When a woman is raped or gang raped in many African communities, Nigeria included, people ask questions. They want to know: was she wearing a distastefully seductive outfit that neither covered her midriff nor protected her plunging cleavage from the wandering eyes of the male or did she intentionally walk into a room/dark alley where a sexually undisciplined male was lurking, waiting for prey? Was it a classic case of vendetta, where the boy had asked the girl out, and she had rudely (and disrespectfully) said no? Or perhaps, this is a simplistic religious phenomenon — was the victim possessed by an evil spirit who, through her, tempted the male culprit?
Proponents of the first reason argue that men are inherently unable to tame their sexual urges on spotting a scantily clad woman — female arms, neck, thighs, armpit, shoulders, can make men fall. Thus, women wearing miniskirts, shamelessly parading those long spindly legs, are just too desperate to draw a man’s lewd gaze and hence, they should be taught a lesson that they will never forget. They should be punished. They asked for it. They should get it. This is a retarded way of thinking because of this: it excuses animalistic behavior and provides a free pass for dysfunctional human beings. This male proprietorship of sexual entitlement — feeling that they ought to be able to have sex with a woman whenever they want to — is infuriating. This delusion of male vulnerability in the face of sexuality is a long-running one, and honestly, it’s rather demeaning — that men are slaves to their hard-ons so much that the slightest trace of sexually-related activity is enough to reduce them to savages incapable of anything other than the immediate satisfaction of these silly cravings.
One cold Saturday night last year, armed robbers attacked my friend’s family in Lagos. They gang-raped her and three other females. Subsequently, neighbors were curious about what the girls wore to sleep that night: Some skimpy silk nightgown? Shorts that barely covered “butt cheeks?” They must have made themselves alluring to those robbers. This logic, that men’s caprices cannot be subdued unless women enshroud their bodies, actually incapacitates men to a pervasively crippling extent. Boys in Africa are even tutored from childhood to understand that they are not expected to be able to moderate their reactions to sexual stimuli, that it is some kind of fundamental truth that males are puppets under the direction of their impulses, entirely incapable of making sane, ethical judgments, lacking personal rectitude. Thus, African mothers will offer to adopt love children of their teenage sons but will castigate (or in some cases disown) pregnant teenage females. If humans truly are not capable of restraining themselves sexually, then men should dress virtuously too — otherwise we women would be seduced and rape men in short sleeve shirts, shorts, or even those who don’t cover their heads. After all, in body-concealing Pakistan, a woman is raped every two hours and gang-raped every eight hours. I ask these questions: Do male gynecologists get erections every time they examine female parts? What about masseurs?
Vendetta. Rejection. Humiliation. Men with a history of victimization or rejection, such as experiencing childhood physical or sexual assault, emotional abuse or childhood abandonment, rejection from several women, are more likely to commit sexual violence than those without such a past, according to studies by the U.N. This will not be the case if Africans cease to view therapy as an embarrassing process. Africans don’t want to talk. They don’t want to address childhood traumas. They bury deep feelings of anguish, and when they do, the consequences become dire. A good number of Africans have suffered some form of childhood abuse, but they do not find someone to talk to about it. They do not address it. They choose to suppress these agonies and when they do, their minds push the buried objects back to surface in another way, shape, and/or form. All those rejections from women are weighing down on their self esteem, yet, they refuse to consult some of the many resources available on how to deal with rejection.
The last explanation is the most ridiculous. Yes. You’re the victim. But you tempted the man (perhaps with the help of an evil spirit growing inside of you). Africans are sometimes overly religious — every situation can be explained and reduced to mere black or white; good or evil; Satan or God. Your light-skinned aunt is impeding your progress in the spirit realm. Your stepmother will axe you to death in your dream. And we bring these mentalities into sadistic crimes as rape. Victim-blaming originates from our inborn inclinations towards viewing our world as fair; believing that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. God is a just God.
Most Africans just cannot comprehend sexual abuse, so by criticizing the victim’s conduct, we can view the crime as a mystical kind of karma happening because the boundaries of cultural requirements were pushed too far (who defines cultural normalcy anyway?) Furthermore, numerous African women, myself included, are groomed from childhood to protect ourselves. Otherwise, whatever happens is our fault. We have been conditioned: “Cross your legs when you wear a skirt; don’t play soccer with boys; never step out of your room without a bra on, and the bra better not be a push-up bra (because when breasts are pushed up too close to the chin, they invite men); protect those men out there so that nothing will happen to you.”
We, African women, are told that our safety is in our hands, and if we follow all the rules, we have better chances of being safe and secure with/around men. And we wholeheartedly believe this principle. In fact, we now own this principle and go as far as propagating it. Our grandmothers and great grandmothers have passed this information down through generations and now, we have given wild men a pass. We have accepted responsibility for our security with men and concurred that men are not capable of curbing their sexual urges; so if we tempt them or allow an evil spirit to tempt them through us, we must accept the consequences.
This is how we can tackle this problem: Men must join the movement. Society must commit to empowering young boys with the consciousness that they have the ability to make responsible decisions. We must din into boys a sense of propriety rather than powerlessness in the face of sexuality. And if men do not acknowledge this as a crucial gender issue that they are also involved in, then the erroneous beliefs that fuel the disturbing gender disparity in African communities will never be corrected. We must change our primitive mentalities and raise our males differently.
These questions that we ask, they’re flawed. What we should ask: How can we stop stigmatizing victims but rather help them overcome the emotional (and sometimes physical) trauma? How can we put the culprits away forever? How can we stop absolving the attackers from responsibility? How can we help these selfish, small, ego-less men understand that their libido is not the boss of them?