Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

When it comes to issues of “morality”, there is quite something to be said about male immunity against being tried and condemned in the courts of public opinion…and women’s lack of such immunity. And so when consensual sex finds itself being categorised as a scandal, you can be sure you will hear the woman’s name much longer after her partner has even forgotten he was ever part of the case.

I suppose some context is in order here. For several days now, Zambian cyberspace has been abuzz with reactions to a “sex tape”, featuring a college couple from the Zambia Centre for Accountancy Studies (ZCAS) that has been leaked and circulated online. The comments, which are well in their hundreds or even thousands if you count across different online platforms, are varied yet their recurrent theme is the censuring of the young woman. She has been called lots of names, some of which even professional hookers would take offence at. I went through some readers’ comments on a few sites and I was so struck by the inequality in apportioning blame; the woman was taking all the flak, lots of it, while there was heavy silence about her partner. It was as though she was all alone in the video.

So last evening, I shared this observation on twitter and pointed out how all the reactions to the video were stark reminders of the fact that what is condemned in women is often tolerated and even glorified in men. I cited how 99% of the reaction (read condemnation) is targeted at the young woman and the 1% where the young man is mentioned is largely comprised of marvel at his anatomy and praise for his sexual prowess. As it turned out, a number of Zambian tweeple (twitter users) spread across the world shared my exasperation and within minutes, a whole conversation was going and it carried on beyond an hour.

The reactions around the said video confirm quite a number of things many of us already know about patriarchal logic. One quick example is how the 1 % affirms the dominant narrative that sexual prowess equals real manhood…so the readers in this category have interpreted the encounter as being about submission and conquest. Their comments are about this real man and what he did to her and so on. This is the logic that inspires that rather unfortunate pursuit by some men to assert or realise their manliness through sexual intercourse with a woman who is then almost always considered a conquest afterwards. So while, in the public’s eyes, the young woman in the video is being widely stripped of her femininity, her partner is walking away with an enhanced masculinity.

Remember the biblical story of the woman who was caught in adultery ALONE and brought to Jesus for him to judge? The woman whose situation motivated one of my favourite quotations in the Bible “let he who has no sin cast the first stone”? I have always wondered how this woman’s partner managed to so neatly stay out of the picture. He was never named and shamed and definitely he was never considered deserving of judgement and the anticipated punishment that would have followed had Jesus not set a new standard on the inappropriateness of a flawed human being judging another. The times, technology etc may have changed from the days Jesus walked this earth to now but some thinking has remained constant through the thousands of years. And if the people that dragged that woman before

Jesus were to be miraculously brought to life today, they would be positively overwhelmed by how much their own mindsets would resonate with those of most of the people commenting on the video.

I find it interesting, the gendered way in which “morality” is generally invoked. Consider how when a baby is dumped, the focus is on a “negligent mother who has abandoned her baby”. Men disappointingly fail to make an appearance on the societal blame sheet even when biology firmly puts them in the picture. And in the days when pregnancy in school resulted in expulsion, did any of you hear of any boy who got expelled alongside the girl?

Sometimes women seem to be the most intolerant of fellow women’s supposed failings. Consider concurrent sexual partnerships and what happens when some married men are discovered by their wives. A married man is discovered to be cheating by the wife, she goes after the woman he is cheating with, roughs her up, calls her all those colourful names and leaves her with a stern warning of what she will do to her if she dares go near her husband again. Then she goes back home, cooks for her husband, cleans up after him, laughs at his dry jokes and just pretty much preoccupies herself indulging her amnesia. She feels satisfied that she has sorted out the enemy who was trying to separate “what God had put together!” From where I stand, it looks like leaving the fire in the house to go and tackle some smoke outside. The ‘jezebel’ you have tackled was a simple manifestation of the real problem – your partner’s infidelity – which you are busy nursing like a favourite child. It is most likely just a matter of time before you have to go and beat someone else.

