Female skin, male masks

Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou, Untitled (Demoiselles de Porto-Novo series), 2012 – http://www.jackbellgallery.com/artists/25-Leonce-Raphael-Agbodjelou/overview/

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

I attend ‘hip hop on trial’, a global debate discussing whether hip hop is the authentic, revolutionary voice of the oppressed or if it is a glorification of all that holds back oppressed minorities and hinders them from mainstream assimilation. At 32 minutes into the discussion, which is streamed live, there is an episode where Slaughterhouse are asked why they refer to women as bitches. They respond that, “Women and bitches are not the same thing, when we talk about bitches we talking about bitches, I’m not speaking about my mother, my daughter.” The audience bursts into laughter. Men and women alike.

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Lupe Fiasco’s video for “Bitch Bad” is released in Europe. In an article I argue that it is a welcome conversation but nevertheless a misogynist message veiled in righteousness. Discussions about the video explode in social media, OpEds in publications like Atlantic and Spin appear. The dominant view, both here on my blog and elsewhere, remind me that the discussion of womanhood in the black mainstream is still most attention-grabbing when it’s being conducted by a man, and, when womanhood spins around the male axis – the mother, the wife, the mistress, the lady, the single woman, the bitch. Female identities are defined in a male dictionary: What is the difference between a woman and a bitch? A male.

In both instances I was reminded of Frantz Fanon’s precepts in Black skin, White masks.

Here’s why. In the early pages of the book, Fanon writes, “At the risk of arousing the resentment of my coloured brother, I will say that the black man is not a man.” He proceeds to elaborate on his central point, which, cognitively speaking is that the black man only is a man in so far that he can compare, compete, or strive to be a white man. He suggests that what we know to be the black man depends on what we know to be the white man.

I’m suggesting something similar, namely that incidents such as those above hint that woman only is a woman in so far that she can compare, compete, or strive to be a man. What we know to be a woman depends on what we know to be a man. What these types of incidents suggest is that many women identify and relate to events through male psychology. Why else would it be funny or acceptable to any woman that another woman is referred to as a bitch irregardless of her life choices.

It is important to stress that Fanon’s book does not aim to victimise black people, rather, in his words, “My true wish is to get my brother, black or white, to shake off the dust from that lamentable livery built up over centuries of incomprehension.” Things have changed since Fanon wrote the book – at least there are suggestions (however flawed) that society is postracial – but his analyses are still of relevance. They are especially useful tools in the path to liberation, as Fanon is encouraging us to see the fraud of white superiority. When we do, Fanon believes that we crush it, and it becomes ineffectual as what emerges in its place is our shared humanity. Furthermore, Fanon’s theory could be more broadly applied to all forms of supremacist power, including that of male authority.

If it is the case that woman deeply, psychologically wears a male mask, then the next question is how do we excise it? How do we acquire female personhood?

I can only speak from some of my experiences, I’ve written in previous posts, about how seeing the falseness of the mainstream ideas of womanhood made me define my own ideals. When I embarked on the long, painful but nevertheless rewarding journey of de-patriarchializing my mind, I sought (and still seek) alternative language, counter-narratives which centered “my” story, “my” memories, female history: The philosophers, the writers, the mothers, the wives, the witches, the goddesses of female wrath and justice such as Isis, Kali, Oya. And feminism.

I’ll end with a question – why is that feminism, one of the largest (in outreach, numbers and impact) socially transformative movements that we know of barely exists in mainstream narrative? How come it hardly ever shows up in music videos, movies, news or literary novels despite that female resistance is a constant in the psyche of humanity? Whatever one makes of feminism, to not acknowledge its existence in cultural production seems curious.
This erasure is why feminism continuously has to reinvent itself. But it has always existed. However, it is no longer possible to pretend as though it does not exist as perhaps the strongest wave of feminism to have emerged is that of cyberfeminism with its mass archives of memory.

Its absence in “malestream” narrative is predictable, however. It shakes everything up, you see, that woman become the ultimate judge of womanhood, that she wear a perfectly fitting female skin would change everything we know about the world today.




  • Linda

    Well said Minna! The piece really gives me something to think about. The Fanon black/white analogy makes your point even more vivid

  • MsAfropolitan

    Thanks Linda, I appreciate your comment.

  • http://themodernafrican.blogspot.com.au/ Rue

    I enjoyed that video by Lupe Fiasco and I’m glad you tackled this post. It’s so well written. I think the reason why feminism is not shown in the mainstream media and I think the reason for such demeaning videos of women being so popular is because it stops us from growing, it stops the next generation of women from grow and standing strong. The world is run by men and maybe they want us to stay “in our place”.

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks Rue, I’ve somehow missed you comment. Thanks a lot for the compliment and sharing thoughts, indeed, it’s all about staying or keeping us in our place.