The Cancer Scare

I think I’m in the middle of a very mild ‘cancer scare’.  I am supposed to be editing a post about choice in feminism to go up tonight but I’m doing this instead.  I’m not even going through my usual process of writing this as a word document first and copying it on to the blog.  I’m just going for it.  This is going to be another spontaneous post – we’ll see how it  goes.

Let me start by saying I don’t usually allow myself to think about cancer under any circumstances.  It is so scary.  The pain and suffering.  The horrendous process of chemotherapy (which is apparently a separate second set of  pain and suffering).  My personal fear of being cared for  – what if they get tired of me, begin to resent me, are forced to put on a bright smile for my sake or mistreat me (you have no idea where my mind has gone) – by even my nearest and dearest.

What else? The excellent but less than completely co-ordinated National Health Service.  Money matters.  Not being able to look after the kids.  Maybe not even seeing  the kids grow up.  Being trapped in a hospital bed while annoying people visit me.  Changed physical appearance.  Those terrifying pictures accompanying pleas for people in advanced stages of cancer who have not been, up to this point, able to afford treatment.  I can’t think of or look at any of it.  I can barely read through a short article telling us how to check for breast cancer.

Another more trivial and rather mean thought that occupies me is what if I do  have cancer  and decide to ‘live life to the fullest’.  What would I do?  In what ways will I completely embarrass myself?  For example, I write stand-up comedy in my little notebook.  Just ideas that occur to me because I consider myself to be a funny person (I’m saying that with not a hint of irony, by the way).  I would never perform stand-up comedy because I would be terrible at it.  I’m a terrible actor and I am not good at delivering jokes.  When I do say these jokes out loud, I sound like a  really bad combination of Kevin Hart and Basketmouth.  I guess I sometimes think of selling them to an actual stand-up comedian, but mostly they are just for fun.

If I am diagnosed and as part of ‘doing what I’ve always wanted to do’, would I wrap my head in a scarf, drag all my friends to the first dinghy club that would accept me and force them to listen to my cancer comedy?  A friend of a friend has recently recovered from a very serious illness.  She’s taken up stand-up comedy and, having met her, is an unlikely candidate for it.  My friend has simply reported, without comment on the performance, that she attended her gig.  This bothers me.

My cancer scare only started on Thursday.  Yet here I am on Saturday full of enough terror (and vanity) to write about it.   For about 2 weeks, I’ve been woken  by a pain in my right arm.  It started with numbness and tingling in my hands, travelled up my arm  and became severe enough to wake me up – not going away until I had stood up for a few minutes, and then starting up again as soon as I tried to lie down.  It has been, quite frankly a pain, but until Thursday cancer has not crossed my mind.

Through the usual mish-mash of internet research, I’d come to the conclusion, having first started with the premise that I was sleeping badly and  then progressed on to carpal tunnel as I write a lot, that it was some sort of trapped nerve probably in my neck area.  I was actually miserable with the idea that I would become one of these people with ‘chronic’ pain for which no cure can be found and who people begin to suspect of milking it out of laziness and for sympathy (you will learn, in the course of reading these posts, that it’s not that I’m an unkind person but that I’d much rather be in the position of defending people who are suffering than experience any kind of  suffering).  I’m also dealing with a stressful new role at work so I hoped it would be some kind of muscle spasm instead, which would relax as relaxed into my new role.

One day, I finally called 111 and was given an emergency appointment with my GP (there were other symptoms, chest pain, shortness of breath etc).  She conducted a number of checks and tests, seemed puzzled and said nervously that ‘it could be a number of things’.  That still didn’t make me think of cancer.  She also mentioned some kind of test for pinched nerves.

The pain continued and then lessened but, as it happened the night before, I went to see my (quite spaced-out) GP on Thursday, as planned,  who said that she just wants me to do some blood tests and an X-ray before she tests the nerves.  “Good luck!” she sang as I left the surgery with my two fussy and disobedient children.  I still didn’t think of cancer.  I thought the ‘good luck’ was about the  kids (it  probably was – I had to hush all three of them, including the GP,  at least once during the visit).

It was my visit with a friend later that day that finally did it. My dear friend is bubbly and fun, but given to  intense spells of pessimism, especially when it comes to cancer.  It was she who uttered the phrase “It’s going to get us all!” a few years ago, which appears in my latest short story.

