Posts Tagged ‘gender’

What Lessons Can We Learn From Anna Nicole Smith’s Life?

February 19, 2017

Last week was ten years since Anna died. I guess if you’re still news worthy ten years after your death you are a cultural icon. There were stories all over the internet about her daughter and how she is doing now. Larry Birkhead the baby daddy and caregiver made a few tasteful appearances and interviews. Nothing overtly exploitative even though we all know he must have been paid. He kept on saying that Dannielynn was not inheriting any millions and that it wasn’t Anna’s estate supporting them. He said it often enough for me to doubt him. When asked how he made a living Larry said he earned money through photography and ‘flipping houses.’

Anna did not die without assets and her assets have been quietly going up for sale over the past few years. Her LA house was sold, as were some of her personal effects and memorabilia. Dannielynn remains her only heir. Her second husband Howard Marshall gave her quite a few gifts including jewellery and art work. Just before she died she was reportedly paid $1 Million for footage of her birth and an exclusive interview with Howard K Stern her lawyer and best friend.

I’m not sure if I care, I’m only commenting because Larry made so much effort to deny he is profiteering from her estate. I guess like Anna he is intent on proving that he is not a gold digger. Does that phrase even apply to men?

Anyway I was intrigued and dug into the story a bit more than I did when it was breaking. I first became aware of Anna as the new Guess? jeans girl back in 1993. She was beautiful and she was being hyped  as the new plus size super model wanna-be. As a young woman obsessed with her weight and resentful of the super thin models that bombarded me every time I opened Vogue and Cosmopolitan, Anna was a refreshing image. It was refreshing when media hyped larger models Cindy, Linda Evangelista and Naomi. Come to think about it this hyping of plus size models is becoming kinda of tired. They have been touting bigger models since the 1990’s and still present them as a new trend. So how long before its accepted as main stream?


I was only vaguely aware of her return to the spotlight as the Trimspa spokesperson. It was a story about a woman losing weight after all, like all women that obsess about their weight those kind of stories tend to catch our attention. It wasn’t until she got pregnant and ran off to the Bahamas that I really started to pay attention and followed the story till she died.  But not so much that I can remember where I was when her death was announced on 8 February 2007.

As the drama played out and videos started emerging of her obviously medicated and frequently  incoherent my knee jerk reaction was that Howard K. Stern was an evil Svengali manipulating her. And when she finally died, 5 short months after the death of her son and the birth of her daughter, it became just another tragic footnote in celebrity history.

“Don’t make me trade one baby for another” she reportedly said.

A lot has been written about Anna Nicole. In my quest for a new angle I watched a documentary by Lisa Ling on ‘Sugaring.’ Sugaring is where younger women hook up with older men with the understanding that the men take care of the women financially. Dr. Phil asked them “Are you hookers?”

“No more than a woman that chooses to be a full time homemaker financially dependent on her husband” one of the women replies.

Lisa Ling keeps suggesting that the women are cheating at life by trying to ‘skip some steps’ or taking a short cut. She looks at them bemused throughout the documentary.

“I pay for myself, I always go Dutch” she says. I cringe for a second. I don’t. Especially not if I’m invited out.

Growing up in Nigeria it was accepted that men invite a woman out  and pay. Mostly because women didn’t just go out on their own anyway, unless they were ‘working girls’ and charged at the end of the night. It wasn’t till the 90’s that a new breed of financially independent middle class women started going out with the ‘girls’  and each girl paid for herself.

It would seem a bit cliche to rant about an invisible patriarchy that limits a woman’s opportunities for self actualisation. Or to point out the obvious differences in mind set and access to available opportunities for poor vs. rich and educated vs. uneducated and rural vs. urban women.

In my digging around I come across ‘White Trash Nation’  a 1994 New Yorker cover story by J. Friend. “Welcome to the age of white trash” he wrote. Anna’s picture accompanied the cover headline. The article is uncanny in its prescience. Reading it I realise that Trump is the new White Trash Hero. And deja vu, in a 20/20 show they dredge up an early quote from Anna admiring Trump and suggesting he become president and make her his First Lady. Knowing Trump Anna wouldn’t have been his style. He likes ‘classier’ women – European women.

The parallels between her and Melania can’t be ignored.


Both from small town lower class families, both turned to ‘modelling’ to get out, both took off their clothes for money and both married rich older men that they met through their work. The comparison ends there. Melania is European and Anna is ‘white trash’ a racial slur used to describe poor white Americans that were ‘poor as slaves’ and lacked ‘social grace.’ In Europe ‘white trash’ or the most economically disadvantaged whites are the gypsies or the Roma as they are called now. Demonised, excluded, discriminated, rejected.

