Imagine a world where you, a man or your son, brother, nephew, uncle:
- Has to check in with his boys everytime he goes out to let them know where he’s going to be and who he is hanging out with. Just to make sure they check on him when he gets home. After all, his fitting jeans and T-shirt may send the wrong message to all the rapey women out there!
- Has to park in well-lit areas, or in parking spots close to the entrance of the building or areas with high foot-traffic. He has to be cautious of where he parks his car because he is at risk of getting abducted or kidnapped, worse still, killed.
- Has to avoid traveling up country over certain months of the year because his community practices forceful circumcision for people his age. Consent is a rumour. Also a rumour is the use of sterilised blades, painkillers, the presence of medical professionals and all that jazz. Here’s the kicker, his people all try to convince him, this act of circumcision is to heighten sexual pleasure for his partner. Absolutely nothing in it for him! Except for pain every time he urinates, high risk of contracting a UTI, a serving of extreme pain during childbirth with a side of fistula!
- Rethinks his wardrobe choices a million times before settling on what to wear.Especially before venturing into the CBD. Actually, his location, mode of transportation, time of day, route to be followed all dictate his outfit choices. Is this shirt too transparent? Are these jeans too suggestive?These rectangular shaped, corduroy pants may tempt a woman out there to grope me, he thinks as he picks another pair of pants for the umpteenth time! If he puts too much lip balm will his lips look too sexy? Don’t get me started on whether he should tuck his money in his boxers or risk it all by carrying it in his man-purse.
- Has second thoughts every time his female supervisor asks him to work late. It is not lost on him, those snide comments she makes about his backside. He has caught her staring suggestively enough times to be certain he is not being paranoid. The one time he tried to mention it to HR, she dismissed it the way one would swat off a fly. Which of his colleagues can he convince to hang around as well so it’s not just him and his boss on the premises?
- Is being “gently nudged” into courting and marrying his mother’s friend from highschool. Just because this woman has been friends with his mother since they were teengagers what makes his parents think they would be the perfect match? His mother even suggested that should he not be interested in her friend, maybe he could consider marrying her daughter instead. Whatever it takes to secure a wife.
- Has every person monitoring his penis. Who has he had sex with? How many people has he shared bodily fluids with? Why does he not want children? How many children is he planning to have? And when is he having them again? Better yet, how come he is not siring children every year? He shouldn’t wait too long, his biological clock is ticking.
- His female colleague who he worked with on a project is getting all the credit for work he actively contributed to. She even had the audacity to leave his name out of every official document, took over the presentation and she keeps doing this annoying thing of talking over him every time they have an opportunity to speak to the boss about their work!
- Has to carry pepper spray in his laptop bag and make sure he only sits next to another man in the matatu. Never the front seat, in the middle of two women or heaven forbid he enters the matatu and he is the only passenger! Atrocious! Let’s be honest here, everytime he gets into whichever type of public transport, he has to be on high alert. Trust no one!
- Consistently has to force a fake smile or look away or pretend to be occupied every time he walks past a group of women, lest they catcall him, then proceed to call him a man-whore just because he refused to respond to their heckling. Should he dare smile back or react in any way, they may take it as an invitation to engage, yet his response came from a place of fear.
- Has to walk faster or run or seek shelter in a building should the crowd of women think they have been ignored or treated unfairly because he didn’t react as they expected! And they decided to harass him by following him and calling him whatever names their hearts desire.
- Has to have a mental debate with himself before posting anything online. There will be Instagram aunties and Twitter moral police and Facebook paparazzi sharing their unsolicited opinion. If his post has got anything to do with him showing a sense of independence it’s all downhill from there. How can he afford that car? A woman must have bought it for him. How can he be working a full time job? Kwani he hasn’t been able to secure a woman to take care of him? He keeps his hair short and natural, no wonder he is still single.
- Has raised anxiety levels that keep him up at night because that day he read in the paper about a boy that has gone missing and watched in the news a man that was found dead after a fight with his girlfriend. Yet another man behind bars because this last beating from his wife was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Or that tweet about a woman who drove across the country and hacked her alleged boyfriend to death outside her place of work, IN BROAD DAYLIGHT!
My development studies lecturer had us write a paper on how systemic structures, institutions and culture are geared towards entrenching and sustaining male social power. A.k.a patriarchy. A.k.a male privilege. It wasn’t difficult to find examples. As a woman navigating this Nairobi, almost every decision I make is a reminder that the man still has the upper hand. A reminder that I still have to speak up for myself, for women who can’t, for women still finding their voice, for women who are still cut off from the privileges I experience. It is a constant reminder to keep showing up for myself and for my fellow women. To do whatever it takes to make the world kinder to womenfolk.
A reminder to show up, because my daughter is watching.