She hinted that a number of people had discovered cancer following a pain in their arm/shoulder.  She mentioned that I had lost a lot of weight (I have not! I was wearing black clothes and long, straight hair extensions), she questioned me about my hair loss and asked why I hadn’t gone to the doctor (I’m not balding from the scalp; my hair is breaking, I explained.  And now that I think about it, hair loss isn’t a sign of most kinds of cancer – it’s a side effect of chemotherapy) and asked me to keep an eye on it.  This got me thinking  and remembering that my husband had said one morning after I told him brightly that ‘the pain didn’t bother me last night’ that I needed to get it sorted out in one of his rare serious moments.  I’d expected him to say, as he normally would ‘Great! Let’s forget about it, then!’.

I started researching first signs of cancer and noticed fatigue.  I immediately started feeling tired and tried to remember how long I’d been feeling this way.  Also, apart from a few twinges which I’m sure are mostly psychosomatic, the pain has gone although the arm is still tingly, tender and weird.  Also, and this is very important, NO HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL HAS MENTIONED THE WORD ‘CANCER’.  All the GP did was order blood tests and a scan instead of, as I expected,whisking me off to the nerve specialist, tell me ‘it could be a number of things’, act with unprecedented haste and say ‘Good luuu-uuck’ as I left (she really is strange.  I mean, who says that?).

I therefore realise that I am far from a fully blown cancer scare.  What is a cancer scare anyway?  What do public figures, when they are doing ads for cancer charities or responding to a belligerent tweet, mean when they say ‘I had a cancer scare 3 years ago so I know how you feel’?  I think, hope, it’s beyond googling random symptoms and getting down to a cancer article on page 15 of your search.  Almost anything can be a ‘sign of cancer’.  I suspect it’s at or beyond the biopsy stage (she says, like she knows what she’s talking about).  I’m at the blood test and X-ray stage so I’m not even there yet.

And even beyond the biopsy stage, isn’t there the possibility that a tumour is benign? Isn’t cancer malignant in that it spreads and destroys everything (see? I told you I never read about cancer) thereby producing this kind of phrase that an average Nigerian man with a pulse may use “This idea that women are entitled to the same rights as men is spreading like cancer,” (Feminism, crowbar, any article.  It’s like a magic trick.).  And of course there is the type of waiting that comes after you’ve had cancer, have been treated and are waiting to see if the treatment is successful.

Therefore I don’t really understand what people mean when they say ‘I’ve had a cancer scare so I know how you feel.’ like it puts them in some kind of club with cancer survivors or patients.  Or people who give testimonies in church stating that their cancer scare turned out not to be cancer after all.  Of course we should always be grateful to God for life and health but, beyond going for the initial tests and all the anticipation and terror of waiting, what is this kind of testimony about?  How has the person actually changed?  How exactly does having a cancer scare make one understand what a cancer patient goes through??

cancer 2

Another grievance of mine is all this talk of taking cancer on as if it were an opponent in a boxing match.  Stand up to cancer.  Say no to cancer.  Give cancer the finger.  Give it two fingers.  Give it as many fingers as you want.  Eff you, cancer.  Spit on its….Has the world gone mad?  I saw an article that advised that people waiting to find out whether they are in remission should keep moving as  it’s ‘hard for cancer to hit a moving target.’.

I can think of nothing more off-putting than feeling at my worst, and being jollied along in this manner.  Also, I can’t help but think it comes from a world that is weary of taking care of any kind of sick person and wants to trick them into thinking that if they just smile enough and stop feeling sorry for themselves, they will hardly notice their green skin and propensity to vomit up anything they have eaten.

Well, I’m due an X-ray in a week.  I’ve been told I have to wait another week for the results.  I am going to force myself to wait a further three days before calling the surgery.  I may update this post.  Alternatively, if this article simply disappears, it’s probably because I thankfully do not have any signs of cancer and therefore have lost the right (and the courage) to write about things that may give true cancer patients some comfort.

Update:  The results of my blood tests came back and they are normal!  Whoop whoop!  I called the GP tentatively to ask about the procedure for reporting back on tests.  I don’t know why I was so tentative, why I’m so keen to appear reasonable.  Anyway the receptionist said they don’t report back unless there’s something to report – an unusually cruel way of operating, it seems, especially if they are able to climb into my mind and read my paranoid thoughts.  Yay!  Now I just have to wait for the x-rays but I doubt they will show anything too sinister.   I’m so relieved that I’m not even embarrassed about what a state I was in when I wrote this post : )

 

Worldviews Christmas Special: What Terrifies Me About Christmas, Flash Fiction and 2017 In Review.

My first world terrors about Christmas, Phobia, a very short story, and my celeb obsessed 2017 in review.

