“Yours is the kind of beauty that men love to destroy.” I heard this startling statement from an elegantly articulate and dazzling young woman earlier this year. She said her grandmother had said it to her in Germany, where her family had fled from the Rwandese Genocide. I did not get this young person’s name, nor did I find out how she had come to be studying at one of Uganda’s top-notch women’s colleges. Her presence at the Ugandan writers’ function where she shared with us seemed to be perfectly natural.
You know, in any case, that, like most ordinary Ugandans, I do not make any difference between Ugandans and Rwandese in all matters social and national. This is why we find it difficult to understand why our leaders should travel all the way to Luanda (and not the Luanda of Kenya but of Angola) in order to resolve their “differences”.
But before I tell you why I pricked my ears at the sister’s (or her grandmother’s) provocative remark, I should let you into two of my romantic secrets. Do not tell anyone else, please. My first secret is that I still get deeply and almost irresistibly attracted to some women. I strongly admire and desire them and of course wish that they would notice me.
If there is an age at which this urge stops, I certainly have not reached it, and I do not think I ever will. In any case, I just do not wish to see the day. I should hasten to add, however, that I thoroughly disapprove of those predatory males that go lusting after their sons’ girlfriends or daughters’ agemates, even to the extent of eloping with them, as in the story I recently heard from Narok. Such behaviour is simply preposterous.
Anyway, my second well-guarded romantic secret is that I first seriously fell in love just around this time of year, September or October, in 1966. That is just a few 53 years ago, but the memories are still vivid. Indeed, I recently realised that every time the northern autumn comes around, I tend to get into an inexplicable romantic mood. In North America, the autumn is called the “fall”, which supposedly refers to the deciduous trees’ shedding their leaves, after turning into all sorts of glorious colours, in preparation for the winter. So, allowing myself the rare indulgence of an Americanism, I am calling this heady emotional spell of mine “falling in love in the fall”.
It hit me recently with a special force as I watched a long-time acquaintance of mine, and fellow founder member of FEMRITE (the Uganda Women Writers Association) make a presentation at an international literary conference in Kampala. This is a sister I have known and deeply respected for well over two decades, following with fascination her creative, administrative and activist exploits on both the local and international stages.
This time, however, as I sat riveted, like the rest of her audience, to her spellbinding stage presence, her mellifluous eloquence and the impeccable logic of her presentation, I felt an electrifying thrill run through me. The lady was, I thought, “just about as perfect as she could be”. I am not mentioning many names, but those in the know will realise that that quote is a literal translation of the name Kasemiire, the leading character in the first novel published by my dear sister, way back in 1996.
Talking of literary texts, my fascination with the Kampala speaker reminded me of the heart-warming sequence in Assumpta Matei’s Chozi la Heri, where Mwangeka falls in love with Apondi. Mwangeka, a soldier who returns from a peacekeeping mission to find his young family wiped out in an orgy of ethnic violence, meets Apondi, a youngish widow and social worker, at a conference on internal security. As he listens to Apondi’s presentation, Mwangeka is struck by her intelligence, articulateness and self-confidence. The encounter leads to a beautiful and productive relationship.
This brings us back to grandmother’s sad but tenable assertion that some men relate to women only in order to destroy them. Such men there indeed are, far too many of them, unfortunately. Such men fall into three main categories: the misogynists, the egotistical brutes and the chauvinistic shenzis.
The misogynists are inherently negative psychopaths, who apparently hate everything and everybody, including themselves. They hate women and yet nature inevitably draws them to the wonderful treasure that women are. But up close the sick males have no positive response to the situation. They can only react with destruction: abuse, violence, rape and femicide, the killing of women simply because they are women.
The egotistical brutes regard women as mere “things”. We also call this approach “objectification”. When these “objectificators” look at women, all they see are the externals (“dish”, “beautiful young thing”), the glamour and the glitter. All that the object-hunters want is to win, conquer, “enjoy”, possess and display their trophies as prestige symbols. I keep saying that there is nothing wrong with being beautiful, handsome, good-looking and elegant. But reducing the value of a human being to such simple and specious elements is the nadir of shallowness.
Most of us “ordinary” males, however, seem to belong to that primitive mass of uninformed, ill-informed or misinformed chauvinists conditioned by centuries of opportunistic beliefs and practices that stop at the flat dictum that “a man is a man, and a woman is a woman.” This is “shenziness” (primitivism) and static laziness.
One simple solution to this lies in the appreciation and acceptance of the logical truth that men and women are equally human and should be valued, respected and loved as such in the first place. The main requirement for improving the situation is a massive education and sensitisation programme for our men in decent gender relations.
Then we can embark on the serious business of properly falling in love in the fall, or in any other season.
The author is a professor of literature. [email protected]