The sacred is political

Religious text1 The sacred is political“You can’t not be religious!” is a reaction I often receive when someone asks me first whether I am Muslim, as my name implies, and then (when I say no) whether I am a Christian, which I am not either. Having found out that I’m neither Christian nor Muslim, the inquirer then often proceeds to say, shaking their head in grave concern, “You have to choose O! [They are usually Nigerian] You can’t not be religious!”

I damn well can. And I find it odd that people feel such freedom to judge my religious status. If I were to express an equivalent disdain and say, for example, “You can’t be a Muslim!” I’m quite sure I would be accused of a violation of code of conduct.

Don’t get me wrong; people have every right to be astounded by my not being religious. To be frank, I am equally astounded that anyone finds spiritual guidance from texts such as the Old Testament, which is a violent and misogynist book in my opinion. What is not OK is a culture where such interlocutors are open to express their views and I can’t state mine. Let me also say by the way, that, of course, religious beliefs are complex and deserve a nuanced approach. So while the Old Testament is a macho, patriarchal text, Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation on the globalisation of indifference, for instance, is in contrast highly relevant and humane.

Lest I be mistaken for one, I am not an atheist. My spiritual background is as hybrid as my ethnic one. I am a daughter of both Oduduwa and Kalevala and any other gods or goddesses who will have me. In my view, spiritual development is introspective and does not need naming. By that same token – everyone should have the right to practice her or his faith (or lack of it) freely and I don’t raise this to judge but rather to encourage a discussion about how religion is shaping African society in modern times.

We live in times of increasing religious fanaticism and a subsequent conservatism spreading across Africa and the diaspora. The consequences are dire: from conflicts in Central African Republic to Nigeria to Somalia to Sudan, religious factors are destabilising societies with rapid effect. Also, issues such as the passing of discriminatory anti-gay laws as well as the control of women’s bodies (e.g. through female genital mutilation, anti-abortion legislation, controlling what women wear and so on) are anchored in the politics of religion.

Yet despite growing fanaticism (of varying degrees) few public intellectuals are speaking out about the dangers of this trend. This is unfortunate because the less critical debate about religion there is, the more the fanatics are able to shape the discourse. Religion is a colossal part of public life and it should be subject to public debate like any other topics that we all-consumingly analyse such as pop culture, identity politics and so on. I am not suggesting that we establish a bashing marketplace of ideas between the religious and the non-religious. Also, for god’s sake, don’t conflate critical religion analysis with criticising people’s religious views willy nilly. However, it is unacceptable that religion is so sacrosanct that we don’t dare approach it.

Africans, generally speaking, are a deeply spiritual people, venerating the part of human minds, bodies and souls that has to do with the divine. I want to live in a world where this is perfectly OK. However, I also wish for a world where justice prevails, and the truth is that organised religion is a major cause of many of the world’s injustices. Questioning religion is not only discouraged in our societies, it is often interpreted as a blasphemous attack on sacredness. But there’s simply too much at risk to avoid critical analyses of religion in the name of political correctness. It’s time to stop pandering to this culture of silence and to put religious life under the microscope.

Or what do you think? Should or should not religion be up for debate? Share your thoughts below!

What is conscientious feminism?

head of woman 300x300 What is conscientious feminism?In July 1992, an international conference on Women in Africa and in the African Diaspora (WAAD) was held in Nigeria. WAAD was a rare incident: an interdisciplinary and international conference about African women in Africa.

The conference, which took place in the Eastern town of Nsukka during an unusually dry week in July (precipitation for this month is normally high in the region) kicked off jubilantly matching the expectations of the excited delegates.

The camaraderie was short lived. On day two of WAAD, July 14, all hell broke lose. Unexpectedly, the programme convenor, professor of women’s and African studies, Obioma Nnaemeka, found herself having to respond to the question of whether or not white women (about one fifth of the circa seven hundred participants) should be able to “present papers on black women’s experiences”. Some delegates felt that white women, guilty of discrimination against black women in their home countries, should not be allowed to take part. The sessions should be a safe space for black women, they argued.

Nnaemeka organised an open session to discuss the issue. A disaster ensued. People broke down: there was weeping, shouting, yelling. The black delegates who had raised the issue threatened that they would not participate if white women did. This in turn led to tension among black women because it was a group of African-American and Black-British women who demanded the exclusion while women from the hosting country vehemently opposed it. Pushing out visitors of whatever race was contrary to Nigerian, Igbo (to be precise), customs, they argued. When the exclusion of a Bulgarian woman married to a Nigerian man was announced, the Nigerian delegates shouted, “No one, black or white, has the right to insult our wife”.

Then suddenly like a rainstorm during a drought, a delegate (of African American heritage) spoke up. Why not have a dialogue between the oppressor and the oppressed, she suggested. Others agreed, the best approach would be to talk openly about racism. The chair of the local organising committee, Julie Okpala, shared in a personal account of the session that “the conflict was resolved by a decision to allow white participants to present their papers” while women of African heritage still got an opportunity to explore their own realities in a separate space. Peace was restored and the conference proceeded, if carefully.

Toxic feminism

NationPiece 300x285 What is conscientious feminism?Compare the WAAD conference to “Feminism’s Online Toxic Wars“, a recent article at The Nation by Michelle Goldberg. In the piece, Goldberg argues, as the title implies, that online feminism has become so toxic it is hurting the movement. The toxicity is blamed on a form of intersectionality that Goldberg calls the “dogma that’s being enforced in online feminist spaces”. While the article is well-written and resonant in parts (I also have taken issue with Check Your Privilege type intersectionality before), it is nevertheless an example of hype. And as Public Enemy said, don’t believe the hype! The politics of feminist solidarity does not hold a black/white binary (as The Nation article disingenuously implies). Yes there is a tiresome trend of finger-pointing among some feminists on Twitter but if Goldberg had eschewed the stylish trickery to instead look equally into representation and visibility it would have become clear that what often seems to be “online trashing” is in fact an outcry similar to the one that occurred in Nsukka in 1992.

So, why do these outcries happen?

The simple answer is because the very device that patriarchy uses to dominate women – namely the dehumanising of them – is too frequently used by influential white women toward other women. We see this in caricature cakes of African women, for example, or in videos by white artists that use black women as tropes. Women of colour remain hurt by negligence to legacies that continue to affect black populations so widely. This is why the Nation piece is divisive, it is a four page article on a reaction with hardly any reference to the cause. It is not the rage and bitterness of racial exclusion that causes outcries but rather the lack of sympathy and outright ambivalence towards it.

Returning to Nsukka briefly, where there is perhaps no right or wrong to be found in the controversy. The conference was not for but about African heritage women so the white participants had every right to be there. On the other hand, the systemic exclusion of black women in the west causes deep, legitimate wounds. The ordeal simply demonstrates how important it is to communicate in order to find solutions.

Conscientious Feminism

And here is where we introduce conscientious feminism!

Conscientious feminism is approaching feminism with meticulous care. It is diligently seeking to understand the structures, attitudes and institutions that oppress women and subsequently finding them intolerable. Period. Not just the oppression of women of one’s race, one’s age, one’s tribe, one’s class. But of ALL women.

This is not the same as everyone getting along. God, no. In fact conscientious feminism is not about group thinking at all. We need fierce debate to move forward. But it is about moving forward rather than getting stuck. Oppression is not banal and we can not behave in banal ways to end it. Conscientious feminism is approaching uncomfortable truths in a complex and careful manner with the goal of empowering all women to be their full selves.

Thoughts? Would love to hear from you!

Update: If you would like to read more on conscientious feminism I’ve expanded the last section of this blog in an article on Media Diversified: it’s titled “Toxic Wars” vs. Conscientious Feminism”

 

photo by: ivprogrammer

The difference between feminism and humanism

wonder woman The difference between feminism and humanismWhen it comes to labels, I like mine earnest but not intransigent. So there is something almost moving about someone (most often a man) asking a self-declared feminist like myself why I call myself a feminist and not a humanist. Almost.
What prevents me from exultingly throwing my hands up in the air when a well-intentioned inquirer offers this proposition, is not that my feminist high prevented me from seeing clearly the profundities of humanism. Duh. It is simply that I don’t think that human beings deserve better lives.

Ha! Got’cha!

In all seriousness though, you would think that if a woman says she is a feminist (rather than a humanist) that it is fucking obvious a) that she is likely to sympathise with humanism. After all feminism, as the mantra goes, is “the radical notion that women are people”, b) that she has thought it through already, it’s not exactly like people love feminists and c) that humanism – which, by the way, the (humanist) inquirer ought to know – is not free of tension itself considering its roots are in the quintessential European bourgeois.
Yet as an ethical stance that promotes the dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others, humanism offers a genial prospect.

In a perfect world that prospect would be enough and we could declare feminism redundant but that would also be a world in which women were running circa half the countries and institutions. It would be a world where violence against women wasn’t of epidemic proportions. It would be a world where women occupied an equal amount of Fortune 500 jobs or had an equal chance at some of the world’s biggest honours such as the Nobel- or the “Man” Booker Prizes.

Alas, we are light-years from such a world. Especially in Africa. And it is often in dispute of feminism’s appropriateness to African traditions that the irritating question, “Why feminism, why not just humanism?” is posed to me.
In truth, ours is a continent for men by men to men at men with men ALL about men.
In fact it bemuses me that while in many other parts of the world the word ‘man’ is being increasingly replaced with ‘man and woman’ or simply with ‘people’ when actually speaking of human beings of both genders, in Africa, oh no no no, Man is capitalised. Man eats, Man breathes, Man thinks, Man shits. Man na Person!

Woman, well she picked the incomparably short end of the stick. Tough luck? Well, yes, but, you see, thanks to feminism she no longer has to hope that men, however humanist they may be, shall some dazzling day fight for all women to have equal access to basic human rights such as education, anti-discrimination or inheritance laws. Instead she can use feminist tools – and she has done – to be able to vote, get a bank account, even – if she is lucky –  to wear a mini skirt (yippie!), let alone to fight for access to powerful positions in society.

It is remarkable that it needs saying but it nevertheless appears necessary. Humanism may be fantastic but it is not a substitute for Feminism!

You dig?

 

photo by: Illumistrations

Let 2014 be a year of emotional awareness

 

20140102 154756 Let 2014 be a year of emotional awareness

@ Olumo Rock, Abeokuta, Nigeria.

Welcome to 2014. It’s going to be a special one coming up to the 4th anniversary of this blog, and especially as we are going to have the fearless African femme fatale energy present.

But before settling in to the new year: if you could sum up 2013 in one word only, what would it be?