Anna met Marshall her second husband and ‘never danced again’. ‘My husband threw money at me’ she infamously said. ‘Its very expensive being me.’ And she didn’t curb her hard partying jet setting lifestyle after she married him. Melania on the other hand played hard to get, was discreet, financially prudent and convinced Donald that she was immune to poaching. In an interview with Larry King shortly after their wedding in 2007 Donald very proudly announced that Melania is like the  fortress in Song of Solomon. Powerful men like that kind of thing, its probably one reason Donald would never have considered marrying Anna. She was too available.

Anna was actually the more successful of the two in their chosen career. She made the cover of Playboy, was Playmate of the Year and landed a multimillion dollar ad campaign and even appeared in a couple of movies before her hard partying ways crashed her career almost as soon as it took off. She also seemed to think she could have her cake and eat it; marry Marshall and claim half his estate without actually cohabiting with him.


Watching Melania I can’t help think she played her cards well. She never contradicts Donald, doesn’t nag, massages his ego and infantalises him. ‘My boys’ she calls him and her son Barron. Its like watching Carla coo at Nicholas. It’s weird to watch. Beautiful women confidently and brazenly patronising powerful men. It’s like watching public sex, too intimate and uncomfortable.  A display of power, a challenge to all those morality stories about the evils of leveraging your feminine charms in relationships with powerful men and the world. And a validation of all those other stories about ‘bottom power.’

I think a lot of violence against women might be fuelled by suppressed male rage against this reported male powerlessness and vulnerability to female sexuality. Even Anna’s second husband Howard Marshall is quoted as saying that a man in love does stupid things. Adam, Samson and Julius Caesar might agree. And while Anna may not have seen any better options for upward mobility she doesn’t strike me like a victim as some people would like to portray her. No more than Melania is a victim. These are women that made choices and exercised agency.  We all have to face the choices we make.

When I left my first husband and became a single mom in the city of Lagos in the late 1980’s I was about Anna’s age. But I was also a graduate. I came to Lagos to study for the Nigerian Bar exam and never went back to the village I spent the past ten years in. I never overcame my personal values against transactional sex of any kind.  This often brought me into conflict with female members of my clan who considered male patronage (of the financial kind) just one more perk of being a pretty woman and what a waste of pretty and yellow if you didn’t cash in on it.

“I won’t look this way forever” one of the young women tells Lisa Ling. The young women all express sentiments I heard often growing up in the village.

“Why waste your time on a poor, abusive and inexperienced boy who will not appreciate you or treat you well, when you can be with an older richer man who will take care of you and spoil you?”

In Lagos I declined offers to be a cocktail hostess, the fourth wife to a 70 year old polygamous millionaire with a penchant for ‘half castes’, some bad-o’s mistress and the Venus De Milo campaign girl. Venus De Milo was the biggest skin lightening  brand in Nigeria at the time and the Venus De Milo girl was bigger than Miss. Nigeria. I declined the campaign offer because the fee wasn’t big enough, not because I had anything against modelling.

“What do I care about the fee?  I’d do it for the exposure” one of the strippers Anna worked with in Houston said about after Anna’s Playboy and Guess campaign appearances. The fee I was offered for the Venus de Milo campaign felt inadequate for the massive exposure it would have brought. I wasn’t looking for a husband or a sugar daddy, I wanted to be a successful lawyer. I wanted to be appreciated and respected for my mind. I was excoriated by friends and family.

I tried to talk to my oldest aunt about love once. She was unable to grasp the very western concept. Women married for security, not love. Another aunt regularly and vocally upbraided me for ‘giving it up for free.’

“Since you’re giving it up at least get paid for it’ she always said. ‘Free’ sex was the height of irresponsible. And inconsiderate. “After fucking all those men you expect me to give you money?” she asked her daughter. And once her daughter became sexually active she never gave her another kobo. Her daughter made her proud eventually. I’ll never forget the last time I saw my aunt. She took delight in recounting for me all the things her daughter, who eventually became the not so young fourth or fifth wife of a rich polygamous Nigerian man, had bought for her.

“Two freezers, two refrigerators, a generator, a pick up, a washing machine.”

My aunt owned a beer parlour.

The marriage didn’t last.

“At least she got a lot out of it before it collapsed. What did you get out of your own marriage? Foolish girl.”

