Thursday, 20 February 2014

What Is Your Aspiration In Life?

I love Beyoncé to death (the album, that is. Beyonce herself I merely famz). There is a raw honesty to that body of work that is not usually present in pop music; it reeks of self-awareness, obviously the work of a woman who looked at her self, critically, honestly, and accepted what she saw, was satisfied with it, and loved it. I've watched the whole thing countless times, and I love that the album opens with this question:

What is your aspiration in life?

There is something about having a child that wakes one up. I suspect it happened to Queen B; it most certainly happened to me. I look at my daughter, and I realise that for both our sakes I must pursue more than the things society values as important - I must ask myself, over and over again, "what is my aspiration in life?". Forget my dreams of traveling the world à la Eat, Pray, Love: the pursuit of happiness as it has been sold to us by feel-good philosophy and pop culture is not good enough anymore. There has to be more to life.

I used to want to be famous. Being as gifted as I am (note the use of the word 'gifted' - this is not bragging), I have always taken it for granted that I would have no trouble excelling at whatever I choose to dedicate my life to (the tenses in this sentence are giving me a headache!). I practiced giving acceptance speeches, envisioned the thousands of interviews I would grant and the far-from-casual trips to Saks and Neiman-Marcus with an army of bodyguards and credit cards to ensure my safety and happiness. The adulation would be enough.

Then I grew up a little and decided I wanted to be famous and change the world as well, because hey, it's only right to give back. You know, like Angelina and Madonna and Alek. That sort of thing. UN ambassadorship and feeding starving children. Maybe even a Heal The World-esque detour along the way. Who says I can't dabble into inspirational pop while I'm at it? I would be famous, but, you know, Bono-famous. Show me the money and the free pass to heaven, thank you.

Now, things are different. I don't know what I want to be anymore, but it's not due to a lack of direction. I'm looking at the things that used to define success for me: renown, accumulated personal wealth, influence, leisurely luxury, and I'm questioning their validity. Do I really want the sum of my life to be fame and fortune? What kind of lessons would I be inadvertently teaching my child if I spent my life in the pursuit of capitalist goals, striving to be one step ahead of everyone else in the name of ambition? Is the belief that competition is necessary for personal success valid? Do I need to be a superlative of somebody else's achievements to have a meaningful life? What defines a meaningful life?

The thing about life is, once you start asking, the answers will find you. And I'm starting to see, vaguely still, but there's definitely something there, what a meaningful life might mean. Less of a focus on things, more of a focus on people. Less conformity, more authenticity. Less self-reliance, more faith. The universe, God, life, is revealing itself to me. And as long as I remain open, I'm sure the answers will keep coming.

What is your aspiration in life?

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Movie Night and New Sight

I've just spent six hours watching movies and doing my hair (mostly watching movies), and I was reminded of something I saw on tumblr: once you wake up to all the injustice, discrimination and general systemic assholery in the world, nothing looks the same anymore. It is a complete loss of innocence. I have to agree, because movie/detangling night went from being just a night of mindless entertainment to 'aw, come on, wtf!' Way to go, Feminism. 

Anyway. Just thought I'd share what my my post-feminist eyes saw.

Riddick: There are three female roles in the whole movie. One is a bed warmer writhing for Riddick's visual pleasure, the next is a hostage who is apparently repeatedly raped and then used for target practice, and the last one is a lesbian who is kind of tough but doesn't have any real dialogue outside of Riddick's and Santana's sexual harassment/come-ons. And at the end she sits on Riddick and talking to him 'sweet-like', apparently becomes quite straight.

The Usual Suspect: When I started thinking about this post, it took me about two minutes of serious brainwork to remember whether or not there were any female characters in this movie. I eventually had a *lightbulb!*: Edie! She was female! She had lines! She even appeared more than once! It's just...her character is so thoroughly forgettable, despite an apparent plot point being the need to eliminate her, that I completely, well, forgot about her. 

Monsters University: The final movie, and the one who redeemed(ish) Hollywood in my eyes tonight. Lots of femme monsters all over the place - the goth announcer with the deadpan voice and leaf hair was my favorite. But Hardscrabble, ah Hardscrabble! Thank you, Pixar, for not being misogynistic/woman-dismissing animators. Disney could learn a thing or two (ahem, Snow White/Sleeping Beauty!)

