and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive
For the last two days there has been a controversial discussion on Twitter and Facebook surrounding a well known author who was accused of sexually harassing a woman at a party. In a case of gendered violence like the one we see playing out here, the negative images, attitudes and stereotypes that we have created and perpetuated against women are revealing themselves in even the people one would think have a grasp of morality. The continuous shaming and attacking of women for daring to speak out against normalized injustices committed against their bodies is indicative of a serious attitude problem in Kenyan men.
Women are constantly being told that they do not belong and that they should get out. We as women are constantly mocked and ridiculed in every space we occupy. Television anchors are dissected from what they are wearing to how their hair looks. They are paraded in front of the screen like prize cows on display and are awarded imaginary ribbons at the end of the newscast. When a female writer decides to publish an article complaining about this or the other, their points, no matter how valid or invalid, are diminished to what she looks like in her profile picture. The saying that “women should speak only when spoken to” has become a modern day proverb which thrives on the presumed silence and non intelligence of women. This line of thought is so pervasive to the extent that any woman who goes against this is seen as a troublemaker, a pestilence that needs dealing with. This then opens them up to all sorts of abuse from disparaging and abusive comments about their anatomy and education and in even in extreme cases can escalate to rape and death threats. Women are constantly being bullied and shamed into silence because we are not meant to matter.
In this case when a woman spoke out against sexual harassment, the first (out of many) negative responses was to question the reasons why the assault was first brought to our attention on social media. There were some who instantly protested the action, saying that Twitter is neither the place nor forum to discuss such private matters. The details of her account of an offensive act perpetrated AGAINST her were met with silencing, the same silencing that leads women not to ever speak up against injustices. Those who felt they were ‘progressive’ suggested that she take up the matter with the police force first instead of talking about it. As if the police force is a friendly place to ask for answers. In the gendered structure of things, where women are given less preference in just about everything, it is laughable to expect solutions from an institution that has a reputation of failing the nation collectively.
Social media is the perfect place to demand for change and accountability and to shake up the status quo. It is an open forum that provides anyone with a voice. Those who cannot articulate themselves well enough to get published in newspaper and magazine op-ed sections can at least get a message across simply by tweeting or going on Facebook. There is no longer a need to keep silent on something that affects you.
If Safaricom steals your airtime you can complain and have it addressed. If a matatu driver was reckless a simple tweet can go a long way. It doesn’t even have to be an issue, you can share your views and jokes online. So why is it when a man disrespects your right to say no (in a public space where witnesses are present) even after you clearly expressed dissent it is suddenly a personal matter? Women just like men have every right to complain about anything that faces them. We have been pushed out of every space we have tried to occupy, be it Parliament or mainstream media but we will not accept to be pushed out of social media. The internet has proven to be a space in which women can find others who have suffered similar experiences and share these stories. We can now talk about things that affect us collectively and be empowered by the spirit of togetherness.
There are those who will ask what the online rant will achieve are being purposefully narrow minded. The resistance to the story is extremely revealing; there is an entitlement to women’s bodies that must be addressed. There is need to reiterate that women have rights and you will be made accountable for violating them. Dead Beat Kenya was only the beginning of women taking control of their voices and their stories. The fact that women refuse to sit and twiddle their thumbs in silence should only bother you if you are a perpetrator of the things they are protesting.