining decorum?
Men SHOULD be apologetic. They should at least note that they are in a more advantageous position and just by simply existing they get to experience certain privileges that women don’t get to. When you are in a privileged position, you shouldn’t be an ass to the people in positions lower than you. That’s not a very nice thing to do. I figure the idea of losing your privilege must be so terrifying and I empathize. However if you don’t believe men, yes, each and every one of them, HAVE to adopt a change of behaviour (and not for women, but for societal and cultural progress) you’re drunk off your privilege. Must be nice, eh?

The first step to avoiding confrontation in this contemporary reality is policing one’s speech lest you get accused of being sexist and disrespectful to women.

Yes. Very good. You should have put your pen down at this point.

In many professions, this is about as a big a blot on one’s reputation as being called a racist in a US presidential contest.

But instead you choose to continue. Hmm. Okay.
A man being called a sexist has almost no effect on his life. Hell, even assault and rape accusations do nothing. In this patriarchal system anything you do to a woman, can be swept under the rug. Look at Tony Mochama’s sexual harassment case. Whether or not the allegations are true, he has not lost his job, his books are still being sold, he is doing just fine. In fact, Tony Mochama was defended by hundreds of men even before he responded to the accusation while Shailja Patel was subjected to online abuse, trolling and insults. Her character and the character of the woman who initially reported the story, Dr Wambui Mwangi were dissected and their lives put up for public scrutiny, instead of the life of the person who was accused of the crime. In the case of rape accusations, Senator Wamatangi was accused of raping his househelp, he’s still a senator, still going about his daily business. If these examples aren’t sufficient enough, let’s look to Hollywood. Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Bill Cosby, Kobe Bryant, all these men have been accused of rape, I don’t see anything wrong with their careers. They are not crying in a ditch somewhere, victims of their actions, they’re still making money comfortably.

I’m so glad you decided to bring up the parallels between sexism and racism. So so glad. Sexism and racism are equal in the fact that they limit one group while simultaneously raising another’s status. Men benefit from sexism the way white people benefit from racism. Both deny the privileges of one while oppressing others. When it’s a discourse on racism, we’re ALL oppressed because as Africans, male or female, we are at the bottom of the structural pyramid, united by descent and race. When it comes to sexism though, it’s no longer a problem. Now, you may not see sexism as being as bad as racism because sexism benefits men, so it’s okay for them to perpetuate it. If you look at it objectively you’ll see that the same silencing tactics white people use (not all white people!) are the same ones men use when silencing discourses on sexism.

Men are often labelled beneficiaries of a patriarchal system that accords them privilege over women and children on the sole basis of their genitalia. Yet what is often not mentioned in the same breath is that patriarchy is a system perpetuated by both sexes. They are several women who milk the privilege of a male based support system.

Men ARE beneficiaries of a patriarchal system. It’s not a label, it’s the truth. And it is true that women also perpetuate it. However in the case of men, they perpetuate patriarchy because it benefits them because what is patriarchy, other than the systematic order in which MEN hold primary power and everyone else is excluded. Therefore the women who perpetuate patriarchy do not do it because they are ‘privileged’ but because they are being complicit and it may have some (debatable) advantages. For you to suggest this is to suggest that the beggar eating the breadcrumbs you dropped on the table is eating a balanced diet. The male based support system is a product of patriarchy, because women statistically make less than men, are instantly questioned when they get higher positions at work (did she sleep with him?) and are shunned from careers that are male dominated. The safest option is to rely on men, because patriarchy makes it hard to rely on yourself.

And what exactly is this definition of “female privilege”?

The role of father for example is being rendered obsolete because it is something that can be stripped away by a woman at any time. A woman can have a child without male consent, deny a man access to his child and make him disposal. Father’s day for instance is now a tramping ground for women who feel they deserve accolades for single parentage.

WITHOUT MALE CONSENT? Because everything that must be done in this world must undergo the watchful observation of a man? If a man says yes to something in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, does the thing still happen? Women can function without male consent, it is possible.
It reached a critical point in our society that women had to log onto Facebook, join a group and publicly expose men for failing to support their children in order for it to be addressed. Now before you go off the obviously derailing tangent off NOT ALL DEAD BEAT DADS (ooooh wait there’s already an article like that on your website) let’s focus on the matter at hand. Women who FEEL THEY DESERVE accolades for single parentage? Are you aware of the negative attitudes that follow single mothers?
No? Alright, lets Google.

