All Animals Are Equal

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

George Orwell, Animal Farm

Animal Farm satirizes human beings and the nations of the world, specifically the Russian Communist state, using animals. The main message of the book comes out clearly by the end: that power cannot be divided equally – that once power is acquired, it will always be abused – and that it is impossible for everyone to be equal.

The weekend before last, I attended a music festival which many had been anticipating because of its excellent line-up. As expected, the turnout was huge. The festival was exciting, and I had a wonderful time. Towards the end of the night on Sunday, however, I witnessed two incidents that were worrying. I tweeted about them. To summarize, I saw a lady being groped by a man she did not know because she was drunk and vulnerable. Later on, I saw a tipsy woman reporting that her sister was being beaten to the guards, and them not believing her.

As expected, there was a lot of shock from some of the people reading my tweets, with many wondering how a person could pay between KSH. 2,500 – 4,500 ($29 – 52) to come (sexually) assault women. Some blamed the women in question for being drunk, said that women are normally to blame when they are assaulted; claimed that my witness account, and subsequent tweets, could not be taken seriously because I am a feminist. Many, encouragingly so, wondered what could be done to put an end to such behaviour. A male friend even called me to express support, and to ask me to find a way to show men how sexual assault actually affects them. I understand that he was trying to help, but this yet again throws the responsibility back at women – to MAKE men understand. I will, however, oblige.

In “Animal Farm”, Snowball and Napoleon fight for control of the farm – they both want to be the leader because they know that the leader has the most privileges. The pigs, who are in charge at Manor Farm, have the least amount of work. They also receive more food than the other animals. This can be compared to patriarchy – a term used to describe the society in which we live today, and have lived in for aeons, in which there are unequal power relations between men and women that lead to women being dominated and disadvantaged.

Patriarchy, in many ways, is the primary form of oppression. Its victims comprise half of the world (there are 102 men for every 100 women on the planet) and it transcends all other forms of discrimination – be it on race, religion, education, social class or sexuality. It is pervasive – transcending time, all social strata and affecting all societies. It is the most universal form of oppression.

How do we know that women are oppressed? The numbers say it all. As at December 2012, only 9.8% of the Kenyan parliament was occupied by women. 46.4% of men were formally employed as compared to 19.3% of women, while only 46% of adult women were in the nation’s labour force. 12.9% of girls aged 15 – 19 had been married off, compared to 0.5% of boys. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS among people aged 15 – 24 was 3.5% for women in 2011, as compared to 1.6% for men. The state of women in Kenya is not encouraging – gender based violence, rape, HIV/AIDS, FGM and early marriage are key sources of oppression.

When one faces these statistics, it becomes clear that there is a problem, and that a big part of the problem can be attributed to the patriarchal nature of our society, as well as factors like poverty, which serve to exacerbate the situation. To bridge the social, political and economic gap between men and women, we must end patriarchy.

There must first be a recognition by men that they are its beneficiaries. Many think that sexism, of which women bear the brunt, is a thing of the past: the anecdote is that there are more women getting educated; owning property and working than ever before, and that women are becoming increasingly sexually liberated. However, this is skewed, as shown above. Sexism (the belief that one sex is superior to the other, usually that men are superior to women) still carries the day.

Traditional sexism is characterized by statements such as “Women belong in the kitchen.” Or “Men are smarter than women. Duh.” It holds men to be superior to women in many tasks, and is extremely old-fashioned – it is something you would imagine your grandfather saying/believing because he may not know better.

Modern sexism, on the other hand, is thriving. It is the belief that we live in a post-sexist world, that women empowerment programmes are unnecessary (and are a form of discrimination against men), and that women who complain about sexism (usually feminists) are just troublemakers – bitter about the hand life has dealt them. Modern sexism makes out feminists to be the enemy, believing that they are hurting men. It ignores obvious statistics on violence, employment, and the fact that women earn less in the same role when compared to men.

Benevolent sexism is the belief that women are some sort of angels – pure and delicate, possessing qualities that men lack. This may be seen as positive, but it tends to punish women who do not possess the qualities that the benevolent sexist extols. For example, when a woman wears a long dress, she may be seen as an angel, worthy of respect and the highest standard of treatment. When she wears booty shorts, on the other hand, she is a dirty whore. Women who do not fit in the benevolent sexists mold are seen as “not wife material”. A slight deviation from this is the ambivalent sexist, who believes that some women are good and worthy of the highest standard of treatment, while others are bad and deserving of poor treatment. As such, his mother, sisters, grandmothers and relatives are angels, while other women are terrible and undeserving of respect and love.

