I once took a lady friend home. I had bought her alcoholic drinks and I was on soda all evening. We left town at around midnight. I lived on the opposite side of town to where she lived. She insisted that it was too late to go her place, where she lived with her mum.
We got to my place.
On this one, you’ll have to take my word for what happened.
We did not have sex and not for want of trying on my part. Let’s just say she said she could only have sex with her husband. I was not her husband nor did I have plans to be one that night or anytime in the near future.
So, no, we did not have sex or anything else for that matter. We slept.
Some may think I need an award for not forcing myself on her.
Thing is, I don’t need an award – and no one else does for that matter – for doing what I am supposed to do in the first place without thinking. I, as a man, needed to understand what masculine privilege really signified. This meant thinking and understanding and naming what that privilege looks like.
This memory was triggered by a Facebook post by one Mwende Kyalo reacting to some screenshots where a lady is asking a man that she’s been washing clothes for, cooking, cleaning and having sex with, what they are and the man tells her they are just friends. and the icing is when he tells her, that he didn’t ask her to do any of that.
Mwende’s response: But that’s the thing. He didn’t have to ask her. Society already did that for him. Her mum already did that for him. The community that man lives in and the values they hold already did that for him. They raised her to not have to be asked. To do it without being asked.
In thinking about Mwende Kyalo’s response I recalled how I felt smug about not having had sex with N. and it hit me that doing the right thing should be the old, new and everyday normal. In fact, I now see, I failed the test because, she said no to sex which I felt entitled to simply because I was a guy and she was at my place, in my bed.
Money, Land, Food and Sex
About a year into my alcoholic recovery journey, I made a declaration whose import has only come to pass, and continues to unfold as I try to live it out: I swore that as long as I am alive and sober, I will not fight for money, land, food or sex.
I made this declaration because I believed that all these things are available in abundance. The popular narrative is that they are scarce.
What has happened is that I have been severally tested. And several times I have failed. I still believe, that money, land, food and sex are abundant and fighting for them as if they are scarce is a waste of time, foolish and the ego’s attempt at playing God.
It’s only in the last few years I have gotten to understand and appreciate what privilege is. And I believe privilege ought to be contextualized for it to be tackled. At a personal development seminar, I was introduced to the concept of agreements which best illustrated contextualized privilege. The seminar leader called up two people and asked us what the societal expectations or perceptions – and I loosely interpret those societal and call them privileges.
The facilitator, an American, called up a Kenyan African man and a Kenyan African woman and though I can’t quite remember the exact question he asked the crowd, it was along the lines of who of the two, when placed together is seen as being more privileged: we shouted, “the man.”
He placed a Kenyan African man and a white man and we said the white man.
In a risqué gesture he placed a Kikuyu man and a Luo man; “the Kikuyu man” was the comeback.
A tricky one was when he placed an African man and white woman and for the first time there was a bit of uncertainty but the vote went to… the white woman.
This was an interesting, albeit uncomfortable exercise. Uncomfortable because what he was portraying was our unacknowledged or unspoken perceptions which we often relate to as the truth.
One participant asked what the point of the exercise and the course leader reckoned those are the agreements with which we approach life. They could well be assumptions or stereotypes. The point here is not the exercise but the way we treat privilege. Or don’t. We make assumptions using sweeping statements such as Men are that way. Or masculine privilege is blah blah blah…
What my privilege look(ed) like
Being in a committed relationship, aka my marriage, I have sought to discover myself, the good the bad and the awesome, in the context of my marriage. You see, for the years, I was single, I sought to ‘find myself’ in the context of my singlehood. For instance, I doubt I would have written My Side of the Street the way I wrote it were I in a committed relationship. That book could only be written single. There was a certain privilege I had living alone in Salem where I could pen and clutter the house with my journal pages where I laid bare my most private thoughts – at the time I wrote at least three pages a day. I eventually burned several of them. What was left, I put in the book. The rest went to creating a new consciousness of doing life as a man.
Anyway, in my marriage and specifically Wandia I have had the space to interrogate what masculine privilege. Often when the phrase is mentioned, it has a negative connotation. Now, it is not. As cheap and clichéic as it sounds, it is what it is.
Listening to Oyunga Pala describe what it takes for a man to go jogging and for a woman to do the same beautifully illustrated what privilege looks like and how blind we are to it. For guys, when they want to go jogging, they put on their running outfit, leave the house and run. A woman, on the other hand, has to figure out the route of her run, the safety precautions she has to take, the length of the actual run, and even what to wear. For guys, it’s a no brainer, Oyunga says in a program on telly.
I have several times let the fuel tank get to near empty before going for a refill and it would get Wandia irritated when she had to take the car on her own. I never quite understood what the issue was given that the petrol station is not far from where we live. I was a slow learner. She helped me understand that having a car with fuel was not about just having a car with fuel. For her, it meant if there an empty tank would not be the reason for failure to get out of a dicey situation. I should have known better but I guess I forgot the lesson that I was taught in early recovery: that if I found myself in a slippery situation where the risk of drinking again arose, I should always have the resources to run first and explain later.
I’ll leave this hanging here for now -seemingly incomplete- so that you can establish for yourself what your privilege means to you or what you make it mean.
I need to give my brain some rest…