Finally, if you have ever witnessed a woman being called out for ‘improper dressing’ you will know who leads the pack and speaks loudest even encouraging unruly call boys to “teach these women” a lesson or two.

All my many digressions aside, my point is if you are going to bash the young woman in the video for “loose morals” or whatever it is, then extend it to the young man. If you are going to praise the young man for his prowess then by all means extend the honour to his partner.


{December 14, 2009}   Karma never gets the address wrong


If the world paid any mind to the biblical wisdom of “let he who has no sin cast the first stone”, do you think Tiger Woods would still be the battered man he is right now? And of the millions that have taken a moral high ground and hurled stones through all forms of commentary, how many do you think would continue standing after a public tour of their own closets? The public tour of Tiger’s closet has been a well conducted one what with the tour guides only too keen to ensure that nothing remains unseen.
It has been a while since I last saw so many stones thrown at one person, so intensely and so repeatedly within such a short space of time. I suppose a life celebrated for its ability to garner a lion’s share of talent, fame and fortune cannot realistically expect a church mouse’s portion of scandal, can it? Consider Michael Jackson and the uproar that his child molestation charges caused; Bill Clinton and his Lewinskygate; and now most recent and ongoing, Tiger and what I can only liken to a cardboard house in a hurricane…coming out unscathed is not even a remote possibility.

If you have missed the news surrounding the world’s greatest golfer, then you must live under a really comfortable rock and no, I will not be the one to trespass so let someone else (a Google search perhaps?) interrupt that vacation! After opening with Obama’s inauguration, reaching midway with Michael Jackson’s passing and closing with Tiger’s woes, 2009 can be said to have been a dream year for news (both in terms of content and sales/audiences) and overwhelming public outpouring of sentiments (facebook and twitter have just been crazy!).
This blog is not your typical Tiger story so do not expect any “omg was he trying to set more world records?” “omg how much penance will rescue him from the couch?” or even the really popular angle “is it team ‘whites only’?”(Although on this one I must admit I have made it my business and wondered to myself where preference ends and fetish begins! Mmmh and remember how…oh well never mind. See, I cannot afford a good lawyer so don’t you get me started on that path! Besides I have more pressing uses for my US$10 fortune). What I meant to say was that I’m only referring to Tiger as a case in point to help me think aloud on a few things not that his life is any of my business.

First thought: do people choose to be role models or are they involuntarily cast into this responsibility-intensive role due to their ability to be the best at what they do? And if they didn’t choose it, should they be held accountable for not living up to the expectations it came with? Should they be crucified for failing people who, out of their own will, chose to elevate them to the position of mini deities? Perhaps it is time we all accepted what we already know: greatness, talent, popularity etc do not exempt anyone from being human, they do not make anyone infallible. Staying with this thought, could the outrage being directed at Tiger be coming from people’s own disappointment that he has burst their bubble of a most perfect, super-talented man? Are they angry that he has shattered their illusions and shown that he really is a regular guy…capable of making less than honourable decisions and clearly fighting his own battles like the rest of them?
If, however, the outrage is driven by people’s genuine contempt for infidelity then maybe I should give the human race more credit in that area than I currently do. Because as far as I have seen things work, infidelity has never been prime time news, it is just one of those things, in fact it has been tolerated to the point of being glorified. It has been dressed in all manner of glamorous titles and euphemisms, all of them somehow aimed at softening the stark tragedy that it is. If you are from my part of the world you are probably even familiar with one or two ‘wise’ sayings or cultural ‘wisdom’ defending and even exalting it. It only ever becomes an issue when something goes ‘wrong’ e.g someone gets caught pants down, or they get incapacitated or even die while in the company of the ‘other’ man or woman, or if the cheated on partner decides to leave. Which makes me wonder what Tiger is really being crucified for; does his ‘crime’ lie in doing it or getting caught?

