Sunday 30 March 2014

Girl Power, Rah Rah - Nah.

This post is a bit 'for the record'-esque, so I will be brief: my feminism (because I believe in the concept of different feminisms) is not about usurping power, it's about being given equal opportunities and equitable treatment.

Let all children, male or female, go to school. And let girls have safe, clean toilets at school.

Let all people, male or female, get jobs based on merit, let their salaries and promotions be based on the same performance criteria, and let pregnant women be treated fairly in the workplace.

Let all parents, male or female, be allowed to participate in their children's lives in the public sphere in the same ways/whatever ways they choose, without their competence being called into question.

Let all adults, male or female, be able to explore and express their sexuality in healthy, consensual ways without judgment or reprisal.

Let girls and women contribute, lead, create and succeed, without questioning their abilities or qualifying their output with 'feminine' (read: 'less worthy of respect') qualifiers. 

Let boys and men be vulnerable, in need of help, emotional, asexual, non-violent, paternal and faithful, without qualifying their actions as 'feminine' (again, 'less worthy of respect') qualifiers.

My (and most other feminists') feminism isn't anti-man, man-hating, militant rampaging. It's not about men. It's about systems of oppression and the usually but not exclusively male-run, male-upheld institutions that promote and perpetuate them. It's about patriarchy, about kyriarchy, about the dehumanization of women and men due to subjugation, abuse of power and denial of rights.

So, guys, don't flatter yourselves. This shit ain't about you.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Die. It's Easy.

It is probably for the best that Nigerian hospitals don't have the manpower to perform routine autopsies on the unusually deceased, because the sort of Cause of Death reports we would receive would be the stuff of a truly macabre imagination. In Nigeria there are a thousand ways to die, many of them too amazing to be anything but stark reality.

You can die from a two-year old misdiagnosis given at a government hospital, or from an asthma attack because there is no oxygen, or from an asthma attack because the nurse won't listen when you mention she is overdosing you, or from an asthma attack when your inhaler turns out to be fake. You can die by falling from an old crane with maintenance issues on a construction site, or a truck driving into your shop when its brakes fail on a bad road. You can be T-boned by a speeding trailer on your way to NYSC camp, or in a plane crash along with all your classmates because there is no water for the Fire Service to save you with. 

You can die when the power goes out while you're in surgery, or when your doctor lies about your child being breech so he can charge you extra for a (subsequently botched) Caesarean section. You can die when a plane falls out of the sky into your house on a quiet Sunday, or when long-forgotten bombs go off in a military cantonment kilometers away, or for maybe being gay. You can die when a building collapses or when your pastor sets you on fire. You can die when your aunty decides you're a witch, when your husband stabs you 76 times, or when you are forced to marry your rapist. 

And you will be forgotten, eventually, by everyone but those who loved you before you died. No one will care enough about how you died to make sure nobody else dies that way, because this is Nigeria after all; people die all the time.

Monday 10 March 2014


"There are no voiceless; there are only the silenced."
Entertainment Splash came on the radio just as we passed what used to be the Ibadan toll gate, and after the stories about Lupita's Oscar and the imminent AMVCAs, the show moved on to the Obesere rape allegation. The presenters, two male, one female, went over the victim's story: she had been introduced to the musician because he had connections that could benefit her. She went to see him at his house, he made advances that she refused, then agreed to stay in his guest room till morning because it was so late. During the night he came to her room and raped her, penetrating her with a heavy gold ring as well.

I didn't have to wait long for the disbelief. Male Presenter 1 spoke up: "Sorry o, but this lady's story is strange." Female presenter: "Exactly! Why did she stay at his house if he had already made advances? Is she a child? She's 29 years old for God's sake, she can't tell me she doesn't know better." Male presenter 2: "She called it a business meeting yet she was there till midnight? Is she a learner?" They all agreed amid laughter that she was indeed a learner. By the time the show was over the other people in the taxi had more to add: she probably slept with him for money and then cried wolf when he refused to pay her, she just wanted to blackmail him because he's famous, you can't trust these women.

