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February 23, 2019

The Radical Notion That Women Are People

Women's day. Women from different civil society marching along Nkrumah road during the celebrations to mark International women’s day in Mombasa. Photo Nobert Allan
Women's day. Women from different civil society marching along Nkrumah road during the celebrations to mark International women’s day in Mombasa. Photo Nobert Allan

I am lucky: I have a lot of wonderful people in my life. Amongst them are my girlfriends. Most of them, all, I think, are professionals.

Some of them mothers, but not all. This wasn’t a deliberate choice, but since I’m quite wrapped up in my work, I think it just so happened that most of my close women friends also fall into that category.

Obviously I think they are great, because why would I be friends with them otherwise? They are smart, interesting, passionate about what they do, and fun to hang out with.

And they are part of the web of support that helps keep me standing, and going, personally, professionally: Advice, or a piece of information, or an introduction are usually just a phone call or email away. I’m happy for them when they succeed, and I think they are the bee’s knees anyway.

 All of this is both wonderful, and also very normal. So I was more than a little taken aback to read an article by a Peter Mutua on ‘The problem with having too many women leaders in a firm’. Mr Mutua states: ‘Women are necessary, lovely, delightful, wonderfully colourful creatures. However, when they constitute an overwhelming majority of management within a workplace, the resulting corporate environment can be disturbing.’

 I have no idea what trauma Mr Mutua went through. Possibly being challenged a little insistently on rubbish statements such as these?

Leaving aside his convoluted writing, his reasoning is underwhelming: ‘Till late 2012, a local State corporation had women occupying 10 of its 11 senior management positions.

While this oversight was recently rectified to include three more men, this corporation’s results fall far short of the expectations given by women activists.’

 I have thoughts on this, several thoughts: That this must be a very unusual organization for Kenya, because how often do you find any company where women hold the majority of board seats?

Or the majority of senior management positions? And: That women are people. Like men. Some will do exceedingly well, many will be mediocre, some will be lousy.

By Mr Mutua’s reasoning, KPLC (Smooches, guys. Nothing personal. Not hating you too much this week) must be run entirely by women’s rights activists.

 These are things I’m over: That behavior we salute in men – say, assertiveness – becomes a liability in women. That women’s bad behavior is seen as reflecting all women.

Yeah, Rachel Shebesh and Mary Wambui did beat doors down in the middle of the night, and I disapprove – but good grief, have you ever had a look at what male politicians have gotten up to for decades?

I’m done with the fact that portraits of successful women have to include the necessary addition of how humble and simple she really is (better still: chuck in husband and how he’s still ‘the head of the household’ when she gets home).

 And I’m done with this getting airplay. I emailed a couple of people at the Nation Media Group about this Business Daily article to ask, facetiously, whether misogyny had now become editorial policy at the NMG.

I would have probably let this slip – after all, you don’t need to respond to every chauvinist idiot muttering away in the corner of the bar – if it had not been for a piece that the NMG had published a few days earlier: this was an ‘advice column’ (quotation marks of derision here) by Frank Njenga.

He had responded to a letter by someone who had been abused as a teenager by someone who was now a ‘respected elder’. Despite now being married, she (or he – it’s not possible to tell from the letter) finds this so much of a burden that she wants to speak out about this.

Mr Njenga starts off nicely with ‘the truth will set you free’. And then he compares her to the adulterous woman in the bible who only those without sin should throw stones at – missing the point by a couple of miles.

This is not someone seeking advice for her own mistake, but for a crime committed against her. Njenga then launches into a convoluted, lengthy, unsubstantiated speculation that she wishes to bring ruin upon her husband and her own family and essentially made the whole thing up anyway. Lesson: If you seek to speak out about abuse, you’re a slutty slut and a liar. Mr Njenga – a ‘respected elder’ protecting another one?

I have little interest in engaging with Mr Njenga. His victim shaming is clearly beyond redemption. But I will engage with the NMG. It is one of the largest and, by virtue of being a media house, most influential corporates in the Kenya (and, let me add that, certainly not the only one to publish misogynistic nonsense). In any better regulated market, Njenga would have been struck of.

I am baffled that nobody at the NMG looked at this piece before publishing it and thought ‘Ummm maybe not’. I am the NMG’s client, and as a client, I will call them out on this. Again - I’m still waiting for a response.

And now I’m off to email Safaricom why a talk by governor Evans Kidero was billed as ‘Mantalk’ for a male audience. Nairobi women residents too colourful and fluttery to have an interest in weighty matters as how our city is run?


‘Feminism is the radical notion that women are people’ (attributed to British suffragist and journalist Rebecca West).

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