In my case it would be ‘learning’. Especially gaining knowledge through experience. It was a year of change for me; I lost my grandma on my mum’s side. She was my only link to Finland (where my mum is from) so her passing felt like my ties to Finland lessened also. Romantically, my relationship of soon three years went through difficult but necessary changes. My attitude towards my work changed, I started to trust myself more and to feel more confident about the path that I’ve chosen. I lost and made friends. And I began to heal old wounds. For instance, I wrote about being raped, an experience that had silenced a part of me for too long.

Amidst changes and self reflection, the deep feelings that makes our emotional lives; the joys, anxieties and yearnings, I learnt something that I’m taking with me into 2014 and beyond. Namely that emotional awareness is not only knowing how you feel about the world but valuing your emotions as the ultimate source of learning.

We live in a world that encourages reason over sentiment but emotions are the most logical tools we have for self knowledge. Life is an embodiment of emotion. Intelligence itself is a feeling not a fact. Yet feelings are seen as inconvenient because a person who is in tune with themselves is difficult to control. Women who express their true feelings are especially disruptive because women’s preconceived roles keep up so many of society’s facades: the falsehood of harmonious nationhood, of “pure” family (also the source of racial prejudice), of war as justice, would all be severely threatened if women revealed their true feelings about these institutions.

Emotional awareness is not wearing your sentiments on your sleeve but it is you (rather than everybody else) knowing exactly how you feel about everything happening in your life. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.

Emotional awareness means looking at ourselves honestly. Not just the nice things, our generosity or friendliness or smartness, but also the feelings that we are less proud of: resentment, bitterness or competitiveness. It is love without the frills: unprocessed, unpackaged humanness and it’s a beautiful way to live. In fact it’s the only way to be alive.

So if you make one resolution in 2014, let this be it: to be emotionally aware.

Wishing you a fantastic 2014 and one of raw, expressive feeling.

The African Femme Fatale

femmefatale The African Femme Fatale

Via weheartit.com

As the year comes to an end, I thought that I would like my last post of the year to be about something exciting, a feminine energy we could do well channeling more of in 2014. Scrolling through old posts and comments, I recognised an energy brewing, one not yet defined but one which can put an end to the erotic famine that has caused women a sense of powerlessness – namely the femme fatale.

So I am dedicating 2014 to her. La femme fatale. Why? Well, simply because her no bullshit modus operandi could bring about radical change. Hers is an archetype that is simultaneously disobedient, powerful, serious, troublesome, wise, playful, tough, kind, seductive and sensual saying “Fuck you” to anyone who attempts to diminish her sense of self. Qualities which could be useful for African women, for women everywhere, don’t you think?

Also, while she certainly exists, the African femme fatale is absent from cultural production at large. Most of us can name women such as Marlene Dietrich, Mata Hari or mother of all femme fatales, Eve, but their African counterpart is not as well known. Yet as a cross-cultural study about the female archetype found, the femme fatale is incredibly popular in sub-Saharan African folklore.

The African “Fatale” has a lot in common with Fatales all around the world but I suggest that a few things distinguish her.

Firstly, the African Fatale lives – and has for very long lived – in a world, where much like the continent from where she comes, her existence has been equally mystified and condemned. As the feminine proprietor of the torch-shaped treasure grove which is Africa, she has been exploited, abused, adored and praised in tandem with it. In ancient times before christian mythology was misused to justify slavery, declaring black the colour of evil and of the devil, dark skin was a symbol of beauty, of earth and of divinity. The African continent was in those days also seen as a place of esteem: of knowledge and wealth. This was long before fellas like Sigmund Freud nailed Africa and women into the same casket with declarations such as, uhn, “the sexual life of adult women is a “dark continent” for psychology.” The modern African femme fatale knows that her early worshippers had good taste. To her, “female freedom always means sexual freedom” (as Toni Morrison said), and she is indefatigably proud of her heritage.

Unlike her western counterpart, to whom history can seem unfashionable, to the African Fatale, reflecting back is reflecting forward. Due to the proverbial hunter-historian obscuring her continent’s magnificence, rediscovery of women like Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Nzinga, Winnie Mandela and deities like the Mami Wata and Oya, connect the dots between the modern African Fatale and her ancestors like a string of pearls.

Which brings me to glamour, for you cannot talk about the femme fatale without mentioning glamour. Whether she is diabolusly charming or eloquently seductive she uses glamour like a magician uses a deck of cards. The African Fatale’s existence is enriched by luxuries of the senses: powerful colours, waist beads, lush fabrics, indigo, henna, patchouli, nipple tassles, you name it. Glamour is her uniform as she fearlessly and “irresponsibly” navigates the edges of her world.

As for the men of her continent, they are equally frightened and seduced by her power. They sing songs, write stories and make movies about her. The myth of Moremi, NedjmaKarmen Geï… They accuse her of witchcraft, they murder and adulate her. Her insouciant wilderness threatens the status quo and precisely therefore she, the Afro-fatale, ignores the rise of conservative values. She knows that their primary goal is to make her extinct and the priority above all for the African Fatale is to avoid extinction.

The Fatale – wherever she stems from – is not necessarily feminist, at least not in the academic sense of the term. But she is most certainly a feminist archetype especially because of her determination not to let anything – nothing at all: not men who sit mightily on power, not traditions that are afraid of her sexuality, not white supremacist fantasies about racial hierarchies, not religions that dictate that women should obey men, not ideas that negate the life giving act of mothering, not media that obsesses with depicting women weakly, not even the inevitability of ageing, let alone the mortifying mythification surrounding it – compromise her appetite for life. She is her own boss and she runs her enterprise with zest.

So are we ready for the brave new world of the Fatale in 2014?

What does the term ‘femme fatale’ make you think of?

 

The objectification of men

african renaissance monument  from above The objectification of menI am intrigued, despite my previous post about how African women’s art is feminist, by how seldom women artists (from Africa but also elsewhere) objectify the male body. We lose out from this disengagement with the male as object. Whether it is fine or digital art, photography or sculpture, we are culturally deprived of an artistic female interpretation of the butt-naked hombre.

Nope, I don’t mean women artists should objectify the male body as an act of revenge. Not even necessarily as a sexual object as not all women are sexually attracted to men. But rather just as an “object” of mutual human fascination. The rarity of female artists observing the male body as a point of reference suggests to me that women artists don’t generally feel they have a right to a “female gaze”, and certainly not to declare it publicly.

Ways to objectify men

The truth is that artistic depictions of naked men (NSFW) are generally speaking created through a male – gay and straight – gaze. As a result, the male physique has historically been portrayed in a self-masturbatory way that engorges the association of masculinity with power: most of all power over other men but also over women, children, nature, animals, everyshit. Quite literally the male body has been portrayed as God.

Take for instance the eyesore that we must now forever associate with the African renaissance, namely the African Renaissance Statue (pictured). Pierre Goudiaby Atepa’s (whose other work is quite cool) demigod hunk is a man whom I imagine would protect his family from enemies while simultaneously being his family’s greatest fear. He is THE nation itself while the damsel in distress next to, wait – behind, him is the prize possession: the reward that enhances his status in the world. (Don’t even get me started on her implant-like exposed boob.)

In contrast, consider for example these Alison Saar sculptures. I’m not saying that they in particular would’ve made a perfect African renaissance monument but I love the stories her figures tell. Or compare Laura Facey’s Redemption Song Monument to the Disney-like hero now stoutly obfuscating the African west coast.

How does the unclothed male body express emotions such as beauty, vulnerability, ugliness, woundedness or strength? What details can a man’s frame reveal about human evolution? How does the male body age? How does a laryngeal prominence look when painted through a woman’s eyes? And what do women artists make of the most communicative of body parts, the penis, especially when it’s not viewed as a phallic power schlong?

… like Salt-n-Pepa

The popular idea in society is that the female body is more beautiful than the male. This view is not an inherent one, rather it has been carefully architected to suit the circular patriarchal logic that since the female body is more appealing than the male, it is therefore more “natural” to objectify it.

The female body is beautiful and expressive, don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that art of naked women by both genders cannot be striking. But I personally find the male body as beautiful as the female, not only because I am a heterosexual woman, but even more so simply because I find human beings beautiful and men are human.

So, I wish more female artists to do  what Salt-n-Pepa do in Shoop, namely to objectify men!

What about you? Male objectification, anyone?

Seriously though, can male and female bodies be compared in terms of beauty? Why do you think women artists, African as well as others, largely shy away from objectifying men?

photo by: Jeff Attaway

What does feminine power look like?

laughter  explored What does feminine power look like? Women and power is a current hot topic. It was much discussed at the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, for instance, where I too spoke about this very theme last week. It has also been recently debated at the Harvard Business SchoolFEMNET and  BBC’s 100 Women campaign.
I welcome the increased emphasis on this topic because it is power, or rather the lack of it, which is a root cause of women’s inequality.

By power, I mean first and foremost the capacity to change society. We live in a male-centric world where men have access to more space in the public sphere, more rankings, more money, better education, more favours, more perks, more sex, more healthcare even.

To challenge the status quo so that future generations of girls can access these things in equal measure, the biggest challenge women face is how to identify with the idea of being powerful. Because the more women identify with powerfulness, the more women will seek leadership positions. And the more women in leadership positions, the more rights women will have. Regardless of how much women shout about injustice, male leaders are not willing to truly tackle issues that affect half of the world’s population such as violence against women, which actress Thandie Newton has accurately called a form of “species suicide”. We need to stop gullibly believing that male leaders will thoroughly address women’s issues, they won’t.

So how do women gain more power? Well, for one, it seems to me that we have to ask a very obvious but hardly addressed question, namely – what does feminine power look like?

After all it is easy to imagine a woman being powerful in a masculine way, but how is a woman powerful in a feminine way?
When I started to ask myself questions such as, “How does a powerful woman act?” “How does she carry herself?” “How does she express herself?” “How does she interact with other people?” “How does she lead?” I must admit that the first words that came to mind were words like “strongly”, “boldly”, “firmly”, terms that are traditionally associated with masculinity; femininity is specified as “soft”, “gentle”, “modest”. In other words, while masculinity is synonymous with the definition of power in the dictionary, femininity is not associated with power at all.

I realised, in despair, that I had to redefine power or I would inevitably give mine away.