I listened to these comments in unsurprised despair. Rape is a seriously misunderstood and misrepresented concept in Nigeria; it is the most underreported crime in the country, with statutory rape being permissible under customary law and marital rape not even being illegal. A January 2013 poll gives some disturbing insight into the way Nigerians perceive rape, with 'indecent dressing' being listed as the top cause of rape, alongside 'lack of moral values, unemployment and inability to control the sexual urge', and the majority of rapes going unreported due to 'pressures that seek to compel women to remain silent about rape in order to conform to the expected societal standards of women remaining chaste till marriage.'

The sad truth is that Nigeria and its average citizens promote the deafening silence of rape victims: when women come forward with their stories, they are invariably described as attention-seeking liars. And when it cannot be disproved that they were indeed raped, they are responsible for their rapes because of something they did or didn't do. She went out at night. She went to his house. She wore a short skirt. She dated him. She was a prostitute. She was working late. She was going to sleep with him anyway. The list is endless, but the meaning is always the same: these women made themselves rapeable. In doing or not doing so-and-so, how could they expect anything other than to be raped?!

I am a Nigerian woman. I have been raped. It never once occurred to me to report my rapist: I was sixteen, I snuck out of school to see my 26 year old club-owner toaster, I went to his house, and he raped me. I knew without being told that I would be blamed for it, so going to the police never entered my mind. I continued my life as yet another unreported rape victim, because the country I grew up in, with its patriarchal culture and religious fundamentalism, had taught me that I was responsible for my rape, my shame was mine alone, and my truth would not be believed.

Rape in Nigeria is a systemic, institutionalized issue protected by culture, ignored by the law and decried only in theory. We have a culture that tells people that women's sexuality is not valid outside of the context of a man and babies, that men are animals unable to control their sexual urges and women are somehow responsible for this absence of self-control, that women's bodies are public property, that a woman cannot be defined outside of a man's ownership of her, that her chastity is what defines her value as a person, and her marriage is what cements her womanhood. And so a raped woman is, very simply, a woman who has cheated herself, by herself.

She knows her options are limited - almost non-existent. She goes to her family, and she is begged to be silent. She goes to the police, and she is disbelieved. She goes to her lover, and he is offended that someone else has eaten from his pot. She goes to her friends and she is asked why she did what she did to bring the rape on herself. So she goes to no one. She picks up the pieces, cries herself to sleep, reminds herself to calm down every time she passes her assailant on the street or at work or at home, prays it never happens again, suffers through the same cycle if it does.

In Nigeria, the rape victim almost always has no allies, no friends, no support. In fact, she barely exists: a victim is someone against whom a crime has been committed, hapless, innocent, deserving of justice. Nigerian people can almost always find a way to blame a woman for her rape (assuming of course that it even happened at all; you know you really can't trust these women). And if you can be blamed, you are not a victim. If there are no victims, there is no crime. If there is no crime, we do not have a problem.

Nigeria does not have a rape problem.

The Princess in Nairobi Blue

"Once upon a time, in a wonderful land where most everyone had magical portals that showed them everything going on everywhere, an unlikely princess named Lupita did an unlikely thing; she became a star."

I used to believe that the age of the breakout superstar was over.  Now that we have reality TV and YouTube, any schmuck with a camera can become famous - there are after all 25 letters other than 'A' to go with the '-list celebrity' qualifier. But I'm willing to consider that I may have been wrong, because Lupita. 

Everyone's been talking about Lupita Nyong'o. She's talented, stylish, intelligent, gracious, funny and articulate. More importantly (to me at least), she's undeniably African; dark, with short cropped hair and a surname people are constantly asking to be taught to pronounce. She's also just won an oscar - she's only the 7th black woman to do so, the second African woman, and the first black African woman. In other words, Lupita Nyong'o is a Big Deal.

