A Review of Yemisi Aribasala’s ‘Sister Outsider’ 6: Live And Let Die?

‘We all shared a war against the tyrannies of silence’  Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde tells us its important we speak. She asks us to overcome our fears and say whats hurting us anyway because silence won’t stop the pain and we’re going to die anyway. It would appear that young Nigerian women are also speaking out – against the issues that matter to them; mundane issues like who washes the dishes and not so mundane issues like domestic violence, rape and child marriage. Its a pretty good start.

Ada Agina-Ude, journalist and self identified feminist recalled the very negative attitudes to feminism she encountered in the 1980’s and 1990’s trying to market PAN African Ms. a feminist magazine.

“Feminist fundamentalism in Nigeria? Not really. It’s more like Feminism has suddenly become acceptable, and it appears, also fashionable.” she wrote “If Feminism can now sell books, and break the music charts, it calls for popping of champaign! It doesn’t matter that we’re not all in the same “aso ebi”. Diversity of perspectives is no big deal. We may each be different but we are all good. No need for the bickering.”

Pop culture feminism is a part of a Nigerian Women’s Movement and Yemisi herself is part of this movement as a female writer writing about the most feminine of Nigerian activities – cooking. When asked who are the women that she should be grateful to for that privilege she could thank Women In Nigeria WIN. One of their 1984 aims was to increase publication of female writers.

Yemisi doesn’t have to be a feminist but she could rein in her disdain. It is palpable and repulsive. It reeks of the elitist superiority that has plagued the Nigerian Women’s Movement for decades and prevented it from leveraging ‘women’s power’ for political and strategic gains. And how is throwing shade at Beyonce, Adichie and ‘New Nigerian Feminists’ NOT ‘women attacking women’?

We all have the right to ‘self determination – the freedom to define ourselves, name ourselves and speak for ourselves, instead of being defined and spoken for by others’ but we also need to work together and for each other.

Is Yemisi fighting for the right to tell her own story just like anyone else and not give it a label even if her writing is feminist? Or is she raging against the ‘mockeries of separators that have been imposed upon us and which we so often accept as our own’ both within and Nigerian feminism and global feminism? Or is she creating those separators?

We are all Nigerian women. And some of us are feminists. Some feel oppressed washing dishes and cooking, others do not but we cannot ignore the system that makes washing dishes and cooking a female duty rather than a choice – and tries to silence women that complain.

“It is absolutely maddening to have someone lie to your face about you, to distort the truth about who you are, proclaim it to the world and shout over your attempts at correction.” EBONY’s senior editor Jamilah Lemieux

There is Nigerian Feminism and There is the Nigerian Women’s Movement


Women’s activism within the various tribal groups that make up Nigeria goes back centuries and many groups have legends of heroic female leaders like Amina of Zaria, Moremi of lfe, Emotan of Benin and Omu Okwel of Ossomari.  Nana Asma’u of the Sokoto Caliphate (1793–1864) is a model for some African feminists to date.

The Nigerian women’s movement goes back to the 1928 Women’s War in south east Nigeria and work and activism of Funmilayo Kuti, Margaret Ekpo, Oyinkansola Abayomi, Janet Mokelu, and Gambo Sawaba throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s. The National Council of Women’s Societies NCWS founded in 1958 to act as an umbrella organisation for a growing number of women’s led initiatives in Nigeria.  The 1995 Beijing Conference spurred even more organisations empowering women and protecting their rights.

Feminism as an organised political platform for the emancipation of Nigeria women emerged in 1982 after the first Women in Nigeria Conference in Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria. Women In Nigeria WIN  was established in 1983 as one of its outcomes. WIN was decidedly socialist and theoretical in sharp contrast to the populist state funded Better Life for Rural Women BLP set up by Maryam Babangida in 1986.

WIN criticised BLP for being elitist and not representative or helpful to rural women.  Nevertheless, BLP put women’s issues in the spotlight at all levels of the national discourse and had more popular grassroots support than WIN. Bene Madunagu, makes a similar distinction between the Nigerian women’s movement and Nigerian feminism here.

