“We cannot protect women from intimate partner violence until we stop treating battered wives as discrete hour-long plotlines instead of interconnected points on a millennia-long continuum.”— The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West.
For me, it was Snoop Doggy Dogg and Warren G in the mid-1990s who gave me a proto-feminist insight that turned into a lifelong principle. I do use the appropriated terms “ni**a” and “bi**h” in very specific circumstances.
I have been called those terms affectionately by people who know exactly what they are doing and thus survive unscathed, in some cases even upping their social capital. But at the tender and apparently impressionable age of 15, I drew the line at “ho” because, by then, I was well into my love affair with language and far too competently raised to fall for the glamour cast by Gangsta Rap and its misogyny.
“We don’t love dem hos,” oh Snoop, I know.
Recently, again as I typed away in media seclusion about whether or not the American Empire was facing a slow collapse — with gun violence as a major symptom — a man in Mwanza shot his wife seven times in the head. Days later his body was fished out of Lake Victoria with a bullet wound to his head, an apparent suicide.
This family’s tragedy blew open the doors on a vault of fetid secrets and stories of our violence that had clearly been brewing for a long time. I have written before about Tanzania’s dark side: We have one.
I grew up in deeply patriarchal African countries with entrenched class structures based on gender, age and income, which are still being upheld. Colonisation and Christianisation denatured our societies and post-independence nationalisation efforts to cast the Tanzanian woman as a citizen did work, but only so far. The project is nowhere near complete and, over the years, has faced many challenges.
Whereas my struggles are certainly nothing like those of sistas living in the hood, ‘90s gangsta rap confirmed that it didn’t matter where you were: sum nigga gon’ try to disrespect you, bring you down. And I wasn’t having it. Still ain’t.
Because as deeply patriarchal society is, my people are lovers not fighters. Growing up, the stigma around domestic violence was real in my immediate family and the friends and relatives that formed our close community.
Women abusing men wasn’t brought up because it simply didn’t exist. Note carefully that I said that domestic violence was stigmatised: this is because evidently, it existed. I was just deeply conditioned to reject it, along with cruelty to animals and the belief that girls cannot perform as well as boys in their education and careers.
A perfect confluence of nature and nurture that pretty much guaranteed I would grow into the feminist I am now: utterly devoted to debunking any bull poop about gender violence being acceptable or even understandable in any circumstances.
It has been noted by social observers and commentators of all genders and walks of life that there is something deeply disturbing about how the Mwanza murder case is being presented and discussed in the general public. It has brought out a wave of unapologetic hate speech that seeks to cast female victims of domestic abuse as “deserving” what happens to them. This is not new: across the world people blame victims of violence for their misfortunes especially if they are young or poor or female or worse yet all three at once.
What varies by society is the acceptability of this attitude, and how much toxic masculinity and outright sexism are allowed to exist unchallenged. Well, in the case of Tanzania something changed in the past few years.
When I witnessed the former president registering his firearms as part of a campaign to encourage the public to register theirs, I couldn’t help but notice there was an element of NRA style glorification of gun ownership and its link to “real masculinity.”
While no one individual has complete control of a society, I cannot dismiss the influence of the person of the president in my country which has a very strong presidential culture.
Whatever dark impulses we work to eradicate and, if that is not possible, suppress as we proceed in our national project react to the zeitgeist of the moment. With a lifetime of vigilance against the constant threat of gender based violence, some of us tried to warn our society. But we were dismissed on the basis of calling ourselves feminists, critics, “controversial” and maybe even unpatriotic.
We were told that these ideas of women’s value as human beings and the protection of children, women, men and all victims of patriarchal subjugation were “foreign imports” while more and more guns seeped into our society as we watched.
Now folks are holding their heads in fear and confusion. “Protect the boy child!” they beseech us. “It is Men’s Mental Health Month!” they declare. Yes, and yes, absolutely. But if you want to really talk about how we can fix this dark side of our society, we are going to have to tell each other some hard truths.
And some of those hard truths will be coming from home-grown feminists. Can you handle it? Let’s find out, next week.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report