I have to start by saying, I am not at my most comfortable in crowds. Even group discussions make me a little nervous. High levels of attentions from strangers scare me deeply.
It is not once or twice that I have heard calls on the street, that are more aggression than admiration. Men who I walk past from whome I have to put my head down and walk fast. That is behaviour that is not only brought on by dress. It is simply brought on by the fact that you are a woman, who that man thinks is attractive on that day. All you would have to do is your hair and wear heels.
Then come the videos.
In the first one I watched, the brutality inflicted on her nudity was a jaw cracking, back handed slap to the parts of me the see beauty in feminine sexuality. My heart pounded in my mouth, and my hands and knees, clenched tight, shook. I was very pregnant at the time, and even my baby became uncharacteristically still, usually play full and kicking at that time of the day. To know, that that act was possible, and in plain view of other human beings has broken me in ways that I’m yet to learn how to express. I am still triple checking what I wear when I get dressed.
There are multiple cultures of influence here.
Just to be clear, it is not, the illusion of decency or hypocritical morals that stop me from wearing a mini in town.
It is the threat of violence and intrusion,
It is fear.
I chose not to find out the gender of my baby until birth. It is stories like these that made my first reaction to finding out she was a girl; fear. In fact, during the height of the #MyDressMyChoice debate, the same fear made me actually pray that I would have a son. This world is too often unkind to little girls. I still pray for her everyday, and she is a driving force behind me wanting us to talk about these issues. I hope the world is a little safer, even just a little… for her, and for her daughters’ daughters and sons. I wrote most of this article at the time the topic was trending, with her in my tummy.
The Moral Argument
Dressing is a an aspect of culture, it expresses loyalties to a place or manner of thinking. Ultimately, the “wrong” dress, is any dress that symbolises a subscription to an alternate facet of culture. A far removed example of this, is the way that high school kids get bullied for having ‘shady’ shoes.
My great grandmother told me the story of removing her hangi she told me the pain wasn’t that bad, that she couldn’t have them, or she wouldn’t have been able to stay in church or school. She had to cut open the inner sides of the traditional piercings and sew them together, so that she could continue learning and worshiping at the missionary church. It was there that she got, and learned how to use diapers. She reads and writes fluently in Kikuyu, and still has all her teeth. Also, I’ve seen pictures of my Cucus in minis. Culture is dynamic.
Kenyan culture picks and chooses aspects of western, eastern and local cultures. The idea of long skirts is taken from Victorian culture, not African culture, and the idea of many wives from the later.
To dwell on the notion that a woman is dressed in the “wrong way” when outnumbered and overpowered, is to suggest that to outnumber and over power is less “wrong”.
I do agree to some extent, that there is a place and time for different attires. I know, that some people are more closed minded than others, and its not exactly fun to be the focus of perverted oglers. There are, so many less depraved options for dealing with disagreements on this topic though. If sexual assault is to be the new form of cultural expression, the only logical result is the oppression of women, as Women’s forms are much easier suited to receiving pain, than to inflicting it. We are made as receptacles, with the exception of the giving of life.
So while we dress these perverts as justified, we should not rush to put angelic Colobus skin wings, on them. To suggest that those men were championing African culture, is to suggest that African men are completely devoid of self control or moral compass. What a shameful lie!
The Punishment And The Crime
Her arms were being stretched apart by two different people at opposite ends, her right leg, equally tug of roped so that her restrained position, was the stuff of nightmares or sadist porn. Its from this position, completely defenceless, that she was being kicked, slapped and hit. Even the strongest man would be powerless in this stance, but they chose this as the means to “punish” someone with a fraction of their strength. Even thieves are not restrained in that way for their beatings.
Speaking of which, we may be overlooking a crime we would normally not. The victims are left relieved not just of their attire, also of their purse/bag, phone and anything she may have stashed in her bra for emergencies; they are robbed of EVERYTHING. This outnumbering tactic is used in other robberies. Men are picked up off the ground, relieved of their shoes and pocket contents in urban streets as well.
