Her alarm goes off at 6:45am. She opens her eyes wide and sticks her leg outside her bed cover. It’s cold, her bed is warm and cosy, but she has an interview to get to. Today is not a day to snooze. She had been out of a job for such a long time, thanks to the recession. She gathered all her hope, enthusiasm and poured it into the day. She arrived on time for the interview, armed with her resume, great attitude and all the positivity she could gather.
The interview goes well, she answers all questions asked and impresses her interviewers. The best foot she put forward did not disappoint her. She leaned back into her chair and beamed at the interviewers sitting in front of her. The Human Resource manager watches her keenly. The decision to hire her or not rests squarely on him.
He looks over at the mobile phone number on her resume and smiles. She was qualified for the job, she had passed her interview, and she was the excellent, logical pick for the position. The interviewing panel thanked her for her time and promised to get back to her in a week.
Later that evening, the Human resource manager called her and invited her for drinks. She hesitated, but she needed the job, so a couple of drinks wouldn’t hurt. She gave an emphatic yes and prepared for the night out. A few drinks later, the manager leans in and tells her, “You know, if you go home with me, I will make sure you get that job”.
There was a campaign in Kenya dubbed “Real men don’t rape”. Even though I understand that the campaign was meant to create awareness about rape, it is inaccurate since it is real men who actually rape. I grew up believing that rapists were men who jumped out of bushes, wearing black from head to toe, they attack you out of nowhere, pin you to the ground and force themselves on you. This happens, but this is not the only description of what rape looks like. It has a common denominator, lack of consent.
Consent has a lot to do with who holds power in the interaction and the consequences that come with refusing to consent.
Consent that is obtained from undue influence brought about by the nature of the relationship doesn’t really count as consent. It is abuse of power. When a person stands to lose a significant opportunity as a consequence of saying no, then it is still abuse of power.
This International Women’s Month, let us reflect on the conviction of Harvey Weinstein, a film mogul who recently was found guilty of a criminal sex act in the first degree and rape in the third degree. His arrest in 2018 was triggered by #MeToo movement and unprecedented speaking out by women in the industry
The outdated illogic around consent was shuttered by the jury who understood the nuances of complex relationships and appreciated that there is no way to predict how a survivor would or would not behave after an assault. What is important is that the survivor was violated.
Harvey Weinstein’s conviction is significant in the long journey of unmasking systems of abuse and power and how they shape the understanding and perception of consent. The reality of patriarchy is that men hold a lot of financial, political and social power. As a result, women have been forced to manoeuvre their way around patriarchy and capitalism. This manoeuvring includes putting up with unwanted sexual advances. Those who resist sexual advances do it at such a profoundly personal cost.
I have heard disturbing speeches at weddings. A well-meaning Auntie stands up and addresses the bride. She says something like, “A man has two stomachs. You feed him, and there is nothing he will not do for you. You cannot say no to your husband because that is how you give the devil a footstool in your marriage”. If a woman feels like she is obligated to have sex, the obligation doesn’t amount to consent. Marriages are set up to make sure that the woman is solely responsible for the labour required to keep it functioning even if it comes at the expense of her sanity.
Being married should not be framed to mean one surrenders ownership rights to their spouse. You still belong to yourself.
One of the things that fuel the culture of victim-blaming is the misguided idea that consent is complicated, a grey area and hard to tell while it is really not. Are they underage? Are they intoxicated? Do they feel obligated? Do they stand to lose anything by saying no to you? If the answer to any of those questions is a yes, and yet sexual advances persist. They aren’t confused about consent, they are entitled abusers, entitled to women’s bodies. This notion of power and sexual entitlement to women’s bodies is what needs to be dismantled.
On this Women’s Month, I hold space for every student, employee, creative, interviewee, activist, everyone that has found themselves in situations that needed to be manoeuvred and for everyone who has paid dearly for speaking out and refused to be silenced. May the precedent set in Harvey Weinstein’s conviction sweep across the globe and scatter abusive tendencies. We will continue to fight to be heard, to be believed and to hold assaulters accountable.
Wanjiru Nguhi is an Afro-Politico Feminist, Lawyer, Writer and the founder of Mwafrika Mwenzangut. Find me on Twitter: @Iam_Wanjiru