Silence is a Good Man

I should probably write this with a qualification. I am a man. I cannot say I understand what women go through every day. I can leave the house at 10pm without thinking of whether or not I will be raped. I can go into a night club, on my own, just because I want to have a drink, and no one will try to hit on me (except for one night club in, well, that’s a whole other story).  If I wear a suit and glasses I immediately look more intelligent, not sexier. I can’t say that I’m not sexist either. The more I read about sexism the more I see it within myself and, further, within my friends.

 What I can do, however, is speak.

A few weeks ago I found myself caught up in a debate on Twitter about the state of feminism in Kenya. The person I was arguing with said he had a problem with how feminists place blame on the blanket ‘men.’ The core of his argument was to point at the individuals as there are good men out there – he used himself as an example.

However, let’s take three scenarios:

– Frank Njenga, and his victim blaming.

– Female politician slapped in parliament

– Peter Mutua’s problem with too many women in the workplace

These are obviously examples, not representative of an entire demographic or even anything. It could simply be that these three men hold very rudimentary views.  The comments section on any of these articles begs to differ though.  Reading through them only one question comes to mind; “Where are the men?” Overwhelmingly ladies write the comments. There are one or two men who come out of the woodwork and then stranger still, there are men who come out to defend the article. One such comment on Frank Njenga’s victim blaming reads, “a system like ours tend to double victimise victims so Njenga advise is be sure you know what you getting into (sic).”

While this comment could be seen to read to the practicality of Njenga’s advice which is “if you come out with this one, two and three will likely happen,” it also reads to the desperate nature of challenged patriarchy. It reads as from someone who strongly believes that women should be kept in their place in society which is in silence.

Wambui Mwangi, in her essay, “Silence is a Woman” writes, “Silence is what a woman, in be-coming a woman, becomes. Silence is becoming in a woman because silence is the be-coming of a woman. A woman is silent. The presence of a woman is the presence of silence. Silence is a woman.”

Which is, of course, what Frank Njenga – I refuse to address him as a doctor – advocates for. He advocates for there to be silence by this woman. For, in her silence, there shall be peace. Peace which, in Kenya, has become our mantra for keeping things together. We silence each other in the name of peace. We ignore injustice in the name of peace. President Uhuru Kenyatta, in a recent speech, said Kenya is a deeply religious nation. If that is to be the truth of what we are, then it must follow that peace is our God. We follow the law that anything which is to go against peace, and against the status quo, is also deeply against us as individuals and, collectively, as a people.

The problem with this is that in enacting this ‘peace’ we forget to think about the damage this repeated and very public silencing of women will have on society as a whole. The deep-rooted damaging effect this has on our women. Take, for example, Sitawa Namwalie’s A Simple Truth’s first five lines:

Let’s speak a simple truth,

The average man can, without much planning,

Take by force most average women in the world, all average children,

Rape her or him,


The problem with this whole scenario for the larger part is, to me, not even the rapist. It is the fact that he can, with no real effort simply get away with it. Not only can he get away with it, the odds are very highly stacked in favour of his getting away with it. Only recently have the courts held the police accountable for not doing enough to protect women in society.

Yet, what makes a society? Say you were walking down the street absolutely minding your own business and you came across a man trying to break into a shop. Upon asking the guy what he was doing he threatened to shoot you, so you run away. Round the corner some police are on the patrol. Odds are that you would, at least tell them that the shop is being robbed. They would probably do something about it.

However, if you found a guy beating up his wife, what would you do? Even if you reported this crime, what are the odds that the police would follow through with your complaint, giving it the seriousness it deserves?

There are many laws in Kenya. The enforceable-ness of these laws lies not just upon the people who have been tasked with enforcing these laws but with all the citizens of Kenya. Men, as a collective, have let the women of society down.

My biggest issue, recently, with good men, is our inability to speak up against these things. We spend so much time defending our “goodness” that we never really speak about the badness in the world. It’s been said, severally, by many feminists, that in order for equality to exist men must be able to speak up in forums where there are no women, and say certain things are wrong.

I won’t take the high road and say I am better than all other men out there. When it comes to man time it is hard not to laugh at a joke about Martha Karua’s ass – forget the fact that no one has ever had to bring out Uhuru Kenyatta’s ass as evidence of whether or not he should be president. Heck, it’s hard not to crack those jokes yourself, the same way it’s easy to say “those Kikuyus,” when you’re in a group that has no Kikuyus. Or to say “those gays,” when you’re in an all-straight group.

The other day a friend of mine asked “feminism, really, but why?” After much thought, I may have an answer for him. It is because we need to think about what we do. It is because how we as men think is a reflection of how society thinks and has put women in a position where they are ‘lesser.’ It is because being sexy isn’t a reason to get, or not get a job. It is because this has gone on for longer than it possibly should have, and it still continues not to end. It is because women, contrary to popular belief, are human beings too.

In Half a Day and Other Stories there is a story called ‘The Palms of the Black’. In the story a (black) child asks in his class why black people have white palms, despite the rest of their bodies being black. There are several stories given to explain it, many of them degrading. When the child asks his mother at home, his mother tells him that the reason that the palms of the black are white is because, at the end of the day, everyone is equal and God needed a way to show that.

This is, of course, a fictional story and I’m sure scientists, of whom I am not one, have found a way to explain this phenomenon. There is a lesson here though; Feminism has often been described as “the radical notion that women are people.” This definition, attributed to Rebecca West, is probably the most accurate definition there is out there.

‘Silence is a Woman’ describes the various ways men have been silencing women over the last millennia and how, for a large part, women have taken this silencing to heart. This is all true. There is, however, a more potent type of silence; a condoning silence. A silence of the men who recognize wrong, but do nothing about it – because it is not a wrong towards them. A silence that allows this wrong to happen and a silence that I, for one, am no longer willing to be part of. Silenced is a woman; silence, is a good man.

