What you need to know:
- From Nancy Barasa and Gladys Shollei to Anne Waiguru, the country has been treated to spectacles of opinion, debate and garbage hunting whenever a woman is adversely mentioned in a corruption scandal.
- This has often begged the question: Are women held up a different moral standard than men? Is good behaviour thought of as a genetic, gender-related trait? Are women more vulnerable to attacks on their sexuality than men? We asked you to tell us what you think.
Are women, especially those in power, held up to a different standard than men? Is their record judged in relation to their gender or to their performance? Rachel Wambui finds out
“...everything was about me. The story was about me. Not the challenges at the Ministry. … You don’t see people attacking Rotich like they were attacking me.”
- Former Devolution CS Anne Waiguru, Monday, January 11, 2016
From Nancy Barasa and Gladys Shollei to Anne Waiguru, the country has been treated to spectacles of opinion, debate and garbage hunting whenever a woman is adversely mentioned in a corruption scandal. This has often begged the question: Are women held up a different moral standard than men? Is good behaviour thought of as a genetic, gender-related trait? Are women more vulnerable to attacks on their sexuality than men? We asked you to tell us what you think.
“Now that you mention it, when my female boss is on the war path – you know, on one of those days when nothing seems to have been done or done right – we, I included, subconsciously think that she must have had a fight with her husband. As a matter of fact, we have a running joke in the office that ‘she needs to get laid’ so she can loosen up. Now that you mention it, we never think that she’s angry because we are not performing and that maybe if we did, then she wouldn’t be angry. Yes, we subconsciously make it personal. That’s hard for me to admit. As a woman, I should know better. I constantly have this fight with my partner; when I’m upset, he asks me whether I’m hormonal. It’s like my concerns are pegged to my menstrual cycle and if I’m hormonal, then my concerns are not valid. ‘Don’t mind her, she’s just PMS-ing, she’ll get over it eventually’. So the answer to your question is yes; we are judged according to our gender.”
Millicent Akoth, 35, Office Manager
“Yes. I think it’s because society expects women to behave in a certain demure, submissive way. We are expected to be angels, while men are excused because of the mentality that ‘boys will be boys’. Look at extramarital affairs; people will say ‘that’s what men do’. But if a woman is having an affair, her morality will be questioned. At work, if a female boss reprimands an employee, she is ‘overbearing and unreasonable’. If a male boss does the same thing, he is ‘taking charge’. So yes, I think there are gender biases at play.”
Lynn Gathoni, 30, interior designer
“I don’t think it’s possible not to have gender biases. They are too ingrained in societies all over the world. However, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to have these ‘biases’. Just hear me out: When I was hiring staff for my shop I specifically asked for women because they tend to be cleaner and I think they are less likely to steal. Now that’s a gender bias (I admit) that worked in favour of the women, don’t you think? On this (Anne) Waiguru thing; so what you are telling me is that she was targeted unfairly because she is a woman? I don’t think so! This thing happened under her watch! So in that sense, she should just take responsibility for it. As a matter of fact, it’s you women who are bringing gender into it. Don’t you see it? You use this gender thing where it suits you. When a woman achieves something incredible, you want the world to acknowledge it’s because she is a woman (not because she’s good at what she does). But when she is caught up in something undesirable, you don’t want the world to look at it from the gender perspective. If anything, it’s you women who are perpetuating the double standards.”
Kareem Issah, 40, business man
“…Yes, I think the length to which the Waiguru thing went was uncalled for. If a male politician is caught up in a corruption scandal, people don’t talk about who he might be in a romantic relationship with. They don’t get into his personal life. I was having this conversation with my friends and one person (a woman, mind you) made a comment about how a weave she (Waiguru) once wore made her look as if she wasn’t intelligent, that that’s the reason women in power should keep their hair short and natural. I wondered, what do her looks have to do with anything? But that’s how the world is. That’s why first ladies have stylists – because the world watches how a woman looks and makes judgments on how she is likely to perform her work from that image. That rarely happens with men. I think it was in reference to Hillary Clinton that it was said, ‘the story is never what she says, it is always how she looked when she said it’. Gender shouldn’t be the contributing factor for someone’s ability or inability to do a job.”