It wasn’t that a man was a woman’s only opportunity to a better life. Rather it was the waste of a good opportunity by a beautiful woman. You could fry chicken and flip burgers for minimum wage all your life or you could land yourself a rich boyfriend, sugar daddy or husband and live easy. What’s love got to do with it?  Or appearances?

While Anna’s and Melania’s rags to riches stories are cliche they might not draw the same criticism in Nigeria they do in the west. In Nigeria they might be seen as symbols of feminine success. It’s Anna’s hard partying ogbanje lifestyle that forms a cautionary moral lesson for women in Nigeria and Africa. Melania on the other hand is, for a certain type of woman, the epitome of how to do it right. Get the man, and keep your head down.

Ask Bianca Onu Ojukwu, Halima Diende Fernandez, Shola Okoya, and Frances Iwuanynwu or even Emir Sanusi’s new teenage wife.



All About Chidimma #Wivesonstrikebcos

April 8, 2016

There is a hotel in the Village on the way to the stream; at least it calls itself a hotel. It’s a small concrete bungalow with a tin roof and a concrete courtyard.  An dented oil drum sits at the corner of the building to catch rain water. Dingy curtains cover the open windows and doors. Outside a big signboard says ‘Sunrise Hotel’ above badly painted pictures of green beer bottles and a goat head. At night red and blue light bulbs glow surreally in the surrounding darkness like Christmas lights.

Chidimma passes the hotel on her way to the stream every day. It looks modern and inviting in a village of mud huts and colonial buildings.  She wants to go in and maybe stay in one of their rooms. The hotel rooms she sees in Drum magazine have nice beds with head boards, closets and bedside lamps, not like the iron bed she sleeps on in a stuffy room with clothes hanging on pegs in the wall lit only by a dim kerosene lamp.

She asks her half-sister Eunice if they can stay there.

(You can read the rest here. And please drop a comment. Help me win The Wink Challenge. 😉 )



Living Under the Patriarchy: Burying A Husband

March 8, 2016

My best friends husband died recently. He was from Oginibo in Delta state, an Urhobo. She is from Eket in Akwa Ibom state, an Ibibio with a Russian mother. It is easier to get from one to the other by boat through the creeks. We had planned a regatta for her traditional wedding. I guess thats never going happen now.

He died. Just like that. He was 52. Kidney failure they said. Most of us didn’t even know he was sick. I haven’t seen my best friend in awhile. Life. You know how it is. I only heard he was in the hospital a week before he died. When I heard I felt a worm of fear. He wasn’t the type that went to the hospital. If he had a headache he took paracetamol. If it persisted more than a week he took something for malaria. He was a big hardy stoic kinda guy.


Daniel Mowoe Opuama (17 September 1963 –  23 February  2016)

According to Urhobo tradition he had to be brought back to his ancestral village for burial even though he never lived there. Even though his wife and children had only visited the place once in the 16 years they were together. Even though he told his wife during one of those conversations he wanted to be buried wherever he lived. Even though she is the next -of-kin. Even though this is the 21st century.

So off on a 448km journey to Oginibo we went last Friday. Oginibo is 17 km SE of Warri somewhere in the Delta near the Forcados River. A google search isn’t very helpful. There are no population figures for the place and it isn’t actually named on google maps. One site said it has a ‘small population’. I came across a picture of their town square. Real native country.


Oginibo Town Square (Source Oginibo Community Facebook Page)

When Delita, The Duchess, heard the burial was to be in Urhobo land and not in Abuja as previously proposed she went into a panic.

“Maya, I heard all sorts of horror stories. I heard they will lock you up in a room for 3 months and make you shave your hair!”

Many other friends warned that the natives would use the opportunity to milk the bereaved family. They told horror stories of their own. Stories of shake downs, blackmail and child napping. It cost a lot to bury a man. (Every where in Africa it costs less to bury a woman.) Apparently the Urhobo have a taste for expensive burials.

“They will ask you how your husband died.” Maya’s mother-in-law tried to reassure us. We didn’t know what to think but it seemed easier to let it go and bury him where ever his kinsmen wanted.

It was like planning a invasion. Money is tight so we decided we weren’t going to feed or water the natives. None of our business. We did some research on Urhobo and tribal jurisprudence. A ray of hope emerged – Maya and Dan never had a wedding under tribal laws! They got married in the registry. If the natives tried to impose any repugnant widowhood practices we would remind them of that.

