Category Archives: Misogyny

Reading the Book of Leviticus


Ah, Leviticus. No one’s favorite book. Whoever hijacked Moses’ tongue in Exodus is in his element in Leviticus. In Exodus we got a taste of law and order. Here, we have law and order edition 2: blood sacrifice; how to diagnose leprosy; hundreds of reasons why you are all unclean and deserve death and; a sexual code of conduct that makes a heroic attempt at listing all possible perversions that would have been possible at the time.

Exodus set the scene for the priestly takeover. God stops communicating with people personally, instead choosing to perch on Mount Sinai and later, in his tabernacle. He also becomes so holy that people are not allowed to be in his presence or to see him.  The only exception, of course, are the priests, who were selected from Aaron’s family line. So now in Leviticus, we have the Priests consolidating their power, and putting the fear of a distant, angry, all seeing, all knowing God into the Israelites.

  1. God has very specific taste when it comes to sacrifice: The Israelites are told that God accepts male, unblemished animals, birds (for those too poor to offer animals), fine flour with oil, and the first fruits of the land.  It is very important that the flour not contain leaven and that all the offering must be seasoned with salt.  Flour has to be burnt with fine oil and Frankincense. He also likes the fat from the animals  as well as kidneys and the liver. He does not accept entrails, which are known to you and me as matumbo. (Whatever is cooking sounds kind of tasty, actually). I lost count of the number of reasons they had to make sacrifices but I feel like it was for everything – sin, thanksgiving, illness, cleansing, and celebrations of God.
  2. Priests get a pretty good deal: They are allowed to keep the ‘first fruits of harvest’ and any remainders from flour offerings. Priests can also eat sin offerings and guilt offerings because whatever they touch becomes holy. They also get every breast and thigh of animals given as peace offering. Israelites are also not allowed to eat fat or use the blood of animals and if they do so, they will be cut off from the people. (So eating mutura gets you forced into exile).
  3. Ignorance is no defense: God makes it clear that the Israelites can commit offenses that they don’t know about. When that happens, they have to sacrifice a young bull. If an individual commits a sin unknowingly, he has to sacrifice a ram. For commoners, the price is a female goat. (This is a running theme in Leviticus – poverty does not excuse you from paying for your sins, and much like the tax code, every economic class is subject to a different fine/ fee.)
  4. A lot of things can make you unclean: this includes touching the carcass of an unclean animal,touching an unclean person and having an emission of semen (wash in the river and unclean for the rest of the day). I would love to know how this law was enforced- how would the priest know that a man was unclean because he came? Wouldn’t this mean that at any particular time of day, at least half of the male population would be considered unclean?
  5. Sexual conduct: Chapter 18 lists all the people that you are not allowed to see naked, including your parents, siblings, and your extended family as well as a reminder that seeing a woman naked during her period is not allowed. (I’m thinking uncovering nakedness might have another meaning here…) Then at the very end we have the all famous ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.’ Chapter 20 also reminds us to put to death any man who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, and not spare her either, as well as an extra reminder not to ‘see the nakedness’ of a sister from a mother or father.  Priests are expressly forbidden from marrying prostitutes, and if ever a priest’s daughter is found guilty of harlotry, she must be burnt to death.
  6. Aaron’s sons make a massive boo-boo: Not much goes on in the way of direct intervention from God, except for this time that Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, who took his censer, lit it and laid incense on it. (This means they didn’t follow proper sacrifice protocol). God’s judgement was brutal and instant. He sent fire down from heaven and incinerated them. And then Moses forbade their families from mourning for them. Later Aaron has to make a sacrifice, including releasing a goat into the wild to atone for their sins.
  7. An Israelite woman’s son is stoned to death: Our second brief interlude from the law comes when this boy, who’s father is Egyptian, it is emphasized,  gets into a fight and blasphemes God’s name. So they take him to Moses, who consults with God, who then says that witnesses to this event should put their hand on the boy’s head and they should stone him to death. This is where the proclamation ‘When a man causes a disfigurement in his neighbor,as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth… ‘ is made.
  8. All things kosher: This is pretty well known. You can eat animals that have hoofs and chew cud. Birds are okay, except vultures, ravens, ospreys, kites, falcons, ostriches, vultures, pelicans, storks, herons and a couple of other gross birds. Insects are okay as long as they don’t have four feet. No swarming things allowed, like geckos, crocodiles, mice, weasels and chameleons. Actually if they even touch your clothes then your clothes are unclean too.
  9. About the womens: When you have a baby boy, you are unclean for 7 days, then you get him circumcised and then you are unclean for another 33 days. If you have a girl, you are unclean for 2 weeks, and then another 66 days. Your period makes you unclean for 7 days, and anything or anyone that touches you is also unclean, including your bed, your chair, and any man foolish enough to ‘lie’ with you. (So for every year, your average woman is untouchable for almost 3 months for the sin of bleeding from her gross lady parts and she literally can’t sit with you)
  10. Public health: Chapter 13 dedicates 59 excruciating verses on the management of leprosy in all its describable forms. Priests, of course are responsible for diagnosis, treatment and ritual cleansing of these lepers, which also extends to their clothing and property. For example, once quarantine away from the people is over and the person shows no sign of disease, this is what he must do next – ‘ the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two living clean birds and cedar wood and scarlet stuff and hyssop; and the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water. He shall take the living bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet stuff and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water; and he shall sprinkle it seven times upon him who is to be cleansed of leprosy; then he shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird go to the field. ‘  This process must be repeated to cleanse his house as well. And he also has to give a guilt offering to God for being diseased.
  11. Other forbidden things: No witchcraft or consultation with mediums is allowed. Fathers cannot force their daughters into prostitution, and parents are forbiden from sacrificing their children to Molech. Men are not allowed to round off the hair on their temples or mar the edges of their beards. Israelites are also warned against cursing the deaf or putting stumbling blocks before the blind. When it comes to business, you cannot keep a man’s wages overnight,  you cannot tamper with scales and you cannot interbreed your cattle. God also commands that the Israelites treat strangers well, and to not gossip about their neighbors.
  12. Blemished men cannot approach the alter: this includes anyone who is blind, lame, has missing or mutilated limbs, hunchbacked, has eye problems, is a dwarf, or has crushed testicles (huh??)
  13. Disobey at your own peril: The punishment for not following God’s laws is explained several times, but this is the most graphic – You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense alters….and I will lay your cities to waste, and I will make your sanctuaries desolate…and I will devastate the land, so that your enemies that settle in it shall be astonished. And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you; and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. (Can you imagine a Pastor shouting that at his congregation every Sunday? This is the stuff of nightmares. )