Unsurprisingly, there's talk about whether the buzz she generated is really commensurate to her achievements: 12 Years A Slave was her first film (is Non-Stop out in Nigeria yet?), she just graduated from drama school, and her only previous acting credit is in Shuga, a Kenyan series funded by MTV. Yet on the strength of these accomplishments alone she was the most talked-about actor this awards season - she did countless talk shows, magazine covers, interviews and appearances, and designers were apparently vying to dress her for the Oscars. It doesn't add up!

Or does it? Why the fuss about her? Why am I, a Nigerian woman, writing about her?

American culture is the most exported culture on the planet. I would make bold to say that the American entertainment industry is, for all intents and purposes, the entertainment industry of the English-speaking world. In other words, American culture is The Mainstream. And American history and social/racial constructs being what they are, people of color have a lot to contend with before they can be accepted into that mainstream as something other than a sales gimmick. I have a private joke about the movie awards season being a blizzard because the whiteness is unreal. And then when you do see black people, they're usually light-skinned. And if they're dark-skinned, they're usually male. And if they're female, they're usually not a big deal. 

But every once in a (long!) while, someone will come along who bucks the trend. It was Cecily Tyson once, then Whoopi Goldberg, then Gabourey Sidibe, then Viola Davis... They are few and far between because that's how the system works. But never have I seen a dark black woman capture the hearts and imaginations of Hollywood and the world in the way that Lupita did. Her face was everywhere. Her voice was everywhere. People put her sound bites up on their social media. They made memes out of her fashion choices. Lupita is a star - a real one.

As you might have guessed, I'm a fan. It made my heart sing to see someone who looks like me walk the red carpet looking flawless every time, receiving recognition for her work and talents. This is not to say that I don't have my reservations about the image that the media machine seems to have created for her; I do. I worry about the possibility that she's been fetishized as an exceptional creature, because that just reinforces the stereotype that dark black women can not ordinarily be beautiful. It upsets me that because she is female, so much of the discourse was about her attractiveness or otherwise, and her body was constantly scrutinized and judged, instead of the focus being on her accomplishments and personality. And it has occurred to me that she might have been a token; a pawn in the mess that is American (media's) race and gender relations.

But I think it does her, and all the people inspired by her, a disservice to focus on these things because of all the good that can come out of her stardom. Lupita herself has spoken about how seeing Alek Wek become a supermodel enabled her to stop wishing to become something other than what she was, because for the first time someone who looked like her was celebrated as beautiful. And now, she is doing that same thing for black girls everywhere. Her image is powerful. Her voice is powerful. So though it might be unrealistic to hope that the adulation never ends, I am glad the world talked about Lupita because no matter what, she will always be one more woman who proved that catching the eye and ear of the world is not reserved for blonde, blue-eyed beauties and those who look like them. Up there with Alek, Grace Jones, Iman and Nina Simone, Lupita is one more star who shines, dark as night.

There may never be a consensus on whether she deserved all the buzz, but who cares? People can question the validity of her celebrity and her beauty all they want, but it doesn't matter because now and forever, Lupita and her image are a powerful beacon of hope - a confirmation that, 'no matter where you are from, your dreams are valid.' 

Friday 7 March 2014

Hardy Har Har, Tokstarr

Tokstarr, or Toke Makinwa to the uninitiated (ahem), is possibly Nigeria's most ubiquitous media personality. Someone once said that she's like MTN: bright yellow and everywhere you go. I found it hilarious, if a bit harsh. I don't listen to radio, so I don't know what she's like, but I was wandering around on Instagram, and one of her photos is the whole reason for this blogpost.

There's a lot I find very disquieting about the fact that this photo is on her Instagram. Here is a young woman with a significant following posting a (racist?) 'joke' about a 12 year old child having sex...and the punch line is that this child is a whore. To my mind, she must have first found it funny herself, for her to consider it appropriate to share.

Where to even begin?