While Maya’s kinsmen could not formally attend her brother would come to represent and protect her. Max our brother from another mother was also coming. A woman’s greatest protection in her husbands house is her own kinsmen. Thats why no one wants their daughter to marry far away. How else could they keep an eye on her and ensure her husband didn’t sell her into slavery or abuse her. Or something.

We also called in some favours with a brother in law for some heavy calvary. Just in case.

The drive down to Warri was pretty uneventful. We spent the night in Warri and ate bang soup for dinner. The Jubilee Conference Centre where we stayed was built two years ago. The Catholic Bishops of Nigeria decided they wanted to hold their conference in Warri but there was no hotel good enough for them so they just built their own.

The drive from Warri to Oginibo was like a time warp. The jungle just got thicker and thicker and the roads narrower and narrower with each kilometre. Our men were late joining us and we had to leave the morgue without them.

I called Max.

“Max, where are you? We’re on our way to Oginibo.”

“Still waiting for our car.”

“Max. You people can’t do this to us. You have left three women and two children to go into the jungle to face the natives. You guys need to catch up. NOW. please.” I sounded calmer than I felt.

“Where’s the calvary? Weren’t they supposed to meet us along the way? Where are we sef?” Maya asked.

Compulsively I reeled off the names of each community we passed – Ovwian, Ukpedi, Jeremi, Ayagha, Imode. And invoked all the deities I knew – OkwaraAgu, Ezenwanyi, Amadioha, Jesus, God. Angel Gabriel, and Michael.

We arrived Oginibo and the deceased’s homestead escorted and surrounded by natives speaking in Urhobo. Then they said we should come in for a family meeting. We sat down in the hall while the natives argued. Ever so often they gestured towards Maya. It was pretty obvious what they were arguing about. I chided myself. Why didn’t I think of bringing along an interpreter!

“Please we are educated.” one elderly woman said to the squabbling men in English.

“Hian.” I thought to myself.

Then the call came.

“Madam, this is Captain So So and So with the Nigerian Army. What is your location please?”

Our calvary had arrived! Within minutes three Hilux trucks arrived with over 30 soldiers and took up strategic positions around the compound. We sat in the hall, relieved but still pensive and waiting. Their arrival seemed to bring out a couple more natives who walked in authoritatively, greeted us ever so briefly and said something to the squabblers that seemed to escalate the discord briefly before walking out again. Later we learnt they came and stopped what was indeed an attempt to make Maya undergo some sort of trial by ordeal.

Then I looked up and there was Max and Yuri standing in the doorway! Our men had arrived. They must have broken all speed limits to get there so quick. Sometimes relief is spelled M-E-N. The mood changed. Drinks, kola and money were brought out and presented in welcome. Women do not deserve a formal welcome.

It was smooth sailing after that and the burial proceeded without further ado. No repugnant demands, no strange and demeaning widowhood practices. They invited us back to the homestead for entertainment but we declined. The Army escorted us all the way  back to Warri and we high tailed it to Benin City to spend the night before departing for Abuja the next morning.

Mission accomplished. Thank you father. We are grateful.


Are Women Less Corrupt Than Men?

October 7, 2015

The light cuts out, the lights blink, the inverter kicks in with a muted click. I still wonder how we went from zero electricity to 60 x 60 mins straight so fast. Its not possible. So it was there all the time. Withheld while Good Jonathan was president.

I’ve heard so often thats the reason he had to go. No one was scared of him. He wasn’t ‘strong’ enough. Nigerians like men with balls, ‘big men’ with really big cahoona’s you know what i mean?  Strong men. GEJ was too timid and retiring to impress us. He was too ‘feminine’ – like a woman. or at least how they want a woman to be.

His wife on the other hand was just too forward and outspoken, despite the quaint parochialism of her accent and syntax. That couple seriously challenged  hyper-masculine Nigeria’s image of how it should be. It was an affront! Who was this uncouth ill bred woman! How could she! Women should be ‘quietly’ strong. In the background. Not making ripples.

Now the arrest of Deziani has suddenly become a gender issue. ‘What kind of woman is this?’ they ask. Already the story is being twisted to teach women a moral lesson about who they should be. Greed is not feminine we are told. A disingenuous attempt is made to disguise this blatant prejudice by blaming men for infecting women with this terrible virus.

So because she is a woman she isn’t allowed to be greedy and ambitious and Machiavellian? Really? Or is it against her nature? What exactly is it in a woman’s nature that would exclude greed, ambition and cunning from her character? Or bad governance, corruption and graft?

