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Published: 3 years ago

Outrage Is The New Black: On Vera Sidika and The Campus Diva

This essay was written before the occurrence of the Mpeketoni Attack. We as Brainstorm extend our deepest condolences to all those affected by the attack, and to Kenya as a whole.

Outrage Pornography: Memes, news articles, TV segments, email forwards, or other forms of media that are designed to invoke outrage. This is especially true for political-related topics. Viewers of outrage porn often become addicted and spend many hours per day trying to seek new outrage highs.

Many Kenyan citizens of the internet seem to constantly be on the lookout for things to be outraged by. We are professionally furious. Media outlets, which are in it for the pageviews, are only too eager to give it to us. Outrage sells. We live in an attention economy where eyeballs on articles are the main currency online. Nothing is easier than putting up a post that will shock people, make them feel sad/disgusted/pray for whomever is concerned then share it on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

On Friday 6th June, I was at NTV studios to comment on Vera Sidika’s skin lightening and lifestyle, as well as the campus diva, Catherine Aluoch. As Murphy’s Law would have it, my microphone and camera both failed, and the only thing I managed to get out was that “Society has been forced to look at itself in the mirror” before I got tuned out. What I did not get to say was that I feel that we are great fans of outrage porn – addicted to feeling morally superior and righteously indignant – and that we are very hypocritical.

At the heart of the criticism directed towards both was a sense of both being right, and wronged. Catherine Aluoch spoke on being a “kept woman” – maintained by old men (conflated with married men, as if old men are definitely married, and vice versa) in exchange for sexual favours. She is a student at the University of Nairobi’s Medical School, and she lives in a large three-bedroomed apartment in an upmarket area – a feat apparently unachievable by any other means.

Many Kenyan commenters felt that it was wrong for this girl to live this way – the men were married, and old enough to be her father. Her lack of shame also grated many – it was shocking that she could show her face on live television and admit to her using men for their money, and not caring about their marital status. People also wondered how/why such a smart girl (she could not have made it into medical school if she were daft, apparently) would be a “gold digger”. Vera Sidika, on the other hand, has spoken of her rich Nigerian boyfriend who “treats her like a queen”, buys her gifts and affords her a fine life. Even then, she says, she still makes her own money and invests it wisely. This also seems to grate many Kenyans.

However, what happens when we set our sense of moral superiority aside and revisit the situation? We see a man expressing interest in a woman because of her body, and a woman expressing interest in a man because of his money. Why are we seemingly okay with the men in question (I saw very few comments shaming the man) but angry about the women? Is it that biological determinism trumps economics? It is fallacious to say that “men are predisposed to such behavior” since we know that we are a product of both our genetics and our surroundings. We have learned to be this way. Why are men forgiven for wanting women based on a single characteristic (their bodies) while women are maligned for wanting men for their money? Why is there a word for women who only want men for their money (gold-digger), but no word for rich men who only want women for their bodies/beauty?

When it comes to the issue of extra-marital affairs, it is extremely hypocritical of us to act shocked and offended by this young woman, yet this is the very same society where we have advertisements running on TV asking us to use condoms in our extra marital affairs, since the famous Jimmy Gathu advertisements asking us to “wacha mpango wa kando” clearly did not work. The rate of HIV/AIDS infections among married people is the highest in the country, so pray do tell, what makes us morally superior to Catherine? Let us remember that she is not the one in a covenant of marriage, the man is, so I wonder why she is the one we are outraged at.

When it comes to criticism on gold digging (regardless of marital status), we have to remember the roots of the marriage institution: marriage was, and in some parts of the world still is, about the exchange of property and power between two men (the father of the bride and the father of the groom). The women are the chattels, and in exchange, the father of the bride receives gifts, sometimes in form of dowry. Marriage as an institution was created solely to allow wealth to pass directly outside the patriarch’s lineage. Marriage for love is a relatively new concept. We still view women largely as chattels, so it may be argued that gold diggers are doing relationships/marriage right: they are merely playing the system, which is slightly more progressive but still outdated at its core, to their advantage.

We are still telling women that finding good men who can take care of them should be their top priority. Why are we angry when these women listen? We sneer at the idea of women who provide for themselves, and fault them for being “too independent” and looking for companions out of a desire to be with someone rather than need. Is it so hard to do away with the notion that women should rely on men? In our rush to shame people and feel superior to them, can we please pick one thing to be outraged about? Is it the fact that women are becoming more independent, or the fact that some are openly relying on men for their financial security? We can’t have it both ways.

Vera Sidika was also criticized for “bleaching her skin”, though she later informed us that it was skin lightening, not bleaching. She was accused of having low self-esteem, having a colonial mindset, not appreciating her black beauty among many other things. There is more to skin bleaching than self-hate/low self-esteem, this paper by Dr. Christopher A.D. Charles shows that. Humans are extremely complex, there cannot possibly be a one size fits all explanation as to why (black) people bleach.