What terrifies you about Christmas?

christmas bells

Of all the first world problems, Christmas (in the run up to Christmas) seems the most terrifying. There are so many things to consider. Take Christmas dinner, for example. This is a meal you only cook once a year; its different dishes require a level of co-ordination unlikely to be repeated for, again, the rest of the year. And here’s the killer (as my exercise video would say): No shops are open so if you cock it up, there’s nowhere to go. Why do we do it? Luckily this is not entirely my problem. My husband (shall I annoy everyone and call him ‘hubby’ for the rest of this article?) cooks the Christmas dinner so my role is limited to managing the kids and stress levels, should anything go wrong, and occasionally chopping up the vegetables.

The two things that terrify me about Christmas are the run up to Christmas and the dreaded 3-day vigil. I’ll deal with the latter first. My family is scattered around the globe (I’ve definitely made that sound more exciting than the somewhat grimmer reality) so I rarely see them during the festive season. When I first met hubby, he had quite big family gatherings so I could get lost in the 3-day vigil (oh, before I forget, the 3-day vigil takes place roughly between the 24 and 27 December where families are forced together in cramped accommodation and not let out until a big enough fight has occurred) . His family was new and exciting to me (strange and exotic even!). Also, there were enough of them to entertain each other so I could, whenever I wanted to, escape to a quiet corner and read a book while stuffing my face with cakes.

Two things have changed. I have small children who I’m required to in check.  Also, family Christmases have shrunk, in terms of the number of people who attend. I now want out of the 3-day vigil. I don’t want to go to someone else’s house and have to ask every time I want a snack (“Ooooh, are you having another biscuit, dear? I hope you leave enough room for lunch.  I’ve worked very hard.”), or when I want to park the kids in front of Christmas telly so I can vegetate for a while. Another thing is, while I quite like Christmas dinner, 3 special meals on the trot (eve, day and boxing), cooked by someone else over which I have no say, is a bit much for me. What I would like to do is eat something tasty but simple on Christmas eve with lots of alcohol and a good dessert, have Christmas dinner and spend boxing day snacking on leftovers and delicious unhealthy party food like sausage rolls and pork pies, as well as scandalous amounts of sweets, cake, mince pies and biscuits (and Baileys at 12pm).

I also don’t want to negotiate strange television channels, try and understand why the wifi won’t work or try to figure out any of the stuff that goes on in someone else’s house. I want my children to be somewhere familiar where I don’t have to scream at them for knocking figurines off someone’s shelves or have to worry about them cornering strange dogs who, no matter how angry they look “are only being friendly/curious/carnivorous”. This is before you take into account the social duties – constantly having to talk to family, when all we do is ignore each other in my own house, and having to arbitrate on festive fights.

“Okay!” Sez everybody. “We hear you Tracy, loud and clear. You’re a mum now. You can’t be expected to pack up presents and children. You can’t be expected to make sacrifices and take other people’s feelings into consideration. We’ll come to your house for the 3-day vigil. You can’t complain then.” I bloody well can. Sorry. No. It’s mildly better than being at someone else’s house but I work, I’m battling addiction (alcohol and Twitter) and I have to be in the office between Christmas and New Year days. I can’t stand all the good cheer. I’ll have to keep the house tidy. I still have to entertain you. You’ll still suggest going for a walk after Christmas dinner forcing me to come to terms with the fact that I can no longer zip up my winter coat.

Then there’s the run-up to Christmas. I spend the latter half of October and the month of November answering people who ask me if I’ve started preparing for Christmas with a smug smile and this “No, I really don’t start preparing until the 1st December. That’s when I put the tree up. As a society, we can get so obsessed about Christmas. I mean, it’s alright for the children….”. Then 1st of December arrives and I realise that I don’t have 24 days to prepare for Christmas, I have about 2 ½ to 3 weekends. That’s 6 days at the most. 6 days! To….buy presents and the tree, decorate the house, order the Christmas bird, order the Christmas food (not the same thing), co-ordinate my leave with the school holidays, fix all the stuff in the house that has to be fixed before people come, send out Christmas cards, buy Christmas crockery, glass etc, attend Christmas do’s and nativity plays. What was I thinking?? I don’t have enough time! It almost goes without saying that I need some time to nurse my growing resentment (well, resentment to rage) against people who have bought 90% of their presents or whatever by 2nd December.

And this year, I lack motivation. I know I say this every year but this year is really, I mean, really bad. Take this weekend for instance. We were lucky enough that the first day of December fell on on a weekend. What did I do? I unpacked the Christmas tree and brought the decorations out of the garage. I then freaked out because I couldn’t figure out how to put the Christmas tree lights on and also couldn’t find the receipt for the tree. I spent the next hour rifling through the bin for the receipt and then another hour on my computer trying to find out how to get a duplicate receipt (with frequent Twitter breaks to calm my nerves). For some reason I thought that having a Tesco Clubcard would give me an advantage.