Now I'm just going to watch The Women, because screw you, Hollywood.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Young Unmarried Mother

It has been over a year since I had my daughter; twenty-three months since I found out I was carrying an unplanned pregnancy (ironically, I got pregnant in the same month when I decided I was going to donate my eggs to a fertility center, but that's a story for another day.) In that time, I have lived through what feels like a lifetime of experiences, many beautiful and rewarding, many not.

Being a young unmarried mother isn't easy. That statement is in fact too simplistic to capture just how incredibly difficult it can be, and I have had it a lot easier than most people who find themselves in my position. I have a supportive family, her father is identifiable, I work in a field that pays well, and ASUU gave me a chance to earn money instead of wasting my time acquiring an obsolete education. Life is better for me than for the average Y.U.M.
But still, there are some aspects in which my experience is exactly the same as every other girl or woman in my shoes. And that's what I want to talk about today.

1. "You can't possibly know what you're doing."

In choosing to keep and raise my child, I decided that getting pregnant at all was, to borrow a quote, the last irresponsible thing I would do where she is concerned. But people can't seem to get that.

You know what racial profiling is? Well, let me introduce you to Maternal Profiling. People look at me and my daughter and immediately assume her mother is somewhere else in the vicinity. If I had a pair of shoes for every time I've been asked, 'where is her mother?', I would be Carrie Bradshaw. Then when it has been established that I am indeed her mother, my competence is immediately called into question. I'm offered ridiculous unsolicited advice, asked insulting questions - the really forward ones attempt to take her from me to 'make sure she is okay.' Many older women seem to forget that everyone, their own insensitive selves inclusive, raised their own children mostly by instinct and intuition. There's no manual, not even when your 'happy married life!' cards come before your 'it's a girl!' cards. I'm not saying there are no bad mothers; I'm saying that the fact that I am young and don't have a husband doesn't automatically make me one. Does she look healthy? Does she look happy? Is she developing normally? Then surely that tells you that whatever I've been doing so far is working, does it not?

2. "You're a mother. You should (not)..."

People also can't seem to get that they cannot decide for me how to conduct myself and my life as a mother.

Don't tell me I can not or should not do this or that, 'because, don't you know you're a mother?' Especially if I haven't asked you. I carried her in my body for nine months. I gave birth to her in the most painful experience of my life. I have been her primary caregiver till now. Of course I know I'm a mother. I am also a young woman in my early twenties, and I'm not about to set myself and my child up for a lifetime of resentment by giving up everything that means anything to me simply because I want to appear to random strangers and/or presumptuous family members to be a 'good mother'.

I chose to raise a child, and in doing so I chose to do my best to give her everything she needs to become a well-rounded person. I know I will make mistakes along the way, I know there will be things I will be unable to handle with the amount of experience that I have, and I will seek advice and help in those situations. But please don't tell me how to live or raise my child - if you want someone to follow all your instructions on parenting, do it yourself.

3. "You should be ashamed of yourself."

Some people seem offended because I haven't internalized any sense of guilt or shame over my 'mistake'.

It is my theory that many people become unintelligent when confronted with someone in my position, because I don't know how else to explain the number of times I've been asked, 'You have a baby? How come?' Nobody believed Mary when she said she was still a virgin because, big surprise, there is only one way to get pregnant. I wasn't raped, I'm thankful I didn't get pregnant from such a traumatic event; I had consensual sex. Does that bother you? The fact that a young unmarried woman had consensual sex bothers you? Why? Oh, it's fornication. It's a sin. Well, so is lying, and checking out the pastor's wife's ass and thinking about all the ways you would hit that, and changing the numbers on your expense report at work, and casually looking at Pornhub. What's your point?

Dear Christians, when Jesus died, He took care of ALL sin(s). The fact that your patriarchal socialization tells you a young woman shouldn't have sexual agency or enjoy sex has nothing to do with anything - please go and nurse your patriarchy in front of someone who cares. I had sex. God isn't having aneurysms over that fact, so why are you?
  • 'Don't you know unplanned children have a hard life?' Life is hard for everyone. Ask Kylie Jenner.
  • 'Don't you know she will want to know her father?' She knows her father. And even if he wasn't around, planned children lose their fathers too, sometimes even before they are born. So...
  • 'You've jeopardised your future.' No, I've changed it. Every person's future is the result of overcoming challenges, self-inflicted and otherwise. That's life.
  • 'Girls born to unwed mothers get pregnant young too.' I will do my best to ensure it doesn't happen to her. And if it does, I and millions of young women in the world have lived through it and made something of themselves. I don't see why she won't too.
I could go on and on, but here is the point: I refuse to feel bad for taking responsibility for my actions. If it bothers you that now there is chubby-cheeked evidence of my sex life in the world, maybe you should stop thinking so much about my sex life.