Since the emergence of WIN, Nigerian feminism and the Nigerian women’s movement have continued to develop side by side, frequently over lapping and working together to achieve legislative, political and policy objectives but never merging. The Nigerian Feminist Forum was created in 2006 and unequivocally supports LGBTQ rights and women’s right to abortion.

The Nigerian women’s movement includes gender and women’s rights activists, religious, political, professional and cultural women’s groups that provide protection, services and support to women and girls (as well as a good dose of indoctrination), women focused and women led NGOs and CBOs.  More on Nigerian women’s modern political activism here.

Fumni Kuti and Margeret Ekpo worked closely with market women. Madam Alimotu Pelewura was powerful enough to resist the colonial government in the 1940s. Today, the powerful market women’s associations found in southern Nigeria are mostly absent from the Nigerian women’s movement. During the 1984 WIN conference in Ibadan they disagreed with the more radical organisers over polygamy, a patriarchal practice they insisted empowered them as traders and entrepreneurs.

The most powerful market women associations in Nigeria have been assimilated by the male dominated patriarchal political structure.







A Review of Yemisi Aribasala’s ‘Sister Outsider’ 5: Sister Sister Outsider

I found Yemisi’s choice of title cynical. Audre Lorde’s collection of essays titled ‘Sister Outsider’ explores alienation, isolation, fear, anger, hatred and ‘the lack of acknowledgement of differences between women that has occurred within the mainstream feminist movement.’

Lorde writes about her experience of exclusion as a black gay woman within mainstream (mostly white middle class) American feminism. Yet she did not reject feminism or the label feminist as result. Instead she is ‘claiming a difficult identity’ and asks to be heard and respected, for her point of view and experience to be recognised.

Is that what Yemisi is asking for too? She is after all not attacking feminism but ‘New Nigerian Feminism’ or ‘pop culture feminism’, the shiny bright feminism of Beyonce and Adichie that has apparently attracted thousands maybe ten of thousands maybe millions of devotees in Nigeria and globally.

But pop culture feminism is neither ideologically nor politically the same with theoretical feminisms. And while the later can and should feed off the energy of the former to achieve strategic gains against the patriarchy it cannot and should not expect or hold these pop culture feminists to the highest standards of feminist principles.

At every Nigerian Feminist Forum NFF and other local feminists gatherings women have disagreed and continue to disagree over support for LGBTQ. Yet the African Feminist Charter to which the Nigerian Feminist Forum and all its members are signatories makes clear that our definitions of feminisms includes respect and support for the rights of LGBTQ.

We rigorously debated and agreed that in order to identify as a feminist our members must support the rights of all people and as well as women to sexual integrity. Many Nigeria women and women’s organisations that wanted to be called ‘feminists’ walked away rather than express covert or overt support for LGBTQ rights. And we let them go.

They are not ‘feminist’ according to our definition but feminism isn’t mainstream in Nigeria, not yet. Feminism in Nigeria is one stakeholder in a vast body of activist women that is the larger Nigeria Women’s Movement.

A lot of the leaders in the women’s movement in Nigeria are feminists – like Iheoma Obibi at Alliances for Africa and Bisi Adeleye Fayemi at the African Women’s Development Fund but many of them are not and yet work with and for women as Zoe Williams describes here.  Likewise being a woman in power doesn’t make one a feminist.

“It takes courage to face your fears, your anger and your hatred” Audre Lorde writes in the essay “The Transformation Of Silence Into Language And Action.”

Lorde wrote women ‘shared a war against the tyrannies of silence’. Shaken by a confrontation with death Audre Lorde decided to speak out and act because, she says ‘you’re going to suffer and die sooner or later anyway. You’re silence won’t save you as a matter of fact it could kill you.’

Yemisi has named that thing she fears – and it is female power. She will not be silenced.