In that time, the children took every single decoration from the box (quick tangential question – why is it when I get the Christmas decorations out of the garage, they invariably disappoint me with how crap they are?) and either broke them or hung them on the tree. This apparently tired me of Christmas preparation for the rest of weekend. If I was on target, I should have sent out the Christmas cards and fully decorated the house this weekend. That should have been the least of my goals. Maybe if I quit writing, just for December, I’ll be able to get things done (but then how would I get this important article out to my 8 followers?).

What would be my ideal Christmas? I moan when I have to go to them and I moan when they come to me? I complain that I am expected to take some responsibility for organising the day. I don’t know. I think I’ll try to (1) focus on the reason for the season (this is supposed to be a faith blog after all – thankful for the birth of our Lord and Saviour, thankful for the gift of salvation and faith, thankful for all we have, give to/pray for the people who have less)) (2) ‘do’ Christmas prep for at least 30 minutes a day (3) remember that when it actually comes, I usually enjoy it.

Have a happy Christmas and a blessed and fruitful New Year

Flash Fiction: Phobia

rat shadow

“It’s ridiculous!”

“Adam, you really have to calm down. The therapist said…”

“She’s not a bloody therapist, she’s a charlatan.”

The therapist said family and friends would..may react like this. I know it seems mad but this is something I have to do. For me. For my sanity”

“Waaaaaaaah!”

“We are spending 350 quid, which we don’t have…”

I’m spending 350 quid…”

“WAAAAAAAH”

“I’ll go and get Chrissy.” Big sigh. Dramatic shuffling to our bedroom.

Hmmmmm…that didn’t go as well as I might have expected. I just don’t understand why he can’t see that this – hypnotherapy – isn’t some sort of mad trend. I wasn’t just saying it. I really need it for m-.

Squeak-squeak-squeak. Scratch-rustle-scratch. Tap-tap-tap.

Frozen. The familiar horror washes over me like cold water. My throat is instantly dry. My skin is crawling. I break out in goose pimples. My heart seems to contract. My stomach cramps so much it feels like my insides are being put through the spin cycle. I am petrified with disgust and fear. One foot starts to manically scratch the other. I can’t move. How can I protect Chrissy if I can’t move? IT! It’s here again.

“Here’s mummy. Here’s mummy. Shhhh…Fola? What’s wrong?”

Ragged whisper (Good. At least I can talk. If I can talk, I can call for help. But call who?) “Did you hear anything?”

“Hear what?” Handing Chrissy over to me. Another bonus. Arms seem to work. “Oh for Pete’s sake. Not that again! They are all gone. You’re mental, you are!”

Squeak-squeak-squeak. Reassured by Adam’s presence (cranky as it was), I wasn’t expecting that. I almost dropped Chrissy. Unfortunately Adam noticed.

“What’s wrong with you?!” He started to reach for Chrissy and decided that I could be trusted with the baby as long as he sat uncomfortably close to me.

“Didn’t you hear it?” I was suddenly angry.

“That’s the dodgy fire alarm, babes. It’s not a rat. The exterminator got them. It.”

Usually I’d laugh at myself at this point but today I felt defiant.

He continued “Don’t worry. It’s just the hormones. It’s only been three weeks. You’ll snap out of it. No need to spend-”

“I’m going to see her, Adam.” Firmly.

He said nothing. Just starting cooing at Chrissy and stroking her cheek in a manner that infuriated me. I turned myself and Chrissy away from him.

“Let’s see if there’s anything in the other booby, Chrissy!”

Inside I was seething at him. But beneath the anger, I felt foolish. When did I become so terrified of rats? When did I become such a child? I honestly cannot pinpoint one single event that kicked off this insanity. I remember seeing rats when I visited my grandparents. Not many. I didn’t like them but I don’t think I was unreasonably scared of them. Somehow years of myths, books, news reports of poor babies in various cities being half-eaten alive by rats before being rescued by distressed parents, not actually seeing a rat for a long time and probably being pregnant had culminated in absolute and immobilising terror when, one month before my due date, I was confronted with a rather large one in our little kitchenette.

It scurried away. I barely saw it but I was horrified. Jesus! I was a wreck. However, I can understand why Adam is a bit sceptical about spending over £300 on a hypnotherapist. We’ve just moved into our own place. The deposit was a lot but the flat itself is what you expect two broke (broke because of being overeducated, over-expectant and under-fulfilled, career wise) people to be able to afford, hence, I suspect the rat. The landlord acted very quickly. The terminators were in and out before I had the chance to enjoy being back at mum and dad’s. My parents were very pleasant indeed now they knew that I had somewhere to go back to.

