Not tonight*

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“Sometimes you just need a dick appointment to take the edge off and get you through the week”

TEXT >> Awuor Onyambo        ILLUSTRATIONS >> Naddya Adhiambo Oluoch-Olunya

Sometime last year, a friend sent me a link to a Facebook post that contained three things: a bible verse, advice on how to get your child ready for school in under half an hour, and an invitation to (perhaps just?) cunnilingus with a boy toy who was touted as “discreet and orally talented.” The post was by Purity** a “loving wife, fellow mother, and Christian” and her followership of about a thousand mostly married women, lived and understood this triplicity of God, child, and paid-for sexual favours.

My friend had sent me the link as part of an ongoing joke about how many Nairobis existed in Nairobi, and I wanted to understand the layers and blocks that led to this subversion.

There is a disproportionate amount of pressure placed on wives to keep a home together and often little is left to the husband. It is also in many ways criminal to be a bad mother whereas bad fathers can be Deputy President. The forces of patriarchy put women in less viable financial situations than men, making it hard for single mothers to maintain families on their own. It frowns on the socio-political advancement of divorced/unmarried women through an adversarial divorce system, church, and state apparatuses – and often we socially place blame on married women for the actions of their husbands/children.

“It goes down to the socialisation of children: Girls are socialised borrowing from Disney princesses to romance to holding down the fort and keeping a home together at the expense of their own sanity. Boys are taken care of by their mothers and then girlfriends and then wives at the expense of all these women’s sanity,” Chep, one of Purity’s followers, points out.

Almost every morning there’s a distraught wife calling into a radio show to complain about married life. I’m endlessly fascinated by how unhappy married women around me seem to be – and apparently so is the rest of Kenya. Each day a radio VJ tries to grapple with some new matrimonial issue and each day a dozen or so callers chastise women for not doing enough. Shows like Busted were radio shows dedicated to catching cheating spouses and significant others. Earlier this year when, over drinks, I announced that romance was created to oppress women, a friend accused me of being whatever the opposite of a romantic is. (For the record I consider myself a romantic, just not a hopeless or blind romantic.) Plus, I see all the memes/jokes about how terrible wives are, and hear all the complaints on the radio about cheating spouses, violence, and abuse. In fact, with social media it’s easier to get your daily dose, and so it’s only fair that social media should be the space within which the subversion of these high expectations takes place.

I’m endlessly fascinated by how unhappy married women around me seem to be – and apparently so is the rest of Kenya.

“It’s an issue of survival. How can I fulfil all my obligations as a wife and mother while stealing some happiness for myself so that I don’t go mad? If I go mad who will take care of the kids? Not him [her husband],” Chep tells me.

Not only can you find the likes of Purity and her followers, Facebook groups such as Kilimani Mums and all its derivatives step in to fill a vacuum created by the tonnes of marriage advice given to women and not to men. (Kilimani is a middle-class suburb in Nairobi.) The Facebook group Kilimani Mums Nairobi was founded by lawyer Magdalene Nzisa to bring mums in the area together. It now has more than 133k likes, a possible TV show spinoff, and is very active: active enough to have derivative groups such as Kilimani Mums Nairobi Uncensored (24k likes), Kilimani Mums uncensored (62k likes), Kilimani Mums Marketplace (400k likes), Kilimani Mums and Dads Uncensored (74k likes), etc.

“I joined Kilimani Mums when I was a new mum and back then if I had questions about a weird thing my daughter was doing, a more experienced mum was at hand to solve the mystery for me,” Tawi, a mother of two says.

The group’s description reads: This group is intended to be a safe, sane and supportive platform: no attacks on account of religion, race, tribe, gender, sexual orientation and other such characteristics. No trolling, no victim shaming, no insults, no comparisons of women to inanimate objects – basically, be nice. If you struggle with that, admins will be happy to assist you with a few days outside the group to see if that helps.

Women flock to these groups to complain about mothers-in-law, cheating husbands, ask for advice on venereal diseases contracted from said cheating husbands, and read up on blowjob tips or other extremely personal problems.

“I think a lot of it has to do with what happens after happily ever after and the fact that a lot of married women are encouraged to leave their single friends behind. So you end up pretty lonely and under a lot of pressure with no one to talk to. That’s initially why I joined,” Nimo says.

This goes back to the ‘four stages of life’ tradition passed on from many Kenyan ethnicities. Marriage is considered ‘adulthood’ and women are encouraged to leave their ‘childhood’ friends and family behind and embark on this new stage. But it is not viable to leave all your single friends behind and only hang out with married ones, and it’s not easy to join a new family. The sum total of internalised misogyny passed down to women during bridal showers and wedding ceremonies themselves leaves married women in a precarious position. According to a study by the University of Michigan, having a husband adds an average of seven hours of labour to a woman’s week. I read an article on this study out loud for a friend’s bridal shower, the same party in which a married acquaintance – imposed on her wedding party by church requirements for best-maids – told her not to socialise with 90% of the rest of the room until we’d found our husbands. The de facto best-maid, Nduta, then went ahead to warn her about house-helps, women in general, and how she should never let her husband eat another woman’s cooking.

