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Wandia Njoya's 'Kenyan men should zip up and grow up' is a rather pathetic and annoying article about a very important topic. In the first instance, the author speaks of ‘Kenyan men’ and of ‘men’ in general. I find this a lazy way of addressing an important issue and an added ammunition for those same idiotic ‘men’ to accuse those of us who celebrate feminism for intellectual laziness. I do not think there is a universal category of men who experience the same levels of power and privilege or a universal category of women who experience the same levels of powerlessness and deprivation. So who are these Kenyan men? Can, say, 20 callers to one radio station add up to Kenyan men? How do we take 20 or even 100 to mean and represent all Kenyan men? What kind of sampling is this?

Second, doesn’t this approach damage the very struggle of transforming the nature of gender relations in society that we all are engaged in? The feminist movement in Africa has long made significant gains in challenging patriarchy and sexism. Some men, admittedly few, have always understood and supported the struggle from the onset. Other men, again few, have been convinced to support the struggle as a result of the message from feminists. There are many others who will profess to be concerned but who assume the struggle is between feminists and those sexist persons (men and women) who abuse, violate and downgrade women. Theirs is an apolitical exercise based solely on declarations of concern but with no action. In other words, the process of men unlearning their internalised superiority and embracing new forms of positive masculinity continues with different levels of achievement, success and speed. Indeed, it is no longer possible for the young male generation today to behave like their grandfathers did decades ago. In essence, this represents the gains of feminism. Haven’t these gains chipped away something from patriarchy? Does patriarchy look the same even after years of feminist struggles? Can we still talk of men as if the many years of feminist struggle have made no significant difference?

By far the most disturbing thing about this generalised dressing-down of ‘the men’ is the assumption that the only source of gender troubles in Africa are men. Of course, all men enjoy some ‘patriarchal dividends’ by virtue of being male. But we kid ourselves if we assume that these dividends are evenly distributed among all men. As Wangari Maathai once said:

'We can talk about the position of women in Africa and see how miserable it is; quite often we forget that these miserable women are married to miserable men. They are oppressed together, and it is only a small group of elite middle-class Africans who can say that they have made it.'

It is often also conveniently ignored that masculinised structures can instil women with flawed masculinity? I am thinking here about women who, intentionally or otherwise, teach their sons to behave like men. Women can be as much a cause of frustration for other women as the men. Yes, I am aware the degrees differ and men might be worse when compared to women, but that is not a reason to lump people into analytically empty categories like that of ‘Kenyan men’.

It is often also conveniently ignored that some women can be the beneficiaries of flawed masculinity. Flawed masculinity is automatically associated with men as though it is an innate biological attribute which every man has or must acquire. As such, when 20 or so men deride Kenya's G10 coalition of women's groups, all men become responsible. As for the recommendation that ‘good’ men should ‘talk some sense’ into the ‘bad’ men, I wonder if it is instead possible, for instance, that the mothers of the ‘bad’ men might in fact have a far greater influence on them than ‘good’ men who have no relationship to them at all? Is it possible that the sisters and aunties to the ‘bad’ men might be better able to talk sense into their brothers or nephews? Of what analytical value would this be if we have to understand the nature of gender relations in our society? Is it possible that I enjoy greater affections and friendship and give my sister a keener ear than I do other men? Is it possible that my sister enjoys greater affection and friendship with me than she does with other women? Can we still talk of sisterhood as a female thing and brotherhood as a male thing and treat them as distinct in real life? We need to get real.

My point is that the nature of gender relations in society does not allow for the assumption that all women stand at one end in opposition to all men. Even in cases where men raped women during the post-election violence in Kenya, one comes across stories of women who defend such rape as a necessary lesson directed against those from other enemy communities, just as one also conversely comes across Kalenjin women who shielded Kikuyu women at great risk to themselves. In other words, it is not the black-and-white thing the author implies. There is enough research now to show that women from different communities viewed rape differently depending on the political stand their community, family or preferred politician adopted. To assume that all women, by virtue of being female, have the same position about rape in the post-election context and all men, by virtue of being male, have an opposing opinion about those incidences of rape is to exhibit a level of intellectual dishonesty that must trouble us all.

* Godwin Murunga is the editor of Issa G. Shivji's Where is Uhuru?, published by Pambazuka Press.
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