I keep having waking nightmares about what I would do if I walked into the bedroom and discovered a rat on Chrissy’s face or body. Even in my fantasies or daydreams or whatever you want to call them, I can’t make myself walk over to Chrissy, lift up the rat and fling it out of the window. I freeze then back out of the room in terror and leave my three-week old infant to fend for herself. I have to get therapy. I have to beat this phobia. I don’t care how much it costs.

……

“How was it?”

“It was okay.”

“Yeah, but what did you actually do? C’mon. It’s £350. ‘It was okay’ doesn’t cut it, yeah?!

“Adam. Don’t start. It’s £350 for three sessions – ”

“Practically a bargain.” Huge, endearing, grin. I felt a sudden rush of affection for him for a few seconds.

“Adaaam! Anyway, I’m not sure I want to talk about it. It was weird. I just want it to work.”

That did the job. The idea of spending over £300 and it ‘not working’ was enough to send him into silent introspection. The truth is the therapy didn’t feel like much. She asked me a whole load of stock questions – When did you first start feeling this way (about rats)? How do you feel when you see a rat? – and then didn’t seem very interested in the answers. We didn’t talk about Chrissy and she didn’t even show me a picture of a rat. Well, I’ve paid already. Let’s hope things pick up, eh?

….

That was more like it! I was ‘under’ for some time at least. I think I feel asleep but Ana (one ‘n’ of course) assures me that a lot of work was going on “beneath the surface”. I feel quite positive to be honest. I almost feel ready to look at a picture of a rat – the first time in a long time. I think it’s the going under that helped. And Ana seemed far more animated. Maybe she was grumpy about something the last time. Cash-strapped and living in a rodent-infested shoebox in a very expensive city? Yeah, I know the feeling.

……

I’m cured! I’m cured! After three sessions! I touched a rat. He (his name is Veg, you know, because of the film, Ratatouille, where the rat-chef makes a great French veggie dish, Ana told me). It turns out he’s been there the entire time. Watching me. Only kidding. I’m not insane anymore! They really are quite ordinary, you know. There he was, just running around in his little cage, minding his business and I have them ruling the world. Ha! I’m cured. Well worth it. But I’m not going to rub it in Adam’s face. I’m just so happy.

……

Off to the park with Chrissy. I’m still feeling elated over a week later but also bored out of my mind. I still feel a bit weird – buzzy (if that’s a word) in my brain half the time. Still. Well worth it. What was I thinking of cooping myself indoors for all that time?

Frozen. Throat dry. Skin and insides crawling with terror. I think I’m going to pass out. My baby! I gather Chrissy up. I pull her out of the pram and she cries out. I guess I was a little rougher than she would have liked but in the back of my mind, behind the terror, I’m glad I am still capable of picking her up.

My heart is pounding. I am unable to move for a few seconds and then I start running; pram in one hand, Chrissy in the other. Fast, surprisingly fast, but not fast enough. Uh-oh. Chrissy’s slipping. I’m starting to lose her. Better put her back. Now, I’m running as fast as the pram will allow me. But they are everywhere. What are these monsters? Red eyes. Oversized fangs shining with saliva. Huge huge monsters, some of them, running towards me and my baby! So big and fast!! I’M NOT FAST ENOUGH! What is that awful noise? What is that roar coming from them?

“Oscar! Here boy! Come on.”

“Max! Heel! Right now!”

“Daisy! Good girl, Daisy! Nooooo…”

One is heading for me. Me and my baby! He’s making this horrible noise. I can hear another horrible noise.

“RRRRRRR-EEEEELLLLL-RRRRRLLL- URRRRRRL. Get. Him. Awayyy! RRRRRR-URRRRRL. GET HIM AWAY!!!!”

“Is she alright?”

“Are you alright, dear.”

“It’s okay. He doesn’t hurt. Oh dear. Your baby is falling out …..”

The end.

dog shadow

2017 – My celebrity-obsessed year in review

`2017

2017 – What a year! We dealt with the fall-out of the Brexit referendum and invoking Article 50, found out what Trump really was like as President, declared Cardi B the best thing since sliced bread and discovered that Jay-Z cheated on Beyonce. We lost our collective cool over a Dove advert. We were the horrified witnesses to the rise of the far right, neglect in the face of national disasters and conflicts (Grenfell Towers, Puerto Rico, Texas, Burma, Maidugiri, Sierra Leone) and a modern-day slave auction.

