It’s no secret that all too often, men are intimidated by powerful women. This is especially true in African/third world societies. From female politicians, to business women, to any woman in a powerful position; backlash can be expected. The fact there are women who are successful, having spent their lives setting up goals and succeeding in reaching them; challenges the very notion of misogyny in patriarchal societies.
Unfortunately in Zambia this is becoming more and more common. Recently we witnessed the consequences of being a powerful woman in Zambian politics with the relentless social media harassment and trolling of Minister of Higher Education, Prof. Nkandu Luo.
It all started with a deadly Cholera outbreak in Zambia. This resulted in over 2205 infections and 44 deaths over a period of 2 months.
Drastic measures had to be put in place to curb the epidemic. Soldiers cleaned the city, restaurants and stores were shut down, and schools/learning institutions were closed.
With this Minister of Higher Education Prof. Nkandu Luo made the executive decision to shut down all higher learning institutions.
As time went on and cases dropped, some learning institutions reopened- while larger learning institutions such as The University of Zambia (which is known to have sub-standard sanitary conditions) were to remain closed until deemed safe.
While backlash was expected, Prof. Nkandu Luo stood her ground to ensure the health, safety and well-being of students at the University of Zambia and other higher learning institutions.
What followed was a clear example of character assassination, sexism and disrespect.
All of the sudden there was an influx of insults and character bashing on media outlets. We’re not just talking about venting of frustrations, but straight up bigotry.
Not just questioning the minister’s decisions, but insulting her as a woman and human being. Demeaning her. With the insults came even more insulting memes.
Now don’t get me wrong, criticism of politicians is always expected. It’s everyone’s Democratic right to express their political opinions, but never had I seen such low blows towards a politician in Zambian politics before. I found this extremely odd considering the fact that we’ve had a lot of less than palatable politicians in the past 54 years.
Sexual comments, deplorable insults and demeaning remarks were hurled her way. She was even referred to as a man; having her femininity questioned as a result of her assertiveness. Even worse her looks/appearance were irrelevantly criticized. I mean they tore this woman apart! Why? Because she’s a woman who dared to assert herself and exercise her ministerial powers to serve her country. Something men have been doing for the past 54 years in Zambia; but when a woman dares to do the same she’s likened to being a man.
They attacked her appearance, even though it had absolutely nothing to do with her doing her job.
Attacking a womans’ looks is a classic misogynistic tactic commonly used by men when they feel threatened.
“Trying to hit us where it hurts…”
Insults, threats, cyber attacks, back handed comments; these are all expected when a woman overcomes stereotypes and evolves within climates which aren’t easy for women to establish themselves. Male dominated.
Seeing comments about Prof. Nkandu Luo, referring to her as ugly, and a man left me wondering: why?
Why is this relevant? Why the pettiness when there’s a serious situation at hand?
No one ever makes reference to male politicians appearance in Zambian politics. And it’s not as if any of them are “real lookers” either. All of the sudden because she’s a woman, misogynistic pettiness is warranted.
“It’s the type of arrogance only successfully achieved by certain type of men in power- the kind of man who, no matter how high a woman climbs, will look down on her. It’s this particular breed of man who holds that glass ceiling in place with all his might, and when a woman comes to pierce it with her crown, instead of revering her, he decides to hit her where he thinks it will hurt the most. He thinks calling her ugly or fat or flat chested or hook-nosed will cause her to shrink away, taking her opinions along with her” –Marisa Kabas (HarpersBazaar)
This practice is common world over, and was popularly brought to light in March, 2017; when Fox News Channel Primetime host Bill O’Reilly attacked US Representative Maxine Waters hair during a Tuesday morning TV appearance following her speech calling for change the night before on the congress house floor.
While Waters, a 13 term congresswoman, chair of the congressional Black Caucus, addressed her patriotic obligation to protest against policies she felt were deemed to cause destruction; O’Reilly said he couldn’t hear a word she said because he was too busy “looking as her James Brown wig”
“O’Reilly was simply carrying on the grand tradition of men in power grasping at the lowest fruit when they feel threatened by a woman: her looks” –Marisa Kabas (HarpersBazaar)
Now politically, I’m neither for nor against O’Reilly or Waters; but one must admit: that comment was not okay.
In the case of Prof. Nkandu Luo, what was most alarming was it wasn’t just powerful men insulting her, but young men included. Young minds presumed to be blank canvasses upon which progressiveness is assumed to be painted upon.
Thanks to Zambias’ cyber crime unit, police were able to trace the derogatory and defamatory posts aimed towards the minister to young man who’s also a University of Zambia student.
His comments in all their crude derogatory nature were frightening.
In a generation that claims to be more “woke”, what hope is there for the millennial woman if our male counterparts still partake in misogynistic practices and bigotry? These young men are supposed to be the future; to correct sexist transgressions committed by their forefathers.
Ultimately the police arrested this young man, but the fact remains that many more of his peers, representing the 21st century Zambian man, share the same sentiments.
Prof. Nkandu Luo later released a statement saying “she enjoyed the insults”.
Obviously a defense mechanism. No one could possibly enjoy being insulted or humiliated.
I too have experienced similar backlash in my time. Anyone who knows me knows I’m pretty determined, strong willed and often times stern especially when it comes to my work or academic life. With this came criticism from male counter parts.
Everything from “being too much” to “being ugly” to “are you a lesbian?”
Yup. I’ve heard it all, and let me say this: STOP please- it’s 2018!
Women should be allowed to be strong. Let us do our jobs (which we’re damn good at by the way) and be who we are.
Maxine Waters responded to the disheartening remarks made by O’Reilly in the best way possible.
Words so powerful I have them memorized and recite them to this day for encouragement:
And so I end with this.
Never be afraid of being too strong, too tough or too much. Be who you’re destined to be to the best of your capabilities. Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor each morning the devil says “oh crap, she’s up!
It’s time to do better…
and be better…