It is the 21st Century of the Common Era, literally we are living a good 2,000 years at least into documenting our histories. But there is one story, a bit repetitive, that doesn’t want to find a conclusion yet.
Before Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu was sworn in in March, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. Life was what it was, a bit more difficult and unfair if you are woman but one coped with it as best one could.
As President Samia took the oath of office it didn’t occur to me to prepare for the backlash that I should have known was coming. There were so many things I considered more important than her gender, to be honest: A peaceful transition of power in unprecedented times. The ongoing global crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic. The economy.
So it has hit me by surprise how much things are falling apart at the interpersonal level. I have never in my life heard someone’s gender discussed in conjunction with their politics so frequently. It is becoming a phenomenon and I don’t like it.
Here is what I have picked up on: Male hysteria is actually quite off-putting. For the most part we’ve been fine and life is moving on: Work, school, market prices for all kinds of things, the rainy season and all its ills. These occupy the majority of us and expend our energies. But there are people, overwhelmingly men, who have time to care about President Samia’s gender and what it is apparently doing to them.
I was a bit blasé recently when I said that we are a patriarchal society. I meant it, but I didn’t think of the intense fear of change that underlies our conservatism. Sustained fear brings out the worst in us.
In previous administrations it was tribalism that was used to bring people down: “He’s like this because he’s from such and such place, so and so people.” Yes, I hate to break it to you but Tanzanians do indulge in such talk where there is little of note to say.
We can be surprisingly petty for what I consider to be a rather sophisticated and balanced polity. I was expecting a lot on this front with the current regime, maybe something ludicrous about a Zanzibari invasion of the mainland, but sadly no. We’re stuck on the woman thing.
How bad is it, you ask? Well. Men who would never have found the courage to do so before are now feeling personally attacked and unduly dominated by women all over the place.
Want a decent bit of service from your provider? You get push-back because women should stay in their lane. Need to pay for a thing?
You might anger your vendor because, lo and behold, you are a woman!
Go out with friends or family? Be careful if your waitron is male because, who knows what indignities he might feel you have committed upon him.
Life has become an interesting little mosaic of social traps just waiting for a woman to step into one.
Beware if you are a feminist: Declaring so in public just helps people sharpen their misogyny.
I mean, a part of me wants to understand, but most of me is just tired. Women have historically been the biggest minority of all societies, but we’ve also been part of the power matrix for as long as it has existed. We are in the Bible, we are in Chinese history, we are all the Mother Elephants that have been and ever shall be.
Heck, just the other day I had an exquisite argument with a friend about which of the Elizabeths was best and why Europe will not be as interesting without Merkel in charge of Germany. It was a discussion on par with that about the geopolitics of cocoa production, though perhaps not as explosive as which James Bond is the best James Bond. In other words, serious.
It takes a lot to come down from that level of participation in the conversations about humanity to dealing with a bruised male ego because you wanted to buy your own drink at a counter. How is this even an issue in 2021?
Also, this is Tanzania. If I said I expected any other East African country to explore gender balance in its political sphere, I would be lying. We have been going back and forth on this for a long time now, and we have finally committed. Because we can.
There is little point to this rant other than to let sexists of the region know that their misbehaviour has been noted with great displeasure.
Making women in general pay for whatever slights you have imagined because of a slight change in regime is beyond petty. Such a childish lack of character that has no place in today’s world. It deserves an upbraiding. And then we move on.
There are more important things to do, still. Covid, the economy, the state of education all come to mind.
And while we are at it, the correct answer is Elizabeth II.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]