Single mothers are....
Single mothers are….

 

Now single dads....
Now single dads….

When the internet alone has such horrible suggestions for your existence, you DESERVE an accolade simply for waking up in the morning and facing a world that has been conditioned to hate you.

We have created a unique problem that constitutes a generation of men who do want to be labelled sexist like their fathers were, thriving on female subordination.

How is this a problem?

Anyway, if you don’t want to be labelled sexist, DON’T DO SEXIST THINGS. DON’T PERPETUATE SEXISM. DON’T THRIVE UNDER FEMALE SUBORDINATION. BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE. It’s that fucking simple.

In essence most men are feminist. They advocate for the rights of women for the simple reason that they owe their growth and development to female intervention and have daughters to raise.

NO. Most men are not feminist. First of all how could they be, when feminists seek to push men out of their comfort zones? There are so many negative attitudes that surround that term. Its normally associated with angry women who apparently hate men. They call us man haters, militant lesbians, misandrists, reverse sexists, FEMALE BIGOTS.

How are you a feminist when your entire article is based on calling us bigoted? It is a tactic of the oppressor to force harmful definitions onto subversive movements. It derails all forms of discourse because in this case, you have forced me, a feminist, to go into the defensive. Instead of moving forward and having useful conversations about what we can do to stop the perpetuation of patriarchy, I have to explain that we are not bigoted and how harmful that description is.

You can’t be a feminist if you define it using the patriarchal standards it rejects.The simple reason you think men support feminism is based on contextual empathy. That the only reason they care about women is because they were raised by them? So what about those not raised around women, do they get a free pass? Why do women’s rights only take center stage in someone’s life because their relatives just happen to be female? That’s… a problem. Its selective and isn’t true. Either you’re fighting for all women or you’re not. There’s no middle ground.

While we acknowledge that the fight for the rights of women is absolutely essential, it is not a license to lash out at men in this recycled narrative of collective blame.

It is a recycled narrative because nothing seems to be changing, or if it is, its not changing fast enough. Besides who are we going to blame? The wood nymphs from before?
Your first reaction to the demand for change is defensiveness. That’s the biggest impediment to progress. Nobody wants to believe they’re the problem. But you being told to do better is not bigotry! You HAVE to do better because you are in the position of privilege. Calling women bigoted is as mature as a student cussing out his lecturer because they were told to redo their bad assignment.

If you REALLY believe that the fight for our rights is essential, then a few harsh words shouldn’t make it less worthy your attention. Our tone of voice shouldn’t deter you from it. The idea that feminists should speak in a nice tone is nonsensical. You only want us to speak in softer tones because we’re easier to ignore that way. Spare me the idea that we should be palatable to suit your feelings. Are you saying that you were about to care about vast inconsistencies in the treatment of women but because someone was mean you won’t? Empowerment is not candy that you hand out to the best behaved women in the classroom. Get that very clear.

Unless we tell the other side of the story, of men rewriting the masculinity script, who take care of business, secure their homes, remain present in their children’s lives and are supportive partners, we shall continue to normalize bigotry against men for no other reason than their biologically assigned genitalia.

Oyunga Pala, you have consistently run a column entitled MAN TALK for several years, in which you have had an opportunity to do this. Again, I reiterate, for SEVERAL YEARS. You have had the platform to do this for ages and if you squandered it to write other things then that’s YOUR fault. And anyway let’s say you were a simple man with no platform or social influence, you would simply have to put on the television or pick up a paper to see your side of the story. The patriarchal world is a male centered one, never forget that. Everything, from politics to business to even professional cooking, is male dominated.

Do you REALLY want to talk about normalized bigotry for NO REASON other than biologically assigned genitalia? Have you ever heard women complaining about sexual assault? Street harassment? Rape? Have you heard of women being denied positions simply because of their gender? Have you not seen the sexualisation of breast cancer simply because it’s a cancer that starts in the breasts? SAVE THE BOOBIES? Are you not familiar with rape culture?! SHUT UP AND THINK AGAIN, before you talk about “normalized bigotry because of assigned genitalia.” This is what WE face every day as women.