I have been waning my sisters for a very long time not to perpetuate this myth that female leadership is somehow ‘better’, kinder or more compassionate than male leadership.  Because when we come on that platform every instance where a woman in leadership fucks up becomes an excuse to judge ALL women and justify their exclusion.

Being a woman does not automatically make a  good leader. We know that gender is a social construct. Yet some sisters find it politically, economically and socially convenient to perpetuate that myth and reinforce traditional gender stereotypes.  It is a double edged sword, a poisoned chalice. Women are just flawed human beings with tits and a vagina. They’re not really a better breed of human which is really hard to say because hey – if you insist – I’ll take it.

Male leaders fuck up all the time. Maybe the problem is that no one tells them its not ‘masculine’ to be greedy, ambitious and cunning. As a matter of fact we tell men the exact opposite. We are all secretly proud when our sons display those traits – a real hustler, a real Nigerian. And relived knowing they will survive anywhere in the world.

If you’re questioning Deziani because she is a woman you’re really not gender neutral at all.

Equal to fuck up.

Paying For Sex Too?

June 6, 2015

I must admit that I only spent 3 hours preparing for Wednesdays tweet chat on ‘Paying for Sex’.  It was a packed day and I thought 3 hours was more than enough. Paying for sex? Are you for or against, how hard could that be.

Of course you know my position, my approach is rights based, every body has the right to do what they want with their money and their body. Its a choice. Make your choice, stick with it and stop judging everyone who is different.

Just remember that your rights end where mine begin, do no harm , yada, yada, yada. At least thats the theory. In reality the strong and dominant lord it over the weak and meek. But I digress, as usual…

I was disappointed in my presentation. I felt it lacked depth, it recounted the superficial details.

I wanted to educate, inform and also entertain. I didn’t want to make it all raunch so I first presented some facts about prostitution hoping that would elicit questions that would lead us into a discussion. I don’t know if it was folks were unaware or just quite.

I don’t know what response I expected. That people would start talking about why they pay for sex or even admit that they ever paid for sex? Male or female.  That someone would admit that they have ever been paid for sex, male or female? In judgmental Naija?

Even I couldn’t admit that I had paid for sex before and that I have been paid for sex before. I even been in a long term relationship that made me feel as if I was being paid for sex. When I was ‘good’ I was rewarded – with money, trips, gifts and shopping sprees. When I was ‘bad’ (which was often) all financial privileges were withdrawn!

Debbie  Edwards alluded to the transactional nature of sex and we got into a discussion about ‘runs girls’ and the transactional sex within marriage.  Sex isn’t always or only paid for with money. Its not always a simple negotiation – how much? Its a whole spectrum of behaviour.

Sex is about power.

It would be nice to look deeper. Do you want to REALLY discuss the topic “Paying For Sex” – with depth and maturity? Do we get back together again on Sunday and instead of talking about Sex & Menopause (yawn) revisit ‘Paying for Sex”?


Copy right – Michael-Soi

So I Got In Touch With My Feminine – Accepting Her Was The Hard Part

February 4, 2015

Growing up in the Igbo heartland we valued industry. Igbo women are very industrious and hard working. They farm, go to market and feed the household. Their men pay rent (shelter), school fees, medical, clothes and all the other objects of a quality life. Nowadays some progressive Igbo men let their wives do civil service or bank work and buy their own clothes and trinkets.

I used to call myself ‘di bi ulo’ which in Igbo means head of the household. After all as a single mother I paid the rent, the school fees, medical, put food on the table and clothes on the kids back. And because I  made  the money I made the decisions how to spend it. I used to ask the conservative men in my training workshops why they let their women sit on their ass at home.

If you ask them why they don’t want their women to be in the more ‘masculine’ endeavours – like politics, long distance trade, government, commerce etc etc, they most frequently say they don’t want their women to be ‘manly’. Someone said they don’t want their women to be like me. I took it as a compliment back then.

When I started ayurveda therapy in 2013 I was told my physical symptoms were the outcome of suppressing my feminine energy. I didn’t quite get it then but I attempted to examine it here and here  Over the course of the past two years as I took my herbal supplements and did my yoga I started to notice a change. In November my therapist said “Your feminine energy is emerging, and it is so tender”.

(Yeah lady why do you think we buried it so deep underground in the first place.)

Feminine energy – emotions.

“Les you’re too emotional” my friend tells me as I cry on her shoulder over my latest heartbreak.

