#MyDressMyChoice: The Ideology Behind Stripping Women
December 1, 2014 § 3 Comments
Perpetrators and proponents of stripping violence try to justify these hate crimes by blaming the victim for being “indecently dressed” in a miniskirt, contrary to African modesty. But the truth is, just as with rape and every other crime of sexual violence, strippings are about men who feel entitled to women’s bodies lashing out when their sexual advances are rejected. It’s about men seeking to assert power, control and dominance over women.
The recent cases of strippings including the lady whose stripping led to the #MyDressMyChoice protest march; “Wairimu” in Kayole; and the 16-year old school girl almost stripped by a policeman, all had the same facts:
a. A man tried to seduce a woman/ girl.
b. The woman/ girl rejected or ignored his advances.
c. The man, in the company of other men, stripped or attempted to strip the woman/ girl.
These facts are not coincidence, but evidence of a pattern that should tell us something about our culture. And what it tells us is not good.
Male Privilege, Entitlement & Violent Masculinity
We live in a society which places males in a social class that is dominant over women, thereby affording men many privileges. From this position of privilege, men are taught that women – as the dominated social class – owe them. Women owe men love, attention, respect, obedience and most importantly – sex.
This idea that women owe men subsequently breeds entitlement. As a result, men feel completely entitled to women’s bodies and to their time. When a man wants to have sex with a woman it’s simply because this is what they deserve just for being a man. And when a woman rejects their sexual advances, this makes the man angry for being denied what they deserve, what they are entitled to.
In their anger, the man blames the woman for denying them their birthright of easy power. They blame the woman for romantically rejecting him and withholding what is rightfully theirs.
Society further teaches men that because they belong to the dominant social class, they are entitled to power and control over women. Consequently, the rejection of his sexual advances is regarded as a loss of this power and control. This hurtful loss of power and control over women is taken as emasculation.
Moreover, this emasculation occurs in front of other men, making the man feel less than an alpha male in the eyes of his peers. And because society teaches men to never show weakness, he therefore feels the need to prove his manhood to his peers; to prove that he is still hard and tough. And it is in this attempt to prove that he is the true alpha male that he decides to strip the woman.
Rather than trying to figure out how to improve his approach towards women, he blames the women for their lack of interest in him and instead decides to retaliate. Why? Because masculinity teaches men that when they are aggrieved, they are entitled to retribution. Men are taught: don’t just get mad – get even. So stripping becomes a form of righteous retaliation.
Stripping is therefore a form of “deserved” punishment whose origins lie in society teaching men that they are entitled to punish women who take their power away. The man regards his inability to attract the woman as something he needs to “punish” them for. The woman’s refusal to give herself to him is to blame for his anger and violence, for which the woman deserves to be punished.
And because our society has taught men to solve their problems and earn respect through aggression and violence, what we end up with is men stripping women perceived to have denied them respect.
From a young age, society teaches men to hate women. This misogyny or woman-hatred is characterized by disdain, contempt and resentment of women. We raise boys and teach men to see women – not as full human beings – but as trophies to be won and hags to be used and harassed. We teach boys that women are objects to have sex with; to cook for them and do their laundry.
And in order to maintain this image of women as lesser humans, we use violent, degrading and dehumanizing language when discussing women, thereby guaranteeing their constant devaluation. We teach this woman-hatred to young boys and men and then we get surprised when they act on this hatred. And in our surprise we make pronouncements such as “real men don’t strip women.”
Stripping is but one of the extreme manifestations of woman-hatred in Africa. And proclaiming that “real men do not strip women” is to deny the existence of this pattern of woman-hatred. While those making this statement may not intend to, they are in fact excusing this brutal practice. The fact that all the perpetrators were men is not a coincidence but a pattern that should tell us something about our culture. Men have stripped women many times before. Men strip women because they have been taught to hate women.
The perpetrators were ALL men. Moreover, they all felt they had been denied something that they should have been given. This attitude did not just appear out of thin air. It was cultivated and nurtured by our culture, generation after generation, perpetuating negative ideas over the course of time. The perpetrators are just the latest manifestations of men who think women owe them something and retaliate for this denial. By stripping the women, they were simply participating in the age-old tradition of controlling women through violence and punishing them when they don’t behave as required – only that they did so publicly, in broad daylight.
Similarly, the argument that the victim is “somebody’s wife, daughter, sister or mother” also hurts more than it helps because it implies that women are only as important as the male relations they have. This only serves to reaffirm male dominance over women by suggesting that women are only important because of their relationships with men. Yet, women are full human beings who deserve respect just for being full humans. Rather than teaching our daughters how not to dress, it is our sons that we need to teach that women are full human beings with the right to wear whatever they want.
While being careful not to inadvertently excuse stripping violence, we must, at the same time actively condemn those who deliberately excuse these brutal crimes, as they have chosen to side with the worst of men. Because the motives of the perpetrators were rooted in hate, strippings should be considered hate crimes against women. Subsequently, all those supporting these crimes online should be prosecuted for hate speech.
“Undress the Government! Not Innocent Women!”
Strippings are perpetrated by men who are angry at the hand they’ve been dealt. These are men who long to lash out at a system they believe has cheated them, but lack the courage to think for themselves beyond the easier path of hating women. These are men hurt by the loss of power and control, by the fact that they are no longer as dominant as before, as women become more empowered. They are experiencing a humiliating loss of manhood and the moral obligation and entitlement to regain respect and sense of purpose.
And how does society deal with this growing anger in men? We teach the girl child to fear men. We tell girls not to wear miniskirts, not to walk down certain streets, not to upset men. Because doing so could get them hurt or even killed by the bad men out there.
But even the women and girls who internalize such fear and submit to these warnings – by dressing decently, avoiding dangerous streets and not angering men, still face street harassment from entitled men who actually believe that catcalls are a sign that they are putting women on a pedestal. And when the women ignore these advances, they are subjected to verbal abuse, stalking, threats, intimidation and assault. Society then tells women to deal with this by laughing it off and ignoring it as these misogynists do not pose any real threat… Until they decide to take their hatred of women a step further and strip a woman naked. Until they escalate even further in their hatred to rape and kill women.
Undoubtedly, the substantial anger of dispossessed men in Kenya during this age of inflation, low wages and unemployment is valid. However, this anger is wrongly directed towards women. It’s not women that are to blame – it’s the system of patriarchy.