A Burst of Feminism

July 24, 2008

 

 

“You are going to make a horrible housewife.”

 

George said this maliciously, he was done joking and now wanted to end the conversation, saying something that he thought would offend me and shut me up.

 

He stared at me, confused, as I began to laugh.

 

“Why would I ever want to be a housewife? There’s no way my entire life will ever revolve around a guy, especially any guy like you.” I told him.

 

“That’s the problem with you American women. You feminist types are the reason everyone in America is getting a divorce. Here in Kenya, women put family first.” He retorted.

 

“Yes, but do the men put family first? I’m sure there would be a lot more women getting a divorce if it was more socially acceptable.

 

Felix walked into the office and the conversation ended, the most recent in a string of conversations about gender. This particular conversation had started as most of them do, with George saying something extremely sexual and me responding by telling him to get lost. This time however, when I told him to stop hitting on me, I told him he needed to find a girlfriend as he obvious is sexually frustrated. To my surprise, he told me that he had a girlfriend. He then put his flash in my computer (don’t make the joke, he already made it, believe me) to show me a picture of her.

 

This did a number of things. First, it gave my computer a really bad virus, making me lose all of my pictures and music. Secondly, it made me mad.

 

“Why the heck are you always hitting on me and everything else in a skirt if you have a girlfriend?” I asked him. The fact that I used “heck” showed my anger, swearing in Kenya is very, very rude so even coming close to swearing means the conversation is intense.

 

“I have other girlfriends. How can I deny women a taste of the famous George cassava?” He stood up, raising his chest arrogantly.

 

I literally walked out of the office, going over to the side yard, pretending to check on the digester but in reality just needing space before I slapped him. It wasn’t just that one conversation that bothered me but rather the general attitude of some of my male co-workers towards women.

 

Felix is probably the worst. He’s married and has two children: a ten month old and a two year old. But every time I walk with him on the street we meet another one of his girlfriends. He never goes straight home after work, preferring rather to go to bars and meet new women.

 

I respect my co-workers a lot in a lot of ways. They are smart, hard-working men who are genuinely trying to help people. But every time they talk about their multiple girlfriends I respect them a little less.

 

I’ve read studies written about women and AIDs saying that there is a high rate of infection among wives in the developing world who were virgins until marriage but got infected because their husbands were sleeping around. When I tell Felix this he just shrugs it off, telling me “it’s okay, just use protection.” To make matters worse, CARD is involved in a lot of HIV/AIDs outreach and actually preaches abstinence and faithfulness. Felix got a bit offended when I suggested that it’s hypocritical of the Program Supervisor of CARD to be unfaithful to his wife. He got offended, but didn’t change anything.

 

Not all Kenyan men are like this. My host dad only comes home on the weekends but when he’s here he often makes chai and breakfast for my mom. He even gets up early on some Saturdays to wash dishes. And according to The End of Poverty, statistically African men don’t sleep around more than white men; my guess is that they are just a lot more flamboyant about it.

 

I dislike it when people say sexism is a “cultural difference” so you should deal with it as such. By putting sexism on a pedestal of “culture,” it not only condones sexist behaviors but also elevates them to a part of traditional culture that no one should try to destroy. Culture is always changing; I’d like to see my sexist co-workers change too.

 

Countries need educated and empowered women in order to develop. Not only do educated women effectively double the labor force, they have many other less obvious effects. For one, as women become more educated, population growth rates decrease as women now have the opportunity to do something other than pop out children and as they have more say in the number of children they want to have. Empowered women also have more say in their sexual partners, decreasing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, most notably AIDS. And finally, women are just smarter, so we should rule the world, duh!