Lupita Nyong’o has spoken. Our film idol detailed in a recent New York Times article how she fought off sexual harassment advances from the disgraced film mogul, Harvey Weinstein.
This is in the horrifyingly widening gyre of the “me-too” campaign of revelation of the ubiquity of sexist persecution and oppression in our world.
I was going to say that our sister’s singularly brave and direct relation of this insidious evil to herself brings the problem squarely home to us.
These things are not just happening out there in crazy Hollywood and the rest of the decadent “Wazungu” world. In this globalised world, it is not difficult to see how they are happening to us, to our sisters and daughters, and to our brothers and sons.
EVEN MORE SCARY
Even more scary is the thought of where many of us are going to hide if and when the “me-too” bombshell explodes in Nairobi, Kampala or Dar es Salaam.
My raw advice to most of my kind is to be prepared with our mea culpa (I have sinned) pleas, and rehearse our abject apologies, maybe with the extenuating adjunct that we acted mostly in ignorance.
So, even as I start vociferating against Harvey Weinstein and the whole lurid Hollywood galaxy of alleged sexual and sexist predators, I cannot quite silence the subdued but serious voice rumbling within.
It says, “Let him (or her) who has never done it…” Maybe here I should, for once, allow myself the luxury of the stylistically forbidden fruit of “et cetera”.
Anyway, the point is that there is practically no moral high ground for most of us in these matters. As the popular saying has it, for every finger we point, three more are directed at us.
This is particularly true of my own generation, the so-called “flower children”, who reached sexual maturity in the 1960s and went about erotic (alas, not romantic) relationships with unbridled abandon.
One of our slogans, we the international “hippie” brigade, was: “make love, not war.”
It sounds laudable. The pacifist, anti-war part of it was particularly relevant to us, whose parents had lived and even fought through the devastating World War Two, followed by the liberation struggles, like the Mau Mau. We had no appetite for yet more conflicts, like Vietnam or the Congo.
There was even the dire possibility of a nuclear holocaust resulting from the “East/West” bloc confrontations of those days. Indeed, the “balance of terror” between those ideological rivals was only maintained by what was called “mutual assured destruction” (MAD).
In other words, it was not quite sane to start a nuclear war because no one would win or survive it. Maybe Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un would do well to remember that today.
But we were talking about “love”. That, too, was not a bad idea, but the mistake which our generation made was that we shallowly equated love with sheer physical, sexual indulgence.
In other words, we reduced relationships to crude, vulgar and hedonistic copulation (ashakum), resulting in the welter of promiscuity in which even our descendants are still trapped.
Many of the film and other moguls that are accused of sexually harassing our daughters, granddaughters, and sons, today are people in their sixties or older.
Film director Roman Polanski, who is still pursued by the charge of raping a 13-year old girl in 1977, is 84, and Harvey Weinstein, the current icon of alleged predatory lust, is 65. Sixty-five, too, is Michael Fallon, the British minister, who recently resigned over similar nefarious allegations.
Kevin Spacey, the actor, who apologised after being accused of jumping on top of a 14-year old boy, with the “explanation” that he chooses to live his life as a gay man, is 62. This is my rika (age group)!
COFUSING LOVE WITH SEX
By confusing love with sex, we messed up the world with the dreadful misconception that any encounter between a man and woman (or other man if you were that way inclined) had to end up in physical engagement.
“Nyama kamla nyamawe (one beast devoured another),” as the Swahili lyricist Muyaka depicts such promiscuity.
A famous American, who shall remain unnamed but also of our generation, has described it as “grabbing them by the crotch” (ashakum, forgive me, again). The speaker actually used a slightly stronger term than “crotch”.
So, while the revelations currently rocking the world may be rightly called an “earthquake”, the actions and attitudes behind them date from much further back. Indeed, talk was already rife in our younger days of Hollywood auditions and interviews being conducted on couches in lavish hotel suites. This of course is where the repulsive link between power and sexual opportunism comes in.
As many of the victims who have come forward to reveal the canker of harassment have said, the young people seeking professional and social opportunities felt helpless in the claws of the “man-and-woman-eaters” of Hollywood and other corporate jungles. Whether you came for business, work or worship, you could, and probably would, be preyed upon by the cynical, depraved magnates of power, products of the 1960s so-called “sex revolution”. If presumably well-educated, articulate young adults could fall victim to the devourers, imagine the helplessness of poor children who found themselves in the clutches of paedophiliac priests, pastors and teachers.
But all is not doom and gloom. The courage of our sisters and daughters who, like Lupita, have come out to name and shame the loathsome predators is a bright beacon and a rallying clarion call to all those who care. Even as I write, new startling revelations are breaking out from every corner of the world, and the earthquake is rapidly developing into a veritable tsunami. The harass-masters should know that they can run but they cannot hide.
The bottom line, however, is that we should not smugly assume that it is only happening out there. When you see your neighbour’s head being shaven, as the Waswahili say, better moisten and soap your own hair.
Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and Literature. [email protected]