I am all for fair comment on public happenings (gives us conversation lovers more reason to even talk in our sleep!) but I find comment for the sake of judging neither appropriate nor necessary. It makes me feel a little uncomfortable about our values as people. Why, for example, do people find ‘a rise and fall’ story more interesting than a ‘rise and rise’ story? Why do they find it more interesting to talk about people’s failures (excuse the judgemental term) more than their virtues? My take is that people generally feel cleaner after heaping dirt on other people, like wiping themselves clean on others. Ok, in the interest of unity and my desire not to be accused of being Miss Self Righteous, I will from here on use ‘we’, the safest pronoun in the bag! Here goes: WE use other people’s shortcomings to sanctify ourselves; we feel that if someone is worse than us then we are not that bad after all. So this ‘bad’, ‘bad’, man or woman makes everyone else look like saints the same way scruffy people make even average people look really elegant. Or the way a dwarf makes even short people look really tall. And so it becomes a case of dishing out contempt to dwarf another person enough to make us look taller, not that it actually adds even quarter an inch to our heights!

And while we are on the issue, I can’t help but wonder what the picture would have been if it was a married female celebrity of Tiger’s iconic stature e.g…(that’s your cue to contribute) that went around with not one, not two but ten club hosts, waiters, porn stars etc. I bet a new term would have been invented by now because disgraceful would not sound bad enough. And I personally would not be surprised because I’m only too familiar with our world’s standards, what is readily tolerated or even justified as ‘natural’ in men is unreservedly condemned in women. Just consider these terms for a man with multiple sex partners ‘player’ (euphemism of the millennium if you ask me), polygamist (‘it’s our culture’ blah blah blah) and now the female equivalents prostitute, slut and many other unprintables that you and I know. I apologise for that interlude and I apologise further that it has given you a long running assignment as you may now have to find new names for those female ‘players’ and ‘polygamists’ in your neighbourhood! 🙂
All said I guess the real point of my *cough* *coouuugh* sermon is that when we (check how well I’ve kept my word on the pronoun) scorn another person’s shortcomings with the zeal a starving man approaches a free meal, we should remember too that what we put out really does come back to us…hence my favourite creation for the year 2009: KARMA NEVER GETS THE ADDRESS WRONG…it always comes back home. Happy holidays to you all. See you in the magical 2010!

The infamous sex test that has turned the global spotlight on South African athlete Caster Semenya is a negative milestone in our collective history as women world over. It is not just about an 18 year old woman being violated by having her sex questioned in front of the whole world, it is also about a generations- old attempt by patriarchy to define womanhood and ridicule or punish those who do not conform; those who are brave enough to resist the generic categories and write their own life scripts.
I am trying to understand what it is about Caster that makes her a candidate for such suspicion; what makes so many people question whether she indeed is a woman and not a man. Is it, perhaps, because she does not fit the appearance of what ‘common sense’ tells us a woman should look like? Is it because she has a deep voice that does not fit our idea of a woman’s voice? Is it because, her build, strength and sheer speed, do not fit what we know about women and their abilities? It is unsettling because I see a pattern here: Caster is not the first sportswoman to have such a test, which for some reason is being wrongly referred to as a gender test; gender is a social category, it is sex which is biological and that is what is being tested. I think the discomfort that leads to these tests lies in the fact that these women – both white and black – do not in one way or the other, fit society’s idea of what a woman should look like and be capable of. The women they are, flies in the face of some people’s eternally held beliefs about femininity and masculinity. I think the main discomfort in the Caster case is that she challenges the patriarchal aesthetic that to be a woman is to be dolled up, coy, weak, fragile, passive, and all manner of traits people consider feminine. There is actually nothing natural about these attributes. They are mere constructs, which in many ways actually constrain us women. Yet society has naturalised them to the point where to not fit in is to deserve to be called deviant. Consider how many names society has for a woman who questions the status quo: frustrated, emotional female, bitter and so on. Such realities reveal how intolerant society is; how it uses its own preferences as the default position such that anything different is seen as wrong; not up to standard. How un-evolved! Closed mindedness, and its best friend intolerance, is responsible for the suffocation of many progressive perspectives whose only crime is departure from the ‘norm’.
I think what the world cannot forgive also is that Caster is not your typical international star who swears by Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada; or is a mobile advert for L’Oreal, Revlon, Mac you name it. She has not seen the need to manipulate her features: straighten her hair, wax off the facial hair, spot a R3000 manicure and so on. Clearly, she does not fit the TV definition of “hot” and “sexy”, the same portrayals that are being used as a blue print by some people. Consider the scary lengths to which some of my fellow women are going to lose weight, not for health reasons but for purposes of ‘beauty’. Overtime these TV and magazine portrayals of slender, usually light skinned bodies as “hot” and “sexy”
assault those that fall outside these categories. Such that healthy and good looking ‘full’ women suddenly feel the need to ‘shape up’ and trim that excess weight! Excess by whose standard?
For Semenya, the humiliating saga continues with preliminary results suggesting that her testosterone level is three times higher than the average woman contains. So what exactly does this result achieve? I believe that does not make her a man as much as an ‘overdose’ of oestrogen in a man (such occurrences have been proved by Biology) does not make him a woman! And again what does this saga mean for the many intersex people that may be talented enough to enter these competitions, will they be turned away for not being woman or man enough?
Well we will wait and see where all this leads, as for now I will just sit here and try to make sense of the contradictions that attend our reality: the infrastructure and technology around us screams 21 st century yet the mindsets say something totally different.