Below all this there was a weirdly placed section on the plight of short men that I didn’t fully understand because it kind of just came from nowhere. BUT I have a few points.

Joshua Sang isn’t overlooked because he’s short, he’s overlooked because not many people have heard of him and not very many people are that interested in looking him up. His diminutive stature is just his most defining feature. Is that problematic, yeah sure, but it’s not a male crisis. Yes, your dating options may be limited when you’re short but so what? Everyone has arbitrary physical standards; if women don’t want to date short men you’re not going to force them to. Don’t pretend that men don’t have harmful standards that hurt women. That’s the entire basis of the cosmetics industry!

Causing Damage For Popularity

Now, before I start, I feel I should say that I’m not necessarily opposed to celebrity news/gossip sites. It’s not my cup of tea but a lot of people are clearly interested in what they do. There is a market for it and they have moved in to take advantage of that. Good on them. That’s not something I have a problem with. What I want to talk about is how some of them do it.

This is not going to be one of those articles where I tip toe around who I’m talking about. While they are certainly not the only guilty ones, I’m going to be focusing on Ghafla. They’re one of the most popular and if it has to start with somebody it should probably be them.

Over the past few days, there’s been talk about the whole Tony Mochama incident. In case you’ve somehow missed it, here’s a quick summary. Tony Mochama (aka Smitta) is being accused of sexual assault. The general accepted version of the accusation is that he was at a fellow poet’s house, he committed the assault on her friend and that there are a few witnesses. He has since denied any wrong doing.

Now, whether you believe this or not, I think you should see the problem with Ghafla’s headline.

RAPE!! Standard Group’s TONY MOCHAMA Accused! Here Is The Story!”

There’s no other way to put it, this is misinformation, plain and simple. They are unashamedly being sensationalist for the sole purpose of getting views. You can see this from how the actual article is phrased. It is, more or less, accurate…if you’re already aware of what’s going on. But if you’re not then you will come away with a twisted version of what is actually being said. I’ve already seen people on twitter peddling this ‘Ghafla’ version. By selling the story like this they’re making it easier for Mochama to deny the charges and harder for people to believe it.

I have already seen someone say “you’re telling me she was raped as everyone watched? Yeah right.”

Ghafla is a popular platform where a lot of people get their information. I don’t think that should be the case but it is. And as such they have a responsibility not to pull stunts like this. They do not get to stir things up so they can get hits. This situation is not theirs to manipulate for click bait!

Look at this headline.

“I DID NOT RAPE A WOMAN IN WAMBUI’s HOUSE”!! Standard Group’s TONY MOCHAMA (Smitta Smitten) Responds!”

This is one thing we can say for certain that Tony Mochama has not done. He did not say those words. The only ones actually pushing a rape narrative are Ghafla. No one accused it. No one denied it (because it was never leveled.) We are talking about a sexual assault. Yet, here is Ghafla shaping their own version of a story that will cause more people to visit their site. How fundamentally sick is that?

Listen up Ghafla team. Maybe you believe he is (or could be) guilty in which case you are derailing the conversation and making life harder for everyone else who does. Or you think he is (or could be) innocent, but then you are just fanning the flames by raising the charge. Most likely, I think you don’t care either way. You are literally just causing damage because it helps you meet your quota. STOP IT!

Here’s a few things you need to start working on.

One. You need to reevaluate how you view women.

Two. You need to stop trafficking in human misery.

Three. If you are already doing one and two then you need to get to a place where no one has to tell you why a tweet like this is wrong.

“Sexy Photos Of Natalie Tewa Who Was In The Accident With Wangechi the Rapper!! Must See!!”

Is that really so much to ask?

Here Cometh The Feminists

The movies were wrong. The alien invasion did not come in spaceships. It did not come with beams in the sky or crop circles in the fields. We did not even even see it coming. The invasion came and went, we were occupied and we did not even know it.