Aside from being straight out of the misogynists hand book, the phrase “she asked for it” is a means of defence. It allows us to sit back in well upholstered chairs, away from the idea that it could happen to anyone we know or us, because ‘we know how to avoid it’, and do. Like the response, “was your window open?” As the primary response to “My phone was stolen in town.” We would rather avoid the problem than face it.
The purpose of punishment is to discourage the idea from becoming action, because there is direct consequence. Victims extent of nudity, is determined by where she is. If you put the same levels of exposure on a cat walk, in 1824 or in Gypsys where there is security, she is safe. The problem is not one of dress, it is one of security.
It is that in the places where these things happen, there is no security. There is not enough threat of punishment for the crimes, so it’s worth a try.
These women are left dressed thickly in the dusty shoe prints of the kicks they receive. Wouldn’t a shuka be a more appropriate solution to someone who is underdressed? These men, are the self appointed plaintive, lawyer, judge, jury and executioner, who sentence passers by to violent, sadistic sexual objectification. That is the kind of man, you pray is never one of your robbers, if you have a daughter in your house. I can only imagine, the person who commits unspeakable things in broad daylight and on film, would jump to heinous in the cover of night. My resolution, is that, that is the kind of man, we need off our streets. What they have shown us is a preview, they are testing waters. The next steps, of higher brutality and depravity are waiting only for us not to react to the first.
The focal point of the social media debate was one based more on the moralities of fashion, than the actions of these, sexually deviant criminals. While we sit behind our computer screens, hitting like buttons and sharing their breathless screams, the men who defiled them, have one hand in their boxers, and one hand on a drink, as they relive their public wet dream. Robert Alai, though he keeps us up to date on current affairs… seems to have a fascination with dildos, that he seems to think are a good way to address any social issues that are sexually oppressive to women. I understand that the existence of dildos can be a little emasculating, and my sympathies go out to him for that unfortunate fact. However, the effect of a person whose opinions are generally respected championing the rights of perverts are much more detrimental than comical.
Pick a team.
I don’t mean the closed minded kind, like men against women. I mean, who do we protect? Conservative fashion choices? Sadistic men? If your daughter or sister, makes an erroneous fashion choice, will you support the above punishment then?
Ultimately, a communities loudest objections, are things most likely to be changed. So, if you are spending 90% of your time analysing and critiquing the actions of the victim, then that is who you are telling to change. The past victims may not be in your communication range, but the women who are in your range are receiving this message:
“If you don’t want to be stripped don’t dress, or behave in certain ways. You are responsible for your own safety, so if you put yourself in dangerous situations, you are asking for it.”
Everyone has rights to their own opinions, so if that is actually what you want to say, go right ahead. I however, think the above objections are saying something else too. Namely:
“I would never want myself, anyone near and dear, or anyone at all to go through that. The crime in question is one of a nature so overpowering, that I’m left looking for ways to reclaim ownership of my sense of safety and boundaries of power. “
I’ve mentioned already, that if the same out numbering was inflicted in a man, he would also be defenceless. The numbers in the mobs are extremely intimidating to any one lone passerby, and they are being violent and aggressive. So, in these street scenes, the answer to “where are the good men?” Is that like us, they are scared. Rightfully so.
Scare tactics work. Although ‘Anything you can do, we can do better’ is a fun sing along for a little girl, as a back bone principle of feminism, it is small minded. Oppression can not be overcome by oppression. We have to remember that in the long run, working as a team is the most strategically feasible target. So, are you on the team of the defenceless? Or is it more important to hide behind your own fear based moral high ground?
What can we do?
For starters, we can start questioning the perpetrators actions more than we do the victims. From there the rest is: anything you can. Do anything you can to stop these guys, even if that means sharing #MyDressMyChoice messages when you think some people make atrocious wardrobe decisions.