A Review of Yemisi Aribasala’s ‘Sister Outsider’ 4: The Prosthetic Penis


According to Yemisi, when Beyonce released her 2015 single ‘Flawless’ featuring a spoken word voice over from Chimamanda Adichie’s 2012 TED talk ‘Why Everyone Should Be A Feminist’ the wall came tumbling down and suddenly there was pressure for Nigerian women to identify as feminists.

Attempts she personally is resisting as resolutely as she resisted attempts to be ‘indoctrinated by the women in her life.’

I disagree with Yemisi’s entire analysis of Beyonce’s ‘Flawless’. She misinterprets (and  I believe others may have also) Beyonce’s use of the word ‘bitches’. It does not mean ‘women.’ In ‘street language’ it also means ‘weak men’ and ‘beta males’.

The UrbanDoctionary.com defines bitch as “An exceedingly whipped guy who does/wears/thinks/says whatever his girlfriend tells him to.”

Beyonce is talking about exercising power over men and the video shows mostly men during the chorus. She uses Adichie’s text to contextualise her dominance of the ‘streets’ and competing with the boys for dominance.

But don’t think I’m just his little wife/

Don’t get it twisted, get it twisted/

This my shit

Here she tells us that she isn’t just Jay Z’s puppet, she is reassuring us that she isn’t being sexed up and sold at the behest of her man but is exercising a choice and agency within her industry. She is expressing her intention to slay, to dominate, not women but her audience through her skill and talent.

Queen of hell? Probably. But she’s still Queen. Unless you’re being elitist don’t knock it.

Use of words like ‘bitch’, ‘hoe’ ‘cunt’ etc etc etc in popular art forms is what Audre Lordes called “…reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us.”

“What has a brilliant, questioning, grounded mind like Adichie’s got to do with Beyoncé’s glittering confetti and goddess status?” Yemisi asks.

A disingenuous or a naive question?

bell hooks gives a brilliant review  of Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ here.

Yemisi dismisses Beyonce, Adichie and New Nigerian Feminism, romanticises a hazy old Nigerian feminism suffering a ‘lack of documentation’ and then dismisses Nigerian feminists as frauds.

Then she uses feminist analysis to justify a brand of modest Victorian anti-feminism that disapproves the use of the words like ‘bitch’ and ‘hoe’, sexual autonomy and sexualization of the female form without questioning the imported ‘Male Gaze’.

I asked Erykah Badu the same question when she advised young women to dress modestly a few weeks ago. Instead of teaching girls how to fight and boys that naked doesn’t mean ‘come and fuck’ we are still asking our daughters to cover up. Still slaves of the ‘Male Gaze’.

Yemisi is telling a story of powerful privileged Nigerian woman. But is she also wearing a prosthetic penis? Why do I feel Yemisi is asking us to bend over?



These single stories of African women are disempowering and reductive and are created for the consumption of the west rather than for any real social change. – Amina Doherty



A Review of Yemisi Aribasala’s ‘Sister Outsider’ 3: Pop Culture Feminism 


Yemisi calls it the ‘New Nigerian Feminism’. Hadley Freeman of the Guardian calls it ‘consumer feminism’ and Andi Zeisler, co-founder of Bitch Magazine calls it ‘marketplace feminism’.

I call it ‘pop culture feminism.’ Just one more feminism in the bunch because feminisms are plenty, in Nigeria, in African and globally.

The growth of social media amplified voices of Nigerian sisters  who’ve used pop culture “as an extension of their identity politics and their activism.”

Sisters like Sokari Ekine (Black Looks), Minna Salami (MsAfropolitan), Amina Doherty, and Adaora Ijeoma Asala (Spectra Speaks) have built strong online presence and sparked robust debates.

Social Media is an additional tool to a conversation that we’ve been having for a long time. It’s social media that’s new, and not the conversation. – Minna Salami

Are these the sisters Yemisi accuses of online vitriol and being “zealous for the treads to the global stage”?

If we do not actively enter the terrain of popular culture, we will be complicit in the antifeminist backlash that is at the heart of the mass media’s support of antifeminist women who claim to speak on behalf of feminism. – Amina Doherty

“Nigerian feminism isn’t ready to discuss Beyonce.” Yemisi writes.

