For the past two days Twitter has been ablaze with a fiery conversation about sexual harassment. Tony Mochama, a popular author, poet and columnist for the Standard Media Group has been under the spotlight after alleged accusations of harassing a woman at a party in the presence of other witnesses.
On Sunday September 21st, he was at the StoryMoja Festival where he attended a session on The Future Of Men. In this session he turned to an audience filled with women and made misogynistic jokes and even advocated for domestic violence “when women become too vocal.” It was therefore of very little surprise that when I woke up the following day, he was facing accusations of sexual harassment. The incident is said to have occurred on the night of Saturday September 20th, the day before he made those disparaging comments.
A lot of embellishments have been added to the story until one cannot be 100% sure of what exactly transpired. Witnesses have come forth with conflicting versions of the incident. However the only thing worth noting is this, the allegation that he touched a woman without her consent is the only consistent fact in the various accounts and therefore the story remains valid. This is about consent. If she did not give her consent to him, then that is a violation of her public space, of her comfort, of her rights as a woman.
One would think that such a simple argument, that women have every right to express their discomfort with being touched inappropriately would be met with a little more empathy. However this was not the case. The responses have been rude and online trolls have attacked everyone who has dared to speak up on the issue. There has been a demand for her name and details to be released, even though it was made clear from the get-go that the victim chose to remain anonymous.
This constant demand is another violation of her rights; her right to privacy. There have been a series of questions that have been raised. Her choice of forum has been questioned. Why did she tweet about it? Has she gone to the police? Did she seek medical advice? Why didn’t the witnesses do anything? These questions ignore the issue at hand, the roots from which they stem from. The only question that needs to be asked is “why did he do that?” Why did he disregard her clearly expressed dissent?
The question of why she used social media to voice her complaint is a moot one. Social media is a platform that gives several voices a chance to address social injustices. People use Twitter to complain about poor services and demand accountability from leaders. Why is it such an issue when a woman uses her platform to complain about a violation of her personal space?
The question of police involvement is also an unrealistic one. Why must they get involved? Consent or the lack thereof is something that can be adhered to without the use of government agents. No means no. Why must the police come into this case? Will the involvement of the boys in blue help him understand a two letter word?
In the case of the witnesses and whether they intervened, the question of intervention versus prevention has to come in. It is not invalid to question the involvement of those who were present and why they did not do anything if they did not. It is important that people take action whenever they see an injustice happening. We must not look away when something terrible is happening. However not all interventions will go smoothly. Not everyone is able to jump out with their chest out ready to save the day. We cannot dwell on what the spectators should have, could have or would have done because the time for their action is past. What we need to focus on is why these acts are even being perpetrated. Why did HE do what he did?
Another thing I have noted in the discourse that followed is a lot of people have been asking “what if a woman harassed a man?” These situations do occur. However to ask what would occur if the tables had turned is to ignore what is happening now that the table is the right side up. To come from a position of false equivalences is to erase the entire experience of the woman who was harassed and to shine the spotlight away from the man who harassed her. To do so only suits the guilty party. To constantly bring up “what if’s” and “maybe’s” is derailing to the original conversation about what is happening at the time. When a woman harasses a man, we will talk about what happens when a woman harasses a man. But for now that is not the case. A man harassed a woman. What will happen next?
The most infuriating and common refrain is “not all men do these things.” Women are not being harassed by the wind or imaginary ghosts. They are harassed by men. The reality of the situation is, no matter how much we want to sugar-coat it, these good men that everyone wants to speak of are NOT the majority. They cannot be picked out and put on the side the way one would do with good mangoes in a supermarket. Tony Mochama shared a space with numerous women the day after the alleged assault. That means that if he wanted any one of them could have been a victim. The NOT ALL MEN excuse is no longer valid.
(Image source: http://phatitude.org/)