The American Dream’s outcry against sexual violence

Sunday November 26 2017

By MUTHONI THANG'WA
More by this Author

Kenya recently celebrated the unprecedented entry of women governors onto the political scene.

Whereas this should have served as an indication that the world, and gender-assigned roles have changed dramatically, women still face numerous human rights challenges globally, as reported in the media.

There is a campaign going on, mainly in the United States, called #metoo. It involves women in various walks of life admitting that they have been raped or sexually harassed in the past.

In some ways, the reports paint a desperate situation in the way women are treated with regard to sexuality. Human rights advocates would have had the world believe that minorities and marginalised women in society are the most vulnerable in regard to sexual abuses.

The current campaign however, debunks this myth. Sex scandals, which involve inappropriate behaviour and sometimes sexual acts, are jumping out of every nook, crook and cranny in the glamorous world of entertainment and politics.

The cofounder of no less than the film giant Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, was accused by up to 50 women of inappropriate sexual behaviour, where he is alleged to have raped, molested, harassed and sexually intimidated them.

Kenyan’s own Oscar-winning, actress in 12 Years a Slave, Lupita Nyongo, added her voice, describing highly personalised contact with the Miramax owner in what should have been a professional meeting.

Other women who have accused the movie mongrel of inappropriate behaviour read like Hollywood’s who’s who, including Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow.

'WOMEN'S ISSUES'

Sadly, these women who survive these ordeals and tell their stories are the lucky ones. In some instances as recently happened in Kenya, rape victims often succumb to their injuries, justice dying with them.

This sounds as depressing as it is in reality. Also, victim blaming is a big problem in this kind of violence.

Gender imbalance has made us so unconscious of our own biases that we still ask questions such as ‘Why would she open her M-Pesa shop when riots were expected in that neighbourhood?

What was she wearing? Why would she go to some stranger’s house in the dead of night?

Why would she go out with a Catholic priest? What kind of girls are we raising? But the truth of the matter is, a man is always involved in these incidents of violence.

I was quite relieved to listen to Jackson Katz, an American educator, filmmaker and author in the TED talk on violence against women. It’s a men’s issue, he says.

He grasps it in a way that I have yet to hear expressed elsewhere. He points out that we assume it is a gender issue while knowing very well that we are conditioned to think gender issues are women’s issues.

So men, unconsciously perhaps, group them with other women’s issues such as brassiere size or the choice of sanitary pads.

He advocates a paradigm shift by accepting, and I guess, preaching about it for what it is. A man’s issue. So for you men out there with a daughter, a sister – well a mother since that is the one thing all men have – make this your issue.

TRAINING YOUR SON

Katz urges that as long as the dominant group in the violence – continues to escape the needed attention, then dominance will remain the status quo and will, in fact, reproduce itself and remain unchallenged.

He then goes on to say that questions should be asked about the perpetuators of violence, not the victims. What is going on with men? Why are they abusing boys, girls and women? 

He questions what could be going wrong in society to breed such men. Looking at the Kenyan situation, cases are reported across the board: Members of Parliament, priests, pastors, fathers, uncles, and jobless youth.

But this challenge is not just in Kenya and the United States. In recent years we have read in the press of its explosion in India and Egypt. In each of these two countries, violence seems to have been part of everyday life, until one horrific incident attracted the world’s attention.

In India, it was the case of Jyoti Singh, a medical student who died 13 days after a grievous attack in a bus. For Egypt, it was the rape of a Dutch journalist at Tahrir Square while she was covering a protest.

As an African, you may train your daughter how to behave and dress, but that will not stop the violence. But training your son how not to rape will solve the problem permanently!

Twitter: @muthonithangwa