The Invisible Man

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While going through my 20 tabs and 200 pending I emails ( which were all marked as urgent) I came across an interesting study.I was trying as hard as possible to avoid the real work I was supposed to be doing and it accidentally ended up being productive.

From a 2014 study, 20.9% of men have experienced acts of GBV in their lifetimes and from those who had experienced it 48.6% of them had experienced it in the previous 12 months.

The number sounded absurd at first glance and probably does to you, too but not so much when I thought about it a little harder.  A while back when I started working on masculinity, I started having random conversations with people and I noticed a stark lack of understanding and connection that came about when I brought up violence against men in the context of gender-based violence.

People couldn’t fathom it, some dismissed it and I was surely but steadily reminded that women have it worse.

When I thought through it a bit more and asked more direct questioned, a muddier picture emerged and I started to hear and see abuse through the jokes and anecdotes. The jokes about how she slapped him when they were out and caused a scene started being less funny. The stories about her solely deciding where the children go to school and where they live, at his expense with him having no say, weren’t at entertaining. Stories of men staying in bars hoping to come back after their wives are asleep to avoid the shouting or hiring out whole other furnished apartments to go and rest after work made it yet another cautionary tale. I wondered why people get married in the first place because everyone seems to be miserable in it. 

I realised, though, that I never  thought of this as GBV but why? 

According to the  report, 73.8% of female and 68.9% of male respondents described GBV as bodily harm inflicted by man on woman. So a good part of the reason that you can’t see GBV against men is that you don’t even know that the term can be used to describe violence against men. Words and phrases affect visibility and abused men become the invisible men even to themselves. They don’t count themselves as victims. They see themselves as exceptions rather than a part of a system of violence.

The introduction of GBV into the lexicon of Kenyan language came on the back of addressing violence against women by men specifically and that’s what it’s associated with and it’s never been expanded. Language affect visibility. Visibility affects perception, conversations and funding. Funding affects intervention.

One of the only times it that GBV against men became a national topic of discussion was in 2015 after a spat of reported cases of women in Nyeri county chopping off their husbands members. Beyond the tongue-in-cheek headlines, the jokes and the women being excused by virtue of “the men in Central region being drunkards,” that was the last time that Kenyans took the matter even remotely seriously. I really wonder what became of those men who were double victims, once by their wives but secondly by societal shame. I would love to see a follow-up story done for us to listen to them, to try and understand their experiences albeit as outsiders peeping in.

We have a silent festering problem with no name and no face. No one can afford to speak out. 

That number is alarmingly high by any measure or standard so why else wouldn’t it be a national discussion needing urgent intervention? Classification of violence is another aspect to this issue. Violence by women although also physical violence is primarily verbal and psychological. Due to the immediacy of danger and visibility differences, the two are seen as lesser evils which leaves many men suffering silently because if it isn’t physical, it isn’t seen as significant enough to warrant action or flashy enough to get media coverage.

Kenya had a grand example of abuse through our former First Lady, Lucy Kibaki who assaulted several men in the full glare of the camera and onlookers and the humour is part of our folklore. Solange assaulted Jay Z in an elevator and the conversation shifted to his alleged cheating and the list goes on and on. We don’t look at violence by women against men as significant and that’s a tragedy.

Society is at an interesting space where it both encourages men to be open and realises that there’s a problem but shames men into silence. Kuwa mwanaume. Kaa strong. Wacha umama. I couldn’t quite remember hearing stories about marriage from men. I remember conversations through sly jokes but that was it. Wewe ngoja utajionea tu mbele. Anza kuzoea kelele mapema. Lipia rent lakini nyumba si yako. 

Most of the narratives around marriage and how and what doesn’t work is based on our aunts, our grandmothers, our colleagues at work and women at large. That’s only half of a very necessary conversation on this institution that has you pledging your life, soul, blood and happiness to another person 

Men talk about marriage in passing and through jokes and if you pay attention to them you’ll hear horror stories of financial manipulation, physical abuse, emotional and psychological abuse.

The more I analysed the “do what she wants if you want peace in the house”is when I realised that there’s a lot of unsaid things about marriage and relationships and abuse. Men don’t have the vocabulary to define abuse but perhaps if they did, they would be able to talk about and see that what they go through on a daily basis is not normal.

That kelele (un)takatifu everyday is not normal. Her calling all your female friends is not normal. Her throwing sufurias at you is not normal. Her constantly telling you how little you’ve done in your life and how broke you are is not normal. Those public scenes and slapping and screaming is not normal. 

Something needs to change.

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