I’ve said this before but it’s worth mentioning again. Vaginas are strong. Just ask any woman who’s given birth the pushing way. In terms of brute strength and versatility, they are by far the sturdiest organ in a woman’s body.
In fact, in the Body Part Olympics, considering both male and female organs, vaginas take the gold. Not only are they sources of pleasure, but they are also the source of life. And they do these things with exceptional agility.
So, really. Calling someone a vagina is the greatest compliment. But of course, men have found a way to turn a good thing into an insult—the worst type of insult, in fact. Talk about gender appropriation; men going around calling each other the p-word and the k-word as if they didn’t come from that very same place. It’s ridiculous.
For men, the word ‘woman’ is belittling, which places them in a moral dilemma because their mothers are women, and in their eyes, their mothers are sacrosanct. Mothers of men are the representation of God on earth, or perhaps more accurately, the image of His pure and inviolable mother. Their sisters and daughters are also part of a protected class, but mothers? Mothers are not to be touched.
So, when Wandera tells Ojwang’ to stop behaving like a woman, it’s a slur of the highest order. Ojwang will catch feelings, probably give himself a pep talk and admonish himself to be more of a man. But should Ojwang’ turn around, and by the same twisted logic, make a snide remark about Wandera’s mother, or even more speci? cally, about her body parts, then all bets are off.
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When you mention a man’s mum, be prepared for him to react unreasonably. Therein lies the conundrum. Generally speaking, in the eyes of the men in this society, women are less than. They are a few points short of being full human beings. Women have certain traits that are deemed weak and undesirable, and when men exhibit those traits, they are accused of ‘umama’; of acting like a woman, which can only be a bad thing, right? But because the bond between boys and their mums is so strong that ‘umama’ doesn’t apply to their Mamas.
Men have had to compartmentalise their mothers in their general debasing of women because to do otherwise would be to debase themselves. It has less to do with the sanctity of motherhood and more to do with the idea that any vessel that carries boy-children to term is worthy.
Men have centred themselves in the birth story and assigned themselves the right to de? ne how society views women; to de? ne how diff erent cadres of women are treated. Within that construct, gender has become a weapon that men can wield against women at will. They also reserve the right to put their mothers on a pedestal; to protect them from the abuse that they visit upon every other woman indiscriminately.
So, in essence, this ‘umamaversus-mama’ situation is a man problem. As women, we are well aware of our worth. We know our power. We know from whence we ? nd our strength. It might not be easy to ? ex our feminine muscle in a world that runs on male energy, but that doesn’t mean that we are weak. We are strong, and we know it. We know.
Therefore, these ‘matusi ya peni mbili’ are a non-issue, especially when men are abusing each other. Yes, it’s problematic that women’s bodies are a battleground for testosterone wars, but when in the context of petty Kenyan politics, women stay winning. Kenyan politicians are still at level one with their lowgrade, unimaginative, stereotypical insults.
This current struggle is not about us as women; it’s about us as citizens. Because inasmuch as ‘your mama’ barbs can prick, they don’t mean much when we’re not the ones getting off ended. When we’re not the ones bleeding. But when men in leadership use women’s bodies to make careless utterances that off end other men, that’s a recipe for a crisis. In fact, one wonders whether ‘careless’ is the right term.
Reckless is more like it because these folks are careless to the point of being heedless of the consequences. They know what happens when you poke the bear in these parts, especially when the country is stuck in an endless election loop. They are aware of the consequences, but they choose to ignore them. There’s an agenda. There always is. And women’s bodies are just a means to an end, which is typical of men. All I have to say to that is this: ‘Wacheni ubaba’.
- Ms Masiga is Peace and Security Editor, The Conversation