When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.
There’s no shortage of people in a full-blown panic about there being too much focus on the girl child. Think pieces have been written in national papers about how organizations focus on girls when boys also have problems and how parents in the evening are more concerned about the whereabouts of their daughters than their sons. How the exclusion of boys is actually crippling the dream of gender equality. Now the government is involved in trying to help the boy child who has been left behind.
All this brings to mind Susan Faludi’s book Backlash which tracks how the media and society in general, fight back against the gains made by women courtesy of feminist organizing. Let’s talk about some reasons why this sudden concern about the boy child being left behind is problematic.
Forever vs decades
In 2019, for what appears to be the first time in recorded history, girls outperformed boys in the KCPE exams for the second year running. To be clear, this was the first time that girls had outperformed for two years running. That means every year before that, boys had either outperformed girls or if girls had outperformed them it was only every other year. This singular incident was enough to cause panic among the patriarchal ranks with the Minister of Education suggesting that the boy child was being left behind, saying, “Perhaps it’s time we also started thinking of the boy child.”
Focus on the girl child in Kenya is just a few decades old while patriarchy is as old as the rivers and the mountains. Yet, a few years of saying women are people and girls deserve equal opportunities in life is enough to convince the patriarchal camp that they are losing everything, and have in fact lost everything.
Blame the girls
There’s a common occurrence on social media, every time women bring up all the ways girls are disadvantaged in society, men come out of the woodwork with ‘It happens to boys too not just girls.’ It’s the gender version of All Lives Matter in response to Black Lives Matter.
At its worst, it blames women for the problems men face. So the focus on solving girls’ problems has left the boys out which has increased male illiteracy, crime, violence, truancy, drug abuse and low self-esteem. No effort is made to get to the root cause of men’s problems, just resort to the classic, “It’s the woman you gave me”.
For some reason, we are just to accept that when the lives of girls and women improve, the lives of boys and men immediately begin to deteriorate. It’s an inverse relationship. Apparently, only one gender can prosper at a time and it must be the penis one.
Protect the girls
This one is quite interesting, the patriarchal posey is upset that as a society we show more concern for girls, evidenced by the numerous campaigns centred on protecting girls as well as parents in surveys responding that they worry more about their girls in the evenings when they’re not home. This is a crazy thing to be jealous of. Girls are especially vulnerable to physical and sexual assault which is why their parents worry more and community programs are oriented towards that. Are the patriarchal posey really jealous of this?
The closest comparison they have to the dangers girls face is boys getting into drugs and joining gangs. A study by NACADA found that 11.7% of school-going boys and 5.4% of school-going girls abuse drugs. Drug abuse clearly affects both boys and girls. Teenage pregnancy in Kenya stands at 18-22% with about 1 in 5 girls between the ages of 15-19 years at risk. Girls as young as ten years old are counted among the pregnant because of sexual assault. The teen pregnancy situation in Kenya is so bad we have been ranked third worldwide. Is this what boys and men are jealous of? The fact that girls need to be protected with extra vigilance from sexual assault?
The truth is, patriarchal apologists are not concerned that boys are falling behind, they are worried because girls are doing well, and moving ahead. This is encapsulated in the comment people make as they wonder ‘who will marry all these empowered women if the men are the same?’ The problem is not that the men are not changing, it’s that the women are and they’re disrupting the status quo.
Girls who go to school and are told from a young age that they are not less than boys and can do anything they put their minds to are unlikely to put up with the abuse and disrespect that women who had no options were subjected to. The true reason there’s this extreme backlash against concerns for girls is because girls and women are forgetting their place. They are no longer submitting to their position as second-class citizens which is disastrous for patriarchy apologists.
The other problem with the boy child camp is they refuse to examine the systemic issues arising from patriarchy and misogyny, refusing to examine their privilege. They want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to complain about the extra protection girls are given without grappling with the fact that masculinity, as it’s currently constructed, is at the root of the need for that extra protection. They are not good-faith actors who are concerned about the well-being of boys or girls, all they care about is maintaining the status quo. They are severely unlucky. The struggle continues for justice, freedom, and equality for all. All means ALL.
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