Leviticus is ground zero for atheists trying to prove a point about how nasty the Christian God is, expose Christian hypocrisy on the selectiveness of the application of God’s laws as laid out in the bible (why don’t we stone adulterers anymore/ allow for the wearing of clothing with mixed fiber/ not burn our children for harlotry, etc, if we insist on quoting the Bible as reason to condemn homosexuality?) It’s a rich and easy target because a lot of the laws are ridiculous, impossible to follow, excessively cruel and often seem to have no real purpose that somebody living in the 21st century can decipher.

Then we have the Christians, who feel as though they have licence to dictate society’s moral code, and will go to great lengths to justify the use passages from Leviticus to prove their point. Thus we have a nice little deadlock with each side shouting the same thing over and over again to infinity and beyond.

But when it comes to letting the church dictate society’s morals (and then using the bible to justify it), my gut feeling is that the church is forced to evolve along with the rest of society, albeit extremely reluctantly. So eventually, one day in the distant future, I think that the church will eventually abandon condemning homosexuals in the same way it abandoned justifying slavery, and eventually decided that God doesn’t actually condone slavery and that everyone, including the so called sons of Ham (also known as black people) should be free.

Leviticus also paints a picture of a bleak, miserable world with many harsh rules, many of them punishable by death. It paints a society where being a woman is downright horrible, a large amount of time is dedicated to appeasing an angry and vicious God through sacrifice for atonement for multiple sins and death is always around the corner – either as a direct punishment for breaking the law, or as collective punishment for the transgressions of your people. I suppose this is why Christians have a tendency to blame the world’s problems on the decadence and sinfulness of modern society as a whole.

The words written in the bible have always been as clear as day and night. But our interpretation evolves as our circumstances change. Again and again and again. And as long as we become more accepting, inclusive and forgiving, that’s actually something to be proud of.

Why African ‘traditionalists’ should be the loudest supporters of feminism (including #mydressmychoice)


If you listen to discussions in the public space for and against all the the poor women who have been stripped, humiliated and molested in Kenya’s public spaces, you will see a strong and predictable thread that blames ‘modernization’ for society’s ills. This basically means that tv and media have transformed our women from the submissive angels they were into scantily dressed part-time prostitutes who’s sole mission in life is to confuse men by tapping into their wild and untamed sexual desires. These women are asking for it, and the problem is modernization.

Except it is not.

When we talk about traditional African values, we fall into this little happy place where we can fantasize about what it meant to be African. For the loudest and most ignorant, it simply means a society where women were passive, subjugated and at the mercy of their men. It was a world where male power went unchecked, and half of the society lived in misery. For others, it is not so clear- hence the comments about Africans being barbarians and the civilizing influence of Jesus. In this space, fantasy rules and everyone can find arguments to justify their half baked ideas.

I remember reading Koigi Wamwere’s autobiography and I was very surprised at his explanation of his childhood. I paraphrase but he said: Violence in society came from the top and filtered to the bottom. The man of the house would spend the entire day, humiliated by his colonial masters and unable to fight back. His masculinity was challenged every single day. He would go home and take out his anger on his wife,beating her senseless for perceived wrong doing. The wife, unable to fight against her husband, would take her anger and frustration out on her children, punishing them for petty things that children do in the most brutal ways. And the kids, they would kick the dog. 

