In the podcast before the last, I was speaking with Ophelia Kemigisha and we were making jokes about cultural equalities, racism, sexism and stereotypes.
I offered up my patented sexist joke, which goes like this: How many women does it take to change a light bulb?
One. Unless she has just done her nails, in which case she might have to ask for help.
Now, many a true word is said in jest, of course, and underneath the jokes was an undercurrent of the real discomfort I had been feeling lately about my feminism.
In the face of the misandry espoused by some vocal and vigorous twitter feminists I found myself ill at ease with the movement. I felt that I could no longer belong without putting upon myself the prejudices that I had long believed nobody should be subjected to. Mostly it had been the belief that no woman should have to go through this, or put up with it, these disparaging judgments and generalisations, these smug put-downs and dismissals.
And yet, a loyalty to the movement made me hesitate to speak out.
So, I decided, the movement is in good hands, with the likes of Ophelia at the front. They don’t need me.
I could just retreat from the fray, let the sexists battle the sexists, and let the feminists battle both.
And just to protect myself, I wove a thin veneer of casual sexism, exemplified by that joke.
Now, the joke itself is not funny. it is very bland, of course. On the surface. But it is telling because of what comes after the punchline.
She could easily get help from another woman, one whose hands are unencumbered, and have the light bulb changed by her friend. In which case the light bulb was still effectively changed by one woman.
Also, how many men does it take to change a light bulb?
One. Unless he has just had his nails done. In which case he will have to ask for help.
It gets less tenable… Ophelia is a powerful person. The forces that reside in her are not to be reckoned with. I am sure she could come out of a boxing match with her fists fractured to shreds and still find a way to change a light bulb if she felt the need to.
The podcast after that I was speaking to Anitsha, who chose to play up the role of the stereotypical “Dentist”, the detoother the mukuuzi. At some point she said she would rather just stay at home producing kids and receiving sex from a husband who provides all her needs.
I objected, saying we fought for her rights to independence and empowerment, to which she, in the role, replied, “Did I ask you to?”
But that undercurrent, even under it all, you could see that there was no way we could let her just be oppressed and subjugated just like that. There is too much in Anitsha, a brave young mother, upcoming professional, an dynamo of wit and charisma… we can’t just let her sit home.
So here I find myself. Put upon, compelled to sulk, my feelings hurt because someone on twitter said that I suck for being male, wanting to insulate myself from such mean things by retreating to my own cocoon of prejudice but look…
It isn’t even about right and wrong, it isn’t even about being a good kind person and not being nasty to the women folk, it’s not about being charitable. Sexism is just obviously, utterly false. It can’t be sustained. There are too many women who prove it wrong. If you are not lying to yourself for your own ego’s sake you have to admit that there are too many women who demolish the premises upon which sexism is built.
And for thousands of years we as human society thought we could pretend otherwise but even then, too many women bucked the trend, broke through the cracks. The lists of heroes grows longer with every Women’s Day article.
Yet still this old society, we still cling to the flimsy shreds that remain, thinking that we can still hold it down. We can’t. The history of the past few years of the women’s movement shows that it cannot be stopped. Every year it trashes another obstacle, comes closer and closer to that inevitable moment when the worst damage institutionalised sexism can do to a woman is similar to the worst it can do to a man… Make them feel slightly offended on twitter.