“It’s not just picking up after him and cooking for him that’s hard… it’s also being in charge of everything else: the kids and their schedules, his schedules and career, my schedule, my business and career, his parents, my parents, his siblings and mine… it’s a lot of work,” Noni adds.

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Emotional labour often does fall on the woman, to the point where Noni’s mother-in-law makes a habit of blaming her when her husband forgets his mother’s birthday or to pass by if he promised he would. “Why didn’t you remind him?” she is often asked. “Why can’t he remind himself? He’s grown and I wasn’t there when he was promising those things.”

A lot of men, and some women are against these social media groups and for various reasons. I didn’t talk to any men about their objections towards women coming together; I had history to look to. Historically, women coming together have been termed witches, crazy feminists, spinsters, bitter women, gossips and according to a recent newspaper article and my experience in a public high school: lesbians. Patriarchy is so severely threatened by women-only spaces that a derivative group that allowed dads in too was formed (as opposed to men forming their own group), and it didn’t come as a surprise when Tawi revealed that she left the group because it had deteriorated into gossip and scandal. But for many, this “gossip and scandal” is a very real means of support.

How often is “gossip” a shorthand slur for “discussing their lives, their hopes, their dreams, offering one another advice, support, affirmation”?

Posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:05 AM on 17 July

The gossip and scandal she refers to could be anything from mums posting pictures of the house-helps/mistresses who are sleeping with their husbands (known as ‘kuanikwa’ (to be hung out like the dirty laundry you are)), discussions on a female celebrity and mother of five’s firm breasts, another discussion on a female celebrity featuring on diaper packs, to a post that I often think about: a woman had posted a photo of a car parked outside a house with the caption “If this is your husband, he comes over to fuck my neighbour on this and this day of the week.” This, for me, harked back to the WhatsApp groups that warn you about where AlcoBlow is if you’re driving home from the usual six beers after work with the boys. Was it any less informative than letting you know the cops are on this route so you should avoid it? I don’t think so, but many people were scandalised.

This seems more like support and advice than ‘mucene’ (gossip), because married women and/or single mothers – isolated from their single friends and told that everyone is set on tearing the home they built apart – are forming alliances simply via social media. If one married woman can inform another of a cheating spouse, without knowing the other woman, half the work is done. The groups do a lot of work: Kilimani Mums Nairobi was key in the My Dress, My Choice campaign against the sexual harassment of women in public spaces in Nairobi in 2015; they often help mums settle hospital bills, expose violent husbands, dead-beat dads, liars, scammers, and cases of wife battery; offer support during national disasters such as the Garissa attack; air social media protests against the patriarchal mores they detest; etc. It’s about more than just sex and scandal, though it would still be revolutionary if it was. For example, one group formed a WhatsApp group and started a flat tummy and detox challenge for its members. There are self-care and cosmetic benefits to being in those social spaces too. One of those self-care functions just happens to be dick appointments.

Sanaa shrugs. “Sometimes you just need a dick appointment to take the edge off and get you through the week.”

A dick appointment is basically when you meet a discreet, orally gifted, and recommended boy toy/masseuse for a set price and a good time. What I particularly find revolutionary about this, apart from the agency and sisterhood involved in finding someone who will not pose any health or blackmail risks, is that it goes against a lot of widely held and false beliefs: it’s widely believed that vaginas form instant and insistent bonds with the first and/or any penis that touches them, that women can’t have sex for the sake of it without getting attached, and that women don’t desire sex as much as men do. It’s also not about the belief that men are in sexual decline from their late twenties and women peak in their late thirties

“It’s not about age… it’s about not being [a man who is] 13 months pregnant with a beer belly and being able to do the job properly,” Sanaa says.

Every once in awhile there’s a news story about a woman who cut off or damaged her husband’s genitals because of (her) sexual frustration, (his) drunkenness and some form of erectile dysfunction. Studies have shown that high libido doesn’t mean good sex, that men in their late teens and early twenties often don’t know how to make a girl orgasm, and that women in their late teens and early twenties are often getting over the fear of the lord and several variations of hell instilled onto them by church and state as a chastity belt. Women are taught about sex through fear: fear of pregnancy, death, STIs, and being “deflowered” and therefore worthless; fear of their own bodies and not being attractive enough during, before, and after; fear of being used as a sex toy; and fear of being permanently attached to a stranger via her vagina, a phenomenon now known simply as ‘being dickmatised.’ It takes a while to undo all these fears and learn what it is you like in bed – an opportunity boys have much earlier on without the added pressure of pleasing the women they fuck.