Vera spoke of having done it to improve her business, seeing as her body is her business. She reports having been able to get more business and charge more money, and people all over have been telling her how great she looks. She even has people cursing at her on public fora, then messaging her privately to ask her how she did it since they would like to do it too. To make matters worse, many people online were taken aback by her openness on the matter, since they expected her to be ashamed, or to lie about it.

The idea of beauty in many countries has been conflated with whiteness. White is beautiful. Black, not so much. This image is both overtly and covertly reinforced by the media we consume, and can be seen in the endless “lightskin-darkskin” wars on Kenyan Twitter. Why, then, are we outraged when people succumb to our immense pressure to be “lightskins” and lighten themselves? Is this when it suddenly becomes a joke and we shake our heads and say that they should have known better?

Why is it that Vera’s earnings power has increased, rather than decreased? If it were true that we hate the act of skin bleaching, her earnings power would have reduced. She would not have made money off it, and perhaps others would not do it after learning from her experience, but that is not the case. It is so easy to label this low self-esteem or colonial mentality. However, we are part of a society that has, and continues to offer more privilege to whiteness.

Why do we penalize people like Vera for merely acknowledging this and acting accordingly? Why do we take away her agency, with which she decided that she wanted to change her reality, and instead make her an object which should “know better”? Why is it that only the bleaching of women is reported, making it a gendered issue, yet it is known that some men participate in the process as well? Why do we ignore the part we play in laughing at dark women and preferring light ones? Instead of asking women why they bleach, why can’t we ask the men who proudly declare so why they “prefer light women”? We make these women out to be crazy and naïve, and as having betrayed their culture, yet we continue to project images of female beauty everywhere we turn that look nothing like Kenyan/most African women. Who is the fool here?

This cycle of outrage needs to end. Outrage pornography is an outlet for us, it allows us to feel smug/good about ourselves, while making others look and feel bad. There is a large element of self-gratification in it – the outrage is not for others, it is for us. We feel good after having lashed out. We feel that we have done our bit, and can move on to the next one. We are brought together by a common cause – righteous indignation – and it feels great. Don’t get me wrong, there are many times when outrage is justifiable, but not in such times. Outrage at non-performing leaders is perfectly fine, in fact, it should be a must. However, outrage at people we have created and elevated to glory is not, so why are we outraged?

When Kenyan society looks at Vera Sidika and Catherine Aluoch it hates what it sees, and thinks it is ugly, yet what it sees is itself.

15 Comments.
  1. Its all rather hypocritical and designed with the oppression of women as the objective. Many years from now we will be ashamed at what used to pass as mainstream entertainment and how much self hate was built into it for women.

    It seems even Lupita Nyongo was not powerful enough to stem the tide.

    • Hey Mark, the sad things with such situations is that they are always fuelled by hypocrisy and hatred of women, and I am really hoping and working towards a society where what we have to deal with today will not be a reality in the future. Women like Lupita add to the voices of those who have been crying for ages, but they cannot do it all on their own. They need us. Thanks for stopping by, keep reading! 🙂

  2. Mshila says:

    “The substance of them is hatred for any man who loves his work. That’s the only kind they fear.” Ayn rand…. That can read man/woman or work/choices.
    I was dying for you to talk on the night because of this view point it would have caused great debate your 100% correct. The other day someone told me that maina aka genius show is not only ranked no.1 on radio, it’s also no.2 as in we are so addicted that the rerun outruns any other content on radio and what is his show if not outrage porn.

  3. Mshila says:

    Also I am typing on a phone so forgive my spelling errors

  4. Meg says:

    Hi Brenda. This article has hit the nail on the head. I agree with you that when society looks at this and says its ugly and bad it seems hypocritical. A society sees itself. Our society never seems to punish men as much as it punishes women. That is a bitter case that we all need to change by our actions.

    You see we are not all the same and we don’t all agree with what Vera Sidika and Aluoch are doing. What happens to the mothers and fathers who are faithfully instilling good morals in their children for their own good? Should we force them into little cocoons shielded form the “real World” of “creating our own realities”? Are they not also creating their own realities by scoffing at what is immoral and praising good values? Remember that everyone has a conscience and that conscience is there as proof that the laws of right and wrong are written in people, not in what is trending in the “society”. This is not just a Religious construct to be put to law and tried and tested. It is a truth that even you live by. The problem comes when the conscience is systematically killed one person at a time. Vera Sidika and the rest are doing in public what some people do in private. This does not pave the way for them to decide what we are supposed to hold up as OK. This outrage is a sign that there are people in this our society who know that it is good to hold up good. And what is the definition of good?… God. So when it comes to anything that does not correspond to Him, our consciences already know its bad and we have the power to discern and interpret situations in any popular culture.

