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Calling women 'mrembo' or 'jaber' is sexist


Many different forums have implied that a woman is a conundrum that no man will ever understand. We may want something today and scream at you the next day for providing it.

What works for one woman may not work for another, or even the same woman the following day. Men, it appears, are having difficulty complimenting us because they are unsure what will irritate us and what will please us.

African men grew up calling women endearing names like supuu and mrembo, which were widely accepted by women at the time.

They jokingly referred to one another using grotesque terms like Nyang'au and Kondoo hii. However, in the aftermath of equality, the educated woman is demanding equal treatment as the man.

It is becoming more difficult to compliment a learned woman because the man is unsure whether the name mrembo will elicit joy or a lecture.

While we can all agree that no one wants to be treated as a man and referred to as nyang'au, the terms to use to compliment an educated woman may be obscure to an unimaginative man.

Endearing names

Professional women consider it sexist to be identified by their beauty when there are other grander accolades available to them. We women may use endearing names like sweetheart and babygal to refer to one another, but when a man uses them, they become insults.

Rather than complimenting us on our good perfume or impeccable attire, the man is expected to recognise our accomplishments and limit their compliments, if any, to things that will touch on our abilities.

Yet again, it is not uncommon to hear a man praise another for their good shoes or taste in perfumes.

Could this be a matter of double standards?

Onyango, who was born and raised in Kisumu, may only know the words 'jaber' to refer to younger ladies and 'mathe' to refer to older ones.

However, a female doctor may find these two terms offensive, one because jaber connotes her superficial beauty without acknowledging the six years she spent in medical school, and two because the term 'mathe' conjures up images of a yard full of children and a smoke-filled kitchen, both of which she has worked hard to avoid.

While Onyango's lack of exposure can be excused, his equally educated counterpart may fall into the same trap of complimenting a colleague on their appearance.

Sexism stems from a belief that the man is superior to the woman. Even though our societies were extremely patriarchal, it would be unjust to ignore the fact that several African societies were also gerontocratic.

Meanwhile, our fight for equal treatment comes to an end when a car door must be opened or a last seat on a bus must be given up. In such situations, we expect the man to step up and take care of us. Where is the balance?

We are at risk of having children who will grow up being gender-neutral.

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