Issues  

Still in the other Room

AfroyinboLast week, embroiled in a battle of words with his wife Aisha, in response to her concerns about his governance, President of Nigeria confined his wife to the kitchen, living room and “the other room.”

Incidentally, last week, the eldest son of the Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump Jr., in defence of his father Donald Trump Senior’s “locket room banter” tapes that had emerged the week before said women should stay out of workforce if harassment is too much.

Despite the strides we often tell ourselves we’ve made through the ages, the above are just two examples of just how much of a man’s world it really is.

Beyoncé may brandish her brand of “If you like it you should’ve put a ring on it” feminism, Chimamanda Adichie can write yet another manifesto on gender-neutral parenting while Michelle Obama can make another handful of speeches throwing shade at Donald Trump; despite their popularity, eloquence and grace, they cannot change the fact that we live in a world where the president of a country can openly voice his preference of a woman as the maid in the kitchen, lady in the lounge and freak in the bedroom with no right to discuss politics, a world where the presidential candidate of one of the world’s super powers can brag about grabbing women by their private parts, a world, where let’s not forget, only last year, the deputy prime minister of another country (Bülent Arınç of Turkey) decreed women should not be laughing out loud in public.

What is more frightening we live in a world where these men all find support from their voter base, their words taken as law. What is even more frightening is that a large number of these supporters are women.

Incidentally, new research revealed women are the largest perpetrators of misogyny on Twitter. Analysis of 19m tweets over four years showed that not only 3m of them were insults directed at females but also that more than half the offending posts made by Twitter users in the UK and America were written by women.

The report published this week by the UK anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label suggests misogynistic language has been assimilated into the vocabulary of both men and women to the extent that terms such as “bitch” are no longer considered by many to be offensive. Truly, how many times have you witnessed teenage girls or even grown women call each other “bitch” as a term of endearment.

It is not just the social media harassment and the normalisation of sexist language either. Equally dangerous is the increasingly blasé attitude of women towards sexualised behaviour.

I look back to my first full-time job at 23; like most 23 year olds I took care of my appearance. You can imagine my shock when I was openly ogled by a much older male colleague in a communal area with highly sexual remarks about my body. I was wearing a pair of red court shoes. His gaze ran the length of my body before settling on my legs, “I love your shoes,” he leered, “But I like what’s above even more” before sauntering off. I must have turned a shade redder than my shoes.

When I went to the CEO to report his behaviour, instead of reprimanding him, she chose to go down the route of questioning whether I might have heard him right. Maybe I was mistaken, and he had meant something completely different. Maybe it was just friendly banter I was taking too seriously. When that didn’t work, she had the audacity of telling me red shoes could be risqué in the work place. “Sexual harassment from a leery old man is “friendly banter” but my red shoes are risqué?” I wanted to scream.

Regardless, I stood my ground and demanded an apology from the man who was dismissed not long after over yet more sexualised behaviour including looking down another colleague’s top and making offensive sexual statements in the office. In the end, I had to settle for him grumbling a lame excuse of an apology along the lines of “Sorry if I offended you, it was meant to be a compliment.”

As much as I have a problem with men who seek to justify their despicable behaviour as “locker room talk” or “friendly banter” I also have a problem with women who seek to explain it away or worse blame another woman for it. Where do you draw the line between “red shoes in the work place are risqué” to “mini skirt is asking for it” or “drinking on a night out is dangerous” or “she shouldn’t be out on her own at this time of the night.”

In a world still ruled by men, whether we like it or not, the only thing we can do as women is keep on fighting, and this includes fighting for other women too when they need our help, support, and empathy. Every time we turn on each other online, or question a woman’s right to her red shoes or mini skirt, her red lippy, her public laughter, her glass of wine, we are aiding and abetting such men to up the stakes in harassment.

Instead, let’s speak out, not to criticise other women and question their choices, but to seek our rightful place in society – not the kitchen, the living room, or the other room, but wherever we choose to be, in whatever we choose to wear, laughing all the way to the top.

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