Did she miss Anima Doherty’s well articulated 2014 essay ‘Why Popular Culture Matters For African Feminism’ (On Something Other Than Beyoncé)?  Simi Dosekun 2012 Post-Feminist Never and Minna Salami’s 2010 post ‘On Being An African Feminist’?

She missed the 4th  African Feminist Forum  AFF held in April this year. Can’t blame her. Google it. It got only one mention from the news media. Maybe if the participants had taken off their clothes someone would have noticed.

The patriarchy controls the image we have of feminism. Whether you are an African, a European or an American woman. The stories that are news about ‘feminism’ are the outrageous ones, the ‘body shaming’ and ‘victim blaming’ ones.

A parade in 1968 saddled American and later global feminism with the ‘bra burning myth’ and in a few decades our grand daughters may well reject feminism because of how the media portrays Pussy Riot, Femem and yes, Beyonce.

The Patriarchy uses religion and sexist stereotypes to manipulate our images of feminism and women in general and of African feminisms and women more specifically.

The Patriarchy snuck in with the missionaries and shamed African women into covering up our Brown Skin and renouncing our sexual agency.

The Patriarchy makes us ask a woman to ‘cover up’ instead of making men responsible for their actions or questioning ‘The Male Gaze’ bestowed on African men.

The Patriarchy promotes the myth of a black hyper sexuality. Do you really think our ancestors were fucking like bunny rabbits just because they were ‘naked’?

We should invite Yemisi to the next AFF. Not to bully her into being a feminist – because she obviously feels bullied – but to enrich her knowledge about the diversity of Nigerian and African feminisms.

A Review of Yemisi Aribasala’s ‘Sister Outsider’ 2: A Woman’s Power


At first I found Yemisi’s definition of power problematic. She calls Beyonce and Adichie “the freshest, shiniest most intoxicating insignia of global feminine power.” And that’s when I get it. She isn’t taking about feminism at all. She is talking about feminine power. And she probably means Chinweizu’s ‘bottom power’.

What is feminine power? When I think of feminine power I think of the power of the female collective, as historically exercised by the Umuada and Ndiyom in Igbo-Nigeria for instance. However, feminine power is also most popularly associated with ‘bottom power’, that intrinsic fuckability  that all women have and frequently exploit in traditional gendered relations. Feminine power IS NOT feminism.

Minna Salami gives an enlightening post on ‘feminine power’ here.

Feminism is a political struggle against the patriarchy. African feminisms are about dismantling the structures of patriarchy, imperial and home grown. Its nice that celebrities and pop culture figures on both sides of the pond and in both hemispheres are recognising their ‘feminine power’ and calling themselves feminists but its not always feminism.

Still its great for consciousness raising. The 70’s were the last time feminism had this much media attention. And this time its global.

Yemisi’s obsession with fuckability also becomes clear. She, like so many of the men she calls friends seem to have been pussy whipped by the women in their lives and are resentful and intimidated by this new white man’s version of fuckability and the ‘immodest’ women that are not afraid to exploit it.

Reading her essay I could feel her torment as an awkward clumsy teenager  surrounded by fuckability but who hasn’t been there? We were all ugly ducklings till we became swans. Which woman hasn’t struggled with self image? Even the most blindingly fuckable have and do. The pressure of fuckability is a feminist issue.

That’s when she confuses me. She talks about feminist issues and uses feminist language to denounce and reject feminism but keeps mixing it up with feminine or woman power. And its that association between ‘feminine power’ and feminism that seems to put her off. She sounds nostalgic for the good old days when feminists were plain frumpy odd balls.

She sees this New Nigerian Feminism as consolidating an already overbearing feminine power. Now that I get her point (and I kept wondering what her point was) I just want to say – is that what you think?

As an ‘old school’ Nigerian Feminist I am delighted to witness the growth of this New Nigerian Feminism. I am delighted to see so many young women identify as feminist. Identification with feminism is related to outcomes like where their support and donations goes. And if there is one thing that we need is more support for feminist causes – like the Mirabel Centre.

