Taking Up Space

Bibi mgani huyo *3

(which wife is that)

Anataka nipike chai

(who wants me to make tea)

Sufuria nimenunua

(I’ve bought the pan)

Kichungi nimenunua

(I’ve bought the sieve)

Ketepa nimenunua

(I’ve bought ketepa)

Anataka nipike chai

(yet she wants me to make tea)

The patriarchy actively teaches/recruits/persuades.

This is something that we know to be true. The song above is sung often. Mainly by drunk men during social events. While it is sung (as I’m sure many comments will show up to say) “all in good fun” it’s also a song that heavily reminds us of gender roles.

There are many more songs.

There are many worse songs.

We sing them anyway.


Matter is anything that has mass and occupies space

–          Science

The more accommodating you are the less space you have to take up. The less space you have to take up the more you have to accommodate

–          Sara Ahmed


Sometimes taking up space could be as radical as you could possibly be. Existing, within a system could be to challenge the system.

Bodies swell.

A friend tells me about his tactics to get ladies to sit next to him in buses. He swells whenever a man walks by. He takes up space and, by taking up space he send messages of acceptance/denial. Taking up space is one of the most obvious tools of othering. Think of how men will completely swallow up the conversation when in a room. Taking up space can be defined here by raised voices, animation, interruption and interaction.

Obviously the response could be “they could have spoken up at any moment,” as if somehow accommodation is something that can be demanded.

(and once accommodation is demanded words like “bossy” and “aggressive” start to show up)

People who “matter” are given more mass and space than others in a room. This extra space must be taken from the finite amount of space available. If a conversation is set to go on for 3 hours and 2 people decide to dominate an hour and a half of that it would mean that the other people involved in the conversation have less time to share amidst themselves.

Of course the people who will have the space taken away from them would then be the “others.” I use taken away because, often, the process of othering is violent and oppressive.


Bibi mgani huyo?


With this I’m taken back to the wife in the song. The wife that we sing about in her absence. Which wife is that? The song carries an absurdity to the question. As if it is something that can’t happen. In her existence she doesn’t exist. Even as we sing about her we will not allow her to take up space. She is an anomaly an other. Any wife hearing this would here the caution. The “such women don’t exist, don’t be the first.”

Othering comes in many forms and sizes.

It’s also a cautionary tale to men. Don’t let her. You are a provider not a provider. Do the things you must (and as the song varies, the lists are very specific) and she must then follow suit in some way. Within this even the man who might think different is othered. Not as violently and as distantly as the wife but is othered. At this point it is upon the man to say, but I have that wife and there’s nothing wrong with it (or I don’t have that wife but I still find nothing wrong with it).

This would be to be a killjoy…

…which Ahmed reminds us might be the entire journey of feminism.

P.S. As I write this the demolitions in Kibera remind me of how literal the idea of taking up space could actually be. Find out more with #KiberaDemolitions on Twitter.

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