Even romance is not safe from the patriarchy.
I am eating bento in a Japanese restaurant in the middle of Nairobi. The warm sake brings back memories of Japan, drunk nights in Nagoya desperately searching the streets for adventure (and food). Sitting across from me is a fairly young man, a political activist who has just gotten done telling me he loves me. We have known each other for less than two weeks. I am unmoved; I change the topic and begin to discuss the exciting complexities of Kanji. ‘I love you’ I scoff internally. A mild irritation is forming at the back of my head. ‘I love you’ he proclaims, I scoff internally. The food is delicious, the ambiance pleasant, I am filled with nostalgia for a home that was never mine. The sake is hitting the spot and I am enjoying the intellectual stimulation my dinner companion is providing and the earlier irritation is beginning to subside. My impending travel plans come up and he crudely expresses his need to eat something I have cooked. I give a shocked and harsh ‘no’. Why would anyone assume someone else is obliged to cook for them? The insult is completely lost on him. The mild irritation is back and is making its way through my whole brain making my ears warm and straight down to my chest. But the night out is almost over and the irritation is at bay, I am not yet enraged.
The last stop of the night’s hangout is a shisha joint; the kind Japanese spot was without this service. We find a nice room, the music is bumping the shisha is working. I am relaxed, a great way to end the night. Until he voices my need to open a bank account he can access, and here I meet with rage. I make no effort to conceal my anger and soon I am on my way home.
The intensity of my anger shocks me.
His words are harmless enough, are they not?
He wants to care for me, I know girls who would kill for this position.
The more I think my thought the more my rage grows, but it is shadowed by a strange feeling, a feeling of concern. I feel concern for myself and other young girls, but why am I angry and concerned? My thoughts, my feelings won’t connect to reason. And then, like a Beyoncé song debuting on the charts, it hits me: patriarchy.
I had assumed because my date read books with long words and isms in them he knew how patriarchy worked and how it influenced so many cultural factors, social interaction, and our overall reality. And I was right, he knew, he did not understand. He did not apply it to himself. So here we were a girl who likes to read and an ‘enlightened’ established political activist having a social encounter run through with patriarchy. Him dismissing his actions as romantic wooing and me being annoyed without knowing it is because internalized misogyny is in the process of eviction.
A man has decided to proclaim his love, without regard to the reaction it will elicit or socially acceptable timelines; because obviously the reaction is meant to be positive. A man has expressed desires; a woman should comply. Because what else is she meant to want? To find out if she has the same desire, heavens no; and of course he wants to be feed and what else would make you happier than to feed him. She seeks self-reliance but she has a vagina and therefore needs someone to take care of her, otherwise, how will she survive? By taking care of herself… don’t be ridiculous.
My educated acquaintance’s intentions were arguably pure, he craves a companion. But I was angry. Angry he did not even consider my choice in the matter. The assumptions he placed on me are frustrating especially because he saw them as flattery, and I was concerned because many women would kill for these assumptions; and that I did not spot these assumptions immediately.