Unplanned pregnancies happen. And sometimes unplanned pregnancies become babies born to unmarried young women. Ditch the hypocrisy, set your prejudices aside, and cut young unmarried mothers some slack. Things are difficult enough for us as it is. And if you can't do those things, then you should probably just keep your opinions to yourself, because I can't guarantee that the other Y.U.M's out there will be as civil as me. 

Love, peace and soiled diapers.

Respectability and the Woman II: Sex

  1. 1.
    a woman who has many casual sexual partners.
    synonyms:promiscuous woman; More

Ever wondered why no pejorative for men who have 'many sexual partners' exists? 

Patriarchy is why. 

Feminine agency of any kind is a threat to The Man, but feminine sexual agency is (almost?) the worst kind there is. In a patriarchal culture, the female body exists solely to please men (and procreate) and this is why female objectification, hyper-sexualisation of children, reproductive rights abuse and rape culture, among other things, proliferate.

When people say feminism is about women wanting to 'become like men', they are very wrong, but also right in a roundabout way. They fumble into being right in the sense that feminism is about agency - the right of the female, as a human being, to choose and define the parameters of her life, and to be able to function within those parameters without fear of reprisal and worse. In the patriarchal system of oppression, no one is allowed to be fully human (not even men), but as far as hierarchy goes, men have a much better go of it than women.

For example, sex.

Consider the moral concepts of chastity and virtue. The white wedding dress, if you please. Virginity as a worthwhile pursuit is marketed solely to women; no one ever tells boys that their virginity is their pride, or that their worthiness as a spouse (as a person, in fact) is directly correlated to their sexual status prior to marriage.

I remember being berated by an aunt once for sleeping with a boyfriend because, according to her:
1) I had cheapened myself and was now worthless
2) he could not possibly have an interest in me beyond sex
3) the only way to make a man stay in a relationship is to make him wait for sex till after the wedding.


She asked me why I slept with him. I replied, "Because I wanted to." I earned a slap for my honesty, and this is why: purity culture (which is actually rape culture), does not allow a woman to enjoy or control her sex life. It simultaneously reduces a woman to her reproductive organs while dissociating her from said organs so that every woman is literally nothing more than a walking vagina, and her value as a person is entirely dependent on whether or not a penis has 'conquered' this vagina. Ergo she has no real value as a person. Ergo she is not a person.

Why is it impossible to consider that, apart from my sexual prowess, a man can be interested in my mind, my ability to hold a conversation, my amateur comedienne skills, my ambition? Why is it impossible to consider that I might choose to have sex because I am a sexual human being, and I therefore like sex? I've heard women say things like, "I have to make him work for it." Again, #pause. This kind of thinking reduces women to inert creatures, prizes waiting to be won, rewards at the end of the qualifying process, as opposed to people with sexual agency.

Women (and our bodies) are not vehicles for men's sexual expression. We are human beings. Complex, nuanced, sometimes sexual, sometimes not, but human. Not vaginae. Not uteri. Human beings. And human beings all have the right to choose what to do with our bodies, including having sex, because that's what makes us human; our ability to choose. 

Disclaimer: this is not an anti-abstinence campaign. I believe that abstinence/celibacy is important, even crucial to spiritual growth. But it should be approached with the right mindset, because when women are made responsible for being the gatekeepers of sexual purity while simultaneously being marketed as meat to men by mass media and cultural norms (polygamy, permissive infidelity, statutory rape in the name of 'child marriage'), the result is what we have in Nigeria and other patriarchies: a rape culture that completely dehumanises women, glorifies the male gaze, reduces women's bodies to sexual disposables, and propagates all forms of violence against women. 

Monday, 3 February 2014

Respectability and the Woman

Do you remember being little and hating to hear the words "you should not"? Or was that just me? I have always been fairly rebellious, and few things irked me more than the should-not's and supposed-to's of this world, so I learned early on to ask "why not?"

