A friend of mine has a 14-year-old daughter. She had some questions regarding sex education and she came to yours truly for guidance. I won't lie; I was quite chuffed by this turn of events. So anyway, we had lunch and talked about being 14. Now you might imagine that I was a loud mouthed and rebellious handful of a teenager who knew what she wanted... and you wouldn't be wrong. But as with all things that are mid-development, I had my share of stunned-into-silence moments. In fact I still have them.
Anyway, when I was a high school student at Peponi, we had a school dance and invited kids from Braeburn. As part of the school's entertainment committee, I had helped put the event together and even hired DJ Pinye. On the fateful night, a Tanzanian boy asked me to dance, I said yes and there we were... about seven couples slow dancing at the end of the night.
The night would have faded into obscurity had not this kid put his hand on my butt. At first I wanted to say something, in fact I was formulating it in my mind... something pithy, something that would let him know that mine was not a butt to be fondled or fooled with. But while I was formulating, this boy took my silence as acquiescence and added his other hand so his butt fondling enterprise doubled in size. What did I do? Did I smack him as girls do in the movies? Did I march off in protest? Did I scream and demand that the chaperone kick him out? Nope. I did absolutely nothing. I shut up. Like a good Kikuyu girl, I shut up. I continued to sway to the music until the end of the song. THE END OF THE SONG!
Then... hmmm, it gets worse. The boy, whose name I have willfully forgotten, went back to his school and bragged on the bus that someone should inspect by derriere for his fingerprints. The shame and humiliation of this incident lives with me until today. My hands are shaking as I sit typing this little anecdote. I felt that I had let myself down. I felt, and in some ways still feel, like I should have done something about it. Then my personal private failure became public; his perambulating hands were the gift that kept on giving. I am not a rape survivor but I imagine that what I feel about this situation is the blurry beginning of a rape survivors reality. The feeling that I participated in my own violation is, well, it is hard to forgive.
I didn't say anything because I did not know how. Sure I had watched movies and seen black American girls putting boys in their places with stunning manicures and rotating necks and swiveling eyes. I had seen cocktail glasses emptied on everyone from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air to the village idiot... on screen... in places far far away. Not here, not by a Kenyan woman.
So to mums of teenage girls, it is not enough that you tell your daughter to say no, you have to role play with her. You play the aggressive and horny boy and repeat all the things you have heard men say to you. Then have her say no to you and be rude about it if necessary. These skills will come in handy in high school, definitely in university and unfortunately, even in her workplace. Boys cheer each other on, giving each other tips on how to bypass a woman's 'no'. They learn from a young age that 'no' is the beginning of a negotiation, that if they keep asking for long enough in varying tones with ever advancing hands, the girl will say yes; if only to shut him up. If only because she is too nice, she is too well mannered, too flattered by his attention to say no. Only practice will get her to say no to a boy she may like. So c'mon mummy, lets practise. Don't be shy; it will take a lot of practise to undo all that good manners that you instilled.