You’re skeptical. I understand, but look around. There’s a chance that the invaders are with you or near you right now. The species that wants to destroy everything you know and bring all of us down. You’ve no doubt heard of them. They go by the name…. feminists.

We have all heard many things about these feminists. Disturbing things. Unsettling things. Things that spring from the same well that inspired Dante’s Inferno. But I wanted the truth. I wanted to know what it is that they truly want. So I decided I was going to meet one. Against the advice of those wiser than me, I braved the danger and agreed to interview a feminist.

One of the things I have heard about these feminists is that once they fully posses a woman they do not shave their legs. Hair grows wildly covering them from knee to ankle in a wild mane. It is a strange phenomenon. It reminds me of the Arabic story where King Solomon meets the Queen of Sheba. His advisers warn him that he should not trust her for her legs are covered in hair like a goat. Solomon, in his general all-knowing fashion, tricks her into revealing her legs and confirms these rumors. This tells us that the feminists have been around for a long time. And, more disturbing still, that even the wisest man in the world feared them. This will not be an easy interview.

The feminist arrives and there are oddities. For one, she is smiling. This is odd because feminists do not smile. Their faces are permanently scowling. The bitterness of their hate for men, sex and children, and by extension their hate for happiness, is never far. It occurs to me that a smiling feminist is a dangerous thing. What would make a feminist smile? Will I leave this place alive? Will this be my tomb, a burning bra flying high above it to celebrate (another?) feminist kill?

“Hello,” she says cheerfully.

There is no sign of her man hate or innate bitterness. It is almost as if these things do not exist. I can now see how so many feminists have made it in the media. They are excellent actors.

“So,” I say carefully, “what is a feminist?”

“THAT,” she says a little too loudly (as is to be expected), “is a complicated question.”

“How so?”

“A feminist is a lot of things. We don’t all believe the same ideas and we don’t all agree on how to express them. But at it’s simplest, a feminist is someone who believes in political, social and economic equality between the sexes. A feminist is someone who sees the gender divide and the attitudes towards women and wants that to change. Basically, a feminist is someone who is tired of seeing women treated like shit.”

I flinch. A woman using language like that. A feminist indeed.

“I’ve heard this before but…aren’t women equal already?”

“Is that a joke?” she says, her eyes narrowing. There is a hint of menace in her voice. The mask is dropping. “How can you look at this world and possibly even say something like that?”

“Well. Personally I think it’s mostly fixed…”

“Abuse! Rape! Violence! And if you don’t think these are common then how casually they are treated certainly is. People act as if this is the way things ought to be. As if women should not complain about these things. Do you not see how men treat women everywhere?!”

“Look. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. Some men are bad. Completely sick in the head, but we must be equal in this. Some women are also bad. So if you think about it, not all…”

“Don’t you dare.”

“What?”

“Don’t you dare try to say not all men.”

“But it’s true right? Not all men are bad.”

“So fucking what? People just use that as a way to not deal with the conversation. When we’re talking about ways to reduce traffic accidents you don’t hear not all drivers. When we’re talking corruption you’re not going to accept a goddamn ‘not all politicians!’ That is not a conversation that even needs to be had. Enough men act, enough men condone and enough men do nothing for it to be a giant, global problem. The phrase not all men means nothing here. And if you still think it does then never talk about any problem in the world because guess what? Not all fucking human beings!”

I say nothing. It will do no good. Clearly, feminists cannot use logic. We stare at each other for a while no one saying anything. Finally, I ask:

“Why are you feminists always so angry?”

“Because there’s a lot to be angry about.”

“Yes, but what if you filtered your message. Were nicer. If you weren’t always shouting. Don’t you think people would listen more?”

“You think that hasn’t been tried? How do you think feminists get so angry? We tell you over and over but you don’t get it. You really don’t. We shout, we whisper, we’re kind, we’re mean but nothing sticks! Everything you say after shows that you haven’t even thought about it. Not really. And how can that be? Truly, I don’t get it. How can that be?”

“That’s not fair. You’re just doing what you always do. You’re making assumptions. I have thought about it. I know I respect women. I don’t mistreat them but you want me to be the enemy. I’m not. I came from a woman, we all did. Women I respect, it’s feminists I have a problem with.”