In 2005 I took an online personality test that said I thought like a man but was more emotional than the average woman. Go figure. So I’m emotional. I can accept it now. I’m feminine – thats ok.

Its not the end of the world – its a great beginning. Being able to acknowledge that I am emotional – very emotional and apparently more so than most women is actually very empowering. I’m not resisting it like I did before when I still believed that emotions were ‘bad’ – in the corporate world and in modern relationships too according to said friend.

“Roll them up into a bundle and toss them aside” she advices.

“Sister thats how I got hyperthyroidism. I almost died you know.”

“Ewo! Is that why my own thyroid is developing goitre?”

“Think about it.”

“Ah! So what should I do? I’m missing my boy o”

“Call him”

“I no go call am o. I no fit be like you. What if he hurts me?”

“You’ll survive. Look at me – I survive and I still believe in love. Just next time I’ll make sure its someone that can handle my emotional needs.”

Lovers by Tolu Aliki

Lovers by Tolu Aliki

Did You Really Just Say That?

May 6, 2014

So you think its okay to make fun of Dame Patience Jonathan? I think its appalling. Its wrong. Why you making fun of her accent? Disdaining her education, calling her a market woman? What makes it even more appalling is that this is coming from so called returnees and diaspora’s, the same ones writing angst filled books about their victimized lives as immigrants  where they tell us how white people made fun of their accents, laughed at their lack of ‘manners’ and teased them about living in trees in Africa. What do we call you when you can’t even relate your present behavior to the behavior you complained about in the west?

All you folks making fun of Patience are snobs just like Wole Soyinka. You all really think because you speak better English and can copy the slave masters accents that you are better than every other Nigerian? You’re the ones with the ‘funny’ accents. We used to laugh our hearts out in the dorms after every encounter with those Nigerians forcing American and British accents. Now they dare to make fun of the first real representative woman of Nigeria to ever be First Lady. Yes, that is what Patience is, she is a grassroots woman and that is what is paining all the acada and been-to Tokunbo’s making fun of her.

‘How can this common woman come and be disgracing us”

What nonsense, Patience is the real Nigerian woman, market women leader and local woman that she is. Tinubu  even went so far as to make his daughter who has probably never sold a handkerchief in her life the Iyaloge of Lagos, is that one not market women leader? Why is it used to insult Patience? Get off your high horse and stop stop stop making fun of the woman. Must she speak in a foreign or your so called ‘cultured’ accents to be First Lady? Must the President?  Its not about how you look on the international stage. Its about what you do. This is not a monarchy or even a feudal aristocracy. This is a secular egalitarian society or that’s what we are trying to build here. And you call yourself ‘progressives’? Shame on you all that have been a party to this nonsense!

If Patience doesn’t get the job done – and she has no ‘job’ anyway so why don’t you all leave her alone – attack her for that but to make fun of an African woman for her accent? Or even her beliefs and values? You really think your borrowed western values are superior?

I’m watching you all! I see the ones making fun of this woman right now, don’t you dare come ask me for my vote or support EVER! Unless you stop, desist, apologize and show some remorse and respect for the millions of Nigerian woman who have never and may never have the opportunity to go abroad and get an education or just live there but who have been here all their lives struggling and holding this country together while you were out there learning to speak funny.


If I Read About One More African Woman Valiantly Resisting Pressure to Marry

October 19, 2013

Groan! Another African woman talking about the pressure she is under to get married. Okay we get it. Marriage is considered a woman’s top priority in Africa and you are not going to succumb to the manipulations of misguided friends and relatives.  You intend to pursue your career until you find Mr. Right, who will let you live your life just the way you want to without expecting you to cook, clean and have babies. Can we talk about something else now?

I speak with all the privilege of someone that got married and had three children all before the ripe old age of 20. No I don’t think, marriage is the most important role a woman has in life, I was not under pressure by anyone to get married or have children either (except maybe my husband). I got married because I wanted to get out of my father’s house as quickly as was decently possible and I had children because I wanted to fill the gaping hole in my soul with some love.

There are a lot of reasons people get married (and have babies) and not all of them have to do with social pressure or family expectation. Some people get married for financial reasons, some get married for love, others get married because they want a house of their own, or a companion to build a life with. Some get married just to have children. No one reason is better than another. Its not a contest and there are no guarantees against heartbreak and divorce no matter how carefully you chose.