And when I started to redefine power, a project that is never ending by the way, I learnt that feminine power is not necessarily about softness, gentleness or modesty. But it is not automatically as cut-throat and alpha as masculine power is either.
I’d say, objectively speaking (ha ha – as if) that feminine power is the following: persuasive, tactful, communicative, detail-oriented, calm, responsive, adaptable, resilient, graceful…

And you know what is interesting? We live in a world today where all those terms I just mentioned are becoming the most desirable traits in our leaders. We no longer value as much the kind of Machiavellian, muscular and narcissistic leadership that’s stuck around since the Middle Ages. Even male leadership has changed, from the most powerful man in the world, President Obama, whose calm stature is possibly his most appreciated leadership attribute, to the Iranian president who has recently positively surprised the world with his tactful approach to leadership. Not to mention women leaders such as Joyce Banda, Hillary Clinton and Doreen Lawrence, who don’t shy away from their femininity as challenging as it may be not to do so.

This is not to say that powerful women can’t possess masculine traits or vice versa. Both men and women can be powerful in feminine and masculine ways. But we need to keep challenging the essential traits associated with leadership. Women can be powerful leaders without behaving in typically masculine ways.

Or can they?

What do you think? How would you define feminine power?

This blog was adapted from a presentation at the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society in Deauville, France, on October 17th, 2013.

 

Guest post: I love African men too, but do they love me back?

 Guest post: I love African men too, but do they love me back?This is a guest blog by Stephanie Kimou (pictured) who blogs at A Black Girl in the World

***

Minna’s article last week on the reasons why she/we love African men, was pretty spot on right? I certainly appreciate African men and if I may be biased, especially West African men – *swoon*.

I agree that there is an aura of unrehearsed confidence about African men that makes women like me weak. And Minna’s point about a sort of feministic archetype African man is interesting.

Plus, they understand us right? They too get the 3am calls from relatives back home who can never seem to get the time differences right. They too understand the monthly Western Union visits to send our cousins’ school fees. They sympathize with us the when our white co-workers ask if we speak “African”, or if we can teach them how to twerk.

However, now that I’m back living on the continent as a single girl, many of my interactions with African men have left me wondering if the love is mutual.

I’ve come to wonder if African men see us are as their cherished equals, their queens? I’m getting the feeling that they all lust for their very own Kim Khardashians, leaving the Fatimas, Onyekas, and Wanjirus of the world high and dry?

Let me give you a few examples. A couple of weeks ago I had some friends over to my home in Tanzania for Sunday daytime drinking (don’t judge). One of my guests, influenced by my cocktails, confessed his feelings about my roommate who is white. He basically said that I was not as valuable as my roommate because of her heritage. Another case: one of my friends doing her masters degree in a cold, faraway Scandinavian country met a guy from the same African country that she comes from. After spending time together, and connecting on the fact that they spoke the same language, and shared other experiences, he eventually revealed to her that he really wanted an “exotic” woman, meaning non-African. This reminded me of a male friend who doesn’t mind African women as long as they are light skinned. Ethiopian women, he once told me he liked, because “Ethiopian women make the women from his country,” [beautiful women who I think look very much like myself] “look like animals.” Can you imagine?

The list of experiences goes on. Between my girlfriends and I; we have had our fair share of less than pleasant interactions with African men.

African men that we in return speak so highly about; African men that we have loved all our lives, whom we were raised with, who raised us. African men who we covet and respect. Yet have we lost the shine in their eyes? Do African men really love us back?

Leave a comment with your thoughts.

***

Born in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire and raised in Washington, DC, Stephanie Kimou is a blogger by night at A Black Girl in the World and a program manager at WomenCraft Social Enterprises in Ngara, Tanzania by day. She holds a masters in International Affairs and Gender Studies from Georgetown University in DC.
Stephanie has written on MsAfropolitan previously about marriage and women in an African context.

 

What I like about African men

cyclist tan What I like about African men

Let me start by saying that there are desirable traits in men from all corners of the world. From the Ken-ish charm of a George Clooney type to the Jesus-like gentle features of many Arab and Asian men, our diverse world contains a smorgasbord of likeable men.

Yet there is something about African men that evokes in me a particular appreciation of the masculine. What I value about men of African heritage is, however, not what the culture – popular or otherwise – seems to like about them. You know: muscular. Athletic. Spiritual. Good rhythm. Creative. Bold. Tough. Straight-forward. Luxurious skin. Well-endowed; which is not to say that such features are undesirable at all; but they are problematic generalisations and they are far from all there is to African heritage masculinities.

Actually, what fascinates me in African men is an unrehearsed type of manliness: the kind of graceful and genuine poise which has nothing to prove nor deny but that strives to be just. Such masculinities may or may not be physically strong and robust but they are energetic, passionate yet simultaneously vulnerable and open. They are also men who see women as equals without feeling intimidated.

Yet this type of masculinity seems to be vanishing. Thanks to male-supremacist ideology within Eurocentrism, Judeo-Christian as well as Islamic influences and precolonial patriarchal mindsets, ideas of masculinity in African heritage societies have become increasingly marked by chronic machismo. Machismo is everywhere, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not without reason that Africa and the Caribbean have some of the highest levels of gender inequality in the world.

Despite the divisive influences and traditions, here and there are glimpses of a masculine archetype that seems to stem from a history of appreciation for intimate camaraderie and that is not at ease with the control of women. Again, such can be found in all corners of the world. But I believe that if we dug deeper into African history with the intention to encourage a more harmonious society, we would find an especially wealthy resource of masculine ideals in African indigenous systems.

After all, since Africa has some of the oldest and largest matrilineal societies such as the Akan and Tuaregsome of the oldest legacies of female leadership and rituals to curb male abuse of authorityit means historically there were men who took part in honouring mutual understanding. And in African religion we find stories such as that of the Yoruba Orisha Osun, the goddess of the oceans, a feminine archetype under whose worship, woman and man strived to live amicably. Osun’s domain is water, as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti sang, “Water no get enemy”. Osun does not exclude gays or lesbians as their sexualities present no threat (or enemy) to her environment.

These stories reveal a history not only of female power but of male commitment to balance. In modern times we can see it in literature; for instance, in books by Njabulo Ndebele, Elechi Amadi and many others. We see it in the fact that male students outnumber female students in Gender Studies in some African universities and, online, in blogs like the New African Man or organisations such as Engaging Men.

I cherish African men, among other things, for continuing this legacy of love.

How about you, what do you like in African men?

photo by: dno1967b

Polygamy in Africa has little to do with sex

 47413423 wives 2 Polygamy in Africa has little to do with sexAt its core polygamy is natural because men biologically need to spread their seed and it is hard for them to commit to one woman. Right?

Wrong.

But this argument is one commonly given to explain the tradition.

For instance, Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, wrote in his autobiography that: “However unconventional and unsatisfactory this way of life may appear to those who are confirmed monogamists, and without in any way trying to defend my own sex, it is a frequently accepted fact that man is naturally polygamous.

And following a law that would protect women in polygamous marriages in Tanzania in the 1970s, male deputies protested saying: “if a man has to get his wife’s consent to a second marriage, the African tradition where man has always been superior to a woman will be endangered.” (source)

In more modern times, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa has defended the tradition in similar terms, saying that it’s better than cheating (which, he has nevertheless also managed to do).

Status not sex

Yet even if natural urges are the reason men might choose polygamy today – which I doubt, considering it would take an admirably virile man to keep an amount of women sexually satisfied – historically the sexual aspect was hardly the most relevant. Furthermore, women also have natural urges.

The truth is that polygamy was to do with status and wealth. The more wives a man had the more his wealth grew. Why? Because it was women and their children who worked the land. That is also why, contrary to popular belief, monogamy was equally common in precolonial Africa if not by choice. As historian Samuel Johnson writes in his seminal book, only the wealthy can avail themselves of the luxury of polygamy.

Even for women, polygamy in ancient times was not always disadvantageous. Through polygamous marriages women in precolonial Africa often had greater personal autonomy. As new wives joined a compound, older ones could focus on their trading. And successful women traders, such as the Iyalodes in Yorubaland, had a lot of power. While autonomous female traders are traditionally linked to West Africa, studies have found a long history of women’s trading also in places such as among the Kikuyu in Kenya as well as groups in Uganda and Zambia.
Also, women could take lovers that would pay husbands for the “loan”, if the husband allowed it – which some would if the wife was not the first or last.
In Guinea, albeit during colonial rule, in order to escape nagging husbands and join the independence struggles, women went so far as to acquire wives for their husbands as explained in “Emancipate your husbands“.

Of course, whatever autonomy polygamy afforded back then, it was subsumed by colonialism and the rise of puritanical missionary teaching.

What about love?

I’m sure that what we today describe as romantic love could be found in polygamous homes. Humans are biologically predisposed to feel romantic love. But since couples in love would run away from their parents to be together to avoid polygamous marriages it seems likely that it was not the norm. There are accounts of missionaries “rescuing” a woman being kidnapped only to learn that it was staged. It was in fact the woman’s boyfriend “kidnapping” her so that they could escape the inevitability of her ending up in a polygamous marriage.

Polygamy has far from disappeared. From President Zuma to village heads in Zimbabwe to my own granddad (who married four women), polygamy is part of the fabric of African life.

I don’t think polygamy should be illegal. As long as our societies are marked by both poverty and patriarchy, it will continue. Women still depend on men financially and social norms entitle men to dominant roles. (Of course, I wish both poverty and patriarchy would end.) And I certainly think that as long as polygamy is legal, women should also be able to marry more than one man. Also, some people might be genuinely happy practising polygamy.
But please spare me the macho spiel that polygamy in African society is about men’s natural sexual urges.
It’s not about sex, it’s about status.

We need to eroticise society

tumblr ml We need to eroticise society

I know what you’re thinking: What do I mean by “eroticise” society and why on earth should we do that? Surely we are obsessed with sex as it is!

Well, yes, sex is everywhere but Eros, i.e. Erotic love, isn’t. Our sexual culture is either prudish or pornographic. On one end, we are surrounded by explicit sexual images that objectify women and make men seem vulgar: and on the other end, lurking underneath our hypersexualised culture are proscriptive Victorian values. In reality, pornographic and prudish cultures are two sides of the same coin: they shock and feed off each other.

In 1970 Shulamith Firestone wrote in The Dialectic of Sex that “heterosexuality has been restricted to the genitals, rather than diffused over the entire physical being”. Still very true today. We still hardly talk about the  psychological processes to do with sexual desire (NSFW). Nor do we culturally uphold genuine intimacy. Yet so much of the joy of life is about showing our real selves. Or as Brooke Magnanti a.k.a. Belle de Jour put it, what everyone wants is “someone who accepts them exactly as they are.”

By contrast, in creating a culture where sex is either superficial or taboo, people are stuck with all sorts of hang ups about sex. Even worse, as a 2009 study showed, poor self-esteem, stress, and self-doubt are associated with a hypersexual culture.

This is why we should eroticise society, as Eros per definition involves desire, intimacy and love.