We Zambians will not forget in a hurry the events of July 3, 2008. I don’t know what to call it; the day President Levy Mwanawasa ‘died’ or perhaps the day he did not die? I don’t know, but what I do know for sure is that after one year, I’m finally able to see some humour in that rumour that made world news. The brief background is that after suffering a stroke at an African Union Summit in Egypt, the President was evacuated to Percy military hospital in Paris. While we waited for an update on his condition on that particular day, South African talk radio 702 broke news of his ‘death’ and media all over the world picked the story. This was followed by then South African President Thabo Mbeki observing a moment of silence. And in curious fashion, Zambian media was completely without such news, fuelling a level of speculation I had never imagined possible. We were later told he was alive but not before expending huge amounts of frantic energy and imagination – and that’s where my story begins. I was home for vac and the news found me in Ndola City, on the Copperbelt province, where I was visiting family. I was getting into the CBD when a friend called to confirm what he had heard. And so, “have you heard?” and “is it true?” became the order of the day. Soon I was repeating to each caller what the previous one had told me, each version slightly differing from the other such that within an hour I had passed on so many versions it was difficult to believe it was all about the same event!
Although Ndola City was hosting the annual Zambia International Trade Fair which is a big event, the talk in the CBD was mainly about the President’s ‘passing’. A few people were openly weeping, some speculating about his burial place, some convinced that the wise thing to do was rush home and stay indoors as none could tell what the coming days would bring and others totally indifferent to the news. A few were convinced it was all untrue and malicious. Anxiety, grief, fear and plain shock were evident in the countless conversations triggered by the news.
Now you see, every sister who knows what time it is (i.e. cultured in the enlightened ways of the big city!) has certain places she will not be found dead and certain rules she lives by, yet in the few hours of guesswork I went not to one but several of such places. I broke all the rules of the sisterhood and went on an uncharacteristic spree: eaves dropping, joining in conversations and arguments with strangers and even standing on tip toe behind any cluster of people on the street hoping to get some ‘411’. How I got to such extents beats me to this day. But like many people, my Levy’s ‘death’ verification exercise had begun in earnest and logic was the last thing on my mind.

