In celebration of today’s International Women’s Day 2014, I went to the French cultural center in Nairobi to watch a play written by a good friend. This wasn’t just any other play, it was ‘Sauti za Mabinti’ which is Kiswahili for ‘Voices of Women’.
The play started with an education of the International Women’s day and this year’s theme which is ‘Inspiring Change’. This formed the backbone of the play in inspiring change of perceptions about African women starting with Kenya.
One woman followed by another walked into the room knowing that it is a social experiment and then make a confession. It was as if there was an imaginary glass through which the audience actively watched the women and listening to their confessions.
1. The Bitch Boss Lady:
A lady walked into the room speaking with her daughter over the phone. She had missed yet another play in school and was trying to apologize. She promised to make it up to the daughter by buying her the toy that she had asked for.
Confession: She knew that people called her a bitch boss lady. She knew that people get shocked to know that she is actually married and a mother. It is a well-known office gossip that she got her top position by laying on her back. She knows that other women judge her harshly for letting a nanny take care of her children. She knows that men at work see her as an excuse for diversity and not that she worked hard to rise up to her position by working twice as hard. But she admitted that she is not perfect and that she tries her best everyday to make it all better.
Audience reaction: People thought she was a bitch and clicks of annoyance shot at the stage as she walked away.
2. THE MOTHER/ HOUSEWIFE:
A lady walked into the room and tried to start a conversation with the boss lady, but got dismissed because she was too busy answering an email on her tab. She sneared and pulled out a copy of a women’s health magazine.
Confession: She knew that people thought her life is nothing but dull. She knew that people saw her go for PTA meetings, running her home and keeping her successful husband happy. But she uncovered the truth about being an African housewife. How no one knew the number of black eyes she gets from her husband. How she has to convince her children that their father is a good man. How all her advice that led to her husband’s success has never acknowledged even by him. Sad and almost defeated, she only celebrates her children and their successes to keep her going.
Audience reaction: People thought that had a sad life but some cheered her on her son’s success for being called to Harvard University.
3. THE VICTIM:
A lady with a scruffy look walks into the room and goes straight for the nearest chair. She is shy and a bit nervous given her fidgeting fingers. The mother/housewife tries to ask her if she is OK but scared, she withdraws and says that she is fine.
Confession: She knows that everyone calls her a victim. She knows that her aggressor lives freely and probably doesn’t think that what he did is wrong. She knows that people look her as part of the statistics aired in the news. But she has had enough of being referred to as a number, a poor soul or a defenseless human being. Her aggressor ensured that she was deeply hooked by him enough to allow him to be alone with her. But a simple hug turned into an attack which left her feeling guilty and broken. She tries to rise above the pain but being labeled as a victim keeps pulling her down.
Audience reaction: Some people shouted that she was high on weed while some ladies commended her on her bravery to speak up.
4. GOLD DIGGER:
A smartly dressed lady walks into the room happily engaging with her beloved over the phone. They round up the conversation and she hangs up. She receives another phone call, says hello to ‘daddy’ and then tells him that she has been stressing about her mortgage. The ‘daddy’ tells her that he took care of it all which set her into a jump for joy.
Confession: She knows that everyone calls her a gold digger. She knows that she could work but it won’t be able to meet her needs. She knows that she can only survive with a thick skin because money is what she needs. She laughs at the fact that men never get criticized for sleeping around with other women – it is seen as a normal thing men do. But a woman has sex with other men and it is seen as a crime, a sin and moral suicide. But she could care less because she knows that men use women for sex and so she uses men for money. She knows that all women eventually spread their knees for sex either for love, money or fun. She chooses to do it for money.
Audience reaction: Most ladies are not impressed and the men are rather shocked, some amused and and some silenced.
A lady walks into the room in shorts, glossy legs for days, a thick bouncy blind afro and some chewing gum thoroughly harassed in her mouth. She walks in long sassy strides towards the ‘gold digger’ and tells her to remove her bag from the chair. They get into a little cat fight of words till she finally gets a chair to seat on. She stares at the ‘gold digger’, touches her legs and says that she looks good. The other ladies get shocked and shear at her ‘gay advances’.
Confession: She knows that she is called a slut because of her wild sexual drive. She loves all types of sex from the passionate to the rough. She loves how she looks and is not ashamed of how she dresses. She likes that she can have sex whenever she wants to without having to pay for anything. She believes that if men have the freedom to get all the sex they want from women then she too enjoys the freedom to get all the sex she wants from men. She cares less about what society calls her. She enjoys the freedom of having sex just like men do.
Audience reaction: Only men applauded her.
To be honest, I was annoyed at the end of he play, not because of the acting but because of the audience reactions. The fact that majority of the men in the audience were the noise makers and that they were the loudest as they cheered-on the ‘slut’ for her explicit confession about her sex life.
The absurdity of cheering on the ‘slut’ for being sexually charged more than cheering on a rape victim for speaking up.
I sank down the seat in shame because most of the Kenyan men and boys cheered on as the expatriate men remained silent in thought.
I was mortified and pissed as hell!
This is because I have interacted with real women who fall under the mentioned categories. They all do have their strengths and weaknesses but the most important thing they expressed screamed, “I have been labelled only because I am a woman”.
Also, having worked as a humanitarian communications focal point within the East and Central Africa region, there has been a great strategy to engage men in women empowerment initiatives. This is because in the African context, it is clear that women cannot do it alone, they need support from men for a lasting impact in attitude change towards women.
The play was a live display of the fact that we’ve got a long way to go in educating African men about the need for an attitude change about women. To look at feminism not as a movement of sex-deficient bitter women who want to ‘take power’ from men. But instead, to look at feminism as a movement of men and women who believe that women and girls have got equal opportunities in life. To see women as equals and partners in making this world a better place.
It was clear that most of the expatriate men amongst the audience had been educated about this matter hence their silence and process of deep thought given the look on their faces. But I do know the process to get them to react in such a manner did not happen overnight.
It took years to plant feminism into their social canvas. It took difficult conversations taking place and produce solutions. It took society to reflect and rethink some things. It took families to restructure the treatment of sons an daughters and balance it because all children are equal. It basically took a long time but it had to start somewhere.
So perhaps my anger and grief today was valid but it somewhat mirrors the screaming in the hearts of African women who have just had enough of being labelled this or that.
Enough with labelling women ‘bitch bosses’ , ‘boring or sad mothers/housewives’ , ‘victims’ , ‘gold diggers’ and ‘sluts’ yet the male counterparts walk free with no labels.
It is time to unlabel African women and it starts NOW.
Start the conversation wherever you are and hopefully one day, we’ll be celebrating our efforts after challenging ourselves to become better people.
We can do this!
Join the conversation on Twitter and share your thoughts though the hashtag #UnLabelHer
International Women’s Day is a global celebration of women and their efforts to inspire, support and pave way for other women in the vision of having a world where women and girls have got equal opportunities.
It has been celebrated on every eighth day of the month since 1911. For more about this, please go here.