What are the, mostly trivial, things that moved me (or almost moved me) to writing action. Let me check my notebook:

February 2017 – Tuface pulled out of a national protest against bad governance. How could he do it? Was he only pretending to care all this time? Is this the first time he’s pulled out…ever?? Sorry.

March 2017 – In this month, I wondered bitterly why women could decide not to be feminists because one feminist was rude to them but continue to groove to certain artists, no matter how many women they beat. It must have been around the time Karreuche successfully obtained a restraining order against Chris Brown.

April 2017 – In this month, I raged and raged at AY’s joke about Big Brother Naija contestants. No one paid me the slightest bit of attention. Probably because most of my raging took place in my notebook.

May 2017 –  BAAD2017-mania started this month – I fell in love with a tiler and now I’m getting laid (that was sent to me by my charismatic Christian friend. I was shocked. Shook even.) – and ended with Adesua Etomi-W traumatising an already bruised nation by revealing, during her honeymoon, that her legs didn’t connect directly to her back (sorry again).

June 2017 –  I started this blog. It was spurred by the need to share my musings on the Falz/Yahoo boys social media debate. One thing I never found out was what the presenter from Hip TV asked Falz in the first place. I can only imagine that the conversation went something like this:

Presenter: Wow! That’s a great outfit you have on, Falz. Can you talk us through it?

Falz: It’s funny you should mention Yahoo boys….

August 2017 – I started to receive an education on the transpeople – transwomen in particular – so of course immediately assumed I was qualified to write the first draft of my article on all things trans and TERF-related (the article is on its way!).

September 2017 – I wondered why charismatic evangelical churches seemed to be failing so many people but decided that I definitely wasn’t qualified to write an article on that (despite being a Christian all my life. Unlike the trans issue, I lacked a ‘fresh perspective’, m’kay?)

October 2017 – A very dark period of my life as I wrote a planning law-themed #forthedick challenge.

November 2017 – Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got engaged. I love a good Royal wedding. In this case, we are still feeling the ripples of the announcement (well it is only early December!) as black girls are being told by journalists who should know better, that this particular engagement represents “hope” for them (for anyone who doesn’t already know this, Meghan Markle is only 25% black at most, identifies as mixed race or heritage and looks remarkably similar to the Duchess of Cambridge). Ridiculous. However, occasionally, I still find myself replicating my mother’s mad Nigerian prayers for her (“Anyone who wants to block her happiness, Father God, block their respiratory system in the mighty name of JESUS! Amen.”)

December 2017 – Here we are. It’s Christmas time! This month has started with the #ENDSARS campaign. SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) seems to be made up of a sometimes uniformed, unchecked force that has taken to acting like armed militia. The tales and videos are shocking. They remind me of my youth (oh my lost youth!) in Nigeria and the mobile police force, which I believe was created while I was in Nigeria are apparently still around (why do they need SARS then, I wonder?). As a young girl, I watched with fascination and morbid excitement as these mobile policemen dragged people out of cars and beat them. However, even at that age, violence was very much normalised for me – it seems I’ve been re-sensitised.

Again, Happy Christmas! Let’s hope I spend less time next year cyber-stalking celebs.

Simi vs Third Wave Feminism

….besides I’m not sure that the pervasive need to ‘pepper’ one’s enemies through one’s physical appearance would allow anti-beauty feminism to flourish in Nigeria.

Nigerian feminists (NFs) on Twitter have Simi to thank for my frequent dive-bombing of their comment sections.  I discovered them when an NF reacted after Simi reproduced a conversation between two women which went something like this (according to her):

Woman 1: This is my view

Woman 2: I don’t agree

W1: Shut up, what do you know? I’m a feminist”

Simi complained about W1 disrespectfully dismissing W2 and asked “Is this feminism?”

simi face

The NF rightly pulled Simi up for using the tired old arguments – women are their own worst enemies, women are super-critical and disrespectful of each other, if we women can’t agree, how can we hope to gain the respect of men? – to denounce feminism. I agreed with the NF of course. However, it has to be said that in terms of sheer arguing skills, Simi won the day. Her best line – “Let’s just say I speak for women and you speak for feminism” – was almost as poisonous as the insincere ‘lols’ that laced the entire conversation.

The second time I associated Simi with feminism was during the AMVCA awards earlier in 2017 when she received criticism for her choice of dress. I could understand why she was annoyed – it was a clear illustration of why, if you wouldn’t walk up to someone in a party to say you hate their outfit, especially after you’ve witnessed numerous people doing the same thing, you probably shouldn’t do it on Twitter. After a series of tweets, she said something like ‘Isn’t it funny that it’s women bashing other women?’ prompting the great and good men of Twitter to parrot a seemingly endless string of similar sentiments – gleefully pointing out that women are unnecessarily bitchy, insecure and critical implying (and sometimes expressly stating) that this is the reason it’s hard to take them seriously.

amvca
AMVCA 2017 (Photo credit:  It was on Simi’s Instagram page so maybe one of her mates….?)

