Friday, September 16, 2016

Who said God is clean?

First impressions matter. They matter more than we care to admit. They are shaped by our own peculiar experiences, biases, preferences and influences. It is why some of us have no compunction at ascribing moral attributes at the way a person dresses, what shoes they wear, what vehicles they drive, what accents they affect, whether or not they will look you in the eye and whether or not they will offer a firm handshake.

We instinctively judge those we perceive to be different from us and our judgments are harsh. One of Nairobi City County's gubernatorial aspirants, Esther Passaris, is a successful entrepreneur who has been in the public eye for the better part of a decade. A photo circulating online shows her in a revealing evening gown. She claims it has been photoshopped to damage her reputation. Her detractors declare that simply because of the photograph, Ms Passaris is unfit to hold the office of governor. This is a very stupid demand and the rationalisation of patently misogynistic ideas reveals the utter vacuousness and, perhaps, jealousy of Ms Passaris's detractors.

Ms Passaris is an attractive woman. She is also outspoken. The combination of the two rubs many men, and not a few women, the wrong way. That she speaks better than average English, is quick-witted, rich and commands the limelight in which many of her detractors cannot, are marks held against her and used to accuse her of, at best, amorality or, at worst, immorality. The accusation that how she allegedly dressed in the photo is really an accusation of amorality/immorality and a disqualification from the political race.

Patriarchal culture is often the boon friend of misogyny. That is not to say that misandry is nonexistent; it probably is more prevalent than we know. But in a political system and a public culture that is overwhelmingly masculine, where most of the visible trappings of power, authority, wealth and influence are enjoyed by men or their sons, where attempts at equalising the benefits enjoyed by women with those enjoyed by men founder on the rocks of masculine maneuvering and manipulation, it isn't enough to point out how harmful patriarchy is but the losses we suffer as a people when misogyny prevent perfectly qualified female applicants to high office.

The mark of evolved sensibilities is that one must hold their tongue when they meet another person for the first time, rein in the instinct to judge or to ascribe attributes yet to be revealed, and allow the relationship to mature such that the judgment will be informed by more than instinct, experience, bias, preference or influences. Merely because of what one wears a judgment of ones morality cannot be made. Anyone unable to make that intellectual leap is unfit to opine on public matters. It matters not that the one making the value judgment considers revealed ankles as anathema; we have demonstrated that how one dresses does not reveal what one is. Before you argue that street prostitutes dress exactly as you would expect them to dress, remember that while living off the proceeds of prostitution is an offence, prostitution itself is not and if you accept the modern appreciation of sex wok as legitimate work, then you must also accept that sex work is not immoral work.

Kenyans on Twitter, the Forty Third Tribe, are not evolved as much as they think they are. It is why you will still find even advocates of the High Court, beneficiaries of what should have been a liberal education, held hostage by notions that equate sartorial choice with moral choice. In their hidebound minds, there is no way that a morally upright woman would dress in "revealing" clothes; she would be demure, prim and proper. Therefore, anyone who still believes in the hackneyed children's adage, cleanliness is next to godliness, is an idiot.

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