All these women grousing that they will not marry simply because they are expected to still insist they are waiting for The One.  So your grouse is not with marriage but with the fact that some misguided albeit well intentioned people are telling you to stop being picky and get on with it already before your biological clock winds down. If you are looking for Mr. Perfect who will tick all your boxes you ARE just being picky. There is no such thing as Mr. Right or The Perfect partner. All relationships are inherently flawed and require a whole lot of work.

I imagine in 10 or 20 years time reading from these same writers today how they regret not having children or regret having children late or the difficulty they are having getting pregnant. You all really need to figure out what it is you really want and stop with the self righteous pseudo feminist bull shit. Either you want to get married and have children (and that’s alright) or you don’t (that’s also alright). African feminism doesn’t need another defensive exposition on why YOU are still single.

Have You Heard? Every Woman Has A Right To Virginity!

October 16, 2013

A proposal in a South Sumatra district of Indonesia to make virginity tests mandatory on all girls entering high school has been rejected by the education minister and members of Indonesia’s civil society. The chief education officer justified the proposal saying ‘every woman has a right to virginity’. Read more about it here.

Did they reject the proposal too quickly? I like the sound  it  – ‘every woman has a right to virginity’. We could do things with that. Think about it, think about the implications of making virginity every woman’s right. Would that be like the right to life? Would it mean that you’re not allowed to take it from a woman or that you are somehow expected to provide the conditions for her to protect and exercise that right?

So women wouldn’t have to get married and have children ever again and no one can make them or if someone did they would be violating their right to virginity? Good bye to consensual sex forever? After all euphanesia and suicide are still murder right?  So if its a human right you can’t marry off your daughter, niece or house girl or ask them to marry. If a woman is raped it won’t only be a crime but a violation of her human right to her virginity and she should be entitled to compensation.

If female virginity is a right  who can we sue for loss of virginity? fathers? husbands? schools? Because if they check a woman’s virginity before she enrolls they must check it before she graduates too and be held responsible for its loss while a student. They can’t be allowed to return damaged goods can they now and if they do they will be held accountable and made to pay.

Thinking of female virginity as a right is both empowering and demoralizing. if you had thought of it as a right before you lost it wouldn’t you have protested on the streets before letting some one take it from you?  I see it now, millions of women across the globe marching in solidarity proclaiming their right to their virginity while men stand by and wonder when if ever they are going to get some sex again.

Why do I find this image more ‘feminist’ than the slut walks and the naked exhibitionism of liberated pop stars? Perhaps because it just strikes me as so much more you know anti-man. My dated internal picture of feminism still thinks of it as a revolutionary street movement against the patriarchy, what we once called ‘women’s lib’ (I am after all a child of the 70’s)

The first case will definitely be interesting, which body will have jurisdiction? National courts? Regional courts? Special tribunals? Of course it will take many years maybe even decades before a treaty can be drafted, signed and domesticated (progress on CEDAW is an example) but it will keep women busy and help them build essential advocacy, administrative and leadership skills in the mean time. Win win.

Feminism, Exclusion & The Silencing of African Women

August 21, 2013

I’ve been thinking about feminism and exclusion lately. Even before the hash tag #solidarityisforwhitewomen started to trend last week.  It all started for me when middle class white feminists made out the right to be stay at home moms a feminist issue. That was one reason why I paid close attention when the debate started; I followed it obsessively even though I knew that the issue that started it all had little if anything to do with African women. I had never even heard of Hugo Schwyzer before his meltdown triggered a conversation about men in feminism.

Ututu by Ben Enweonwu 1971

Ututu by Ben Enweonwu 1971

As if to underscore the issue of men in feminism, a self-proclaimed male feminist from Nigeria decided to opportunistically jump into the twitter debate and hold forth on the needs and goals of African feminism and protecting the feelings of white feminists  rather than honoring the obvious  anger of WOC or maybe asking why African and Nigerian women were not joining  the debate. He chose to make himself an umpire insisting women conduct a ‘clean conversation’ that does not alienate white feminists. But this is a matter for another post.

My contribution to the larger debate was minimal. While I empathized with my sisters of color, my personal experience with white feminists is limited and remote. However, I did try to point out that the voices of African and Third World women are frequently excluded by women of color in the west. An Afro-Caribbean woman who claimed western women of color had no power to exclude anybody asked me for specific examples and I felt I should save it for this blog post.

What are some of the issues important to African women that are excluded or ignored by mainstream feminism and often by feminist women of color in the west, the African Diaspora and even certain African feminists? Some of them were raised in the debate, like how white feminists refuse to accept and respect their sisters’ choice to wear the hijab.  However, some issues did not come up, like female circumcision, polygamy, infertility, adoption, and Africa’s family values.

