"It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." - Mark Twain
Last week Youth Minister Ronald Kibuule is reported to have said something to the effect that women who are “indecently” dressed and are raped were asking for it. He feels so strongly on the subject that he asked the police to investigate all rape cases and if they find the victim was dressed “indecently” should charge her with inviting the crime!
The portfolio of state minister of youth is not one of the plum jobs in our amorphous cabinet – one would be hard pressed to name Kibuule’s predecessors. But after this unfortunate statement Kibuule’s name is now singed in my memory for all eternity.
When the news first broke one wanted to know exactly what he said. Having established he had said it and wanting to give the youthful minister the benefit of doubt one wondered whether he was drunk, drugged or operating under the influence of something illegal.
The minister attempted to deny the report, claiming he had been misquoted but an audio recording of his utterances soon hit social media and that was that.
He got some ambulance-chasing PR types to try and put up a defence for him – they had the bad taste to invoke Jesus’ “Let he who is without sin let him cast the first stone” but this defence was dead on arrival.
There are some worrying indicators about our society that can be gleaned from this whole sordid episode.
That the fiercest brand of male chauvinism, where women are there to do men’s bidding regardless of their own needs and wants is alive and kicking. That women for their own safety, should always factor in men’s comfort or discomfort when deciding on what they should wear or not wear. It is even more worrying that such an attitude has found as one of its most vocal champions Kibuule, who’s official age is listed as 29.
It is more likely that we are going to be measured in our public utterances than we are in private when we are left alone with our thoughts or in the presence of close friends and family. About the minister you have to wonder that if he says this in public what horrors he metes out in the privacy of his home.
The young man in a personal explanation to parliament, in which he sidestepped clarifying on his thoughts that indecently dressed women who are raped had it coming, saw no need to apologise for his statement, leave alone relinquish his position as youth minister.
The central debate that drives psychological debate is that of nature versus nuture. Basically that the way we behave is as a result of our genetic makeup or how we are socialised or brought up.
So for the minister to harbour these thoughts is it a product of his physiological and genetic makeup, that men are provoked to have their way with any woman who crosses their path who is dressed indecently? He defined indecent dressing as miniskirts, bikinis and tight jeans!
Or maybe it’s how men are socialised, brought up to view a woman who is indecently dressed as an object of lust and it is therefore justifiable to act on that lust, after all the woman has “invited the crime”.
The genetic makeup angle is a hard sell. If it bore any truth, with men as half the population we would expect more incidents of rape.
Which leaves us with the nurture hypothesis.
That Kibuule and men that think like him are a product of our society – how we bring up our sons, how we ignore and even collude in our brothers transgressions and make excuses for our father excesses.
Seen in this light Kibuule then should be an object of our pity rather than a lightning rod attracting our ridicule, that he is trapped in this chauvinist society, where wherever he looks the signals indicate that women are second class citizens serving at the pleasure of men.
Kibuule has presented us with as useful an opportunity for soul searching about our gender relations as we may ever get.
That being said it does not get the youthful minister off the hook.
He is a national leader and his loose talk cannot be written off as the folly of youth. We are sure it is not government policy, though we wonder about the deafening silence that his comments provoked, with nary a word coming from the official spokesmen or the minister’s appointing authority on the subject.
Let’s see the minister’s utterances for what they are – the outcome of a patriarchal socialisation for which we are complicit in perpetuating.