As a man, it is important to recognize your privilege – the fact that our patriarchy puts you in the seat of power and allows you to mete out the above forms of sexism against women. The recognition of these types of sexism in oneself can then be followed by actions to end them.

The oppression of women is largely perpetrated by men through the patriarchy. They are its biggest beneficiaries. Even if all women were to rally behind feminism (which is the belief that men and women should enjoy equal rights and equal opportunities), we would still need men to support the cause and end the discrimination. For example, in the case of rape, women are told that there are countless things they can do not to get raped – don’t get drunk, don’t wear tight clothes, don’t show too much skin, don’t go out at night – while all men would need to do is not rape.

As a society, we need to examine the standards to which we hold women, especially sexually and within the family. Women are first and foremost judged with regards to their role, or lack thereof, in the family. It is common, on Kenyan Twitter, to see tweets like “If she doesn’t cook chapattis, don’t wife that b*tch.” Or “Married women have no business being on Twitter.” Or “If you want to get a boyfriend, shut down your Twitter account.” Women are thought of as chattels, vehicles for the fulfillment of the desires of men – be they reproductive, sexual or intellectual.

This type of thinking is problematic.

Sexual liberation has also created additional pressure for women – they are now expected to exhibit sexual behaviour, in addition to all the standards we set for them as a society. Too little and they are frigid; too much and they are sluts. The biggest culprit is, of course, the media. The highly sexualized images of women we are bombarded with every day encourage the view that women are things, and because these media (television, newspapers, magazines, websites and radio) are so pervasive, this sets a standard for all women. They have to have long legs, tiny waists and thick bottoms. They have to pout in pictures to look sexy. Their dressing is the subject of many pages and talk shows. When they commit a crime against the image dictated for them, several man hours are dedicated to setting them straight on these same channels. It goes on and on.

On the other hand, God forbid women have sexual needs and desires of their own. We need to stop policing women, and treating them as objects of fulfillment of the pleasure of others.

Where do we start?

It starts with the awareness of one’s own privilege and a conscious effort to stop one’s own sexism.. Creating awareness among our friends and family both online and offline is the next step, as well as calling out the sexism around us. You may not want to be a feminist – that is fine, but then let feminists and their allies do their work. If what they advocate for is so stupid, then it should not be the subject of endless debate in which your goal is to put them down. The refrain “Not all men…” should also be retired. Do not make yourself the victim when chances are that you are the perpetrator.

Remember that it begins with you – the decision not to assault, not to rape, not to discriminate – this is what we need in order to end patriarchy. Otherwise, we are no better than the animals in George Orwell’s farm.

4 Replies to “All Animals Are Equal”

  1. Great article, I saw the KTN morning show.. on Feminism.. I believe this debate is larger. Way larger than being put on the feminist lap. This is not about feminism. If my girlfriend, sister or mother was groped and molested.. as a man i should be mad as hell too. Does that make me feminist?. I think that makes me human.

    It’s inane that these sort of situations follow a time known script…”She was assaulted, raped? .. Where was she? What was she wearing? Was she drunk” -to predicate this situation as ALWAYS being the victims fault.
    If the victim was 2yrs old and in her baby cot.. then what would we say? “What was she wearing?”
    If the victim was 92yrs old, failing eyesight,wrinkled, hunched and hobbled on her walking stick..”Was she drunk?”
    Because that’s a fact in Kenya (google)
    1 in 4 girls will be assaulted by the age of 13.
    25% of girls by the age of 24 should expect to be sexually assaulted if not raped by the age of 24
    50% of Kenyan women should expect to be raped in the lifetime..
    oh and boys..
    1 in 5 BOYS will be sexually assaulted by the age of 13,

    Which is why you may be shocked to see boys statistics here.. Yes, look around the playschool.. yes your precious sons are also being assaulted if not raped/sodomised and ofcourse you wont know.. despite ‘70% of these rapes being done by a perpertrator known to the victims’ because in Kenya the reporting incidence is 1 in 9 if not 1 in 25. ie. One 1 in 25 cases is being reported. These “reported cases” are what make the statistics shown here.