Now it is, in many circles, unfashionable to speak of making love. Making love is associated with a particular idea of romance: R&B music in the background; rose petals floating lightly on velvety cushions that rest invitingly on a silk-clad bed for two; champagne, chocolate, home cooked dinner, cunnilingus.

I’m not judging anyone for whom I’ve just described a perfect recipe for stupefying sex, but I think making love could equally be a quickie in front of the TV. To me, making love is not so much about the format: the set up or the schmooze, but rather it is a mindset. When sex is seductive, honest, sweaty, soft, tactile, emotional, connected, etc., the phrase that best describes it, regardless of where and how it takes place, is making love.

Fucking, on the other hand, is characterised by detachment. You know you are fucking when there is a sense of indifference to whom you are sleeping with – never mind he is your partner of fifteen years and you have five kids – all that matters at that moment is that he is satisfying your animalistic urges.

Let me be clear: one type of sex is not better than another, I think most people engage in both, but to eroticise society, we must talk more about making love.

It hasn’t always been this way …

There is no golden age to look back to when it comes to sexual relations, but before western male supremacist sexologists (such as Sigmund Freud, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Havelock Ellis etc.) systemically “phallocentrified” sexuality, historical remnants provide examples of reciprocal sexual exploration. Some very old (NSFW) examples are The Turin Erotic Papyrus of ancient Egypt, the Lakshmana Temple Reliefs and the Japanese Shunga. Attitudes toward homosexuality were also much more relaxed than today. For instance, as far back as 2000 years ago in San cave paintings in Zimbabwe and in 15th century European prayer books there are drawings of male-male sex.

Ultimately, a more erotic society would mean that humans interact – lust, learn, pleasure, care, explore, share, disappoint, love – each other with more finesse. As the Congolese author, Sony Lab’ou Tansi said, “Eroticism is the art of cooking love well”.

What do you think?

What is the purpose of education? What can we learn from Liberia

091217 6 liberia security sector reform sgt 1st class dedraf blash What is the purpose of education? What can we learn from Liberia

Out of all the alarming news that we receive on any given day, the story about all 25,000 school-leavers failing a test of admission to the University of Liberia hit me like a can of whoop-ass yesterday! The Liberian newspaper, The News, has since reported that the university has agreed to lower the entry standards slightly to enable some permissions and Liberia’s president, Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, confirmed that 1,600 students would be admitted. Nevertheless it’s devastating. How on earth is it possible that not a single student passed the initial entry exams?

The obvious explanation is the civil war in Liberia, which ended only a decade ago. Furthermore, in a poor, postcolonial country interwoven in a neoliberal global system it is arguable that in many ways peace has not yet been achieved. It may thus seem natural that young people who are burdened with the memory of trauma, individually or collectively, are unlikely to perform well in school.

The more I thought about it, however, the clearer it became: While the residual legacy of war is probably the catalyst, it’s not the main reason. A flunk of this scale has to be a problem within the system itself. After all, even psychologically traumatised young people can be seduced by knowledge acquisition and the excitement to learn. I know this proximately because my mum, who is a retired teacher, taught severely war-affected youth from Iraq, former Yugoslavia, Somalia and so on. If you can awake even the slightest curiosity in a young woman or man, you can teach them to at least be open to learning.

The major problem, in Liberia and elsewhere, is that the educational system is not set up to advance the society in which it operates. It is frankly quite useless and boring and in need of an overhaul. Understandably, students are simply not engaged any more, they’re not excited about learning. They see no point in learning things that will not help them succeed in life.

The most urgent question in Africa is that of education.

I fear that what’s happened in Liberia might be a precursor of what’s to come in many African states. The already volatile standard of education has been stooping in recent years. African learning institutions are suffering of regular teacher strikes, bribe-culturegender based violence, corruption and a lack of resources to name a few. Furthermore, the ever growing youth population face massive unemployment. Experts from many African countries have raised concerns about the decay of the education system.

Inequality, poverty, exploitation, patriarchy, neo-imperialism, violence, war, leadership, health care and so on are all interlinked and bound together by the dilemma of education. And I don’t mean education simply from a development/NGO/Millennium Goals perspective. Indigenous knowledge is also education. Learning to think independently is also education. Learning to love yourself is also education. In that sense, all of us, each and every African, needs to re-educate ourselves. We need to ask ourselves the fundamental question: what is the purpose of education? Is education simply a question of getting a certificate? Is it a means to a particular job? Is it a way to make money? Is it something to make our parents happy? Or, is it as I would like to propose, something that should encourage us to be of value to our societies and our societies of value to us. This dialogue is well overdue.

At the moment, the debates about educational reform centre around raising numeracy and literacy or providing each African child with laptops. But these are not our biggest problems. Why aren’t we focusing on getting young people excited to learn, helping them become citizens who are connected to their environment?

I wish education in Africa were of an increasingly philosophical nature. Imagine campuses where students themselves are encouraged to probe into why they are studying in the first place. Imagine schools where ‘pan-Africanism’ and ‘African philosophy’ are core parts of the curriculum.
Education is a process that sparks an internal curiosity, its ultimate goal is to teach people how to learn. It is what helps people formulate some of the most important questions in life. Well, at least it should be.

What do you think? What would you like to see on the education agenda? Would love to hear your thoughts on this, let’s discuss.

photo by: US Army Africa

Meditations with Lorna Simpson

Lorna Simpson Meditations with Lorna SimpsonWhy do I like pictures that seem ghostly? I’m not religious and I am no more spiritual than any one else. I’m not an atheist either but I cherish rational argument. I spend quite a lot of my time upside down, in Adho Mukha Svanasana and occasionally Urdhva Dhanurasana and so on, and yet despite my fondness for these poses, I prefer taking the world upright. I don’t watch horror movies because although I mostly find them silly, they cause me nightmares.

So, why am I attracted to phantasmal images? I reckon it’s because the ghost is humanity’s alter-ego and, this, intrigues me.

A few days ago I became transfixed with this photo of Lorna Simpson’s titled Corridor (Night) that I stumbled upon in a new book with the eponymous title “Lorna Simpson”.

More specifically, I was glued to the image on the right of Corridor (Night). There’s a woman in the photo, Wangechi Mutu, although she is not being Wangechi Mutu in the photo. The photo, by the way, is also part of a beautiful video installation.

Corridor%20(Day) Meditations with Lorna Simpson

Corridor (Night), Lorna Simpson

At any rate, the woman is in her bathroom that has no bathtub or shower. She is wearing a terrible pink gown but it looks great on her. She is applying Shea butter on her collar bone where she is sunburnt.
That’s what I imagine is happening although the sunburn is unlikely since the trees outside of the bathroom window are deprived of their green jewels. But because it seems to me that the woman is an apparition, it doesn’t matter why she is doing what she is doing. Why do I find her ghostly? Because her presence in the room is bare; she has no reflection in the mirror in front of her, there are no drops of water in the sink, her side of the bathroom does not have a toothbrush mug.
It’s not an image of a Blackwoman in a  bathroom, it’s an image of a bathroom with a Blackwoman in it, her presence conspicuous yet unassuming.

Would the image have the same effect on me if the woman wasn’t black or if a man was in the room instead? Perhaps, but I don’t care to imagine those scenarios. Lorna Simpson’s art may speak volumes about race, gender and identity; it’s undeniably subversive and political, but what stays with me is not academic, but rather a personal memory, as if I were observing someone in an old family album. (And who looks at someone in their family album through a race/gender lens?) The woman is not a problem to be solved, she – the ghost – is affirmed and aware.

I turn the page and and on page 140 I find a man in a suit standing in a cloud. It’s lovely! Like much of Simpson’s work, it’s haunting, mysterious and beautiful all at one. But more on his ghost some other time.

Do you like this? What does the picture say to you? would love to hear your thoughts!

 

Lorna Simpson is published by Prestel Publishing

 

What role can women play in helping to shape their built environment?

hallway milwaukee art museum What role can women play in helping to shape their built environment?

This post is an extract from a Q&A by sixty7 Architecture Road, a Canadian site devoted to the built environment, which asked four individuals, from various professional backgrounds, and from different parts of the globe, to give answers to the question

What role can women play in helping to shape their built environment?

Read my contribution below and check out the other responses here.

 

A survey was once conducted to find out what teenagers, girls and boys, feel about their built environment. Predictably, it found that many teenagers dislike schools, corporate and hospital buildings. However, surprisingly, it also revealed that neither are they fond of places like museums, theatres and art galleries. They find them boring and associate them with stale, restrained and hierarchical traditions.

I refer to this example as the results of the survey reveal a problem we have with much of our contemporary environment, namely that it reinforces dated traditional values rather than fosters modern, exciting ones. And many of the traditions that our environment strengthens are patriarchal ones. In other words, male dominance has not only shaped architecture but architecture has also supplemented male dominance.

This is why much of our built environment today does not cater to the needs of women. Take for instance, the comparatively long queues that women often meet when visiting a public space’s restroom. Or more gravely, consider maternity wards, where women are crammed into formal and emotionless spaces in which they must experience one of the most intimate, humbling and frightening experiences that a woman may go through.

Like all technology and development, architecture needs to be more inclusive and modern in the 21st century. Architecture must work for women not against them. As professors, architects, community leaders, politicians and other professionals, women have to get more involved in the act of creating space. We can exercise our power by choosing environments that cater to female sensibilities. Whether it’s buying and decorating homes, choosing universities, hospitals, grocery stores or making mundane lifestyle choices like which restaurant to visit; wherever possible we should go for environments that cooperate with our visual and practical comfort as well as with our safety and we should articulate why we make these choices. The more voice we give the issue, the more the market will respond accordingly.

 

What do you think? Do you notice ways in which the environment meets/neglects the needs of women and how can women continue to shape the environment?

photo by: o palsson

For people that have been raped

loneliness  explored 298x300 For people that have been rapedI was fourteen the first time that I was molested. It was an incident that (in hindsight) ushered me into the awareness that womanhood was in many ways going to be quite the challenge. I was walking home after school, this was in Malmo, Sweden, where I lived at the time. As I approached the last turn before reaching my street, I had the sense that someone was following me. I turned back to see a man observing me, walking at a similar pace to mine.
As I got to the front door and paused to pull out my keys, the man also stopped. He smiled at me saying that he was newly moved into the apartment complex.
For some reason, I felt a slight suspicion but I nevertheless proceeded to enter the compound, and into the lift, with the man following behind me.
As we entered the lift, he pressed the first floor button and I the fourth. No sooner had the lift ascended than did he begin to firmly grope me. Then, as we came to the first floor, he kicked the door open and ran out and down the stairs before I could react.

