I enjoyed a lovely holiday last Thursday. It was International Women’s Day and since I was in Uganda/Wakanda, where it is a public holiday, I duly indulged myself. I did not go to the public celebrations because they were in Mityana, some 80 kilometres from my side of Kampala, no mean journey for my old bones.
But I spent the day thinking about women, as, indeed, I do most days. Does that surprise you? It should not. Je suis un homme normal (I am a normal man), as I remember the Malgache poet Jacques Ranaivo telling us once in Antananarivo. Do you remember the story?
Anyway, a normal man spends, should spend, a lot if not most of his time thinking about women. He should be observing them, talking with them and, especially, listening to them. Joking, laughing, arguing, even crying with women is part of a man’s enjoyment of feminine company.
That, at least in my thinking and experience, is the way of men who get on well with women.
I will “bring out the ink” (produce the evidence), as the Waganda say. I am a son, a brother, a lover a father, a grandfather, an uncle, a friend, a teacher and a colleague to a dazzling array of women of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds.
As I think I have said elsewhere, what primarily fascinates me about my women associates and attracts me irresistibly to them is their communication power or potential.
There is no need for me to be coy and pretend that I am not strongly physically attracted to womankind.
Oh, I have always been and I still am, hugely so (even at this age). Indeed, the piece of creative prose that I am currently trying to develop into a novel is about this inexhaustible, inextinguishable desire to touch and be touched by a responsive body, regardless of the consequences.
But I think the main mistake that many of us men make in our approach to women is to narrow down our interest to just this one aspect of our relationships. “Over-prioritising” this physical, erotic element, as is increasingly reflected in our hedonistic, pleasure-seeking pop culture, risks fatally poisoning our gender relations and the well-being of our society at large. This “You-are-a-woman-I-am-a-man-so-we-meet-to-mate” mentality — if it can be called a mentality at all — leaves us at or takes us back to a pathetic level of primitive beastly existence.
It is, I think, this overconcentration on our sisters as sex objects that lies at the heart of most of the problems, horrors and monstrosities besetting our gender relations throughout our societies.
It is called ‘objectification’ in gender studies and it can be traced to the root of all the exploitation, degradation, and destruction of women in male-dominated societies, which is most of the world. It is summed up in that venomous chauvinistic growl, “A mere woman (umukali ubukali)!”
Once men start reducing their colleagues — whether partners, legislators, professors, governors or presidents, to “mere women” — they are on the road to becoming “mere beasts”, creatures incapable of perceiving any human worth in their fellow beings. Just as racists are blinded by racism to the humanity of their fellow humans, male sexists are blinded by sex to the sterling human value of their female counterparts.
Ingrained and entrenched male sexism is called misogyny, an inveterate negativity towards women simply because they are women. I heard recently that in France they have identified a new brand of special hatred for black women, which they call misogynègre.
It is these nauseating perversions in the minds of men that make them think that it is all right to not only deny women education, equal pay and property rights but also to subject them to FGM, rape, desertion, brutal assault and murder, for the gratification of the male ego.
If this does not sound quite like my celebration of women during their special month, it is because my sense of outrage against the excesses of brutality against women seems to know no respite.
You will remember me writing about the murdered Mwalimu Caroline Odinga in Sega, Siaya County, last year, which I related to the serial killings of women in Entebbe and Kampala. Then, just as we were beginning to put that behind us, Lucy Njambi is fed a mortal acidic meal at Kamiti Corner. That is just about all we can say about that, since it is, as the lawyers say, sub judice.
But, cruellest and nearest wound of all to me, a prominent member of a family closely known to me is kidnapped, mutilated and eventually murdered, even after the one-million dollar ransom the kidnappers had demanded had been paid. Susan Magara, the chief accountant of a successful family dairy business that was negotiating international expansions, was kidnapped in the centre of Kampala on February 7.
Three weeks later, after the kidnappers had even sent two of her fingers to her family to compel them to cough up the million dollars, Susan’s body was found dumped in a marsh off the main Kampala-Entebbe Highway.
The late Susan was a sister of the eminent film-maker Cindy Magara, a former student of mine and later a colleague in Literature at Makerere.
You can see that I am not fuming out of a theoretical feminist “correctness”. Our women, including our friends and relatives, are being used, abused and disposed of as “objects” for the egotistic sexual, political, economic and rivalry convenience of beastly men. But as long as we treat our women as objects, we will remain less than objects, vile abominations hardly worth the right to exist.
“Magara”, in the language of the great Bunyoro-Kitara Empire, where Cindy and Susan come from, means “life”. As we reflect on the brutality wrought on women like Susan, Njambi and thousands of others around the world, by beastly men, let us remember that women are the source and receptacle of life.
Women are life, magara (maisha), and that is how they should be viewed and treated, with love, trust and respect.
Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and Literature. [email protected]