    So these ijiots.. should also feel so clever asking their sons..”what were you wearing? were you drinking?”

    This is about Power (like you rightly said) and society not wanting to deal with an ugly, disgusting fact in our nations fabric.We just want to push it away under the carpet. Even hearing a friend was raped.. makes us wanna get away from they are covered in pus-filled leperous sores and getting raped is contagious. (it is!..If in a group of 4,3 of your friends haven’t been raped..its going to be you! But no sweat, by the time you are in your 70’s you’ll have one more for company) Which is why our men dont even talk about their getting sodomised or raped..and it goes on rampantly.

    This week I saw a post by @googlefacts of all accounts.. “If she doesn’t make you wear a condom, she probably didnt make the others wear one either”
    Assess that statement. If you dont gich -move on swiftly.

    Those that do.. NOW pick that up- because its HUMAN to do so.. not Feminist! That statement was retweeted thousands of times. and that just shows a mentality where in this age of raging STI’s, D’s unplanned pregnancies..its basically saying.. even in a consensual sex act- men will still blame the woman for not getting him to wear a condom. Its like a grown adult walking out of the house naked.. and blaming the mum for not dressing them.

    Feminism is NOT anti-men. Its about making accessible to women, the same opportunities that are accessible to men. Education, health, work, pay, housing. travel, security etc.. all these should not be dictated because you are one gender from another. If God, or the earth had made for women to be lesser beings..women would stupid, with an IQ of an ameoba (and not agitating for their rights).. But that’s not the case.. because as you can see that #googlefacts tweet – thousands of men are quite happy to leave all decisions of their health on their female partner. ( i digress)

    We can see what rape is.. and what feminism is.
    Rape is NOT about what one was wearing or drinking. Its when one’s personal boundaries, are infringed upon by another or others in a vile and violent show of spite and power. This is further exacerbated by fear and the underuse of law and societal structures to address such incidents. Whatever our feelings are on gender, sex, whether humans are really equal or unequal – God’s vision for the station of man and the standing of women, ANY case of unwarranted, unprovoked physical violence to A FELLOW HUMAN BEING is beyond creed and religion (and patriarchy or feminism). Quite simply no country, not even ambitious Kenya will go anywhere if we, victims, friends of victims, concerned humans do NOT keep calling upon the current structures in place to curtail this..and get EVEN BETTER structures in place to ensure that our boys and girls, women and men are treated with the immediate courtesy and concern to action whenever these foul acts happen.

  2. this is brilliant! There are some things that people with privilege will never understand. Like:
    -wondering how many people will try to touch you as you navigate the public transport system
    -the horror you feel when a superior makes blatantly sexist remarks disguised as jokes
    -making a valid point during a discussion while people keep talking over your head
    -trying to explain sexism to your very cool guy friends and getting dismissed as overly sensitive or ‘you have started with that feminism stuff again’
    -realizing that said cool friends suspect deep inside that some girl wasn’t raped, she is lying about it
    And this is just the superficial stuff!

  3. This article is so timely! I had a discussion with friends in a coffee shop 2 days ago when it dawned on us that people (read women) have come to accept abuse in relationships as normal. Your article touches on education, employment, rape and other social problems we face but how about that so called liberated woman who has to ask for permission at every turn when she needs to make a decision? what of that woman who receives silent treatment from her husband who very well has a grand ol time with his boys each evening and weekend? How about that woman who thinks its normal to prepare the favourite dishes of her man without even for one second ever wondering who will do the same for her? what about what older women and other women advise each other on how to treat a man and what to allow him to get away with, coz ya know, he is some sort of god? what of that woman who does not know that what she experiences from her husband is actually rape? Women in our society have lowered their standards so much that men have been relegated to sperm donors. Yes! if you do not raise that child, if you are never home, if you never play with that child, if your child is a stranger to you- you are a sperm donor with a woman who masquerades as your wife. I will say this and probably get hate responses- but my husband who is not Kenyan is the one who actually informed me of the sperm donor theory. It’s has been all too shocking to meet married women who are raising their children as if they are single moms and their husbands remain the exact same way they were in campus- only with more money. AMKA DADA!

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