Street hawkers were already cashing in on the desperation for news by selling printouts of the 702 story. Needless to say I bought a copy and what a struggle reading it was! The ink was so faint it could hardly be seen. If there was a Body Parts Rights Movement I’m very sure my eyes would have reported me for gross abuse! I decided I had had enough of ‘wrong’ places and ‘wrong’ crowds; surely how could I listen to street talk when I knew not only where news was found but also who found it?! So I got my phone from my gigantic handbag (yes, trends have to be followed even if it means carrying 4 Kgs on your shoulder everyday!) and called eight journalist friends in different newsrooms and all they knew was that the chief government spokesman would soon be addressing the nation. Not good enough. I sent countless texts to people I thought might know but nix, most of them did not even bother to reply. And so I was back to street news (put in my place is really what happened but heck, do you really think I will say that about myself?? lol). Besides, one thing I know about home is that “do not talk to strangers” does not work, at least not in ordinary people’s circles. People talk and if you care to listen you don’t even have to read the papers to know what is in the news, you just have to be in a public space like a minibus, a bank queue, a beauty parlour etc to get the 411 for free. I can’t begin to say how familiar I am with conversations that start with a head emerging from some newspaper with something between a laugh and clearing of the throat….. I digress!
Although I keenly chased this news, I was not sure if I wanted to know the truth especially if it was a confirmation of the ‘death’. I must admit that I was not Mwanawasa’s greatest fan: I was critical of and even angry at a number of his policies, but at the same time I recognised that the positive side of his presidency was positive indeed. He had scored several successes and made Zambia a country worth believing in again and I remember how proud I was to tell my non Zambian friends about him and his courageous ways. I had the privilege of meeting him a couple of times between 2002 and 2007. And just months earlier (Christmas of 2007) I had visited State House for an interview with the First Lady and throughout our talk she, in addition to other issues, repeatedly told me what a supportive and inspiring husband and father he was, how much his family had learnt from him, how disciplined and dependable he was and she painted a number of scenarios that made me see the first family in a different light. It was a family just like mine, bound by love and countless memories. And so now apart from my own fear of losing a President and the possibility of political and economic instability, I thought about a family that would have to learn to live without one of its foremost pillars and decided all over again that I wanted him alive.
I walked into an internet cafe and promptly googled the president’s name and there was nothing new. I went on face book and found almost all my Zambian friends had changed their statuses to an assortment of XY is shocked at President Mwanawasa’s death, BC has a dead president or does she? etc. Still on face book a group called “Is President Mwanawasa really dead?” had been formed and already had members. Although all the computers in the cafe were taken, people kept coming in and just hovering behind those browsing! Soon it was a chaotic joint effort with suggestions flying “let’s check state house website” and we would all rush there, “French embassy website” and so on. Our State House website took three lifetimes to open and when it finally did there was nothing close to the news we were dying to hear. People would talk on the phone and share whatever they had learnt. And soon the creative became evident among us as people started going “I have just talked to my uncle’s old neighbour whose ex-wife’s step brother’s workmate’s niece’s friend (or some such creative arrangement! lol) is friends with one of the President’s children” and not to be outwitted another would go “my cousin’s friend has a child with one of the presidential drivers and he has just told her now that no one is crying at state house… so I’m very sure he’s alive” “now come on even if he really is dead you don’t expect those ‘some of us’ (slang for the elite) at state house to wail!?” another would respond. Someone would start “I have a ‘connected’ friend in Paris who might know…” and even though it was a poorly told lie and just as likely to be true as Nicholas Sarkozy sending ME a “Please Call”, someone would promptly offer “use my phone…” and so the panic and guesswork grew. The things I would normally never give a second of my time, I found myself giving my all and then some to. By the time the news was officially dismissed as false, I was well and truly exhausted. I was also very convinced my stilettos and ‘half my weight’ handbag were punishing me for all my life’s sins! I headed back home my initial mission in the CBD completely forgotten.

The official announcement drew its own reactions but that’s really a story for another day, and whether one believed the first or second statement was really an individual choice.

As for me it is enough to say that strange as it was, July 3 brought to the fore our way of life in Zambia, reminding me how phenomenal our conversation skills are: how we love, bond, share, fight, boast, resolve conflict and heal through talking! The economy may have changed how we live as Zambians such that strangers may no longer be welcomed with a meal or drink but there is no shortage in smiles and especially good conversation!

et cetera