Silence is a Good Man

Michael Onsando
9 July ,2013

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,

Whenever.

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.

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