Needless to say, I continue to be surprised by how rarely I get a coherent answer. It used to amuse me no end to watch an older person flounder while trying to come up with a valid explanation for telling me not to do something they honestly believed wasn't acceptable behavior. Now it's just saddening.

I think it speaks to the power of conditioning and socialisation that people will accept - hook, line and sinker - restrictions on their lives and personhood without ever asking why. We live our lives, day to day decisions and behaviours informed by myths, and we don't question these things because someone told us so, and pretty much everyone is acting in accordance, therefore these things must be valid.

It is at this point that I like to cough, "bullshit."

Of course, no respectable woman should curse. Nor should she smoke, wear mini-skirts, twerk, use contraception, or ask a man on a date. She should wear makeup, but not too much. She should marry as early as possible, cook, clean, and never raise her voice. She should be a virgin till she marries but a freak when her man demands it. She should have less than 2000 followers on twitter and no cleavage on Instagram. And she had better know her place on game night!

The more patriarchal a society is, the more prescriptions of proper behaviour women are saddled with, restrictions which are almost always designed to limit women's pleasure in themselves (as in personal fulfilment) and their bodies. On the one hand, there is the status of 'lady' and eventually 'matron' to aspire to; the respectable female who has conformed to the patriarchy's code of conduct, and on the other - the temptress, wanton, slut, bitch, 'independent woman', bitter woman, gold-digger...there are probably as many names as there are patriarchal cultures, and more besides.

The thing that really grinds my gears though, is that most of the things women are not supposed to do, men are not just permitted to, but even lauded for. The average conversation about respectability with regard to, say, monogamy/fidelity, vice, parenting (I acknowledge that one might need to adjust for biology in some cases, but stay with me), money management - pretty much every significant aspect of adult life, will include vilification of non-conforming women and excuses for 'non-conforming men'. ('Non-conforming men' is in quotes because there is almost no such thing; men are 'respectable' by default in a patriarchal system, at least until they deviate from the defined norms of 'masculine' behaviour.)

There are far too many manifestations of this phenomenon for me to be able to address it in one blog post. Hell, in one lifetime! So I'll just end this by leaving you with this thought: next time you see a woman doing something 'unladylike', ask yourself why you think her behaviour is inappropriate. I bet you nine times out of ten it will come down to - you guessed it - patriarchy.

Doesn't that just make you want to punch something?

Children of the Secret

On Saturday, Woody Allen's adoptive daughter, Dylan Farrow, wrote for the first time about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. No charges were filed, and the world has (had) forgotten that once, a seven year old girl was violated by her father.

There are too many of us.

We are ill-equipped to deal with the sexual abuse of our children. We don't want to face it. We turn away and hope it never happens in our homes, to our own babies. And in doing that we sometimes send a message to those babies that should it ever happen, we will not know how to handle it. Sometimes our  babies are too scared, ashamed, confused, to say anything. And these babies carry this fear and shame for a lifetime.

There are far too many of us. 

My mum's steward with his porn and his fingers. The man in charge of caring for the rabbits in school. The club owner down the road in Ikeja.

And that's just me.

There are so many of us. Yet our collective silence is deafening. We need to speak up, somehow, for our babies' sakes. And we need to learn to believe our babies, whether or not we were believed. Otherwise this madness will never stop.

"Little girl - little child
Little child is broken open,
By sick, sickening hands
Drawing crop circles on the
Foreshadowing of breasts,
In the unplanted fields of secret hairs -
Harvesting a crop not theirs
Never theirs,
Plundering the bounty 
That is innocent life.

A foul scythe,
Shearing the seeds off our laughter.
A ploughing in the dark of night
A marking of the face
With tears.
Be quiet.
This is a gift.
Take this painful thing; 
It is love.
Do you not yet know how to spell?
Say it like you're told;
That's how you spell love.
Perfect score for learning so quick,
Special child.
Have a gold star 
Seared into your nightmares.

Nobody loves you better.
No one will kill you quicker.
I need you.
Make daddy feel good.
Let uncle make you feel good.
Aunty has a present for you 
For later
Bath time
Bed time
Play time
A life time
Of spelling love wrong.

Help us
Believe us
Protect us
Teach us

PS: Mikki Kendall (@karnythia) has some illuminating thoughts on paedophilia and how it works to silence victims.