I thought the furore over the dress, which was nice but less formal than a lot of other dresses at the event, was ridiculous. However Simi’s reasoning didn’t stand up to scrutiny. Firstly, the dress was criticised by both men and women. Secondly, so what if women were critical of the dress? What is the implication of her tweet? That if women can’t support each other, how can we trust them with equality?

Denying the women the right to disagree in the name of sisterhood is itself an attack on women’s freedoms.  Men are allowed to disagree; I don’t hear anyone suggesting that Nigerian men under 30 don’t deserve equality just because Wizkid and Davido can’t get within screaming distance of each other without scrapping like two alley cats.   It would be nice if we could stick together on important issues but our emancipation cannot be conditional on some kind of false show of solidarity.

Also, doesn’t Simi’s stance have the potential to become circular? If, in the name of female solidarity, there can be no reason for a woman to criticise another woman, what right does Simi have to criticise other women for criticising or  having an opinion on her dress and round and round and so forth and so on. Anyway, Simi herself has made fun of other female media personalities – Gifty, for instance (under legislation which states that if you speak in a false accent to entertain people, it has to be an exaggerated Nigerian accent rather than a Western one). It doesn’t make her a bad person. It makes her a human on Social Media just like the people who criticised her dress.

The third stage (or wave? given the title of this article) came after her album listening party. When the album was released, I included in one of my blog posts, a sentence poking fun at all the outrage at her AMVCA dress. I was flabbergasted when it started again, this time by an NF reacting to a blue party dress she wore at the listening party. This was followed by several tweets addressing, as during the AMVCA event, her defiance in “refusing to dress properly” – not just by feminists of course. It was then my sympathies shifted more firmly to Simi’s side.

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Blue-Dress-Gate (Photo credit:  Not sure.  At the album listening party so another friend, perhaps…)

So what is it with NFs and Simi? Not only do they grump at everything she wears, they never seem to celebrate her achievements1. I too was disappointed when she declared she was not a feminist. Not because I expect Nigerian artists to be feminists (ha!) but because she had previously tweeted a few things about male privilege and patriarchy. I quickly got over that. Yes, she doesn’t identify as a feminist and she appears have beliefs about relationships that I haven’t held for a long time. However, she is one of the few Nigerian female singers who seems like a truly independent spirit beyond being fierce for music videos, being ‘all about her money’ and shouting at everyone else before quietly submitting to their husbands in some very strange marriages indeed.

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AFRIMA 2017 (Photo credit:  Still not sure.  You see when you type in certain words in Google…)

I’m delighted that the current army of young Nigerian feminists exist. They campaign about so many important issues from domestic violence to rape to equal marriages, education and provision for young disadvantaged girls, and sex education. They’ve taught me so much. However, for some of them there is an element of their feminism which is appears to be quite man/sex/beauty focused and I wonder if this causes some of the apparent antipathy towards Simi.

Let’s start with the beauty issue. Traditionally, feminists rejected the insane value, to the exclusion of almost everything else, patriarchal society placed on women’s looks and sex appeal. The peak of that rejection was feminists deciding to reject the concept of beauty altogether. They wanted nothing to do with beautifying themselves or wanting to be attractive. Clearly that was not sustainable and attitudes softened. Women who were and/or wanted to be attractive could do so without betraying the feminist within (and without). It was okay to like beauty even if we recognise the stranglehold that the beauty industry has on the female self-esteem (besides I’m not sure that the pervasive need to ‘pepper’ one’s enemies through one’s physical appearance would allow anti-beauty feminism to flourish in Nigeria).

Now it seems that one of the pillars of modern feminism is that all women have a ‘right’ to be beautiful. The reasons for this are complex and beyond the scope of this article but the dark side, as illustrated by the reaction to Simi’s choice of outfits, is that we’ve come full circle again. A disproportionate amount of attention and expectation is placed on a woman’s styling but this time it’s apparently for her own good and not for men .

As it turns out, Simi is beautiful and she does make an effort with her styling. Personally I think she is stylish but the point is that she actually goes out and gets herself styled. She doesn’t roll out of bed and turn up to an event. If we were talking about someone who is making a statement out of not making an effort (as would be her right), this would be a different discussion.