Then I read Wangari Maathai’s autobiography and she had a little paragraph were she describes the perils of her childhood: We always had to be careful when going to the river to fetch water or coming back home in the dark. There were boys from the village who would lie in wait and force us to have sex with them.

I asked my own mother about this: she is not as old as Koigi and the late Wangari. This is what she said:

YES!! We learnt how to fight from a very early age. Those boys would try force themselves on us and you had to kick and scream and run away. Growing up in the village was tough. 

She also has scars on her legs from her brothers throwing burning pieces of wood at her. And she remembers being locked up in the latrine by her father and brothers on more than one occasion for her ‘wrong doings’

Hmm how about my generation? Some of my cousins tell me that the boys in the family gave them sweets and biscuits so that they could fondle them and try have sex with them. Yes, keeping it in the family indeed.

Let’s get some academics to back me up:

‘Hellish existence in the colonial world carries with it both the racial and the gendered aspects of the naturalization of the non-ethics of war. Indeed, coloniality of Being primarily refers to the normalization of the extraordinary events that take place in war. While in war there is murder and rape, in the hell of the colonial world murder and rape become day to day occurrences and menaces. ‘Killability’ and ‘rapeability’ are inscribed into images of the colonial bodies. Lacking real authority, colonized men are permanently feminized.’

Spot on.

So, is this the traditional culture that people are screaming for? Well, let me tell you that it is alive and well. Just move your family out of Nairobi and get your daughters raped in the name of upholding your culture.

What we know as “African tradition” is nothing more than a perverse system of distorted value and misplaced anger. We should not accept it.

How about pre-colonial Africa?

If these supporters of “African culture’ would only dig deeper, they would find out some crazy stuff.Look at this  particularly romantic description of women: ‘Women were treated with unparalleled respect because they were seen to be closer to the creator than men ever had the potential of being. This is because women themselves had the ability to create due to the fact that they were able to give birth. As creation of life, they were charged with the sacred responsibility of caring for the needs of the next generation, and because of this, they can be regarded as the originations of the idea that is now known as sustainable developments.’

And

One of the consequences of the advent of colonialism is the erosion of gender equality which characterized traditional African society. Both men and women had different roles they played in families and the society at large. But the case became different since the contact of Africa with colonialism…But since the era of colonialism, women have been placed on the lower rungs of the proverbial ladder by the dominant forces of capitalism, and now globalization, which emphasizes this need for power, superiority and compartmentalization of roles and responsibilities with different values attached to them

African society, like large parts of the world, was patriarchal. That is clear and we cannot deny it. However, ‘The positions of women in pre-colonial…differed according to ethnic divisions and the existing occupational divisions and roles of women within the economic structure and prevailing kinship systems. Women’s roles during pre-colonial times were perceived as complimentary to men rather than subordinate.’

What our traditionalists forget is that at the time, European civilization was characterized by some very rigid gender roles. These were they days when women were fainting in their corsets. When they were not allowed to leave their homes without male chaperons. When they had to cover their entire bodies lest an exposed ankle drive a man into wild, uncontrollable lust. When they were not allowed to vote (until the late 70s for some…)and were still being diagnosed with ‘hysteria’ and treated by being manually stimulated by their doctors. When lobotomies were an acceptable way to ‘treat’ a woman with too many emotions.

These are the values that were imprinted on us. Through violence and emasculation. These are the values we are fighting for today as though they were our own. This is how we made that massive leap from the little skirts and swinging boobies to a society of people who cover their heads and insist that you wear skirts of a decent length (preferably pleated and shapeless) in the space of a few generations. The rest of the world has moved on. We haven’t. We have dug our heels in and are taking out our anger and frustration at society’s most defenseless people:

 Fanon analyzed how colonial violence influenced the colonized to be violent. In the first place he noted that the abused and violated colonized people ‘manifest this aggressiveness which has been deposited in his bones against his own people’. In the second place, he explained that the colonized person’s confrontation with the ‘colonial order of things’ places him/her in ‘a permanent state of tension’. In the third place, Fanon argued that: ‘The native is an oppressed person whose permanent dream is to become the persecutor’.

The way we think about our women, the way we talk about them, the way we allow them to be attacked and abused, it is a measure of just how much our minds have been conquered. It is a measure of how powerless our men are, that they have to attack and justify their attacks so that they can feel slightly more powerful.

Some people think that all this drama in the city is overrated. That we should be focusing on the girls being forced to get married at 13 in the villages. The girls who are being circumcised by their own aunties and mothers. But I say we are part of the same struggle. Injustice is injustice and they have the same roots.

Saying yes to this nonsense means that your mind is still colonized. That you are still enforcing Victorian values that were rammed down your parent’s throats through violence and abuse. That you are willing to live in ignorance and spout half baked nonsense to justify your bullshit. That, at the end of the day you are emasculated and you know it.