Many years after this incident, I was date – and gang – raped.

When I compare the two events, it strikes me how differently I reacted in each instance. When the man molested me in the lift, I rushed to immediately tell my mum who then attempted to run after the man in a white t-shirt and blue jeans that I hurriedly described to her. Of course, he was long gone by then but I spoke about it with her, with friends and with my boyfriend at the time.
In contrast, when I was raped, I told no one. For years, I kept it to myself. Partly, because I felt ashamed about it and too sensitive to deal with what would inevitably follow but most of all I did not want to be pitied. I did – and do – not see myself as a victim.
Rather I felt that being raped was a probable, if nonetheless unimaginable, reality of being a woman. But it saddens me to think that although the world had by then taught me to anticipate, if not expect, to be sexually assaulted, it had also taught me to remain silent about sexual crime.

The good news – if we may call a result of something burdensome, good – is that I today feel stronger than ever as it comes to sexual crime and harassment.
In a sense, something about my 14 year old self was reawakened, that young woman who knew – and unapologetically vocalised – that she had been violated, is much similar to the woman I am today who is quick and unhesitant to call out potential molesters.

Which brings me to why I write this post. I write this post firstly to contribute to creating a culture where we encourage women who have been raped or in any way molested to ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS report the crime if only they can. Not reporting rape is like not reporting a robbery (or any other crime, for that matter). And often worse. I truly regret not going to the police. Especially as I knew exactly where I could have pointed the police to in order to find the men who raped me.
If I had reported the case, those men would forever have to live with a rape accusation, if not a conviction, on their records. They may for legal, or other reasons have needed to share this with their wives and children in the future. It is this act – of when rapists have to come to terms with their violence, anger and misogyny – that ultimately has the power to change rape culture.

Emotions do not always work in a rational fashion and I know that for many, it is too painful and risky to report rape so most of all, I write this post to share with women (and men) who have experienced similar situations, to know that they are not alone. And, that, while it may sound like a cliche, the utmost triumph comes from making a large space in your life for love. My experiences led to dig deep into the meaning of healing and I believe that is the most important thing we must find ways to do.

 

If you choose to leave a comment, I encourage you to share any thoughts on the silence around rape. As I was writing this post I searched for named first person narrative about rape experiences and did not find much at all.

photo by: VinothChandar

Why African women should blog

black woman on the computer.pf  Why African women should blogThe world has never been as patriarchal as it is today. I’m not claiming that individual societies don’t treat their women better than they did previously, but in the globalised, interconnected world we live in, we can no longer consider issues in an isolated fashion. So as we now consider the situation of women everywhere, from FGM in African and Arab society to sexual exploitation of women in the west to sexism on wikipedia to the modern day witch hunt, the full scope of women’s oppression is more visible, and daunting, than ever.

Seen from a global perspective, where oppressions intertwine and augment, there is a pressing need to expand female consciousness. One of the ways to raise consciousness is by documenting and discussing a broad range of women’s stories online through blogging. Blogging’s ability to impact mainstream discourse has “never been greater” according to the Harvard Business Review, which also reports that if you want to have an impact, you should be setting the agenda by blogging your ideas.

For African women, whose stories are obscure from mainstream media, these advantages are especially important. We need to boost intellectual discussions, especially those that tackle sexism, repressive traditions and racist stereotypes and that empower us to make sense of our diverse journeys.

African women need to be encouraged to write, and to perceive that our ideas matter. It is up to us to end the tyranny of patriarchy, no one else will do it for us. It is up to us to challenge negative stereotypes about Africans, nobody else will do this for us. Blogging is one way to contribute to thought leadership by documenting our stories and ideas, in so doing slowly reinstating the stories that continue to be erased, censored and/or distorted.

There’s a lot of advice about how to start a blog but I’d suggest aspiring bloggers forget about most of it and focus on getting into the habit of writing regularly. Regularly could be once a day or week or maybe, maybe month, but don’t put in the effort of setting up a blog if you cant maintain a certain pace. It’s your regular presence that makes an impact. Only skip your pattern if you really must, or if you are Lauryn Hill.

Your blog does not need to be a feminist one (although I could not encourage this more) but please don’t be put off by the idea that women’s issues are “soft” issues. If that was the case major publications would not keep slapping them on their covers. Be confident that your writing has all the gravitas necessary to those who seek insights in your words.

If that doesn’t encourage you, think about this; to author a blog is to own a space, however humble or significant, in the most revolutionary medium since the printing press was established.
Furthermore, it is to continue a legacy of female writing, an écriture féminine of sorts, championed by Audre Lorde, Anne Frank, Mary McLeod, Adelaide Casely-Hayford, Virginia Woolf, Nuha al-Radi, Anaïs Nin and other women who could be seen as some of the first “bloggers”.

It’s worth mentioning that blogging about African society can be a risk, there is a lot of sexism in the “afrosphere” like everywhere else. But the more African women blog, the more we motivate each other, the more our presence makes an impact.

As Nawal El Saadawi says, “I do not separate between writing and fighting”.

What do you think? Do you write a blog? What do you see as most challenging or rewarding about blogging?

 

I offer workshops and consultations on blogging, if you or your organisation would like to hire me please drop me a line.

 

The more oppressive towards women, the more superstitious a society. On witch hunts in Africa

from soil to soul The more oppressive towards women, the more superstitious a society. On witch hunts in Africa

It is most often agreed that poverty, exacerbated by a lack of education, tends to lie behind a widespread belief in witchcraft. However, the reasons people seek scapegoats for their misfortunes is more complex than so.

First of all, let’s establish that witch accusations are widespread around Africa. And not only accusations but also murders. In fact if you thought the witch hunt was over in this world, you’re putting Europe at the centre of the universe.
To name only a few examples, witch camps in Ghana house hundreds of women and children as was the theme of a documentary by Yaba Badoe, The Witches of Gambaga. According to Amnesty, up to 1,000 people in Gambia have been kidnapped from their villages by “witch doctors”, taken to secret detention centres and forced to drink hallucinogenic concoctions. Last year, a ten year old Nigerian girl was expelled from school on witchcraft accusations and a 95 year old woman in Zambia was brutally murdered.

Now, while there are reported cases of men being accused of witchcraft, the overwhelming majority of accused are women, and they are especially women who do not fulfil expected gender roles of marriage and motherhood. Widows and elderly women are especially targeted.
Furthermore, murders of so called witches most often have to do with female sexuality and reproduction. Women are blamed and killed for allegedly preventing conception, causing miscarriage and stillbirth, making men impotent and causing spermicide, seducing men, having sex with the devil and giving birth to demons.

What this suggests is that in societies where women’s roles are widely limited to child-bearing, people harbor fears that women, as a way of expressing their feelings of outrage, would resort to disrupting social harmony using supernatural powers.
One of the less discussed reasons behind superstitious beliefs is the fear of female rebellion. The more patriarchal a society and the more it oppresses women through its institutions and norms, the more it fears that women may be conspiring supernatural vengeance.

Let me point out that the African continent is not alone in containing witch hunts. From Latin America to South East Asia to the Middle East murders of alleged witches are common.
There are also conspicuous uniformities between the treatment of perceived witches in Africa and that of women who in medieval Europe were accused of being witches.

These global similarities cause us to wonder — if witchcraft is not a genuine phenomenon, which is my belief — why is the witch fantasy found in so many diverse regions? And what is it about women that provokes such fears of her occult malevolence in different cultures around the world?

Perhaps most worrying is that superstition is hardly relegated to the uneducated.  According to this report by Afruca, 95 percent of respondents in a survey said that they believe in witchcraft. These are people that are privileged with education and literacy.
Sure, many of us – myself included –  occasionally have illogical reactions about the ominous significance of particular thoughts, events, dreams and so on and also I’m not proposing that everything in the world can be fully understood.
However, it is imperative to try to understand. When it comes to witch hunts, we are aware that most accused witches are women but we fail to factor this fact seriously into our analyses. We need to address the whole problem of witch hunts and fundamental sexual antagonism towards women is a key part.

 

 

 

photo by: narghee-la

What do Oscar Pistorius, men’s liberation and asteroids have in common?

silhouette 300x214 What do Oscar Pistorius, mens liberation and asteroids have in common?

Four things happened on February 14th, 2013, that were strung together in an eerie way. These were the celebration of Valentine’s day, the One Billion Rising protests in over 200 countries around the world, the murder of Reeva Stenkamp by Oscar Pistorius, and, Asteroid 2012 DA14 almost wiping us all out.

You probably agree that there is an absurdity to the first three taking place on the same day, but what does the asteroid have to do with anything?
Well, from my perspective the asteroid fly-by can teach us a lot about how to encourage a more loving society, prevent millions of rapes (there’s one every 17 seconds in some countries), sex trafficking, beatings and murders of women that take place yearly.

To protect humanity from possible future hits by asteroids, we need to understand how we can alter their behaviour. A lot of money and time is being dedicated to this endeavour.
The same should apply to violent men, of which there are very many considering, for instance, that half of all women who die from homicide are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.
To end the epidemic of male violence against women, which individual cases like Steenkamp’s bring to the public eye, we need to understand why violence is such a predominantly male activity and alter this behaviour.

The last century of the women’s liberation movement has had an enormous impact on women’s collective behaviour. From suffrage to the banning of foot binding to the increased sexual and financial independence of women, feminism has – in simplest terms – freed increasing numbers of women from traditional and confining ideas of womanhood such as docility, weakness and submission.
A similar “men’s liberation” is necessary to free men from poisonous gender norms and images of manhood as violent, aggressive and destructive and encourage more compelling ideas of maleness. I’m speaking about ideas of maleness rather than the biological or individual male. Personally, I perceive masculinity alone as something inherently energetic, warm and creative.

Metaphorically speaking, while the manhood “prison” may be one with golden bars in comparison to the prison that womanhood can be, it’s a prison nevertheless. Men are also trapped by social paradigms that limit their behaviour and choices, they’re in a “Man-Box“.

It’s about time to focus on prevention rather than cure and this means that we need to increasingly shift discussions of violence against women from the “women’s issues”-domain to men’s liberation from violent behaviour where it belongs. Hopefully the near future will witness intelligent men driving conversations about ending the disturbing levels of violence by other men rather than the simple-minded views that it is guns, or women themselves, who cause it. Maybe we’ll even see another Million Man March with a focus on liberating men from old and tired views of masculinity.

Insha’Allah.

 

 

photo by: Simon Blackley

Valentine’s Day Give-Away – My free poetry e-book

cache jpg Valentines Day Give Away   My free poetry e book

 

I don’t consider myself a poet but that’s an odd thing to announce given that I am next going to offer you to download cache, my poetry book. And for free too in the spirit of Valentine’s day and love!

Poetry is a form of writing that I’m compelled to engage in when I’m at a threshold in life, in between endings and beginnings, however subtle, as I was when most of the poems in cache were written.Life, as we all know, is full of enchanting thresholds and writing poetry is something I will probably always do in between other writing. So I’m excited and proud that cache is my first book! I hope you’ll like it as much as I do! Let me know what you think! Did I say that I’m excited?

Visit the cache page to download it or find it directly here.

Oh, what’s cache about? Here’s an excerpt from the the blurb on my publisher’s site:

Weedmark Publishing is proud to present Minna Salami’s first collection of poetry. This collection invites the reader to witness the simple magic and myth in life, love and the journeys along memory and identity.

Enjoy, share the love and thoughts!

 

 

 

Can women have it all? On marriage, motherhood and work

 

The Weaver Can women have it all? On marriage, motherhood and workOne of the most popular articles in 2012 was “Why women still can’t have it all“, by Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic. It received the most facebook likes any Atlantic article has ever received and everyone from Michelle Obama to Gloria Steinem weighed in on the matter. Whether or not women can have it all is still one of the most discussed feminist questions of our times.

Personally, my head hurts whenever I think of this question. First of all, because it’s so vague – what the heck does it mean to have it all anyway? Also, does it apply to non-white and/or working class women, who in some ways are viscerally aware from the get-go that “having it all” isn’t an option. Can men have it all? Most of all, on the level that I do understand the question and that it applies to my life, it gives me a headache because it reveals my inner contradictions and unresolved tensions.

Let me demonstrate what I mean.

Here is what I on one hand think about marriage and motherhood: I don’t want to get married and I don’t want to have children.
This is because marriage comes with too much baggage, too many centuries of the word ‘wife’ meaning things about womanhood that I don’t relate to. (Examples: At one point in history marriage was considered the cure for female hysteria in the west. In many precolonial African societies wives were pawns. The more wives a man owned, the more status he had, so men who could not afford to buy wives often kidnapped enslaved women.)

Marriage is even worse if you have children because then you are a wife plus a mother. A combination of terms packed with more expectation than a scientific lab room.
And anyway, how would a baby, needy and narcissistic as they are, fare with a woman like me, whose first and only real priority is to write. Chances are it would grow to detest me for being a preoccupied and detached mother, defeating one of the main reasons people have kids in the first place, namely to feel unconditionally loved.

However, on the other hand, when I fall in love I contradict myself disgracefully. I become this woman whom I don’t fully recognise but whom I am quite fond of. This side of me is unapologetically romantic. This other self loves babies. This me wants to get married have a wedding and a baby, or maybe four?! This me fantasizes about her happily- or at least satisfiedly-ever-after future life with her soulmate – who of course shares wholly the responsibilities of child-raising – from changing diapers to cooking whatever it is that toddlers eat to putting the baby to sleep while I take a break to read yet another Hélène Cixous book instead of the latest bestselling parenting guide.

So, can I have it all? Alas, it’s not likely.

However, what’s more important to me than being Superwoman is to lead a full life, one in which I own my choices. I am not alone in thinking this way. In the countless blogs and articles that responded to the Atlantic piece, women said that having the option to choose matters the most.

But make no mistake about it – the idea that it’s “simply” about choice is bullshit. Choice spins around societal perceptions of prestige and conformity. To live a full life as a woman is therefore a political choice that needs ruthless, feral protection. Given the same conditions, it’s more difficult for a woman to live a full life than for a man because society is constructed around maleness.

Thus, women need greater willpower to fulfil their visions.
If you don’t want marriage or kids, for example, you need to have the willpower to defend your choice because you will be judged. People will think you’re antisocial, unnatural, bitter or a witch, you name it. If you are a mother, and/or a wife, again you have to defend this choice in myriad ways, within and outside your home and work.

Rather than a full on collision, I see my contradicting selves somehow continuing to zigzag around each other, teaching each other, increasing my creativity even. The me who protects her mind from any confinements of motherhood and wifeliness (since motherhood is about more than babies) is good to have around even when the nurturing, crazy-in-love me is in the front seat, and vice versa. They keep each other in check. They make life complex. As they should.

 

photo by: narghee-la

Barack Obama, villain or hero?

breakfast with barack Barack Obama, villain or hero?

When it comes to places, the affection that I have for my hometown, Lagos, is matched only by a sort of nostalgia that I harbour towards Tampere, the Finnish city I’m from, which shapes many of my memories but in which I’ve never lived.

Yet, my being Scandinavian feels like a secret. Not from anyone, I write about it here quite often, for instance, but from Finland itself. When I am in Tampere I take pleasure in my visit inwardly. I go for long walks alone. During such walks, I imagine my feet kissing the earth which is “mine” and I wander in the echoes of Finnish poetry. Without Finns meddling into my “Finnishness”, or lack of it for that matter, I can appreciate Finland for what it is – a country of wondrous natural landscapes, exciting mythology and a palpable sentiment of kaiho (longing).

What I am doing with my Finnish identity is bargaining. If life were a services contract mine would say Finnish** (**terms and conditions apply). The same goes with my Nigerian “contract”, of course. Bargaining. Negotiating. Winning here, loosing there. I quite possibly find myself in London to avoid too much haggling, it’s hassle-freer to be Scandinavian-African here.

Obama is bargaining too. It can’t be easy being the first black president in a traditionally, stubbornly white-patriarch empire.

In a sense we all are bargaining with our identities and it’s a complex, messy business full of paradox.
However, paradox, as I wrote on my facebook page a few days ago, leads to discussion and dialogue is always progress.

Yet, much of the commentary on Barack Obama is black or white, no pun intended, and this is dangerous. It disengages with paradox and therefore progressive conversations. It views Obama either as a warmongering imperialist villain or as a heroic symbol of racial hope and equality. We need more nuance in our conversations about this historical character. In return, a holistic approach gives validity to both the work of Obama’s that we may appreciate and that which make us shudder.

Who knows what the next four years of Obama’s presidency will bring. Of course it’s reasonable to predict continued hegemonic, military advances around the globe. It’s simultaneously also plausible that Americans will see stricter laws on gun ownership, forward-thinking action on gay rights, fairer immigration laws and dare one hope for engagement with racial and ethnic injustices? What do you think the major issues in American foreign and domestic policy will be?

More than anything, I think it would be great if Obama’s second term reveals much more of the bargaining that he has to do to fulfil his role as US president. No doubt it’s that precise negotiating that awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize and that also enables him to sleep at night despite US drones killing innocent people. We should avoid a one-sided narrative so that the complexities can emerge. We should aim to make the best of the historicism in his presidency, after all who knows what in the world we might need to deal with next.

 

photo by: jurvetson

Female skin, male masks

3357 1000 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 Franz 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.

 

 

 

Nina Simone, Zoe Saldana and the question of glamour

zoesaldana100420005 Nina Simone, Zoe Saldana and the question of glamour

On this your certain journey
Do you ever doubt
you have a beauty to match the strength
of those of us who carve
a strength to match your beauty?

~Abena P.A. Busia

Images of Zoe Saldana at the shoot of the Nina Simone biopic have emerged. Her casting is creating so much anger. Resentment. Sadness. Fury. The purpose of anger is to teach us about ourselves. To use it to progress. Audre Lorde says in her essay The Uses of Anger, that, Anger is loaded with information and energy.

Information

For the sake of brevity, let’s say that there are two types of female archetypes in the mainstream public eye. They are the glamorous and the unglamorous. The distinction between the two has to do with desire. The glamorous celebrity archetype evokes desire in men and women alike. She is successful, talented and conventionally beautiful. Her presence arouses a type of desire in her observer that has to do with unattainable perfection. For heterosexual men, her myth enables a detachment from the responsibilities of love, because such a flawless woman cannot be truly loved for she is a fantasy. The unglamorous celebrity archetype is the woman that the majority of women can relate to. She has pain, anger, strength, joy, fear. The sentiment she evokes is not impeccable perfection but realness and thus, ironically, boldness. In real life, men find her alluring but often this is played down because glamour makes more money.
Zoe Saldana’s public image conjures the glamorous archetype. She is on the cover of fashion magazines and graces the url’s of fashion bloggers. Nina Simone’s public image did not. Many women desire Zoe Saldana’s perceived lifestyle and revere Nina Simone’s.

Energy

When a glamorous woman is cast to play an unglamorous one there is a counter-reaction. They take on different forms, but always they stir up audiences. With Nina: “No!” Women protest. “You may not insist that every woman’s primary purpose is to evoke desire. Some of our female icons must be allowed to be more than sexual objects!”
We are frustrated that Nina Simone be glamorised, glamour of course also being linked to whiteness; to straight hair, straight noses, light skin and narrow hips.
As symbolical representations of two juxtaposed media archetypes, Zoe Saldana’s success as Nina Simone will depend largely on how she teases out the idea of yearning, of glamour and of women’s relationship to these concepts. The most captivating characters on film embody a bit of both and I hope that Zoe Saldana will deliver that.

The uses of anger

It’s time to move from the limitiations of a repetitive light vs dark skin debate to the important question, which is to ask – On what terms can a woman fulfil herself, when and how can she feel whole despite societal fragmented perceptions of womanhood?
The matter of colourism is part of that question but not until asked on such terms can we deconstruct it, by teasing out the evocations that fuel its stubborn presence. Then, we realise that glamour is always an illusion, and that illusions are malleable. And most importantly, we begin to learn in a sense, to desire ourselves, our own unique archetype.
photo by: stylegirls

Seven things about gorillas and Africa

diamonds Seven things about gorillas and Africa

Why write about gorillas and Africa?

Because there is an alarm about

Gorillas in the midst of Congo conflict

///////

One ~  Tourists will generally shy away from unstable regions but this is not the case when it comes to regions with gorillas so I was wondering about touristic ideas of Africa and its gorillas. Why? An entry ticket to Virunga National Park in the DRC is $500. In 2006, the DRC earned $36 million from tourism. Say every tourist visited Virunga, that would be 72, 000 tourists/year. Uganda and Rwanda see similar numbers. According to this article “A mountain gorilla permit remains $750 in Rwanda and the 56 daily permits are often booked up a year in advance. In Uganda you can now obtain a permit for around $350 for the day before.” Does seeing gorillas matter more than ones safety? Why the risky fascination with gorillas?

Two ~ [Example] On June 9th, 2012, I am in Libreville, capital of Gabon, a city hosting the New York Forum Africa. An event, which sees almost 800 visitors from across Africa and beyond, and which is organised by US based consultancy Richard Attias Associates. Over the course of the day there are panels about developing regional economic and trade frameworks in Africa, about the greatest strides been made in creating an effective structure of financial institutions and about different development paths for the tourism industry.The day ends with a conversation with American actor Robert de Niro.

de Niro seems somewhat distracted. He isn’t in a chatty mood. An American woman who is normally based in Rwanda raises her hand during the Q & A to ask if he enjoyed his trip to Rwanda. I did, he responds, still disengaged. But: “Did you see the gorillas?” She asks. (You can watch the interview here. Comment is 23 mins in.)

Screen Shot 2012 10 19 at 00.42.25 Seven things about gorillas and Africa

Three ~ I believe that it is possible to feel stronger affection towards a gorilla than towards a human being. If I knew and cohabited a space with  a gorilla and it was killed, I would be more saddened by its death than by the death of a stranger.

Four ~ However, we can’t lament groups of gorillas dying and completely ignore that groups of humans are dying for the same reason. In this article by Pierre Briand, we are told that armed groups “have slaughtered wildlife and scared off much-needed tourists”, that they (the armed groups) said to the Belgian gorilla park director, “They let me know that we were not part of their conflict,” but that the tourist lodge was “nevertheless standing empty as a result of the fighting”.
The article does not once mention that there is a conflict that has led to 6 million human deaths. The only reference to the war is to say that, “Even in the best of times, keeping Virunga’s rangers fully funded is a challenge, but with tourism closed because of the war, it has become nearly impossible.”

In a letter from Kofi Annan to the UN security council we are informed that the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is “mainly about access, control and trade of five key mineral resources: coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold”. This is a war largely supported by foreign interests.

Five ~ The war in Congo is my war, your war, the mountain gorillas’ war, all of humanity’s war.

Six ~ Wait a minute. Rwanda is accused of supporting Congolese M23 rebels. Congolese M23 rebels are killing gorillas. Some are furious with all this and some argue that Congo rebels have legitimate concerns.The EU is supporting Virunga National Park with 11m euros. Shit! Is there a link between the threats to cut £37 m direct aid to Rwanda and the gorillas in Congo? Oh dear, I may have watched too many conspiracy theory films.

Seven ~ There’s a parallel between speciesism and how we maltreat other humans. It’s part of the same culture of hierarchies and part of this culture is the perseverance, ownership and control of species. We must envision a discussion that aims to both sustain life and liberty of all species, including the Great Apes, while also destroying the dangerous myth of the “heart of darkness” that accompanies the sustenance.

photo by: jared

Black History Month reminds us that it is time to revive the dialogue on racism in the UK

the elephant in the room Black History Month reminds us that it is time to revive the dialogue on racism in the UKTwenty-five years ago Black History Month was officially launched in the UK with an aim to “Promote race equality, equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups”.
The premise was that it would eventually be eliminated when black history became fundamental to general history.

Since then, year after year, come October, black achievements are celebrated and yet despite the African dance performances, the black film festivals, the slavery exhibitions and so on, real progress in establishing racial equality falls short.

In fact, every year, institutionalised racism continues to grow. Last month, a first ever UK analysis of its kind revealed the broad impact that racism has on the health and well being of non-Anglophone children. Other recent studies show that racism has increased in the past years and a 2012 Europe-wide survey reveals that people of African heritage especially bear a “disproportionate impact of racial discrimination through greater joblessness, physical insecurity, inadequate housing and healthcare, lower life expectancy, and many other disadvantages.”

It is perhaps not so surprising that that an event which originally was an important platform for activists, intellectuals and grassroots organisations has largely turned into a depoliticised and gimmicky opportunity for organisations to profit from the black British demographic. It is in fact quite symptomatic of a society where we on one hand accept that racial inequality exists but on the other hand studiously avoid a progressive discussion on racism.

What’s especially troubling is that it is predominantly black organisations – many who should be leading dynamic discussions about racism – and whose work focuses on black culture and history throughout the year anyway – that emphasize African heritage history, culture and creativity in an apolitical way come October. Surely, the point is that those segments of society that normally neglect to account for the contributions of black people ought to do so this month. What black organisations should be doing is paying homage to the heritage of social transformation that created Black History Month in the first place. We should be addressing racial injustice. We should be ensuring that the political cause of BHM is not stripped off it until its aim is achieved. There are many creative ways to do this, but the aim should not be to simply highlight champions of black accomplishment but also the very causes they championed.

It has become fashionable to employ a cautious approach to dialogues on racism, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily but caution should not be mistaken for speechlessness or neutralisation.

Part of the problem is that the language with which we tackle racism is dated, often rooted either in denial or blame where it instead should simply and honestly mirror the culture of our time.
More than anything, to revive the dialogue we need to connect racism with the process of healing. The pain of racism – both of experiencing racism and of being accused of it – won’t go away until we address – and find ways to heal – the traumatic effect of dealing with generation upon generation of racial hurt. The dialogue should ultimately encourage us all to see that until we learn how to live harmoniously with others we cannot live harmoniously with ourselves.

Thoughts?

 

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Precious finalist 2012 Black History Month reminds us that it is time to revive the dialogue on racism in the UK________________________

photo by: nimishgogri

On Vagina by Naomi Wolf and the reviews that followed

 On Vagina by Naomi Wolf and the reviews that followedThe release of Naomi Wolf’s “Vagina: A New Biography” was met with scathing criticisms from feminists like Laurie Penny, Ariel Levy and Zoe Heller. These influential writers all bring up some valid arguments about problematic ideas presented in the book. Vagina is indeed a book that in many ways feels unfinished and often naïve.
It is in a sense two parallel books in one: The first part tests the validity of the obvious idea that the brain and the vagina are connected while the second – if still incomplete – is much more interesting and true to the title looking at historical ideas about female sexuality.

However, frankly what is even more frustrating than Naomi Wolf’s tendency to draw premature conclusions based on incomplete research and then furthermore present platitudes as though they were revelations, is that even though she doesn’t fully succeed, her attempt to honestly and critically discuss female sexuality is met with reviews that take it too far with their vitriolic and personal criticism.

As a black/African feminist, I find myself in familiar territory reading the reviews. The gatekeepers of mainstream feminism’s underlying message is still that firstly, there is just one kind of feminist dialogue and women who don’t fit into this box may not contribute to it and, secondly, that the conversation should be of the type of Cartesian, unemotional writing that is held above all other types of social discourse in western society.

While the hole-as-goddess language that Naomi Wolf employs is over the top for me personally, what’s laudable is the endeavour to connect women’s erotic and sensual lives with their creativity and power.
However, it is therefore important to emphasize that this is a discussion that feminists before, especially those from the south and black feminists around the world have been having for decades. Black feminists have necessarily sought women’s own re/interpretations of sexuality in creative, erotic and spiritual realms of painting, pottery, poetry and so on because heavily male- dominant and often racially oppressive worlds of academic and historical “truths” do not account ‘herstory’ or African heritage reliably.

In 1978, Audre Lorde for example urged women to find our “internal erotic guides” and explore the erotic as a source of power. In African Sexualities, Nkiru Nzegwu describes that unlike the dominant ideas in 20th century sexology, in Osunality (or African eroticism) the penis is not in charge. Instead, the vagina is seen as the dominant organ as it swallows the penis, it pulls it and makes it disappear during heterosexual sex. (This is comparable to the ‘upsuck theory’ that Naomi Wolf discusses.)

In other words, there are much better resources that attempt to connect intimacy with a form of female knowing (as in the links above) than Naomi Wolf’s

Apart from continuing to reject the idea that cerebral thinking is more of a guarantee for profundity than is knowledge that has its seeds in emotion, soulfulness and creativity, I hope we will continue to explore connections between women’s creative and erotic lives as an antidote to woman-bashing in our hypersexualized society. I also think that we should seek counter-narratives of the penis as an erotic symbol of maleness and explore how that is psychosexually related to ideas of male power. Oh, I wrote a post about that a while ago - male genitalia and ideas of power. I also wrote about somatic approaches to psychology (which is really what we are dealing with here,)and of how prejudices against African spiritual philosophy for example, continue despite evidence that there is knowledge available in this field that modern science is only just beginning to understand.

Have you read it? What’s your take?

History meets present-day in Queens of the Undead by Kimathi Donkor

when shall we three 0 1024x786 History meets present day in Queens of the Undead by Kimathi Donkor

Drama Queen (Scenes from the life of Njinga Mbandi), 2010

In my view, if Kimathi Donkor‘s painting of Queen Nanny of the Maroons was an antique, precious Tarot card, she would be ‘The High Priestess’, standing as a veil between life and death, her arms outstretched; one mercifully forgiving, the other holding a deadly sword, reminding us that when it comes to life, she both gives and takes…

To view the painting of Queen Nanny alongside five other dramatic large-scale paintings of African heroines (including ‘Drama Queen’ pictured above) who each helped define the modern world, and, who are revered as armed warrior women, Iniva at Rivington Place is showing a roughly two-month long exhibition of Kimathi Donkor’s Queens of the Undead.

Queens of the Undead is a series of works exploring female power through the filters of modernity, history, legend and myth. Each painting is simultaneously a contemporary portrait, an exploration of art history and a resurrection of an historic female commander from Africa and the diaspora. In the works we find Queen Njinga Mbandi who led her armies against the Portuguese empire in Angola; Harriet Tubman, the underground railroad leader who freed dozens of slaves in the 1850s; Queen Nanny who led the Maroon guerrillas that fought the British in 1700s Jamaica; and in what is now Ghana, the 20th century anti-colonial commander-in-chief, Yaa Asantewa.

All four warrior-women portrayed in Queens of the Undead, quite possibly intentionally, remind me in a haunting way of how repetitive history can be. Warriors. Destroyers. Mothers. Desirable women. Feminine wrath, strength and acuteness all intertwined in captivating bold scenes. The paintings challenge - without compromising artistic sensibility and subtleness – our perceptions of historical accuracy. They cause me to observe the predicament that with the ebb and flow of time, not only are the same questions resurrected but their ineffective answers too. Does a woman’s masculine side compromise her womanhood? Never. Does her feminine side compromise her humanity? Too often. Then why do we still inquire into our social existence so mindlessly? Ask otherwise, the paintings seem to urge. Re-memb(h)er.

“Until the philosophy which hold one race superior / And another / Inferior / Is finally / And permanently / Discredited / And abandoned / Everywhere is war / Me say war”

Bob Marley’s words (and also Haile Selassie’s) echo through my thoughts when I leave the exhibition. Queens of the Undead forces us to view, in a mesmerizing way, the persistent struggle for liberation by Africans, as well as the paralleled and obstinate historical battle against patriarchy by women.

