I wrote these words (quoted below) a while ago and didn’t have the guts to share them. It was an expansion of a social media conversation I was having and I must say, it was undoubtedly a difficult conversation to have for me.
However, after recently being the only male on CNN’s #MeToo panel at Social Media Week Lagos, which featured two female rape survivors sharing their stories, a gender advocate/creator of the #nomore hashtag in response to the Western world's #MeToo campaign, and a woman running one of only two rape crisis centers in Lagos, I decided that it is imperative that more men lend their voices to this issue.
Social Media Week Lagos 2018 #MeToo panel L-R: Eurel Nwafor, Ayodeji Osowobi, Edmund Olotu, Kemi Dasilva - I Bru, and Ireti Bakare-Yusuf.
It is with this view that I have decided to post this previously- drafted impassioned piece to Nigerian men and others all over the world to commemorate International Women’s Day 2018 — and share some of my nagging thoughts.
So here it is.
A few days ago, I was talking to a friend of mine and she said “men are bastards.
I was stunned.
I mean, I know men are bastards but the deep-rooted expressiveness with which she said it took me aback. She is only 25 years old. So I asked her, “Young girl like you, what have men done to you?”
She revealed to me that she had been raped.
By men she knew!
She became pregnant from the second rape incident and she had to go through an abortion alone. I asked her if she had told her brother or someone who could do something about it and she said she dared not tell her brother because he would be heart-broken.
A few days later I was speaking to another female friend who expressed reservations about taking the train in New York. She didn’t want men saying hello to her. Again, I asked why, and by the time she was done explaining, I realized something more sinister was at play.
You see, we can put our fingers on rape, sexual assault, and sexual violence, but something very hard to counter, very hard to express, and potentially as dangerous to male-female coexistence and relationships is toxic sexual behavior.
Criminalization of male-female attraction
By the time we were done talking, we had coined a phrase to describe it: the criminalization of male-female attraction.
Sexual assault is criminal. It’s hardly about sexual attraction and more about power and eliminating one party’s right to choose. Criminalizing sexual attraction is about taking all the tenets of sexual violence and using them to express attraction.q
It is the witting or unwitting notion that sexual attraction will or must lead to sexual action if one is persistent enough — fueled by patriarchy, and misogyny, and the notion that the female body is a commodity to be consumed by the “entitled” male.
Toxic masculinity and the concept of criminalized sexual attraction is expressed in many forms — from a demanding hello to an imposition into a woman’s personal space to “force” a conversation, to catcalling and subsequent abuse when it’s unheeded.
Cat calling on a quiet street which instills fear and discomfort, to cat calling on a busy street which causes embarrassment — these and more in my opinion are all forms of criminalizing the sexual attraction between men and women.
No one should feel fear because another person finds them attractive.
The words of Narriyah Waheed express the fear women face from men in everyday life:
What massacre happens to my son
Between him living within my skin,
drinking my cells,
and his soft psyche turning cruel.
Does he not remember?
Is half woman.
I was having another conversation with male friends about the same issue.
Before I proceed, I’d like to describe the profile of these guys: western-educated, corporate executives in their early thirties.
In typical male banter, they attempted to “roast” me for taking a female-centric stance on this issue. To the raucous laughter of the group, one of my friends described my advocacy on the issue as analogous to a guy going to church to meet women.
In that moment and with that false equivalence, they had blurred the lines between sexual attraction, sexual pursuit, sexual harassment, and sexual violence.
He had expressed that a heterosexual male had no business advocating to other men to be “anti-rape” and that stumped me.
You see, in my opinion, saying that a heterosexual male has no business advocating against sexual harassment and sexual assault is illogical and equivalent to someone saying, “What does it matter if she was raped, after all she’s a prostitute.”
In that warped logic, we have conceded that all male-female sexual encounters can contain an option for sexual violence because of the inherent belief by men that women are objects to be consumed.
We have normalized it. Even seemingly normal guys, like my friends, can see reason with such an assertion; therein lies the problem!
The conversation motivated me to pen a piece I (again) had reservations of writing:
Why do you wage war against my existence?
Is my “NO” nothing but a lighthearted tap upon your conscience?
Does my pain tickle your fancy?
Does the wince of my body give you power?
Do you look upon your mother with such disdain that you inflict upon her image such wickedness and pain?
Can’t you hear your daughter in my cries?
Or are you turned on by her tears?
Who knew one day half of me would be the source of all my fears.
To seriously move this conversation forward and to turn around the criminalization of sexual attraction, a lot of work has got to be done on our empathy. Men feeling what women feel. Men protecting and respecting women, whether strangers or family.
In Nairobi, Kenya consent classes are being taught, wherein boys are taught positive masculinity and standing up for women. The effect is that rape cases have reduced by 50% and boys are intervening 74% of the time during an assault.
I am only relatively empathetic because I have spent a considerable amount of time having deep conversations with women about how they view their coexistence with men on this earth.
The more I have these conversations, the more they reveal stories that they had previously buried in the deep recesses of their consciousness. I find their experiences with men appalling.
That for a country in peace, the statistics currently demonstrate that one in four women is a victim of sexual assault — with only 18 known convictions recorded in a country like Nigeria since its independence in 1960.
When I revealed this statistic to my friends they, considered it to be totally false and implausible. The reason for this was two-fold: one, men don’t have conversations with other men about toxic masculinity and two, men don’t have conversations with women about toxic masculinity.
I went further to postulate that the numbers were growing at such an alarming rate that if we don’t reverse this trend of non-communication about this topic it is most likely that all of our daughters will be victims of sexual assault at some point in their lives or multiple times.
What has this got to do with the digital economy and the startup community?
Tech startup founders are extremely instrumental in driving the new digital economy.
So, what would the DNA of the next generation of companies look like?
*Would they be companies that don’t have policies and by-laws in place to protect women? Would they be companies that engage in the age-old practice of sexual favors in return for employment? *
Are they going to be companies that are huge proponents of gender equality and equal pay between genders or are they going to be companies that do business as usual like their predecessors?
To be clear, the gender ideologies of a CEO that requests sexual favors in exchange for employment is the same as that of a law enforcement personnel who sees nothing wrong in victim blaming; or the entire legislative and judiciary body of a country, like Nigeria, that isn’t morally perturbed by the fact that there have only been 18 rape convictions since the history of its independence.
As the spotlight rests on all the amazing women that have contributed more than their fair share to this global village within which we co-exist, tech startup founders must use this opportunity to ask themselves what side of humanity they want to be on and who they would rather be judged with — I know where I choose to stand.
Edited for publishing on iAfrikan.com. Originally published on Medium.