“You see? You respect women because you came from one. Or you were raised by a single mother. Or because you have sisters. If you thought about it you’d know that that’s a terrible reason to respect someone. You’re related to some women and that’s where you stopped thinking about it? That’s it. How about because women are human beings?”

“That’s a lot of talk but it’s just over complicating a simple matter. What’s wrong with respecting women because of my mother?”

“When was the last time your major reason for respecting a man was your father?”

“Feminists! Always always overacting. Listen to yourself. Nowadays a man can’t say anything without starting a fight. We cant even compliment a woman without it being a big deal.”

“Is that what you call what happens? Complimenting?”

“Yes. I do.”

“Just compliments. Ha. Tell you what. Next time a gay man cat calls you or gropes you I want to see you take it as a compliment.”

“That….that’s not the same thing!”

“Isn’t it? So it’s not unwanted attention or contact?”

I stare at her appalled. A gay….WHAT!? JESUS! These feminists are mad. Mad mad women.

“Look at you,” she says showing that infamous feminist sneer, “so shocked by just the idea of it. The idea alone! How often does this even happen to anyone? Do you even know anyone it’s happened to? Why does it scare you so much? Are you not just afraid that gay people will treat you how you treat women. Doesn’t that tell you something?”

“If you’re not willing to take this conversation seriously, I have nothing more to say.”

“Running away then?”

“This is why no one likes feminists.”

I walk away on that note unwilling to listen to anything else. I can see that these feminists will be a danger. A grave danger. They are a plague that we cannot countenance. They will destroy our way of life if we let them. They are enemies of men. Even enemies of women. You heard what she said about my mother. And so my brothers and sisters, we must fight them in any way we can. We must not let them take over our women.

If the feminists want something then we must not let them have it. If they fight for something, we must fight against it. Do not bother justifying yourself comrades. You saw how little they value logic. Tell them they are wrong because they are feminist. That is enough. But if you are brave and you think you can convert them, tell them the truth. Tell it to them over and over. Do not let their slick talk fool you. They have tricks to tempt you away from truth. Hold on to it and repeat it. Do not let them win.

Brace yourselves my brothers. Here cometh the feminists.

***

ADDENDUM

I chose to tackle this topic this way because, quite honestly, I’m already angry. To write in a completely serious tone would have probably not ended well. The past few days have been one sexist act after another around me. The fact that it’s annoyed me so much and I wasn’t the victim and I’m a man should probably answer all your “why are feminists so angry” inquiries. If I had to actually personally deal with this nonsense i’m not quite sure what I’d do.

With this approach, there is exaggeration (obviously). The entire alien angle is the way people misrepresent feminism and completely refuse to understand it. The stereotypes they hold and the entire “otherness” they ascribe to it all of which I turned up to level 10.

The arguments that follow however are more or less accurate. These are the most common answers given to these issues. Ask any feminist and they will probably tell you how much of this kind of thing they’ve had to deal with and more. Everything in the man’s quotes has been uttered almost word for word on several occasions. It is not the minority view. If anything it seems to be the main narrative.

On that note, I’d like to shout out every woman who has to continually listen to the kind of thing I’ve covered here. Specifically, my co-blogger, Olivia Kidula. Liv is like a feminist super hero. Less superwoman more of The Punisher. She will not put up with your sexist bullshit for even a second. On twitter and in person, God help her victims. There are times she’s been criticized for things I’ve written on feminism. These critics suddenly changed their tune when they found out I wrote it as if the arguments had also changed. It’s alright though, she dealt with them.

Another person that deserves recognition is Samira Ali who inspired the central idea for this post (which puts her post inspiration count on this blog to two. I might have to start paying her). She’s had her share of scraps with people who think working women are scary and other stupid ideas® ( Now available in all Sexist social networking accounts everywhere). She’s a well of brilliant ideas. Seriously, this girl knows her shit.

Follow these people. You’ll be entertained and your TL will be smarter and funnier than it would have been otherwise.

All you women in the movement, keep fighting the good fight.

As for you men, someone please make a Kenyan version of this t-shirt.