In her piece in The PUNCH of Thursday, 27 November, 2014, Abimbola Adelakun referred to, among other related issues, the appalling assault of a Kenyan woman by some self-righteous men in Kenya for supposedly being indecently dressed. Like Ms. Adelakun and the #MyDressMyChoice protesters in Kenya and beyond, I have always felt that a woman’s choice of how to dress is not necessary as a subject of anybody’s legislation.
If nature/God in whatever form or name we believe in wanted to automate our existence, they won’t provide each of us with a brain to think at all. And if by design our will is not automated, why should some puritans, under whatever guise, constitute themselves into everyone else’s moral/religious conscience to legislate the life of another being on sartorial choices? A few years ago, there was a public dressing regulating bill which got to the National Assembly and even passed the second reading. I am not sure of what eventually happened to that bill, but the mere fact that someone in government would think that of the many issues of state importance that a nation could seriously discuss, creating rules debating the length, texture and shade of people’s clothing was one of the most germane discussions to be had was actually instructive in many respects. That the machinery of governance can be put into use in such ultimately flimsy and unimportant issues is a further indication of a systemic backing for sexual harassment, misogyny and the whole gamut. Otherwise, pray, tell how to adjudge a man’s dress as decent or indecent? Yet, that is very easy to achieve in the case of a woman from the comfort of a moralist/hypocrite’s armchair.
I must quickly add though that in all of this, I am in support of some form of legislation in the case of outfits that cover every inch of the body including the entire face, such that, particularly in these challenging security times, it is extremely difficult to know who is who on the street. But then again as our religious sensibilities are so very touchy-feely, I guess we may never be bold enough to get to that threshold as a society.
The problem with issues like the harassment of the Kenyan woman is that many social systems, especially in Africa and the Arab world create an enabling environment for such acts to thrive. Increasingly, in these societies, the hypocritical patriarchy and other puritans seem to be trying to convince everyone that somehow there is something wrong with being a woman; that to be a woman is to be sub-human in some instances. Perhaps, the 20th Century American cultural anthropologist, Dr. Margaret Mead, was referring to that when she opined that: “Many societies have educated their male children on the simple device of teaching them not to be women.” Ironically, however, a look around today – in a world in which women form more than 50 per cent of the population and do 2/3 of the labour – you will find that the most backward and poorest societies are those that are anti-women in many instances, societies emphasise the disparate treatment of women, overtly defining womanhood along sexual and social lines at all costs. The way I see it, what we don’t easily realise is that by creating so many social and economic limits for women because we fail to let go of our sexual buffoonery, we ultimately miss taking proper advantage of potential economic and social opportunities for a better society through women. And 51 or so per cent sure hold a big number advantage.
Shortly after the assault on the Kenyan woman, I had a memorable debate with a male banker acquaintance of mine whom one could ordinarily describe as “enlightened.” Over and over, throughout about an hour of conversation, he kept harping on about how/why, irrespective of the circumstances, a woman is always to blame for being sexually assaulted because women always seem to send the right signals to ignite a man’s carnal fire and send his sexual hormones into an irreversible rage. To him, every rape or sexual harassment of a woman is to be linked to the fact that the harasser must have been overwhelmingly inundated with sexually provocative women such that his phallic endurance eventually wears out, resulting in him harassing some unlucky woman as a consequence. Perhaps, 24-year-old Grace Adie Ushang was one of such unlucky ones. On October 1, 2009, the poor young woman was gang-raped and killed in Maiduguri with her body dumped by a stream. She was serving as a member of the National Youth Service Corps in Borno State at the time and her crime was that her assailants considered her to have been provocatively dressed in her NYSC uniform. What was more annoying was that apart from protests and petitions by a few groups and individuals, part of which I was and still am (in some way) nobody in authority, including the NYSC, seemed to be convinced that her case was worth fighting for.
I came away from the chat with my banker friend with the belief that for him, like all rapists or “nakedists” (for want of a better term) such as those cowardly Kenyan men, sexual assault is nothing more than some sort of sado-masochism in which the victim is willing masochist in the assaulters’ condemnable sadistic lives. It’s interesting that those who easily conclude that victims of sexual assault invite assault on account of how they dress, painting such acts as responses to sexual stimuli never seem to wonder how or why a rapist for instance, usually does not commit to gratifying his loins the minute his hormones are so sent into a horny overdrive. One might be inclined to start believing these hypocrites and misogynists only when a man could be sexually provoked by a woman’s dressing so as to grab her and mount her as soon as the arousal kicks in, be it at the market, in a place of worship, or any other public place, not minding the presence of other people.
Anyone who claims to be titillated by a woman’s dressing yet will only try and satisfy his randy craving when he has her in seclusion and very vulnerable must be disturbed by some other demons far more powerful than the ones dwelling in/under that woman’s clothes. Such a person, like those who justify the act, is simply a vile, lecherous and depraved cowardly beast.
- Sado, a civil servant, wrote in from Egbeda, Lagos State via firstname.lastname@example.org
Niyi Akinnaso returns next week