I operate a “newspaper” on Facebook called the Kampala Express.
This last week, we were embroiled in a discussion and argument on Sunday, March 8, which was International Women’s Day.
The article I wrote was interested in the chicken-and-egg question of the plight of women in a man’s world and who, if any, is to blame for this, women or men?
One view, the most common one, is that men are to blame because “it’s a man’s world”, with most institutions, systems, the culture and attitudes shaped by men or running on the terms of men, leaving women at a disadvantage.
The degraded status of women in most societies around the world is also usually blamed on men.
The question I sought an answer to was about the egg, literally one might say: where do men learn their attitude and behaviour toward women, when in most cultures in most parts of the world, young boys are raised by their mothers?
It seemed to me that women, ironically, are the ones who shape the world, not men, or at least are the ones with the power to shape the world. “It’s a woman’s world” because the earliest memories, feelings, experiences of life on earth for most of us are in the environment and surroundings of women, starting with the mothers who breastfeed and bathe us.
I am still waiting for a firm answer to this, to how little boys, raised mainly by their mothers and other female relatives and so, presumably, absorbing feminine traits and motherly love turn out into the adult men who go on to degrade women and put women at a disadvantage.
Just as it is usually said in cliché that behind every successful man is a woman, behind every man, successful or not, is a woman, be it his mother or aunt, sister or grandmother.
If women were to resolve to create a better, fairer world and to do so by starting by actively shaping the minds of their young boys when those boys are entirely under their maternal influence, then by the simple fact of numbers, we would soon have a new world of gentlemen and the era of “Bad Boys” would come to an end.
But having said that, in another article on the Kampala Express I drew attention to a new phenomenon in book publishing, that of erotic thriller novels written by women.
The Kampala Express article published on March 12, 2015 stated: “It seems these days the most popular theme in novels and films is that of highly educated, professional women, living and working in the 21st Century workplace.
Their careers are flourishing, but privately they are tormented by demons (quite literally) that entice them into degrading relationships, in which these women lose control of themselves and sink deeper and deeper into the mind control by the man and eventually into the kind of self-destruction that ended in tragedies like Whitney Houston.
E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey is the best-known and most successful of the current crop of novels of this genre.
What is distressing is that these novels are written, not by sexist, lustful, domineering macho men, but by women like E. L. James.
[W]hat is even more distressing than this is the fact that these erotic “thriller” novels then go on to become very successful and when adapted to films, become box office smash hits — mainly because they are bought, read, watched and relished by women themselves.
Even as thousands women’s rights groups are campaigning on behalf of the dignity of women, a huge number of women around the world, including in the advanced and liberal western countries, don’t see it that way.”
And so we were left in a state of perplexity: on one hand, the common cry around the world’s liberal intellectual circles is that it is a man’s world and this world steps on women and puts them at a disadvantage.
The article I wrote on March 8, 2015 showed that by actively influencing their growing boys, mothers the world over can solve this problem.
But there remains another problem, the one that is even more puzzling, which is that while in intellectual and social sciences circles there are more and more calls being made for gender equality, for more women in the workforce, on corporate boards of directors, in political office and for anything resembling sexism to be firmly stamped out, millions of well-educated women themselves send us mixed signals.
The huge numbers of copies of Fifty Shades of Grey that have been bought, mostly by women, and the runaway success of the film adaptation of this novel, suggest that in their deepest fantasies and unconscious, the majority of women, including those in the sophisticated, affluent, culturally liberated West, have still not bought into the women’s rights movement that started in America in the late 1960s.
Women no longer want to be denied education and career opportunities. But other than that, most still find the traditional male-female roles satisfactory and in their emotional and sexual contact, they instinctively still view life through the philosophy that it is the man who takes the lead and the woman is the respondent.
I repeat: this is not in rural-agrarian, traditional Uganda or Congo or Afghanistan, but in Sweden, Canada, the United States, Denmark, Britain and France.
There has always been the story that in Kigezi among the Bakiga, many women say if their husbands do not beat them, it shows their husbands do not love them. It sounded like insane reasoning to the modern, educated mind.
But the fact that novels like Fifty Shades of Grey, about women in a position where they are sexually violated and subjected to physical abuse by men are so popular with women means that there are many more women around the world, including, to repeat once more, in the most advanced European countries, who think like Bakiga women.
The women who buy these novels and attend the film screenings do not do so to watch or read about injustices toward them and after that call for society to change its ways. No.
They read the novels and watch the films as they are and the sum total is that it was an enjoyable experience. They tell their friends about the storyline, their friends buy the novels or the films and tell their other friends in turn.
That is why the great success that these books and films about women in oppressive and degrading relationships with men enjoy is so puzzling.