Moses Kimani, 28, IT technician
“I sit on a notable school’s board with six men. Every time we met I would always be the one taking the minutes. Sometimes I would naturally serve the tea. I didn’t notice this until one of the men specifically asked me where the tea was. It was like a light bulb moment. So I stopped taking minutes and I stopped serving tea. I started being an active part of the meeting, not a secretary. I was finally sitting at the table. It took time for them to get used to that. It was almost as if I was being inappropriate by daring to be more vocal and in charge. I read Sheryl Sanderberg’s (COO at Facebook) book and she made a very important point – that in the work place, success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. This means that an ambitious man is seen to be strong and inspiring and many people want to learn at his feet, so to speak. On the other hand, a woman who is ambitious and isn’t afraid to go after what she wants is seen to be self-serving, and many people (including women) don’t like her or don’t want to work for her. I think this explains why when women in power are caught up in a controversial situation, they are more likely to receive undue negative publicity and their personality and character (not their work) will be attacked.”
Margaret Kamau-Njiru, 46, entreprenuer
“…in a male dominated setting, I think men are held to a higher standard and are therefore judged more harshly than women. However, that’s not necessarily a good thing. When a man does not perform, that’s bad because he is expected to be exemplary. When a woman does not perform, she is given a pass because ‘oh well, she is just a woman, it is to be expected (that she will not be as good).’ So they might be doing this as a kind gesture, but is it helpful? In a world where we are pushing for gender equality, where a woman can hold any job that a man can, where everyone is expected to measure up, be they male or female, I think such a stand is sexist and counterproductive. This reminds me of the movie GI-Jane. When she first joins the all-male Marines Corp, they give her preferential treatment because she is a woman. Then she insists that she be treated like the guys. There is this one scene where in a war simulation, her commander gives her a bloody beating (just as he would the guys). The guys in her squad look on in horror because ‘dude, how can you treat a woman like that?! How can you knee a woman in the stomach?!’ But she fights back. She doesn’t run or plead. That’s the point: if you want to play with the boys and be treated like an equal, you have to play like them, prove to them that you can draw blood like them. And you can’t be running around saying that they beat you up like that because you are a woman. They beat you up like that because that’s how the game is played. But here is the bias – if you fail, it will be because you are a woman. If you succeed, it will be ‘she succeeded in spite of her being a woman’ not because she is a good soldier. The gender card will always be at play.”
Bridgette Mwanzia, 32, business woman
“Socialise young boys and girls beyond gender roles. I’ll give you an example; the other day my elder sister put a dent on my mum’s car’s bumper. All my mum asked her was if she was alright, whether she had gotten hurt. She then asked me to pick it up and take it to the garage. A few months ago I had a minor accident in the same car; veered off into a ditch. My mom was livid. She didn’t even ask if I was okay. Why? I am expected to be a good driver. My sister is excused for being a bad one. She is not even required to take the car to the garage because ‘that’s a man’s job’. I think that’s wrong. Both boys and girls should grow up without these gender biases ingrained in them, then perhaps in their generation they will have a level playing field where everyone is judged on performance and not on gender basis.”
Cliff, 26, graphic designer
“Women should reach more. We are afraid to take the spotlight, and the women who do are referred to as ‘fire-brands’ or ‘iron-ladies’, and not necessarily in a complimentary manner. So if they get caught in a scandal (which anyone can, man or woman) the public chews them up – it’s like they are being punished for being so ‘aggressive and successful’. If we have more women in power then it will become a common thing, and the spotlight will not be on that one ‘token woman’ who did this or didn’t do that.
But women don’t reach for these positions; they wait for them to be handed to them because of a gender quota system. And even when they get a chance to be there, they don’t make a mark. For example, what have the women reps done to better the situation of women in this country? Even in lower level employment, women don’t negotiate their salaries, they don’t vie for promotion, why? They don’t want to cause trouble or get caught up in conflict. If nothing changes, then nothing changes. If we accept these gender biases because it’s expected of us, then that’s the way things are going to stay. We need to reach more and when we get it, to prove that we indeed deserve to be there just like everybody else.”
Gladwell Ratemo, 38, architect
“I think the most important thing is for everyone to be aware of these gender biases. Know what stereotypes are playing into a certain situation. For example, be aware that if you are complaining about how hard it is to be a female boss, a mother, a wife and a student and how tired you are, corporate folk are not going to sympathise; they’ll take it as sign of incompetence or a lack of confidence in yourself. Think about it; a female colleague showed up with her child in the office because her nanny hadn’t shown up that morning. I’ll admit it looked to me as if she didn’t have her life in order and thus couldn’t be trusted with her work either. This is an unfair assumption. The odds are against her because unlike her male counterpart, she is more likely to be caught up in such a situation. Studies show that even though women are now working as much as men, they are still expected to juggle careers with household responsibilities while men (even the married ones) aren’t. What’s the solution? Awareness and sensitisation; we have to discern these biases, accept they are there and then work towards eliminating them in our domestic and corporate culture.”
Jonathan Amisi, 38, human resources manager