“At some point, I just didn’t care anymore about the things I cared too much about in my 20s,” Maryam agrees.

“But by the time I knew what it was I wanted, it was too late to start explaining those things to him [her husband], but explaining it to a masseuse is just easier. No emotions, no having to assure him he’s made me cum before, you know; it’s clean.”

“It’s easier when you pay for it too. The last time I had an arrangement with a guy and he caught feelings and told me I only like him for his dick… which was, at least I thought it was, you know… the point of the entire arrangement” Sanaa dryly states

Rates are discussed in inboxes of a trusted (what’s the female word for pimp?), and no one seems comfortable enough to tell me just how much they pay for what. Not everyone is a fan of the dick appointment though.

“It’s a blackmail risk so I just bought a dildo instead,” Noni announces

Dildos and other sex toys can be purchased online or via twitter and delivered discreetly to your doorstep by a number of individuals and companies. There are a number of accounts you can tweet at for advice on which dildo/sex toy to buy, how much to pay, and to ensure discreet delivery. One sex toy provider tells a story of how she sold a dildo to a 62-year-old woman who then wrote back to say she’d just had her first ever orgasm.

“Dildos can’t blackmail you, don’t get you pregnant, don’t give you an STI, can be carried around anywhere… especially the lipstick one, are ready when you are… they are versatile, and don’t have egos you have to deal with,” Noni argues

“I bet dildos are helping single women stay away from married men,” she adds

Perhaps Purity was onto something and the best wedding gift for the bride ought to be a bible, a book on parenting, and a voucher for a dildo.

The soft revolution in dildo distribution is leading a lot of women, single and married, to safer sex practices and avoiding dickmatisation. The accessibility of sex toys is really doing something good both for married women whose partners don’t know and married couples who are spicing things up. The same thing could be said for dick appointments.

Unfortunately there isn’t a study or any research into this hope. Are dildos saving marriages in more ways than one? Could they be key in helping young girls and women learn about their pleasure in safe spaces? We can only speculate.

“The trick with dildos is that you have to buy many before you get one that you like. You can’t test them first.” Sanaa dismisses the venture before I instigate a conversation about dildo dispensers in high schools.

Social media has allowed women to come together and share with each other opinions, advice, support, and affirmation that often was relegated to bridal shower sex gurus and their latent morality, or mothers-in-law and their oft unspoken/outdated rules. These spaces were created at the intersection of oppression by church, state, and society. Once you understand the power structures within which these women exist and the obligations/expectations forced on them, it becomes easier to see the subversion for what it really is.

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There’s very little room for women to opt out of marriage and very little space to manoeuvre within marriage. Those of us who aren’t too keen about getting married are enemies of progress, those who do are ill-prepared, and those who are married are lonely and unhappy. We joke about sponsors and dick appointments and hoe tips with the same urgency in which our survival and often economic sustenance depends on them. It’s not uncommon to hear about how second wives are better off (have less emotional labour) than first wives. So when I reiterated the artist Jenny Holzer’s tweet during drinks with friends, that romance was created to oppress women, I was at once both high fived and accused of being whatever the opposite of a romantic is. (Like I said, I consider myself a romantic, just not a blind or hopeless one.) Social media has grandly allowed the women of Nairobi and beyond to mobilise and collaborate and manoeuvre the tough spaces they’ve been placed in. It’s allowed them to be slightly more carefree about convening, and though critics and victims alike dismiss a lot of what goes on in these groups as gossip, no one ever said it wasn’t. Even gossip has its psychosocial functions, and these spaces are active proof of that. We are often forced to look at gossip from a cautionary viewpoint; we are often forced to see whatever women discuss as trivial. When men gather over beers and discuss their hopes, dreams, aspirations, or make lists of bangable co-workers, this is not considered gossip; when women, do they are lazy and jealous with nothing better to do with their time. There aren’t any attempts to shut down ‘male’ spaces because of drunk driving/gout/vandalism and other harms that those bring, but if one woman were to lose an earring at a gathering it feels like articles on the dangers of said gathering will be broadcast widely.

When men gather over beers and discuss their hopes, dreams, aspirations, or make lists of bangable co-workers, this is not considered gossip.

“So is it feminist?” Chep teasingly asks me.

I chuckle softly because I’m not a gatekeeper at the feminist table. I don’t get to go around labelling things as feminist or not. There are many feminisms, most imperfect and growing, and I believe that what Purity and these social media groups are providing for the women who follow them straddles an imperfect but viable feminism, just as many of us do.


*See Lil’ Kim.                                                                                                                                   **All names have been changed.

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