This new feminism is also inspiring grass roots action. The outrage and action  against domestic violence and rape in Nigeria has never been louder or bolder.





Fuckability: A measure of how much you would have sex with a person. Often ranging on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). urbandictionary.com

I’ve had to give some thought to fuckability. It’s just one of those things I never really thought about before. I always thought women had intrinsic fuckability merely because we were women.

You can blame my Russian step mother for that. We were watching a wildlife program on TV and I asked her why all the male birds looked flamboyant and eager while the females looked drab and nonchalant. Her response – males wanted to attract and mate more than females.

In other words females had intrinsic fuckabilty while males needed some extra help.

Of course I was 7 at the time and yet to find out that females want it just as much. Or that we were a bit more complex than the birds and the bees. I retain an unshakeable confidence in female fuckability that has nothing what so ever to do with looks, or behaviour.

The matriarchs in our house did not tell is ‘fuckability’ was our ultimate goal. Our matriarchs pretty much ignored what men were up to, told them off once in a while and instilled in us the importance of hard work and self sufficiency.

It was assumed that you would marry and have children whether you were male or female.

In their opinion only men with lots of lands for a woman to exploit were marriageable. You did not marry a man with no land. How on earth would you survive? Men did not feed women and children. They provided the land on which women laboured.

In my village the primary measure of a woman’s ‘fuckabilty’ was her industriousness. A beautiful, sexy but lazy women was just as likely to starve as a lazy man. That was how it worked back then. I still feel privileged to have grown up with these women. Things have changed.

The first time I heard a woman of my homestead define ‘fuckability’ as a woman’s sexual value was from my town dwelling elitist uncles wife who was coincidently the first woman in the whole of village to go to the white man’s school.

She represented a younger generation that was more educated, more religious and yet more dependent on men. And she represented the sort of Victorian and religious values I’d already come to disdain.

Rihanna’s latest single “Needed Me” is all about fuckability and the new feminism.

“Fuck your white horse and a carriage”

How Brown Skin Behaved In The Heat


There was a heat wave in England last week

it was all too much sunshine for me

Coming from Africa recently

but after a while I came out wondering what I would see

I met enough feminine flesh to make a good Muslim flee!

Or make a black man happy

Give them a break

it’s just how they were raised

It’s called cultural relativity

They were told women were evil

encouraged to rape any female they find too revealing

They were told she’ll stir up the devil in Him

So they wrapped her up and blamed her for sin

Built her a cage and a prison to safely reside

made her swallow her pride

Told her the laws can’t withstand

the frenzied lust of an unrestrained man

Men are powerless, pliant and weak

in the palm of a feminine hand

Surely the Queen shouldn’t let such brutes into her land

Because her subjects aren’t allowed to surrender

to mere notions of gender

When the sun shines they’re allowed to submit to the heat

encouraged to bare

Miles of pale limbs in shorts and no hair!

Shorts everywhere! Shorts here and there

Short shorts. Bum shorts.  Cut off shorts. Bermuda shorts. Baggy shorts

Male and female shorts.

Actually, I snort

they are male and white female shorts

When a brown woman strides past purposefully

I can see she’s not on a spree

She and her daughter dressed similarly

dressed like the winter is near

I expect innocence to find it queer

and ask ‘Mama, why are we the only ones covered here?’

‘The End is coming against the infidels dear. The Jihad is here.’

So youth and goodness is indoctrinated

mis-educated, alienated, contaminated

Truism and individualism besieged by cynicism

populism, culturism, religionism

For the free, many a crisis there’ll be

till the seed finally grows into that mighty tree

Meanwhile it seems to be

that brown skin is hiding from me

covered in Modesty

A legacy of Victorian hypocrisy

a story full of chicanery, travesty and tragedy

Brown skin hides nervously

in ignominy and suddenly my pale skin fills me with Superiority

Because it privileges me, apparently, it could be the key

It lets me display my brown skin with pride

why should I hide

when pale skin sits in the light

Trying to be superficially brown

while my brown sister tries to be superficially white

And Brown skin hides

Saying I am retiring. I am religious. I am righteous. I am right

See brown sisters hold their men tight

ever ready to fight

for the right to share in his plight

While pale bodies go on display for a warm summer day

Looking for bargains to trade

The young, the old, the not so beautiful

bodies in all attitudes

are here on parade

Even age refuses to wrap itself in a charade

while Brown skin shouts ‘I’m no longer for sale!’

