Stand up, be counted

Angry woman

An angry woman with a clenched fist.

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Just like racism, ageism, tribalism and all other ‘isms’, sexism is based on gross ignorance.
  • Sometimes it is so subtle and ingrained in us that we do not even notice it for what it is.

There is a fable about this clan of rats who faced imminent annihilation by a marauding cat. After a series of crisis meetings, they finally agreed that their only strategy of survival was to bell the cat. A thoughtful rat put up his hand and asked;

“Who will bell the cat?”

There was no willing participant, volunteer or otherwise. 

As a fresh immigrant in Nairobi City some years back, I got into a fistfight with a street boy.

Nothing shocking about that - it was not the first time I had ever fist fought. But it was the first time that I witnessed grown-up men and women watch as a woman and a man fist fought.

It was my welcome experience of the streets of Nairobi as a fresh graduate, job hunting, scrapping to get a daily meal and putting up with my friend in a servant’s quarters.

I was at the Kencom Bus stage, deliberating about walking to South B on an empty stomach, or taking a bus and walking to town the following morning. Suddenly, as they do, this street urchin appeared holding human faeces.

“Give me 100 bob or I will smear this on you.”

I had 20 shillings on me.

“Give him 200 or he will smear you with that.”

A hawker with his paraphernalia spread out on a cloth on the ground jumped into the unfolding saga.

Daylight robbery

“Is it going to kill me?” I asked taking a step back.

“Stop shouting or he will punch you.”

“Mind your business. Let him deal with me!”

The street urchin, a man really, maybe late teens, looked a little worried because I was attracting attention.

“Madam lipia kioo, soo mbili!” The hawker waved a small mirror, insinuating that I had taken one but not paid for it. 

“I have not taken anything from you and you will not rob me in broad daylight,” I shouted, moving away. The hawker motioned to his accomplice to attack.

People were crowding. 

A man laughed and commented on women expecting free things.

The boy approached and before I could think, punches were flying. I do not remember all the other Ninja moves I made because a police officer later appeared.

When he ascertained that I was not drunk – as the people around had informed him - and was indeed a victim of intimidation and near robbery, he took a step back.

“Only a Meru woman would take off her shoes and fight back a man,” he chuckled, shaking his head.

“How did you know I am Meru?” I asked him.

“You are speaking in Kimeru!” 

Someone’s got to bell the cat. We are a sexist community. Let us start the year with some deep self-reflection, shall we?

Retrogressive attitudes

Have you ever had someone discriminate against you because of your surname, your tribe? Have you felt your blood boil in a foreign country when someone refused to serve you because you were African and perceived as not deserving of service, respect and honour? Have you ever had your opinions dismissed because of your age?

Welcome to a woman’s world, where sexism and misogynist attitudes are daily fodder. Just like racism, ageism, tribalism and all other ‘isms’, sexism is based on gross ignorance. Sometimes it is so subtle and ingrained in us that we do not even notice it for what it is.

Being a patriarchal community, women experience sexism on a grander scale than men do. Yes, it is experienced in the offices, politics and our homes. 

You are a sexist if you think that a man should finance your lifestyle. You are a sexist if you joke about rape, gender violence and victim-shame. You are misogynistic if you contribute to the abuse of a woman in any way, whether through sexual harassment, physical or mental assault.

Do you know how to tell a sexist community? It is in all those hundreds of men who stood by as women were being stripped in the streets of Nairobi. That was probably the lowest for us as a community.

I am optimistic that in this New Year, we will see more of progressive than retrogressive attitudes towards our other half of the gender. 

Karimi is a wife who believes in marriage. karimigatimi@yahoo.com 

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