Nothing prepared me for the shock I experienced when a friend of mine bought some copies of Bill Cosby’s books and immediately began to tear them apart. Bemused, I expressed dismay at the act. His response was terse – I will not read a book written by an abuser.
‘It’s just an accusation and he has not been convicted’, I protested.
‘More than two dozen women; are you kidding me’, he responded, his veins popping.
That was when? Two years ago. The events that followed Cosby’s trial went quite quickly. Shows that have otherwise been sold out were cancelled, including running television projects. If I didn’t get the message, all I needed was to keep up the habit of following the news for the past three months. At first, it all looked like racist attacks, because, tell me if there’s any black person of note who has not been brought down by their third leg.
Then came the big Mr. Weinstein. Before him were big names that have worked at big league media houses such as the BBC. One had his knighthood revoked posthumously. Now, it’s actors having their roles deleted; coaches having their laurels stripped and of course, journalists like me having their supposedly hard-earned reputation drowned in the mire of harassment claims. So, you take a trip down memory lane, at your first love or so to say, at your sidekicks and everything in-between – and you say heh, it could have been me. Well, except that you are African and in your continent, what destroys other people’s reputation increases someone else’s notoriety.
So, if African women were to mark sexual impunity, which man would be standing? Very few perhaps; from the low-level journalist to the inviolable gods of men; from that privileged gateman at the government-run institution linking teenage girls to paedophiles for fees to incumbent presidents. This is one conversation Africa should have because this is one skeleton most men would wish ever remain buried. It is one skeleton that would someday soon take on flesh, adjust sinews, be transfused with fluid and blood and start haunting us all like the stories of the living dead.
The African woman has had to cope with sexual harassment almost as a way of life. She has had to brush it off her skirt the way men swat mosquitoes from their balls. In some cultures, a man who sexually molests a girl child doesn’t even get the reprimand he deserves – no, he calls his elders and they take a gourd of palmwine or nkombothi with kolanuts, then meet the family of the victim under the baobab tree. There, they negotiate the lobola before the victim is eventually packaged to her aggressor’s house to live happily ever after. No culture is superior to the other, but perhaps it is time to start the conversation.
It does appear to me that for a culture that copy anything foreign from make-up to cars, suits to winter houses built in summer climes, and constitutions to make for a semblance of democracy, we should, at least be confessing our sins and walking the high road of repentance. It’s time for a truth and reconciliation commission devoted solely to harassment issues.
We should talk about the culture that turns our young girls into bush allowance for youth corps members. We should talk about the plight of the house girl turned into sexual slave after a hard-day’s work. We should talk about the culture of silence that exposes the young student to the amorous advances of her teacher who then threatens her graduation if she refuses his indecent proposition.
We should look at the core issue that keeps less women from the political arena. Yes, let’s hide under our shame and start talking about these issues because they matter. They matter because every man professes to love his mother; mom-lovers turn into wife-lovers; wife-lovers turn into wife-batterers. Wife-batterers are fathers of girls and loving fathers hate to see their own daughters preyed upon.
Africa should stop playing the ostrich and dump the culture that sees women as toys. It was such upbringing that led to the embarrassing situation in which legislators on a sponsored exchange mission were propositioning American hotel maids for sex. It would prevent the disgrace of our doctors having their licenses withdrawn in foreign countries because they carry over the culture of abusing their patients. We have hushed up this topic for so long that we are now the only continent ravaged with HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections, seeking elusive foreign aid to find cure or care.
Globally, women started the hashtag #MeToo, we men should counter with #IRepent or #I’mSorry. We should educate our children and encourage them to respect womanhood. But above all, we should copy the rules of engagement that new hires are made to read and sign up on before the end of their first day at work – clear rules of engagement. We should break the culture that makes police chief romance his recruits as of right and even marry them. We should do these things now before our women start marking sexual iniquity. For if African women should mark sexual iniquity, who shall stand!