41 Replies to “Silence is a Good Man”

  1. Waaaah you just hit me in the gut with such goodness I am left breathless. Your speaking has left me gasping for breath, thank and thank you and again thank you!!!!!!! Sitawa is now free!

    1. Thank you for reading 🙂 And thank you for that poem, this article would be incomplete without it. Do share.

    1. Thank you. There is need to tell men that our actions, even inadvertent, have an effect. I hope we can reach out and help.

  2. Where to begin? I am absolutely feeling this! Wonderful and insightful way to illustrate the workings of oppressive tacts. I know I am sick and tired of being silenced in order to play my part in the politics of respectability, or in order to be a ‘good woman/wife material’. Thanks for having the courage to right about a privilege that exists only through ‘silencing’ and silent ‘good men’.

    1. That good wife material thing really gets me going. Putting women in a box and saying ‘this is what you must be” is just wrong.

      Thank you for reading Sally.

      1. Other than how much I love this article – I love it. Thank you. I feel like I MUST buy you a drink. Three. A cupcake. A good book. Something. For reflecting like this in a way that is so authentic and organic and deep.

        I feel you will enjoy these 2 articles (if you haven’t read them already)

        – 5 ways modern men are trained to hate women –

        – A message to women from a man: you are not crazy –

        Again. Thank you, Michael. And thank you for saying that about “wife material.”

        1. I can’t possibly say no to free beer now, can I?

          Thank you so much for reading, your comment, the articles and, of course, the beer. 🙂

          1. I want to buy you drinks as well. Thank you so much for this. Sometimes I find myself wondering whether I am abnormal for finding some of the things we are supposed to condone as women wrong. But when I work it out rationally…really…it doesn’t make sense for me to find that stuff acceptable. Thank you.

          2. At this rate I may end up getting more inebriated than I thought.

            The level of condoning expected from women is so high it’s a wonder how it even works. Then, of course, you look at patriarchy, misogyny, militarisation et al and it makes perfect sense. Thank you for reading.

  3. This is easily one of the best articles I’ve read from a man talking about feminism. It is also one of the best I’ e read from anyone talking about feminism in general. You had me in the first paragraph and I wanted to stop and share this article. Not only is it objective, it is insightful and more importantly necessary. Thank you.

  4. thank you so much. It seems that The Universe has been leaving me numerous notes about the myths that we have created and continue to believe. Thank you for delivering another note of wisdom to my growing pile for my daughters and son.

    1. Glad you consider it wisdom. The myths we have created are just that. It’s time we saw them as myths and not laws to live by.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Talk that talk:
    So that women do not have to ‘vumilia’/bear all silently and remain in broken marriages/relationships, or abusive relationships because we do not speak of separation or divorce.
    So that abused women can say they were abused and not get the ‘are you sure’ question.
    So that women like me who find themselves on the wrong side of what a woman should be can just be without having to put up appearances.
    And so that our discourse can be deep and meaningful (like your article and ensuing comments) and we can begin to change our minds about the wrong ideals we hold.

    1. “So that women do not have to ‘vumilia’/bear all silently and remain in broken marriages/relationships, or abusive relationships because we do not speak of separation or divorce.”

      Thank you for that comment. It’s touched me somewhere, somewhere deep inside.

  6. Very deep insights right here.
    Until women get the respect they deserve, until men learn to value them as more than just tools to be used, there can be no end to this culture of violence and cruelty.

  7. Michael, I normally don’t do this commenting thing in blogs, but oh well, there is a first for everything.
    Very brilliant article and I agree with you whole-heartedly.
    My argument is that if women come out to speak for themselves, its made to seem like a battle of the sexes. Like they just want to hate on men. And men start retaliating and then it becomes every sex for its own. But yet we all know that women get unfair treatment, why don’t men just come out and advocate for the said rights in the first place?
    Anyway, i stumbled on this website last year. Its now become one of my favourite sites. The articles herein are submitted by men, like you, who feel that women are getting the shorter end of the straw and it doesnt make sense to keep quiet about it. I have this deep sense of respect for all these writers.

    P/S: Another beer on me.

    1. Very true… it’s not a battle for one sex or the other. It’s a battle for equality. Which, in the end, will benefit everyone. Thanks for the link.

      p/s beer 😀

  8. “Until men start holding each other accountable for how they treat women…” I remember once reading that you can tell the state of a country by how well the men treat their women. What can we say about Kenya?

  9. The men of the world need this drummed into their heads more&more… sexist degradation of women is not the qualification needed to be a man.And am glad that you‘ve said it this perfectly Mike.

  10. The men, in their silence are complicit aren’t they? Wherefore are they silent?

    “Give me good mothers, I shall give you a great nation.”
    (Martha, Ngilu, Wambui, Ngina, Ida, Shebesh, Wanjiku, Baraza) ➗ (Prof. Lucy W. Irungu and the late Laureate Dr. Wangari Maathai) = A Few Good Men.

  11. Well written Michael! I really like what you pointed out about “Condoning Silence”. How have other men reacted to this article? What are your next steps? It would be wonderful if you could have men-only forums to discuss these things. And this line right here is the winner: “no one has ever had to bring out Uhuru Kenyatta’s ass as evidence of whether or not he should be president.” Imma tweet that right now! Thank you for sharing this #feminist article.

    1. Thank you.

      Right now we’re just creating conversation. Forums are a good idea. I’ll have to think about how they’d work. Thank you for tweeting 🙂

  12. Thank you so much Michael Onsando. I needed to read this today. All the flak I get for identifying as feminist makes me want to give in to silence sometimes.

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