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February 20, 2019

Rape culture not a thing to joke about

Activists during a protest in Nairobi against rape
Activists during a protest in Nairobi against rape

thought a politician who claims to be a progressive and a journalist with impressive credentials would have the common sense and decency to know that rape is never funny and must not be trivialised.

Clearly I was just as wrong to assume that reasonably intelligent people with an interest in world affairs would have learnt a thing or two about the wrongfulness of “rape culture” from the “grab her by the pussy” furore during the recent US presidential campaign.

The Kenyan public has a very short memory, so it is possible they also forgot about the outrage in February 2005, when then Justice Minister Kiraitu Murungi said donor criticism of the Narc government’s fight against corruption was “like raping a woman who is already willing”.

I must say, however, that while I was surprised at the way my old schoolmate Jeff Koinange handled the recent rape talk by one of his talk show guests, I wasn’t particularly shocked. The fact is that we still live in a world where sexual assault can be dismissed with jokes or excuses.

I would have hoped, however, that Jeff and his guest would have had the emotional intelligence to understand that this rape culture we live in is the result of social conditioning that allows for the belittling, dismissing and even condoning of rape and sexual assault to the point they have been normalised. 

This culture feeds on what one writer described as “the unhealthy, false perceptions about the female gender and the imbalances of gender power that arise in our homes, schools and communities; as well as in media, political and societal discourse.” 

We hear rape culture in the pop music we listen to when we celebrate songs such as Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, which promote a very worrying attitude towards sex and consent.

We see rape culture when celebrities such as Kofi Olumide, who publicly abuse women, are defended by their fans and others, who ignore the “unknown” victims.

We perpetuate rape culture when we lambast women for dressing in a particular way instead of teaching our sons and young men to respect women. Likewise when we  assume sexual assault prevention education programmes should focus on women being told to take measures to prevent rape, instead of telling men not to rape.

Journalists who substitute the word “sex” for “rape”,  as if they’re the same thing, are also not helping in the fight against rape culture.

Rape culture is everyone’s issue, regardless of gender. When you know what it is, you can work to find ways to prevent it. In the words of a novel I once read, “We are each the authors of our own lives. There is no way to shift the blame and no one else to accept the accolades.”

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