My brown brother can’t look away

taught to feel yearning but not what to say

The change is complete

who is naked walking the street?

Where is the justice of peace?

Take me home

this is too much temptation for me

I haven’t learnt to be free

I rather live in the safety of my false piety

or even blame my weakness on thee

Rather than take responsibility

for my sexuality

I will hide my brown skin in a black maxi

I’m from Nigeria across the sea

conservative and free

a reactionary rebels in me

My Brown skin is still searching for yours truly

still asking itself “Who I be?”

Lesley Agams, Brighton, Summer 2013

heatwave 1

A Review of Yemisi Aribasala’s ‘Sister Outsider’ 1:  In The Beginning 


Yemisi Aribasala’s ‘Sister Outsider’ is a compelling read despite its length and attests to her talent as a writer. Online I rarely read anything that is more than 500 words. There is so much to read that more than 500 words seems like too much commitment.

She reminds me of Ben Okri, rambling narrative, long sentences like broad brush strokes, creating enchanted scenes full of promise. And like Ben Okri rarely delivering on that promise. Even as I was drawn in I kept on wondering – what is her point?

But who says there has to be one? The journey was fun.

Still, I found her essay problematic on so many levels I decided to write a 6 part series in response to some of the key themes she raises. (I promise no more than 500 words per post.)

My biggest problem is the complete lack of historical context. She spoke about New Nigerian Feminism as if it just sprang up one day like a weed in the finely manicured lawn of ‘woman’s power in Nigeria’.

Nigerian feminists have been defining Nigerian feminism through an extensive body of scholarship since the 80s. They sought to distinguish themselves from Alice Walker’s ‘womanism’ (overly centred on a Black American Experience) and Catherine Acholonu’s ‘motherism’ (excessively focused on a Igbo-Nigerian concept of ‘Mother Is Supreme’).

Helen Chukwuma, Rose Acholonu, Ify Amadiume, Aisha Imam, Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie et al acknowledged and deconstructed the many ways in which women in Nigeria exercised power within traditional social structures, the impact of conservative and imperialist values on gender relations and the distortion of women’s historical autonomy.

Many of these feminist scholars insist that traditional ideologies promoted gender complementarity and not gender domination. Most of them argue that historically Nigerian tribal social hierarchies were based on age and class, not gender. Their definitions of African feminism reflect the strong family and community values that I can only best describe as ‘ubuntu’ – we exist because of others.

They contributed their unique ideas and values to global feminism and brought some of the issues important to African feminists to the discourse. Some of their ideas were rejected either in whole or in part because they dismissed homosexuality as ‘anti-family’ and ‘anti-community’ without a critical look at how class, religion and imperialism shaped their views.

Ify Amadiume wrote ‘Male Daughters and Female Husbands’ (1987) in response to suggestions that gender roles in Africa were fixed and set by biology. Gender roles in Igbo-Nigeria were not determined by biology. Recent LGBTQ scholarship provides further historical proof of this.

Chinweize Ibekwe made an entertaining rejoinder in the ‘Anatomy of Female Power’ (1990) arguing men were actually dominated by women. It read like satire because a man wrote it. It exaggerated stereotypes of the controlling black matriarch. I’m still surprised when its quoted as validation of ‘woman’s power in Nigeria’.

Chinweizu himself described it as ‘bottom power’.

“If you want to destroy a woman, call in another woman to efficiently do the work for you.” Yemisi herself writes.

Mbari House in Owerri, Imo State, South East, Nigeria Copyright Cole