When Governor Kidero raised his hand and let it accelerate rapidly towards Women’s Representative Rachel Shebesh’s face he made a very public statement – a statement that has been made, and reiterated for generations: when a woman gets in your face, it is advisable to remind her of where she belongs, and using physical force is the most convenient way to send this message.
The reiteration of this message (and particularly the numerous ways in which this message has been reiterated) makes me wonder about how certain words have been used to represent desirable, and non-desirable, attributes in an individual. Aggression, for example, seems to be an attribute set aside for men. Female leaders are spoken of having ‘aggressive tendencies’ and the words are spat out of the mouths of the men who use them.
Aggression, as per the second definition in the Oxford Dictionary is “readiness to attack or confront.” It was derived from latin words that mean attack, and to proceed. This level of hyper alertness, that we call aggression, has to be developed. It comes from several confrontations where one is taught, harshly, that one must forcibly stand for themselves or someone else will stand on their behalf. It then makes sense that aggression not be desirable by the oppressed in any battle against oppression. Aggression, being a way of being ready for attack, means that the control of any said situation leaves the hands of the oppressed.
Aggression, being a non-desirable trait, leaves the oppressed with only one other option, submission. According to the Oxford Dictionary submission is, “the action of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.” The act of yielding, giving way, allows the status quo to remain as is. Furthermore, without aggression, the collective conscious is allowed to rest. If all these people aren’t so hyper alert, then it means everything is okay. The world, within the status quo, is allowed to exist.
With this thought being planted within the minds of the people what they should and should not be, brings about barriers that limit what they can, and cannot be. Then, when these people are unable to attain certain goals this inability is pinned down to them being unable to perform when the structures that be are, very easily, keeping them out.
Barriers are the reasons people with privilege are allowed to own certain aspects of life. In the essay, can the white girl twerk, Ayesha Siddiqi writes: Black girls who don’t twerk are made invisible because white consumers decide not only what blackness is but also what they want out of it. In the same way I think the Kenyan woman has had her story taken from her, and owned by men. We define what being a woman should be, and what we want out of it (chapos, clean clothes and good sex, mainly). It is important that we let Kenyan women own the narrative of their own lives. The work – and I call it work because that’s exactly what it is – of listening is very important. To listen to a young lady lay herself bare on the rape debate and talk about the existence of herself as a woman is to understand that she is speaking on her experience. To try and negate her experience is to tell her that she is wrong, that she must only feel how you tell her to feel.
Allowing people to own their own narratives is hard. Being a human being with an opinion means that you already have preconceived notions as to how people are, and how they aren’t. But how were these notions conceived? Why is it, for example, right that Shebesh’s husband be ready to forgive Kidero? Does he own her? Is she a cup that was broken, and must now be glued together, or replaced?
In a further bid to control the narrative people on twitter have began to ask where the feminists are. Where were the feminists when this happened, where were the feminists when that happened? Now, not only do women not own their own narrative, their struggle to change the narrative is to be controlled as well. They are being told how to fight. “Don’t accuse men,” they are told, “it is individuals that are wrong, good men exist.” This is the defense of the self-proclaimed good men. “You can be beaten in public, and we’ll make jokes about it,” say more men.
And, when these women push back, they are termed as aggressive. As people refusing to buy into the story that they have been told is theirs. As if somehow owning their own story is a bad thing. Femnet has released a statement on where Kenyan women stand in light of the recent assault on Rachel Shebesh. Will we listen this time, or will we tell them they are wrong again?