    So don’t force us to expose ourselves to nudity, fornication and adultery in the name of accepting the “society” as it is. “Society” includes all of us. Haven’t we all done something bad and something good at some point? Why then do you want to punish those who are outraged by these sins and you don’t want to commend those holding up the good in the society, especially when they lash out at the bad things in society?

    Think about it.

    • Hey Meg! I think you may have missed my point, re: your second paragraph. The reason I did not bring my own personal moral code into it, or others’ moral codes is that they tend to be personal and very subjective, and they ignore the fact that others may not want to live by them. The mothers and fathers who have done instilled their moral codes into their kids have nothing to fear, in my opinion. If they are successfully impacting their children, then the kids should be alright. What is moral, really? Unfortunately (or fortunately, for me) codes of morality are so complex and dependent on many factors that they are not even included in the law, which is what I like to live by and centre my debates around. That is the only thing I can judge them by, and as far as I understand the law, the two ladies have not broken it. Meg, we need to remember that not everyone believes in the same God as you do, or others do, and we cannot force them or subject them to such standards. As for forcing you, by all means, please do not consume this material should you not wish to. You are at liberty to be as you desire, and raise your kids the same way as well. I strongly believe, however, that it is futile and a show of lack of respect to want to police thoughts and actions we do not agree with, because people will always behave in a manner that we may not like. Please note that I have spoken about outrage pornography, or a cycle of outrage as the problem. People can and should be outraged at whatever they feel like, but I hope they realise that someone out there (read media and powers that be) fuels this outrage on purpose, to elicit a specific reaction. I hate being a puppet, and I like to imagine that others hate it as well.

      • Meg says:

        People can and should be outraged at whatever they feel like, but I hope they realize that someone out there (read media and powers that be) fuels this outrage on purpose, to elicit a specific reaction.(so your problem is that the media making people puppets of their material just to see their reaction) I hate being a puppet (of the media – because they do it just for the sake… so they use your reaction to gain popularity/publicity or something like that), and I like to imagine that others hate it as well. (We all hate it but when our outrage is challenging the subject that caused us to be outraged then it turns around).

        • Demand will always be a stronger market force than supply. Vera is a supplier of whatever it is the market is demanding. Directing outrage at her as opposed to those demanding her services will likely be futile.

  5. WairimuM says:

    This is spot on Brenda. I watched the interview and I couldn’t help but like Vera (gasp!) for her openness and frankness about her skin lightening and her business. I think that the right to improve yourself however you see fit is not in conflict with feminism. Obviously, the problem with skin lightening is that it does weaken your skin and set you up for future problems, but it’s exhausting to be bashed on all sides as you rightly pointed- too independent, to dependent, too dark, too fake blah blah blah!!!!

    • Thank you Wairimu! I know, it almost felt illicit to appreciate how open/frank she is. I think we hate it when people do not feel ashamed when we try to shame them. Of course, there is a health risk, but she seems to have done her research, and I honestly hope that she is the exception, not the rule. Keep reading! 🙂

    • Mulumbu Paula says:

      Vera Sidika is likely involved in illicit business and you’re worried about her skin? Either thats a deluded comment or I really don’t get pseudo-feminism.
      Thank you.

      • The whole internet is concerned with her bleaching, which I find hypocritical. I think that is clear in the essay. I couldn’t care less about her bleaching myself. I respect her choices. As for her illicit business, I have never heard anything about that. Since you seem to know about it, why don’t you write about it? I used my platform to write about what I care about, you could do the same.

  6. This was an awesome read.It made me look inwardsand i realised i have no problem with what this girls are doing! I asked around for the name of a man who likes and is with a woman for her body and for sex, still waiting for a respinse. Maybe you should come up with one, i sure am enjoying the concept of outrage pornography. Good job Brenda.

  7. Eva Ntiritu says:

    Why is it not wrong for a married man to have a mpango wa kando but wrong for a young lady to enjoy what a married man has to offer. To begin with, a married man should stick to his woman and if it is that extra time that he has, asome gazeti ama akae na wazee wenzake (Wahu’s words). He should not entertain other women and the world will be a better place. If that is not the case then a woman gotta do what a woman gotta do. Smile and have a lavish life as offered in a silver platter by the man. It’s not like you are forcing it down his throat. As for Vera Sidika, wish I could send her flowers for that amazing interview. She has to invest on her body if she has to make a booming business. After all no one can willing offer her such mulla for free. Jeez. Leave her alone

  1. By Brainstorm | Fighting the Disease on March 17, 2015 at 3:07 am

    […] same thing over and over again, just about different things.” Conversations online, due to our culture of outrage that has no doubt been fueled by the internet, tend to be in reaction to a stimulus, leaving little […]

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