Who creates female stereotypes?
The article on April 17 edition of the Star (ET pullout) titled 'Bid for Power: Why Women Leaders Should Work on their Media Image' begins with the premise that women are ridiculous in whatever they attempt. The anonymous writer (clearly male) takes to task Rukia Subow, chairperson of Maendeleo ya Wanawake, for her thoughtless remark that men who were not responsible deserved a beating. Shock! Horror! All those poor helpless men being routinely battered in Nyeri and Central province and Madam Chair not blinking an eyelid. Yet every day of the week we read stories of women and girls being murdered, raped, defiled and denied their basic rights. Last week, a report reached me about girls in Afghanistan drinking poisoned water just for the sin of having gone to school. Domestic violence is always wrong, declares the author, whether the victim is male or female and Madam Subow’s job is to declare just that.
Well, sir, I’m afraid it’s not so simple. Let me make a confession here: I lived for a few years with a young man whom I supported financially and emotionally – fed, clothed and nurtured him in my home. My thanks? Drunken abuse, hash-fuelled rudeness, humiliation, the smashing up of my car, the sight of him flirting in public with other women. And, Mr Writer, I was not bringing up young children and having to pay school fees. Don’t ask why I put up with it; we all do foolish things in our lives. But I admit that several times the rage became too much to bear and I lashed out at him with my fists. I never hurt him but at least I vented my spleen. Yes, my sympathy goes to the women who are slaving away day and night to give their families everything while the men drink away their money with their mates and come home in the wee hours demanding hot food and a warm bed.
The article trots out all the clichés in the book: women don’t think, they don’t make good leaders, they entrench terrible negative stereotypes and worst of all, they aren’t funny. They don’t make empty hollow speeches having landed in the midst of dire poverty in shining helicopters or Humvees waving their right arms in the air to drive their points home. What the writer never takes into account is the media’s own negative construction of women in power.
Take former nominated MP Njoki Ndungu who sponsored the 2006 Sexual Offences Bill. Look her up on the internet and you will find snide remarks about her appearance (a must if you’re talking about a woman) and irrelevant comments about her marital status. She was a member of that collection of viragos, FIDA, who gobble up men in any matrimonial dispute and spit out their money. Keep well away from them, brothers, or they will have your balls too. Just look at poor Philip Moi. Nothing about the valuable work they do in supporting and defending women who have been unjustly treated, and who often can’t afford expensive lawyers.
He picks out instances of female MPs to show that they too can be incompetent and corrupt, forgetting the tiny numbers they form comparatively and the hostility they have to overcome to ever get near any position of power. He never stops to mention the monstrous corruption of Goldenberg, Anglo-Leasing or any number of other scandals that dwarf the examples he gives. Who cares about Bishop Margaret Wanjiru’s sexual preferences? Did she rob the country of wealth with utter impunity in the way former President Moi did and President Kibaki continues to do? Wasn’t it the media who created that storm just as it revelled in the late Wambui Otieno’s marriage to a much younger man? A woman of a certain age who still wants sex is an object of public derision, but every day of the week pubescent girls are molested, raped or married off to men old enough to be their grandfathers. That, Your Honour, is more than acceptable. A man like Jacob Zuma must impregnate a woman even when he’s old to prove his undying virility.
And then there is that old chestnut – women aren’t funny. “Kenyans attend political rallies for entertainment.” They don’t want to hear educated speeches about Vision 2030 (which I understood to be President Kibaki’s baby.) “They want to laugh....to enjoy rhetoric delivered with a punch.” Women can’t do that. “They’re not very interesting to listen to.” Has the writer ever looked around at the audiences who attend these rallies? Has he noticed that they are made up of men with nothing better to do? Women are far too busy running the country, caring for children, planting and tilling the soil, selling vegetables at the market. We don’t happen to find many men funny, sir, especially when they reek of alcohol. We have our own sense of humour which you wouldn’t care for, though you should take time out to watch footage of Margaret Thatcher who had men eating out of her hands. “Rubbish in, rubbish out!” she famously declared to a spellbound Westminster. She was a woman who knew how to survive in a man’s world though in the end the envious cowards stabbed her in the back. Your smugness is most unbecoming, sir. If your writing is anything to go by, you wouldn’t last five minutes as an MP.