Black and white feminists in the west and many African feminists have targeted female circumcision (and I use the word circumcision deliberately) for complete eradication. It is a crude practice in its present form, but many African women have said they support it; can we help them make it a safe option instead of telling them they are wrong? Young boys are dying in South Africa during circumcision rites; the on-going conversation is about ensuring safety not ending the practice.

Western women practice cosmetic surgery of all sorts including genital piercing and vaginoplasty, and call it ‘bodily enhancement’ or ‘body art’, in ‘primitive’ Africa its mutilation. I do not support this practice on children that cannot exercise informed choice but shouldn’t we listen and respect adults who make that very personal choice?  Having a clitoris shouldn’t be a badge of honor. Kola Boof may be problematic as a role model but she has shown that even infibulation can be erotic and powerful.

Otu Odu by Ben Enweonwu

Otu Odu by Ben Enweonwu

I am confronted daily by sisters who are desperate to find a husband or to conceive and who are risking their mental and physical health in the process.  While I believe that a woman’s worth and self-identity are not and should not be dependent on either, how can I ignore her suffering? Why should I tell her she should be satisfied with a career or that marriage or having children isn’t really important?  It’s important to her.

Marriage is an important rite of passage in many African cultures; it’s a sign of maturity and responsibility and in a lot of Nigerian communities a single person, male or female, is not allowed to exercise leadership unless they are married.  Marriage and procreation are not just individual choices; they are seen as an obligation of community citizenship. Discrimination against women in marriage is patriarchal oppression, not marriage itself.

The discrimination a Nigerian woman faces if she is married and can’t conceive is very, very real.  The ability to overcome infertility is determined by economic class.  Middle class women have the option of expensive fertility treatments or they adopt, another expensive option.  Reducing the cost and ease of adoption and fertility treatments would seem as important for Nigerian women as the right to abortion or contraception.  But are these particular issues receiving as much attention on the feminist agenda?

Motherhood provides protection for women. My ancient aunts in the village would ask ‘who will visit you and ask after your welfare when you are old if you don’t have children?’. Stories of old (and young) people dying alone and undiscovered in the west baffle us.  In Nigeria middle and upper class women can afford geriatric care and will have people concerned for their welfare so long as their money lasts even if they don’t have children. But for the working class and poor, rural woman not having children could have harsh consequences in her old age.

Negritude by Ben Enweownu 1957

Negritude by Ben Enweownu 1957

African feminists like Rose Acholonu, Catherine Acholonu , Helen Chukwuma and Molara Ogundipe-Leslie have written extensively on the importance of marriage, family and motherhood in African.  They tried to define an African feminism that recognizes and celebrates these communal values in opposition to western feminism that promoted individualism and saw marriage and motherhood only as oppressive patriarchal burdens or personal pleasures.  They also argue persuasively that the Africa worldview is not primarily patriarchal but based on equal male-female complimentarity. Are we throwing out the baby with the bath water? Yet again?

It should be noted that African-American feminists have also articulated the issues of motherhood and family as an important part of what they called ‘womanism’, an alternative to mainstream white dominated feminism and its hyper individualism. However, these African feminist scholars felt womanist acceptance of and uncompromising support for homosexual rights was incompatible with their values and tried to differentiate their brand of feminism from it, they called it motherism and positive feminism. Their work has been largely ignored as a result of their perceived homophobia.

Nigerian women have told us polygamy gives them more options and freedom but do we as feminists respect that?  In the late 80s when Women in Nigeria, WIN , a radical left leaning feminist organization that promoted women’s rights  held its first conference with market women in Ibadan they failed to reach a compromise on polygamy in their final communique and squandered an opportunity to build a powerful alliance with woman’s market associations. The matter remains one of contestation and has been largely ignored by feminists as a matter of individual choice rather than a part of the feminist agenda. Polygamy is still demonized but apparently it does work for some women.

These are just some of the many ways that mainstream feminism has ignored and excluded African women’s choices. This exclusion by mainstream white dominated feminism, WOC in feminism and African feminists seems to be less of a racial issue and more of class issue. The concerns of feminism do not seem to include the concerns of the poor and the working class as one writer has stated so eloquently here. If feminism really wants to broaden its appeal among WOC generally and African women in particular it needs to speak a language that is more inclusive and relevant.

Ogolo Metamorphosis by Ben Enweonwu 1991

Ogolo Metamorphosis by Ben Enweonwu 1991