This week I detour from the corona pandemic to discuss an issue that ails our society; the common tendency to shame, humiliate and degrade women, especially in the safe and anonymous environment of the internet. Two months ago, a girl was videotaped by her older partner as they engaged in sexual activity.
The partner then posted the video on social media without her consent or knowledge. There was an immediate frenzy as people sought to view the video and make comments on the morals of the young lady. The amount of vitriol poured on the poor girl was unbelievable. She was called a slut, a home-wrecker and worse. As for the man, only a few complained about his unforgivable crime of posting the intimate video. Many celebrated his prowess and audacity. I have not confirmed this from official sources, but a reliable source tells me the girl committed suicide.
A week ago, it was alleged that a governor’s private communications, including his nude pictures had been released to the web by his lover. Never mind that anyone who understands social media platforms knows that photo-shopping occurs all the time. There is an overwhelming possibility that these conversations and photos were fake. My focus is however on how Kenyans ran away with the story haranguing and insulting the lady who had posted the alleged conversations. Suddenly people were all self-righteous lambasting the woman for leaking private photos and texts. As for the governor, there were only positivity; complete with public offers for relationships by some women.
The story reminded me of an incident nearly two years ago when a video of a deputy governor and his naked partner being harassed, purportedly by the woman’s husband, was released in the internet. The support for the man in social media and elsewhere was overwhelming. Everyone was disgusted that people could harass a man in those circumstances and release the recording to the public. The man came out as a victim and stayed in office. Have you ever wondered what would have happened if the person caught on the video had been a woman leader with someone’s husband? She would have been slut-shamed and run out of town without the need for any proceedings.
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This week the shaming was reserved for Brenda Cherotich. For the last three weeks Kenyans have been asking that government discloses names of those that had been infected with corona ostensibly so that they could assist the government in contact tracing. On Wednesday, the government introduced Brenda as one of two Kenyans to recover from Covid-19. Within an hour of her appearance in some TV stations, the vitriol spewed on social media against her was shocking.
While the attacks were framed as questions on credibility of the government’s story, the overwhelming content of the attacks were aimed at the young lady. All manner of social media “investigators” broadcast their findings to show that she was fake, a phony who had been pulled out by government for PR purposes. Her beauty and confidence were mocked and presented in the worst light possible. Within the day her intimate photos were being broadcast on social media. I pray she has the forte to live through it and come out stronger.
I could go on and on. I am not sure that we even realise how skewed our attitudes are when it comes to women. I have always reminded us that former Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza was chased out of town for allegedly pinching the nose of a security guard while many men have done ten times worse and continued to serve in high offices. We live in a society whose world view is heavily jaundiced where women are concerned. Our hackles go up especially if the women are confident and smart. These attitudes are what inform our refusal to include women in our elective or appointive leadership despite the lofty aspirations of our constitution. How we shall recover from this malady must occupy the minds of social and behavioral scientists as we seek to refashion society after the corona pandemic.
- The writer is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya