Saturday, 28 November 2015

You started a war. We will finish it.

I've been very sick. But the internet - that small microcosm of Nigerians, that incredible place where the educated go to reveal their true selves, has made me sicker.

A woman; brilliant, controversial, bold -- came forward with a story of rape more horrific than anything I would wish on my enemy.

There should not have been a single word uttered against her. There should have been ashes and sackcloth and collective grief that eight years passed with this festering evil eating up one of their own, but of course Nigerians showed themselves mighty in the defence of the powerful. 

I wish any of the reactions surprised me. But they didn't. And the pain of this -- the pain of this child, this woman who cannot sleep through a night because men thought her a plaything, effectively silenced her with threats of further destruction, broke down the spirit of a child so much that her abuser was the only one she could turn to -- her pain was taken for sport.

Like the snake in the garden, they hissed. Eight years of silence and now this? How much attention does one whore need? Do you not know a lie when you hear it? Sssssslut. Shamelessssss. Dissssgusting. 

The gods of the universe fold in on themselves in horror. This is what they created? These creatures, who would pick up the pain of a child in a world that they know is designed to create such pain, and turn it over and over in their hands, to find a crack to prove that it is not really pain? It's just your imagination, you vile, ugly thing. Be quiet. BE QUIET.

That ANYONE would open their mouths and allow these things fall on the head of a child, of a woman surviving, of a human being, is the most heartbreaking thing.
And yet. 
None of this surprises me. I have known since I was a child that no woman is rapeable, not before she is raped, not after she is raped, not while she is being raped. I knew it when I was seven, knew it when I was sixteen, knew it when I was eighteen. I knew it and kept my unrapeable mouth shut as men I loved and trusted raped me. There is none of us good enough to be left alone, or good enough to be believed. NONE.


The silence has gone on LONG ENOUGH. Does the Earth itself not cry out for us?!
Where is the justice? Where is it that we can go to find safety? WHERE?

I want to scream: What have we done to deserve your hatred?  Yes, ALL women. Every single one of us. What did we do to deserve this violence?! 

You allow us no safety. Even when all we want is to live, to take back the things you stole from us when you invited yourselves into our bodies, even when we want nothing more than to survive, you hunt us down and grind us into the ground. And some of us join you, and you spit in our faces, are those not women? They are, but they are women deceived, mouths full of the poison of the abuser, eyes sealed shut so that they can pretend to have found safe haven. 

We would laugh at you, barbed-tongued woman, if we did not know the truth of your situation. We weep for you, just as we weep for the daughters we are afraid to bear, afraid to let go of, afraid for, because there is no safe haven. Know this: The man whose approval settles on your shoulders hates you just as much as he hates the whore, the bold woman, the woman who dares to claim her name and her life. Push him. I dare you. His violence will spray across your face like acid and you will know that none of us are special to him. Especially not you, a woman who dares to forget her place. Know this.

It is enough.

Our blood is on your hands. On your fists and your sheets and at the bottom of your beer glasses as you joke and laugh. You can not escape it. It cries out from the depths of the darkness, it cries out for justice, for vengeance. BLOOD FOR BLOOD. LIFE FOR LIFE.

We are weary. The fight is before us, every second of every day. You do not alleviate it. You do not fight for us. You stick your toe in the water and scream it is too hot, too cold, too much. You leave us to it. And yet when we fight you tell us we are too angry, too heartbroken, that we are bleeding all over the carpet and it makes you uncomfortable. SHALL WE CONTINUE TO DIE IN SILENCE FOR YOUR COMFORT? IS YOUR COMFORT WORTH OUR LIVES?

You are demons, walking around wielding a power you have no right to. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Our mothers died fighting for some room to breathe. Our daughters WILL NOT. This is where it ENDS. 


Demon, know this. The curses are laid. The fight has begun. You drew the line. We have crossed it. There is no more comfort for you. This is war.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

I'm one of the many women who don't trust their own judgment.

Early this year, I had a conversation with a good friend that allowed me to acknowledge for the first time ever that I might have depression.

Despite having been diagnosed by a psychiatrist and despite all my research of the subject however, I still don't really feel that I have a right to feel the way I do when I have a depressive episode. I question the dark hopelessness, the listlessness, the loss of appetite, the lethargy. Am I just being lazy? Why can't I just snap out of it? What do I have to be unhappy about? There are people in the world who really suffer!

In a conversation with the same good friend yesterday, I realised that it's not just when I'm depressive that I question how I feel. It's almost as though I've been hardwired to disbelieve the thoughts or feelings that come instinctively to me, and the more I think about this issue, the more I suspect it should be (is?) a feminist issue.

The thing is, I know I'm not alone in this. Self-doubt is part of the human condition, I'm sure, but it seems to disproportionately affect women. I know too many women who squash their gut feelings about predatory men, thinking that they're being over-sensitive or imagining things. I know too many women who come away from interactions with their significant other feeling slightly loopy, wondering whether it's really all in their head and they're really acting 'crazy'. I know too many women who don't believe in the value of their work or contributions to society, despite evidence that indicates that they actually are valuable.

I am one of those women.

What is it about the way so many of us are socialised that we can't even trust ourselves? If we can't trust ourselves, then it means we must look to others for guidance. And if we look to people who are exploitative, manipulative or abusive, then we are exposed to harm. So many times, I have looked back on situations and realised I was actually right. There was something wrong. So why couldn't I believe myself at the time?

I need to be able to trust my gut. How can I get there?

Friday, 2 October 2015

Access Bank's W Initiative and the Question of Honouring Women

It is a well-documented (and these days, much-discussed) fact that those who embody the social identity of ‘woman’ are very often prescribed limiting possibilities and are perceived as having a limited ability to contribute meaningfully in the public arena. Expectations of women are generally set fairly low, and any kind of excellence we exhibit or success we achieve is dismissed, minimised or even completely erased. The systemic factors that conspire to confine women to background roles are significant and pervasive, and the result of this is a phenomenon succinctly described by the late environmentalist and Nobel Peace Laureate, Wangari Maathai: “The higher you go, the fewer women there are.”

Still, despite the historical and current exclusion of women from locations of power and the unfortunate reality that our world is generally not set up to enable women to succeed, many of us still find ways to rise to great heights. It is a deeply held belief of mine, supported by the evidence of the odds stacked against us, that women who do make it into positions of corporate, financial or political power work much harder and make more sacrifices than men in similar positions, simply because there are implicit and explicit reminders every step of the way that they do not belong there.

The above is why it is so important that the work that women do -- and the heights we aspire to and attain -- be recognised as inherently valuable; no ifs, ands or buts. Access Bank’s W Initiative seems poised to do just that. Described as having been set up “to support inclusive banking in Nigeria, so that we can support women’s growth and their progress,” the initiative aims to enable women to take advantage of opportunities in business and entrepreneurship, and its W Awards place the achievements of Nigerian women front and center.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

This is Why You Should Tell Your Story

I, being late to the game as I now often am, watched 'Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation' last night. It has the usual dearth of women and people of colour that you would expect from a Hollywood blockbuster, but that's not the point of this.

There is a scene in which Ethan Hunt confronts the villain, Lane(?), with a question about how he went from good guy to bad guy. "You killed so many innocent people on orders without asking why, because you believed you were doing it for the right reasons," or something along those lines. There's another scene involving Elsa(?) with a similar question about the rightness or wrongness of the side they were fighting on. In fact, thinking about it now, I just realised that the whole film runs on a theme about the fluidity of 'rightness', depending on who is in control of the narrative.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Reviving an old article: 'I Got It From My Mama'

I wrote this piece in February 2014 for, but that site has since morphed into and the link is now dead. Seeing as how I was quite proud of it (and I think its message is still relevant), I have reproduced it here. My thoughts on some of the ideas contained in it have evolved or even changed completely, but I still enjoyed reading it, as I hope you will too.
Leave a comment or something!

I think I look a lot like my daughter in this photo

Saturday, 11 July 2015

A Little Sum'n Sum'n For the Female Anti-Feminist Brigade

So, this short post is really a delayed response to some of the anti-feminist (il-)logic that started to appear on my social media feeds after the #BeingFemaleInNigeria hashtag did it what it did (it did all the things, by the way).

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Something I wrote at Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Farafina Creative Writing workshop

The first time a man shouted a sexual comment at my daughter, she was 22 months old. We were seeing my friend off, she and I swinging my toddler over muddy potholes, when — 
“Na wa o! Fine girl, na only you get all this yansh?!” 
I recognised the speaker, the joker among the group of laughing men, as the shop owner from whom I bought Ribena and plantain chips for my daughter. He often asked after her. 
“Excuse me?!” 
My friend’s hand drifted to my arm, the light pressure telling me, ‘leave it alone’. Leave it alone. I’ve known since I was in secondary school that often, all you can do is keep walking and hope they go away. I would walk past my house, or go into shops to buy things I didn’t need, or even give them my number just so they would stop bothering me. I’ve been knowing that I’m supposed to leave it alone. It was time to try another tack. 
Are you alright?! What did you just say?!” 
The men looked at one another incredulously, their faces lined with irritation. 
“Abeg o,” the speaker said. “I was only joking with your baby.” 

I have known for a long time that mothers can’t protect their babies from everything; I was seven years old the first time A Bad Thing happened to me. Still, hearing a grown man refer to the child who he just heckled about her bum as a baby reified that knowledge like nothing else had. My daughter exists in the world in a female body, and so of course she will treated like public property — an object communally belonging to every man who should desire her in any way. The psychology of street harassment is the same as the psychology of rape and every other kind of gendered violence. We believe that the bodies women inhabit are to be colonised, consumed and conquered by men, and that women themselves are responsible for this violence. All female bodies are nothing but vehicles for the expression of men’s sexuality and power, and all gendered violence — the sexualisation of babies, the kidnap of young girls into sexual slavery, marital rape, the murder of transwomen — is a manifestation of that.

We have all been told that there are ways to be both female and safe in this world. The patriarchy teaches us that if a woman follows the rules — if she limits the scope of her life, divorces herself from her own desires, smiles on demand, goes to the bathroom in a group, stays indoors at night — she will be alright. Is there a greater lie than this?

Friday, 12 June 2015

Why are people putting Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal in the same sentence?

I wasn't going to write about Caitlyn Jenner's big reveal because I'm not trans and only have an outsider's grasp of the gender identity/expression issue. However, I changed my mind because it appears that even this basic grasp is more than most have, and if I can contribute to increasing the knowledge pool, I will try to do so. (Also, if I roll my eyes or #headdesk any more than I already have thanks to things I've seen online, I'll probably hurt myself.)

UPDATE: I started writing this piece before the Rachel Dolezal debacle, an issue that allowed people to create false equalisations between race and gender by arguing that it is 'hypocritical' to be accepting of transgender people while rejecting 'transracial' people. Being a Nigerian living in Nigeria, my knowledge of race relations, like my knowledge of being transgender, is the product of research, but I will do my best to tackle this as well. 

Before I continue, I have to say: if you're unwilling to accept the humanity of all people, their right to exist, to determine the course of their lives without harming others, and to be treated with respect, regardless of any identity(-ies) that may be different from what you consider 'normal' -- if you ever even feel the need to say that you will never 'accept' another person's existence because it doesn't fit your worldview or beliefs, fix yourself.

If you don't 'accept' the existence of trans people and are unwilling to develop the empathy, knowledge and self-awareness necessary to get you to where you realise that your 'non-acceptance' is actually bigotry, then you are contributing in one way or another to a culture of transphobia that literally ends trans people's lives.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Product: Woman. Sell-by date: Age 22

This post is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but can someone tell me why pop culture's cut-off age for women's sexual desirability (ergo value, because everybody knows women's value is intrinsically tied to their usefulness to men, most especially sexually) is the age of 22?

I was listening to a Ray Charles song yesterday that had a line about a party with '50 girls, none over the age of 22'. This morning, it was a Bruno Mars song about a lost opportunity with a 21-year-old Brooklyn girl. Taylor Swift's ode to (White) girlhood was precisely about 'feeling 22'. There's the sweet sixteen, the finally legal eighteen, the YES GOD! 21, and that's it. Even Adele appears to have quit her career with her last album (titled, yes you guessed it, 21). Lol...

People expect (Nigerian) women to be married by 25, and they don't say 'the big three-oh' with dread in their voices for nothing. I remember saying to someone once that I felt like I'd 'wasted' being 21 because I was pregnant at the time. Where did I get the idea that being 21 was somehow the best part of my youthful womanhood?

Think about the existence of the word 'starlet' -- and about the high turnover rate in Hollywood for those women. Apply the same thought to video vixens, at home and abroad. Think about how the only supermodels over 30 still working have the bodies of teenagers. Think about every Linda Ikeji blog post about how unbelievably young-looking a woman and her body are.

Think about how Nigerian (African?) parents switch their tone from 'is that a boy I just saw you talking to?' when their daughters are starting out as young adults to 'when are you going to bring home your future husband?' in their early twenties. Or, our oh-so-popular refrain; "you aren't getting any younger, you know!"

Men are allowed to grow old; they are rewarded for it in fact. Why aren't women?

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

A rambling for April (or, 'I don't cry as often as I should')

When I write these days, whether I like it or not, what usually comes out is poetry. But I barely have time to write at all.


I visited my aunt in the hospital on Monday. She'd been there over two weeks, not a word to anyone but her nuclear family, because she was hiding her cancer like it was something she had done wrong. I stepped through the doorway and it felt like someone had body-slammed me back into July of 2012 and my mother was dying all over again. She smiled and asked, "don't I look like myself?", because of how I hesitated. I don't know where I pulled the laughter from as I lied, "of course you do, I just forgot my glasses." Her dreadlocks had been gone since her first secret bout of cancer, but her hair was thinner than ever. Her cheeks, too. I wanted to grab her and run.

I hugged her to hide the tears that were pooling inside me, and then we talked about meaningless things; the way the lack of rain was keeping oranges dry and unappealing, the daily communion services across the parking lot, the cleaner with a strong smell who simply wouldn't smile. I thought about holding her hand, but I didn't. She offered me overripe pawpaw, asked me to to turn on the fan. I thought about asking her what was going on, if the treatments were working, if they had said how much longer she had. Instead I told her about work drama. She told me she had not expected to see me. She didn't say why; I didn't expect to see you because you're not supposed to know. We laughed a lot.

The second I shut the door behind me the tears escaped. I continue to carry my grief over my mother's death like a valuable thing; if I move too vigorously I might break it and God knows I still have no idea what to do with it. But seeing my aunt -- so different from my mother and yet so similar in her refusal to speak of the thing keeping us in that sterile room -- seeing her was wrenching. I was furious that I was crying but the tears would not stop. And even when they did, the anger remained.

My daughter and I made a welcome home banner for her when she came home yesterday. Part of my decision to make that banner was my mom never coming home, I know.

The anger remains.


Now that I have written about seeing my aunt, everything else feels small and foolish. Small and insincere and foolish. I don't have room for more grief. I still don't know how to fit the past tense into sentences with 'my mum' in them. I have no more room for grief. Not my own, not anyone else's. My daughter calls her grandma -- my daughter who uses synonyms and asks after people like she has a right to them, like they don't eventually leave.


Yesterday was the first anniversary of the Chibok Girls' abduction. I cried over them, a few times. I wonder if their parents know what to do with their grief. At least death is final. There is a grave for my mother that I have never felt any desire to return to. What do you do when you don't have even that?

I haven't been able to write anything useful in such a long time - two months? I had business cards made with 'content creator' on them rather than 'writer'. It doesn't mean much of anything, I don't think. Maybe it does. Maybe I just need a break -- or a shrink.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Instagram, sexual subversion, and booty pics

Anyone who knows me knows I love Instagram a little too much. I'm a very visual person, and great photography (of Black girls, architecture, and fashion, in that order) really gets me going. It's very important to me that my Instagram is an honest representation of my life; the things I enjoy, the things I struggle with -- I share whatever I feel can be accurately captured in small social-media-sized bites because I enjoy doing so.

What this means is that my Instagram posts divulge what many might consider private information to random strangers, family and friends alike, and sometimes what I share is uncomfortable for the people who actually know me.

A little context: I come from a very conservative Christian background, and as recently as early last year I was still very actively giving Christianity a go. That has changed, of course, but my circles have not. Most of my friends and family are still quite born-again, and while many of them do their best to respect my choices (I will always appreciate that), they don't necessarily understand or approve.

My Instagram doesn't have an overt feminist agenda, but from time to time I post photos of my body that are sexy/sexual/easy to interpret as sexual, because an important part of my personal feminist practice is (re)claiming my bodily autonomy. I actively reject the notion that the female body (mine, especially) is by default a sexually charged thing, and I reserve the right to use my body in whatever ways I choose.

Yesterday my sister, who is very sweet and so tries very hard not to interfere with my personal choices, but who can't help feeling the way she does about topless photos of me, mentioned her unhappiness over this post:

It wasn't the first time someone who loves and has known me for a while would express concern over what I posted, and it reminded me that I wanted to write about it.

I think there is something very powerful about any kind of deliberate subversion that a woman performs with her body. Whether it is wearing revealing clothing, being unapologetically sexual, breastfeeding in conservative public spaces, etc., I think such things can be liberating.

Female sexuality (as expressed in the body) is perceived as transgressive in a patriarchal society. That's why little girls and minors can be tagged 'fast' by society, that's why victim-blaming in sexual assault cases sticks, that's why any woman can be called a whore. Whether or not a woman plays by the rules, her body is, by virtue of its femaleness, bad.

It was when I recognised this and the ways in which I had internalised this idea that it became important for me to reclaim my body in any and every way that felt powerful to me.

This was the first 'sexy' picture that I ever posted to my Instagram, and my family and friends apparently went into apoplectic shock. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but this Beyoncé-inspired photo (which I agonised over before posting, I might add!) was discussed at dinner tables with horror. I felt quite upset when I found out (mostly because a lot of this horrified talk was conducted behind my back) and while I could understand where they were coming from, I didn't agree with them, nor was I apologetic.

This is why:

The body is a blank canvas, and society's interactions with it have less to do with how it is presented than with how society works. The way society works right now is dysfunctional, and I am committed to changing that in whatever way I can.

To be clear, I am as much a sexual being as I am a thinker, a mother, a friend, whatever. But because I am female, it is inappropriate for me to be up-front or open about my sexuality. I'm not supposed to have sexual needs; my sexuality exists to please the one man who will validate me by favouring me with a wedding ring. Any 'untoward' sexual behaviour (which is really any display of bodily or sexual agency) will limit or completely erase my chances of finding such a man, because my worth as a person depends on how neatly I fit into the 'Madonna' end of the Madonna/Whore binary.

It is the rejection of these absurd notions that I find powerful. My body is as much a part of me as my mind, my gifts, or my abilities, and it is just as valuable. If I can challenge popularly held beliefs about what is 'okay' for a woman to do or be by using my body in ways that are deemed transgressive, then I'm all for it. If I can rattle someone's faith in the 'sexual woman, bad/non-sexual woman, good' norm, count me in. If someone can say to me, "women aren't supposed to...", and we can have a conversation about why that is complete and utter bullshit because of something I've posted, yay!

After all, I am a feminist.

Monday, 23 February 2015

I wrote about rape (again) for

You can see links to all my writing published elsewhere here, but I just wrote a piece about rape and victim-blaming over here, in reaction to an infuriating debate I had yesterday.

Victim-blaming is far too common, and like racism, which many people think is defined very narrowly as 'hating Black people', there are some kinds of victim-blaming that are 'benevolent'. A good example would be how parents/authority figures tell girls not to do certain things to 'limit the chances' of them getting raped.

I call bullshit.

"Stop and think, for a moment, what your desire to victim-blame is rooted in, and how much sense it really makes. Victim-blaming, in any context, assuages your fear of the possibility of experiencing a similar fate and shores up your knowledge that bad things only happen to a certain kind of person — a person less intelligent than you, less worldly-wise than you, less obedient, more slutty. 

Victim blaming ensures that you will always feel like bad things can happen to anyone but you (and people like you). If you know better (and you will prove that you do by citing all of the things the victim could have done to ‘prevent’ their rape), then they should have known better. And if they didn’t know better and they got raped, well there you go. Better luck next time!"

Read the whole piece here.

Friday, 20 February 2015

This Woman is Becoming

This evening my heart is breaking and swelling, all at once, for myself and for women like me. There is a burden that I can't place or name, but it is so, so real. 

I am thinking about self-love of the radical variety, the kind that allows me to strip myself and accept myself, to break down this person that I have been told I must be to be worthy, and to become the woman I will be proud of dying as.

I am thinking about love for my sisters - African women, single mothers, lonely women, women who have tamed their voices so long they don't remember the sound, women carrying trauma because they don't know how to set it down, motherless women, shamed women, lost women. I am thinking about women like me, who are desperate for better because somehow we know there is more. The knowing is in our bones, in our feet, in our song. We know there is more. 

I am thinking about my daughter and the boldness of her spirit, the way her heart breaks for me when she sees my sadness, the way she loves herself so completely that my own sadness can not take away her joy, the generosity with which she heals me with kisses, the streak of defiance that makes her stand up to me - the streak I know I have somewhere but can't always find. I am thinking of her way in this world and the ways in which her identities will shape her and bend her, and I am worrying about the ways it may break her.

I am thinking about the work that we have ahead. There is so much building to be done; it is exhausting that we have to spend all this time tearing down what is already there, what is trying to kill us. When will it be time for rejoicing? When will the load be lighter? When will the leaves of the trees planted by our mothers and our mothers' mothers be lush and abundant enough for us all to sit under their shade?

I am burdened with a grief I don't understand, and a fury too. There is so much building to be done, and yet the people who shore up the systems that must be destroyed before we can build are too numerous to count, too powerful to ignore, too content with the status quo.

A lot of the time I want to scream.

There is not enough of me to go around. And yet, I must find a way to become enough. I must find a way to become this woman who will water the tree and plant fresh seeds and clear a path for our daughters and sisters and mothers to do the rejoicing we have been denied so long.

There is a calling on my spirit tonight. 'Hasten the time, sister. Hasten the time.'

I am not enough, but I will become so.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Depression Is Not A Bandwagon, and I Am Not Jumping On

Recently a friend said to me, "you have to show yourself the same grace you would show someone you love." It was a profound statement in many ways, not the least of which is how it highlighted the hardness with which I treat myself.

I've talked a little bit on here about not being able to deal with my grief over losing my mother and unexpectedly becoming a mother myself in almost the same breath, and my unhappiness, fascination with (my own) death as well as my inability to cope with my life are things that have come up as well, but I've never really considered that my emotional state might be deeply unhealthy. It certainly never occurred to me that I might be depressive. It just wasn'

In my head, depression was (is?) this major thing that happens to people with legitimate reasons for having it. I've never felt like I had a right to my own unhappiness, and I've certainly never figured out what to do with it. I'm a happy person. I make people laugh. People love me. I meet strangers and they say things like, "oh, you're the Timehin!" I'm the one dancing until five a.m. in the highest heels with no alcohol keeping me going. I'm the usually quite successful people-pleaser. I smile at strangers and make small talk with bus conductors. I'm a happy person.

And yet, more and more often, for longer and longer periods, I really just want to escape my life. Maybe even die. Getting out of bed is so hard that I don't do it. I've lost so much weight over time that I'm actually smaller now than I was before I became a mother, because eating is not something I think about or generally want to do. There was a period when I felt crushing guilt every time I ate a meal, so that I would go for days without eating just to avoid that feeling. There are days when the weight of the 'I can't deal with today' is so great that I sleep till I make myself sick. There was a three-week period late last year when I almost never left my bedroom.

I had a nanny and so I would see my daughter first thing in the morning and last thing at night, with brief interactions whenever she bounced into my room, because I simply couldn't be around her. I felt like a horrible mother because not only could I not conjure up the energy to play with my child, I couldn't even be a decent human being to her. I couldn't smile at her, couldn't hug her, couldn't be patient with her. I had to stop smacking her because I realised I wasn't necessarily doing it because she was badly behaved, but because I was unable to process anything rationally. It took more energy than I had to be angry, and yet I was. I was furious when I wasn't despondent, I didn't know why, and I hated myself for it.

I felt like life was out to get me. I swung between black wells of despair and hopelessness and desperate attempts to 'fix' my life by changing my attitude. Yet, months later, no matter how the individual events that make up my days go, my overwhelming feeling is one of deep unhappiness and dissatisfaction. The prospect of social interaction fills me with dread, which is bizarre, considering how extroverted I am. It takes massive acts of will for me to choose to do things with people, even people I love very much. I've berated myself over my laziness, my apathy, my inability to simply pick myself up and make the most of my quite charmed life.

And yet, I found it a bit unsettling when I was talking to this dear friend about my general, constant, perplexing unhappiness, and she said, "girl, that sounds like depression." This conversation came on the heels of Chimamanda's much-talked about and unethically published essay on her personal struggle with depression, a link to which I tweeted rather cheekily:
I had read the article detachedly, marvelling at the depth of feeling in her revelations, absently noting similarities, thoroughly enjoying her voice. Someone asked me later if I could relate, and I jokingly dismissed her. But during the conversation with my friend, she pointed out to me how everything I described seemed to indicate that I might indeed have depression.

I didn't know what to make of that. I still don't. I know how serious mental health is, and how we don't appear to know how to handle it; people always seem to either be claiming to have mental illnesses that they really don't because of a ridiculous desire to differentiate themselves, or they assume everyone who is mentally ill is unstable and violent, or they simply don't believe that mental illness is actually illness. I explained to my friend that I am loath to claim depression because I don't want to contribute to the faddish wave of buffet-style mental illness-havers; 'Oh, I'm a depressive creative type. Fifteen days a month, I simply can't function. It's what makes my art so poignant.' No.

But the truth is, there are times when I am 'not myself,' to borrow Chimamanda's turn of phrase. And it has been going on for a long time. I don't want it to continue. I need to figure out what it is that makes it so hard for me to function, and I need to fix it. And if that means that I might indeed be diagnosed by a professional as being depressive, then so be it. I won't continue to sacrifice my emotional and mental health or my relationships because I don't feel like I 'have a right' to depression. If it can happen to anyone, it can happen to me too. It doesn't make me any less me; if anything, facing up to the possibility will make me more me. 

I miss the girl I used to be, the woman I know I could be if I could just get rid of this dark cloud hanging over me. I want her back. If facing up to depression is all that I must do to get her, then I'm doing it. Why wouldn't I?

Friday, 6 February 2015

Gender Justice, Intersectionality and What My Feminism Means to Me

That title is a bit heavy-sounding, I realise (and probably a little misleading, as this post will not be the meaty 5000-word essay a title like that would lead one to expect), but I was having a conversation with my colleagues yesterday, and it helped to solidify a lot of things I've only been aware of peripherally in my own journey as a gender justice advocate.

It was announced that Chimamanda Adichie is in the running for a Grammy this Sunday, thanks to the excerpt of her 'We Should All Be Feminists' speech that Beyonce featured in 'Flawless***', and this news sparked an interesting debate about feminism in the African(?) context.

One of my coworkers insisted that feminism is a 'Western' import and has no real relevance here, implying that African feminists are mindlessly replicating a struggle that has no bearing on our lives. I found that incredibly difficult to stomach, because apart from his ahistorical analysis which 'proved' that African women are not oppressed (on the basis of matrilineal inheritance laws that may or may not apply in some communities and events like the Aba women's riots), he persisted in saying that women in African societies are empowered, despite hearing testimony from the mostly female group about how our lived experiences prove the exact opposite.

It was interesting to see how, despite real people providing real evidence to this intelligent person, he refused to even acknowledge that  he could be wrong. His worldview and intellectual position on a matter which he was not an authority on (based on the absence of either any real research or lived experience) were more important than the actual reality; it was easier, safer, I will even argue, to hold on to the comfortable and familiar delusion of a world where women of African descent are safe and happy, than to engage with the reality as presented by actual women of African descent.

An interaction on twitter yesterday between Rosie O'Donnell and Lauren Chief Elk ran along similar, albeit more violent lines; Lauren asked Rosie to pose critical questions to a guest billed to come on her show, Eve Ensler. Eve is a prominent White feminist whose work has been critiqued over the years by marginalised women; women of color, trans women and female children have been harmed by the erasure and exploitation that characterises Ensler's activism (see a Google search of 'critiques of Eve Ensler' here).

Rosie's response was violent, disproportionate and racist: she dismissed the (legitimate) questions as being a 'cruel attack', used images of herself with Black girls to 'prove' that she was not racist (as if proximity equals respectful engagement), used a racist slur on Lauren, and even said that she and/or Eve Ensler, both of whom are rich, White, cis-gendered women, have 'done more for women of colour than any woman of colour'.

Needless to say, I was genuinely horrified by her behaviour. But as I thought about it, I realised the parallels between her 'rationale' and my colleague's: We all have biases and prejudices that prop up our worldview which determine whose voice we consider valid/valuable, as well as determining which narratives we dismiss whenever they conflict with our constructed perception of reality. It is my theory that the more privilege one has in an oppressive system, the stronger the effect of these biases on one's ability to reason and to adapt one's ideas upon receiving new information.

I used to get angry with people like my colleague and Rosie, but there are way too many of them in the world. Shit gets exhausting, fam. Now I just use this knowledge to check myself. Oppression is rarely a linear thing; there are intersecting sliding scales of oppression and privilege, depending on the context of any interaction within the system.

Despite being an areligious dark-skinned, unwed African mother uninvested in performing femininity and living on the continent (which therefore places me quite low on the 'value' scale in the neo-colonial capitalist patriarchy that holds sway in most 'Third World' regions and in the White supremacist capitalist patriarchy in the West), I still have privilege based on my status as educated, middle-class, cis-gendered, and urban. There are many, many, many struggles that I can not identify with and in many cases am not even aware of, because they are simply not my story.

Yet, the fact that something is not my story does not invalidate that story, nor does it make it untrue. Gender activism in my region is far from being inclusive (I have many theories as to why this is, but this post is way too long already), and the only truly transformative way we can progress in fighting for 'women's rights' (notice how in activist-speak, 'women' generally means straight and cis-gendered females), the only way we can effectively intervene in the issues affecting marginalised groups that are not like those of us privileged to have the education, resources and platforms that enable us to call ourselves activists, is to share our platform, de-center ourselves when we purport to be allies, and amplify the voices of these groups rather than claiming to speak for them.

In summary, it is vital to listen. Even when it is uncomfortable, we must. Even when it challenges our ideas and shifts what we perceive as 'reality', we must. Progress for some marginalised groups is not progress for all (mainstream White feminists and Real Housewives of the Nigerian NGO, I'm looking at you). We must discard the ridiculous notion that oppression is a binary of powerful and not powerful, and that everyone is always and forever either one or the other. And we must leave no oppressed person behind. This is what my feminism, as an African woman, demands.

What does your activism demand?

Sunday, 25 January 2015


Just in case there's anyone out there wondering why I haven't posted in a while, I've just started a new job (yay!). It's really great because it lets me work from home, but working from home = no set hours. I'm only just trying to figure out my new routine (I'm up at 4am everyday and sometimes don't sleep till 1am, so I have to snatch naps between school runs, domestic duties and the rest of my life), so please bear with me.

And anyway, even if I did have the time to write, I simply don't have the creative energy right now. Who knew regularly climbing into other people's brains via editing could be so draining?! Still, I'm grateful to be able to set my schedule primarily around baby cakes, and the absence of a commute (Lagos traffic, Lord no!) is everything to me. I'm definitely counting my blessings.

In the meantime, I have some thoughts percolating about the future direction of this blog, collaborations on Words for the Stolen (if you haven't yet submitted a piece memorialising the victims of Boko Haram over there, please consider doing so!), and other projects.

Wish me luck! x

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

An Open Letter to Alibaba Because, No.

I don't follow the Nigerian stand-up scene with any particular ardor, but every time I've stumbled across Alibaba's work I've found it unimaginative at best. Still, because he is a pioneer(?) in the Nigerian comedy environment, he continues to have clout in the entertainment industry that allows him to be described as a celebrity, and like all celebrities, he has a following. I really wish Nigerian celebrities wouldn't generate so much social media nonsense (remember when Toke felt the need to make this joke?) because people take celebrities seriously. Nothing reinforces a shitty worldview like having some famous person reiterate it (just look at this Tyler Perry mess), and that is a major part of why this tweet which made it's way onto Linda Ikeji's Blog (Linda oh Linda!) was particularly grating:

I therefore decided to write a response, not because I have any hopes that he will read it or that he is even interested in educating himself on domestic violence, but because I hope some of those hapless followers who take him seriously might find this somewhat enlightening.

Dear Alibaba,
This tweet is incredibly ignorant and dare I say, irresponsible. (It is also a bit difficult to understand because of the strange and somewhat contradictory sentence structure, but I'm not your English teacher). Domestic violence is not a simple equation where a man threatens violence or is actually violent one time and you decide it is unacceptable and you leave. There are always, always, nuances and considerations and experiences that determine the way any human relationship will play out, and that includes abusive ones.

It must be said that telling women to leave (or, in your case, judging them for not leaving) has never been and will never be an effective way to discuss domestic/intimate partner violence. It is rarely ever that simple. There are emotions involved in any intimate relationship, and in abusive ones the normal healthy emotions like love and loyalty are often mixed with fear, self-doubt, crippling anxiety and loneliness - all of which are often deliberately planted by the abuser, and all of which make independent decision-making difficult, if not impossible. In any discussion or commentary on intimate partner violence, one must first of all truly empathise with the victims (please note the difference between 'sympathy' and 'empathy'), and consider that women dealing with domestic violence are limited in their choices by any number of extenuating circumstances.

For instance, there is the huge amount of pressure put on women by society to establish intimate relationships and keep them going. The burden for 'relationship maintenance' falls disproportionately on women, such that women are almost always considered culpable in the event of a breakdown of a relationship, no matter what leads to that breakdown. Women are expected to do whatever they must to 'find' a husband, then they are expected to do whatever they must to stay married. That burden is often worsened by the presence of children. Women are taught to take many different kinds of abuse in order to 'keep' their homes, and domestic violence is often described as par for the course and/or a phase that will pass as long as a woman does what she must to keep her man happy. 

Women are often told they are overreacting or oversensitive when they report abuse to friends and family; I'm sure the trope of the weathered older wife who now knows how to 'manage' her husband, having triumphed over all of his failings, is one that is familiar to you. Our society has a tendency to shame women who fail to endure abuse for the sake of preserving their relationships, and one result of this is that women will lie about their abuse in order to protect their men and their relationships. Another factor that abused women must consider is the often significant difference in the earning power of men and women. Economic disenfranchisement, which makes women unable to sustain either themselves or their families without the help of the abuser, is often a major disincentive to women considering escaping abusive relationships. 

Intimate partner violence is the worst kind of manipulation and entrapment that anyone can ever experience in a relationship. Abusers will do everything to gain the trust and love of their partners, then eventually begin to wear down their independence and self-esteem in a bid to establish their power over the victim and ensure that they never leave. Abusers are often charming at first, and because of how relationship maintenance is often marketed solely to women, many women feel obligated to try to 'fix' whatever is wrong when their partners 'change'. Abusers often take advantage of personal weaknesses, erode the victim's confidence in themselves and their ability to find help anywhere, and psychologically manipulate victims into dependence on them. In many cases, they will deliberately limit their victims' social lives by isolating them and/or misinforming their friends and family about the victims' behavior so that the victims are no longer seen as trustworthy or even stable. They may also remove their economic power by preventing them from working, sabotaging their jobs, or controlling their income by other means. 

I will ask you to especially consider the fact that women are at the highest risk of being killed by their intimate partners when they leave, and that most victims are aware of this because abusers often threaten grave consequences, including death, should the women undermine their authority in any way. Consider that resources to rehabilitate, empower and restore abused women to some sort of healthy normalcy are very few and far between. Consider that abused women often have nowhere to go should they leave, and that their worries are often complicated by having children. Consider that most abusers, because of their sense of entitlement, will relentlessly look for and violently punish their victims for leaving, and very often end up killing them. Consider what it must feel like to have the man you love fluctuate between threatening your safety, your life, maybe your children, and being loving and generous and kind. Imagine how confusing and heartwrenching that must be. Consider all of these things, read this hashtag started by Beverly Gooden on twitter, and then look at that little tweet you just sent out, and see whether you don't want to kick yourself.

I know no one knows everything, but I think you owe it to yourself and to the people who take you seriously to arm yourself with knowledge before commenting on something as serious as domestic violence. Here's to hoping this tweet never repeats itself.

Monday, 5 January 2015

#BBOG: I Have Too Many Feelings But That's Okay

It has been 267 days since the Chibok girls were taken. Since then, the only ones who have returned home are the ones who escaped on their own. It has been apparent pretty much from day one that the government doesn't care, and now the parents of the girls are looking for help elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Boko Haram has continued to kidnapforcefully recruit and terrorise people in Borno state. (See timeline of attacks here). There has been plenty of effort by activists, organisers and the politically-minded to keep the situation in the North-East on our minds, and I have immense respect for Oby Ezekwesili whose unflagging effort has sustained the #BringBackOurGirls campaign all this time. There are also efforts like the Testimonial Archive Project and BBOG Nigeria (their twitter is here) recording stories, providing updates, and keeping the fight alive.

It is easy to feel inadequate in the overall scheme of things, especially in the face of an issue as massive, complex and mind-boggling as the continued, practically unchecked existence of a group like Boko Haram. I have too many feelings about Nigeria and how it continues to fail its citizens, generally and specifically with regard to the BH situation, and so I decided late last year to commit to writing something every month about Borno state, the girls of Chibok, the victims of Boko Haram; that whole situation. It really doesn't feel like much of anything, but I honestly don't know what else I can do besides this. We must keep talking about this. Something has to be done.

This is the tumblr where I will be posting my pieces. I plan to share other relevant work as well, and I will gladly take submissions. I have already put up one poem there (I don't know how to upload audio on Blogger, sorry - I did try to post it here for those who'd rather not have to click over). It's called 'A Mother's Words for the Chibok Girls' and you can probably hear me getting emotional during the reading, but that's because I am emotional about this matter. I have a daughter. I can not imagine what those parents are going through. Reports say that eleven of them have passed on since the kidnapping, and I won't be surprised if they simply couldn't go on hoping. I can't imagine their pain, and I can't imagine them having to feel that way for the rest of their lives. This is why I'm doing this project. I never want to be able to stop my heart from breaking over the horrible things we humans put one another through.

Please spread the word about this project. For those of us unable to wield anything other than the pen, we must hope that it is indeed mightier than the sword in this case.

Peace, love and light to you all.

PS: The words of the poem are below.

Is anyone even looking anymore?
What is this thing that we are asking for?


You started that trek nine months ago
by now your feet are surely 
too tired
to trace the path
back to safety
and what is that?
How do you catch a word like that
and tuck it into your mouth
when two hundred and sixty-seven repeats 
of a night horrible past comprehending
separate you from it?


What is it that we are asking for, bring back our girls
as if they were stolen from their beds
to be carried preciously 
by rapers and stealers
religious killers
who want that we but ask politely
please, would you kindly
bring back our girls?
We thought it was a fight we were starting,
We thought everyone knew you were deserving
of your own lives
We thought our voices would sound
a war cry
It was not meant to be a plea
Nor a desperate broken whisper
fading like the memory of 
the sound of your laughter


Our girls' beds are cold and wet
with the tears of mothers whose arms ache
with the memory of holding them safe
Please, if only for their sake
bring our babies home.
we miss them
we are afraid for them
You mustn’t let murderers keep them
please let us fix them.


Nine months is a long time -
if you were a bride borne gently into the night
your womb might be empty again
And the child you bore would be
your heart living far enough outside your body
that someone could take her away
just far enough
to keep you and your hope 
faintly alive.
we hope they are alive
we hope they hear us calling out their names,
if only faintly,
We hope their hearts are not as broken 
as their bodies must be
we hope they remember that
there is love waiting for them here
We hope
that someone will #BringBackOurGirls.


You were once children whose dreams set your eyes alight
are there any stars left in them?

We are keeping a light on for when you are brought home.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Leftist Living in 2015!

Happy New Year, everyone!

I had the best NYE ever, folks. Do you know what I did?

I slept

That's right: I got in bed at 11pm on December 31st, and save rolling over to cover my ears with a pillow because some people in the neighbourhood insisted on fireworks, I didn't wake up until 8am. I'm twenty-three years old and this was the first time I did exactly what I wanted on New Year's Eve (my daughter was at her dad's and I made my S.O. go to the Lagos Countdown event without me because sleep trumps loud music and fireworks any day of the year, including New Year's Eve). I woke up in 2015 and I was the most pleasant version of myself, no lies. I wish my whole year could be that way! Alas, this is real life, and I'm not in Kansas anymore...

Having done the customary end-of-year reflections and pre-new-year projections, I have come to the conclusion that 2015 is going to be quite something. This will be my first year doing the whole, entire 'adult' thing; I will be living on my own, working full time and parenting without domestic help (at least for the foreseeable future). Note: my daughter starts school in a week (2015! Such exciting times!), so that's a whole new dimension to my life that I have no experience with. I also plan to do (and share) a bit of research about Yoruba culture, religion and traditions on here, while championing my feminist cause as an unmarried parent in a relationship where I am, you guessed it, sexually active and patently unashamed thereof. I'm diving straight into the deep end here, people.

Based on all of the above, I have no illusions that this will be an easy year - if anything I suspect I will have a surfeit of material to comment on and take issue with on the blog, because you know how the world works. A self-determining woman is the biggest threat to the stability of the human race, next to the gays and free streaming on porn websites. What is the world coming to, one wonders?? To be frank I can already see some of the scenarios in which someone somewhere will try to help me fix my life because they have determined by the length of my skirt and the age of my child (and my nose piercing that I'm still too chicken to get) that I am Doing It Wrong:

  • navigating PTA and such-like
  • attempting international travel with my daughter and S.O. (none of our surnames match, see?)
  • dealing with nosy parkers who think I'm a bad parent because I won't beat my child
  • defending my areligious position/explaining that Yoruba religions are not 'fetish'
  • attempting to explain why I do yoga and meditation to my Christian family
  • generally handling the fallout of being a leftist rabble rouser with strong opinions about pretty much everything.
I can't wait. (No, really. I can't. The sooner it begins the sooner I can get past it. Can I get an Amen?).

So, this is my manifesto for 2015: I will experience things, many of which I suspect will be quite hilarious in hindsight, and I will write about them in critical feminist-speak, because this is necessary. Especially considering that this happened:
Where are the African feminists taking over the African internet in Africa???

It's going to be a fun year, people. And since I plan to do a bunch of writing, I hope you plan to do a bunch of reading. I'm not learning all this feminist-speak for nothing! Love, peace and comfortable jammies,