Talking Gender

The boy child is being neglected, my foot

Sometimes I sit back and wonder what Father Patriarchy spent all his time doing. See, he created a system that was supposed to be ironclad. A system built to privilege boys over girls, and men over women. To his credit, for centuries that system worked.

It might be difficult to imagine in 2017, but there was a time when women couldn’t work outside the home, vote for leaders of their choice, or even speak out of turn. It was commonly understood that a woman’s role was to cook, clean and bear children. Her place was in the home. She was the server, and her husband was supposed to be the provider, the operative word here being ‘supposed’.

See, women didn’t get a pass; when hubby came home from work, the house had to be in working order, no exceptions. The kids had to be clean, fed and silent, no exceptions. Good food had to be prepared, no exceptions. And the Missus had to be ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice for a quick roll between the sheets … no exceptions.

Things were not quite as strict for men. They were expected to do all things to the best of their abilities. The assumption was that what a man did was all a man could; it is this allowance for mediocrity which created the double standard that is at the heart of the 21st Century gender wars. A man will be given props for trying, but a woman will consistently be under-marked for what she actually does.

Back in those days, the term ‘single woman’ was something of a misnomer. Girls were single, women were married. God forbid you became a single mother, worse still a divorcee – that was sacrilege. An abomination in the eyes of God and men. Respectable women only came with men attached.

And this was the way world for a very long time. It was only in the early 19th Century that things began to change, starting with universal suffrage, the right to take up gainful employment outside the home, and eventually the right for women to be viewed as equals. Many movements happened, and many laws were passed, creating the impression that when it came to citizenship, men and women were both first class.

But whenever it really mattered, whenever a man and a woman came head-to-head, there was a silent expectation that the woman would automatically take second place. Women either fell back willingly, or Father Patriarchy’s system made sure they did by constructing glass ceilings, paying them less for the same amount of work, denying them full access to birth control, and making sure that while they could have paying jobs, they were still working like slaves on the home front. This system was also fertile ground for gender-based discrimination, harassment, derision and assault.

It still is. And women are still trailing men in the critical areas of wealth creation, innovation, employment, governance, and leadership. However, thanks to a concerted effort to elevate the girl-child, and to place her at par with the boys, our fortunes as women have changed dramatically. The local girl-child movement has begun to bear real fruit, so much so that out of the 1.5 million students who registered for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exam, half of them (give or take 10,000) were girls. Of all those students, a girl scored the highest marks.

This is something that should be celebrated on its own merit. Instead, the young woman’s accomplishments risk being drowned out by the boy-child choir and its “aki woishe” song that has been playing on repeat.

This brings me back to Father Patriarchy, God bless his soul. He created a system to support male supremacy but neglected to teach men how to remain supreme. You would think that after centuries of being on top, boys and men would have the tools to redress the balance when it inevitably tipped in favour of women. But I suppose one of the unexpected side effects of privilege and entitlement is that those who have them very quickly begin to feel that they are innate and inalienable, forgetting that change is the only constant in human affairs.

Feminine energy is taking over the world, not because women were born with a superiority spoon their mouths, but because they burrowed their way to the top and used the displaced soil to level the field. Instead of crying foul, our menfolk need to gather their wits about them and fight for their own right to be equal. Playing the victim card won’t cut it.