Queens of the Undead runs until 24 November. Admission is free. For more, visit www.iniva.org

Who is an African woman?

african profile at peace with the world 300x225 Who is an African woman?When people ask me what I do, and I respond that I’m a blogger, and that I blog about topics that primarily concern African women, quite often they proceed to either tell me about an humanitarian or developmental cause they are involved with or have read about. Sometimes they ask me how my blog reaches women in African villages.

They’re not ‘wrong’ to ask these questions and I do address women’s lives in rural Africa at times. However, these reactions imply that too often, the term “African woman” conjures a poor woman in rural Africa that automatically needs helping.  The pitiable African woman. The one that mainstream media doesn’t tire of depicting. The one who indeed exists – although she has more agency often than allowed in depictions of her – who furthermore is a sister to other African women,and not this “Other” that we ‘inauthentic’ African women are saving.

When such questions are posed, I find myself needing to be quite careful in explaining that women in rural Africa are not necessarily my target audience. This is foolish. It should not be offensive for me to say this! No one imagines that a European feminist blog must reach just one type of European woman. Most people who read this blog are based in urban cities, both in the west and the continent. Also, I myself being a Nigerian-Finnish, African-European, woman with strong ties to both continents, share stories and opinions that are based on my experiences. Therefore, people who read the blogs are likely to have cultural experiences that resonate to some extent with mine.

It seems obvious that an African woman is equally the farmer who lives in a village in Ghana or one who has a high-flying office job in Kinshasa. She is the Togolese woman in a refugee camp in Israel. Or the Ethiopian woman in a luxury home in London’s Chelsea. She is the Namibian/German woman on social welfare in Berlin. She is – from a pan-African cross-continental stance which this blog has – the  Dominican woman, the Brazilian woman, the African descendant in any part of the world who vests a part of her identity in the African continent.

I’m tired of people immediately assuming that to blog about African women is to blog about charity work. I’m tired of this idea that African women can only be objects of pity. I’m tired of the notion that African women can or should only interact on select topics. African women bloggers should and do write about social media, sex, literature, art, pop culture, love, philosophy, fashion, food, hiphop and more. I’m sick and tired of the single narrative of African womanhood having such impenetrable power.

What do you say? Have you had similar or dissimilar experiences?

photo by: kretyen

Huffington Post: Meditate Your Way Through Negative Articles About Black Women

gabbydouglasONC 082712 400se Huffington Post: Meditate Your Way Through Negative Articles About Black Women

oprah.com

I submitted the below post to the Huffington Post editors before the racist and sexist cover image of Michelle Obama as a nude slave appeared in one of Spain’s biggest newspapers, El Mundo’s, supplement. This morning an interview with Gabby Douglas went live revealing that her teammates called her a slave. Unfortunately, the constant tending towards destructive representation of black women in media is highly  alive.

It is important that we find ways to tune out the cacophony of negative media messages and tune into our feelings of self-worth.

One way to foster such compassion for ourselves and for each other is to learn how to meditate. Through meditation we wake up our hearts and minds, which enables us to connect with our inner voice. As a result we feel more relaxed as we carry out our daily lives. We find it easier to manage anger, insecurity, stress, and depression and we become more capable of detaching ourselves from any negative perceptions cast upon us.

Read the rest here

7 key issues in African feminist thought

 

12agreatmigrationhelinametaferianwwdc3september2011 207x300 7 key issues in African feminist thoughtFirstly, it is important to say that when it comes to theory, it’s more accurate to speak of African feminisms than of one almighty African feminism. Not all African feminists agree with each other–luckily, I’d add, as this would hinder deep reflection of issues such as those listed below–yet respecting differences whilst recognizing a common ground is a priority. As I mentioned in the previous post, many women might refer to themselves as both African feminists and Black feminists. (This is especially evident in bibliographies of both African- and Black feminist writing.) However, African feminist thought has an added commitment to analyses in African contexts.

I should also clarify that African feminists here, as mostly elsewhere, refers to feminists of African heritage both in Africa and in the Diaspora, and that with ‘African women’ I’m referring to women of African heritage who are rural, urban and of all social classes who live in Africa and across the globe. Lastly, the views expressed below are mine and my choice to highlight seven key issues is not to suggest that there aren’t other equally pressing and important issues or that these seven are comprehensively covered in this one post.

Al-righty, on that note, let’s start with the Big, Bad Guy.

Patriarchy
Africa is no different to other continents in the world, where whatever autonomic space the society offers the individual, it is less if one is female. Unfortunately we don’t know of a time in modern history when women of a racial/ethnic/class group were not disadvantaged in comparison to men of the same racial/ethnic/class group. We know of times (including this current one) when women of one race, ethnicity and/or class may have social advantages over men of another race, ethnicity and/or class. African feminists pay attention to the ways that patriarchy–a psychological and political system that values the male higher than the female–uses law, tradition, force, ritual, customs, education, language, labour (etc.) to keep women governed by men in both public and private life. African feminism sees that African men and women could have mutually beneficial, transformative and progressive relationships in the private and public spheres if our relationships were non-patriarchal and egalitarian. Nevertheless, African feminists assume responsibility for striving for such equal societies rather than hoping that men will someday redistribute privilege and power to create a better, more harmonious prospect for future generations.

Race
African feminist thought does not solely deal with the “male-female”-imbalance because that would leave out other factors that affect African women’s lives, one of which is racial hierarchies and the socio-politics that come along with them. In fact, African feminists tend to be well-versed in how racial politics has undermined those practices in parts of historical Africa that had complementary elements and that nurtured a spirit of mutual intimacy. African feminist writing aims to ‘undo’ the roles and conditions that made Africans dependent on their colonizers, to ‘unwrite’ the burden of a history of imperialism that spans through centuries and to give a new language with which African women and men can progress from the racialized trauma that till this present day affects women and men, albeit in different ways.

Tradition
It’s quite unpopular to criticize African traditions, or to point out that African history is marked by male dominance which African women have always resisted. Whether it is to do with the household, marriage customs, production methods or sexual freedoms, African patriarchal traditions for the most part make distinctions between male and female in ways that disadvantage the female. African women have been silenced for too long about the crimes of traditional patriarchy such as the abusive and dehumanising institution of patriarchal polygamy, widow abuse, genital cutting, witch-hunting and women’s lack of access to property and power in traditional society. That said, African feminist thought doesn’t seek to abandon tradition, as tradition also harbours a precious cultural memory and a rich legacy of knowledge and spirituality. Rather the goal is to enable tradition to adapt to its times so that rather than stagnate, it can enrich society, as customs and culture should do. Take for instance Sisonke Msimang, a well-known African feminist who here describes incorporating the lobola (bride price) in her wedding ceremony in a completely feminist way! That’s a great example of how to maintain cultural pride whilst simultaneously preserving a commitment to evolution and harmony.

Underdevelopment
Africa, according to statistical indices, is the poorest continent in terms of people’s access to basic amenities. African feminist thought honours that poverty in Africa and wealth in the west are structurally linked. The west’s continued injustice towards Africa through military intervention, resource exploitationNGO propaganda, unjustifiable debt and trade practices, and other neo/colonial practices of the power hungry has devastating effects on African states ability to cope with such factors as HIV/Aids, women’s sexual & maternal health and infrastructure development. Perhaps worst of all, is that the underdevelopment of Africa has impeded on the development of consciousness through adequate educational systems. As a result, African societies have been unable to naturally progress in ways where their jurisdiction, agriculture, intra-continental trade, indigenous healthcare and philosophical outlook has advanced to match the needs of citizens. In addition, this lack of consciousness development fuels unexamined claims like that the pursuit of gender equality is unAfrican or that homosexuality is sinful. Furthermore, poverty affects women worse than men in developing parts of the world because as Thomas Sankara said, “…women are dependant of the dependant.” African feminism seeks to enlighten that in order to develop African countries need to create social institutions that will resist foreign hegemony over African people, encourage engaged thinking and a workforce inclusive of all of its population on equally focused footing.

Sexuality
To point out the obvious, lesbians are women and homophobia and the persecution of African queer women by African states is a key issue in African feminist thought. The question of female sexuality in all its manifestations, and the control and suppression thereof, is in fact a central preoccupation for African feminists.  How do we challenge the state that pushes a rigid heterosexist idea as the norm? How do we unlink sexual dominance from sexual pleasure? How are women’s bodies made to bear the wounds of history; and of foreign intrusion and prolonged national struggles?  How do we address the psychological and physical suffering that women endure after violation? African feminist-centered thought and activism aims to query into and dismantle the mindset that doesn’t encourage the fundamental human right of ownership over ones body.

Global feminism
For feminism to be far reaching in impact, African feminists, like all others involved in the women’s movement need to collaborate with each other as we are also co-dependent in an increasingly inter-connected world. In the 20th century, African feminists were largely engaged in eliminating the arrogance and imperialism that had been imported through white-western feminism into African women’s narratives, but in the past decade or so the focus has been on ways to work together despite differences and especially to strengthen ties with Latin American and Asian feminist struggles. This pattern is in varying degrees the zeitgeist of all global feminisms, even though theory and practice are not always in unison.
African feminists need to curb (not neglect) their anger towards the negative images that many white feminists have perpetuated and focus on the resourceful work that many white feminists have produced, and white feminists need to be starkly aware and critical of their privileged position.Only then can we mutually seek to empower the strength at the heart of womanhood.

Love 
Love is something that all human beings desire in life yet it is an undervalued emotion in the worldview that shapes much of modern ideas. Using art in all its forms, for instance, to infuse theory with passion and emotion is for many African feminists a radically transformative act. Art is a realm where African feminist positions are not stated, but are symbolically represented. By creating new intellectual traditions aside of white/male academic history,  African feminists are in effect questioning the legitimacy of  knowledge production and decolonizing and depatriarchalizing minds.
African feminist thought is fuelled by the idea that love and justice are complementary to revolution and change. It is focused on healing, reconciliation, and on an insistence that the language of African womanhood, from its global position, is the language that can transform society into one where sexual, racial, spiritual, psychological and social equality are afforded. In such a society people can pursue lives with less daily micro- and macro-aggressions, less hostility and more space for self-realization. From Miriam Makeba’s music to Oumou Sy’s fashion to Nike Ogundaike’s art, African feminists are at the forefront of using creativity to express that progressive thought is not only cerebral but also visceral and expressive.

Thoughts? Questions?

More African feminist resources here.

 

 

 

pixel 7 key issues in African feminist thought
photo by: Elvert Barnes