I'm not Chinese, so I don't know if the play on their language would be considered offensive. But you don't have to be female, or an adolescent, to know that there is absolutely nothing amusing about rape, which is what any kind of sex involving a 12 year old child is. 

More disturbing than the mere fact of Toke posting this picture was the sheer number of 'LOL'ers, many of them female, one of whom even took it upon herself to 'school' the lone woman who took exception to the 'joke'. 

I've noticed that when people take exception to tasteless jokes such as this, they are invariably accused of being too sensitive, lacking humor, or having nothing better to do than make a fuss over nothing. But this isn't nothing. Rape isn't nothing. Paedophilia isn't nothing. Calling a girl (or any female for that matter) a 'ho' isn't nothing.

It wasn't long ago that Basketmouth got serious flak for posting a rape joke on his social media. I however find this joke even more distressing than Basketmouth's, because not only does it make rape seem okay, it goes further to shame the victim by calling her a 'young ho'. Add to that the fact that it was posted and laughed at by women, and one has to wonder just how much of a problem of internalized misogyny we have in Nigeria. I think it is important for any marginalised/oppressed/mis- or under-represented group to be careful about the messages they put out in the world. Having men misunderstand or make light of the very real, very serious issues women face is bad enough; should we have to deal with women doing the same thing too? 

Last year, the Nigerian populace was outraged by the legislature's apparent attempt at legalizing child marriage in the country. I did a simple twitter search, and found Toke's thoughts on the matter.

I wasn't surprised to note her own (mild?) outrage. I just have one question for Toke: are Instagram likes all it takes for you to change your mind about children and their sexual availability? 

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Still on the Matter

I watched the 2012 documentary 'Call Me Kuchu' about the LGBTQI situation in Uganda this morning, and it reminded me of the foolishness our legislature passed into law earlier this year. So I did a google search on 'homosexuality in Nigeria' and read a few ridiculous articles rife with religion-based homophobia. By the time I arrived at this article I was just done. I was so completely over the bullshit that I angry-commented, the result of which was three or so paragraphs. So I thought I'd share it, as I've been bogged down with boring work and haven't had any inspired posts pop into my head of late. (I should have known better than to read anything on the Daily Post, by the way).

"This article failed to make any real point. There are far too many social, political and cultural issues that characterize relations between Africa and the West for such a simplistic, reductionist argument as 'the homosexuality campaign is the new face of imperialism' to hold any water. 
While I understand your religious bias against SSA, it does not negate the fact that the religious concept of sin does not equate to the legal concept of crime. There are understandable overlaps in the two, but it would require the kind of fantastic cognitive dissonance that you and most religious homophobic Africans display to say that God condemns homosexuality, and therefore so must our laws. What about the other kinds of 'sexual immorality' that are so rampant? What about the rife corruption and greed? Are they not sins too? 
It does not matter whether people are born straight or gay, whether it is a mental illness or learned behavior. You do not contest a human's right to life, nor her right to mental illness or learning of behaviors of any kind. At the root of all human rights is the right to choose. Even your God allows free will, does he not?
Homophobia apologists are forever decrying the dangers of homosexuality; it frays the moral fabric, undermines the family unit, it will be the end of humanity as we know it. Yet you acknowledge that it has been around since at least the time of Abraham, and these great evils that homosexuality is said to cause STILL have not overtaken mankind and destroyed us all. I wonder how come!
At the root of any kind of discrimination is hatred. and I'm sure your God does not promote hatred - in fact, isn't hatred a sin? Some friendly advice: maybe you should be the one repenting of your own unrighteousness, instead of announcing to the whole world that homosexuals are on their way to hell. They might very well end up burning there for eternity, but i think you'd better hurry up and repent before you die, or you might burn with them too. And what could be worse than spending eternity next to a homo?"

There is truly nothing sadder than the use of God's name to promote evil. People are literally being killed because of homophobia, and yet they say that God has sanctioned this. It makes me wonder which God these people believe in...