The Twitter anger and disdain is directed at the fact that she doesn’t spend all her time and money running around in circles like a deranged, headless chicken trying to figure out what specific clause of the fashion police’s lookbook she has breached. She has been reprimanded for being stubborn, not heeding advice and generally dressing badly on purpose. She clearly makes an effort but when there is still criticism she directs her energy at the reason she’s in the public eye in the first place – her music.

This kind of thing has plagued women for centuries. If one was to be paranoid, I would agree with several feminist activists that the idea is to keep us busy trying to maintain the body weight of a 12-year old, keep wrinkles at bay in our late 50s and obsessed with expensive, impractical clothes so we don’t notice the important things. Or it may be plain old commercialism. Whatever it is – do it if you must but I’m not entirely convinced that it is an essential part of feminism or even femininity.

It (almost) goes without saying that the hysteria over Simi’s style is not replicated when it comes to her male counterparts. It is simply noted that they have dressed up for a gig and their performances are rated.

We should think about the inequality this could cause. If  Simi is indeed in a relationship with a fellow musician or entertainer, they are both presumably making some money out of show business. They both need to invest in their art and their brand and that includes their personal appearance. He is free to spend a reasonable amount of money on his look (so even if he was single, we can confidently rule out Basketmouth) and use the rest of the money for other things, paying for his band, caring for himself and perhaps relatives, saving.

Simi, however, is expected to focus an unreasonably large part of her income on either her clothes or, since she apparently doesn’t have an ounce of dress sense in her head, an endless succession of stylists. If for some reason, the music money slows down or dries up, guess who is going to have less financial power (or to put it plainly, a lot less bloody money)? Yep! the woman again. Because of ridiculous beauty standards imposed on her.

A final word on beauty is my intense irritation at the idea that Simi’s talent has to accompanied by a specific amount of styling. It is noteworthy that Blue-Dress-Gate was started up by someone who had either not listened to the album that the blue dress was worn to promote or decided that the album was not worthy of comment. Great. We’re back to the place where nothing a woman does is worth considering if the right ‘look’ doesn’t accompany it.

Sex. Fortunately, Simi’s participation in the #forthe_____challenge and criticism of Nigerians substituting ‘bae’ for ‘dick’ has given me a tenuous hook to briefly discuss the sex-related part of modern feminism. It is very tenuous because the person who criticised the substitution didn’t mention Simi but did, during the AMVCA dress hysteria, produce (in an extraordinary display of ‘chook-mouth’edness unlike this vital and informative article) a long and unnecessary thread about the importance of ‘dressing like a star’.

I can see how the #forthedickchallenge would appeal to the sex positive demographic. The challenge was to rap about all sorts of crazy things you would do ‘for the dick’ including going against your principles (if it sounds like I’m being snotty about it, you should know I wrote one myself which I was advised, by kind friends and relatives, not to post anywhere). This may be seen as empowering in a sex positive kind of way because it reinforces the kind of thinking that insists women are as up for it as men, if we accept of course that men are uniformly up for it (which we don’t by the way).

Sex positive feminism evolved from the feminist idea of breaking down sexual-gender stereotypes that assumed that ‘men will be men’ , true ladies will be chaste and a woman who seems to like sex or being sexy is abnormal, bad and/or deserving of harm. I suppose substituting ‘bae’ for ‘dick’ is less dramatic and empowering in that way. #Forthedick is a new way for a woman to ‘own her sexuality’ and #forthebae is just another woman saying she will do anything for her man.

Now on to the maddest part of my theory – the man-centered bit. Just to provide some context, it’s not that I don’t think that men are important to feminism. Most feminists will relate to men in some way and require some reciprocity from men for feminism to work in a sane way (and if men didn’t exist, I guess there really wouldn’t be a need for feminism). But I think there’s a middle ground between man-hating and the type of neo-liberal feminism that is obsessed by the way women are viewed by men, where the ultimate triumph is to be able to push your feminist-ally male partner in the face of anyone who poses the question, usually accompanied with this infuriating emoji 🤔, as to whether any feminist can hold down a successful marriage (trust me, it’s hugely satisfying). It just puts men at the centre of everything. If a man says a woman is fat, he’s given so much negative attention! How powerful would it be just to ignore his comment because it doesn’t matter what a random man says about a woman he has no interaction with?

My mad theory is that, as a result of internalised misogyny, there is some resentment among some women, possibly including feminists, about the kind of woman Simi superficially  represents. Small in frame and voice (apart from singing voice), eternally youthful, seemingly easy going and low maintenance, financially if not emotionally,  perhaps they think she is the embodiment of the feminine ideal that modern Nigerian men seek out in their attempt to combine the best parts of patriarchy and feminism to their advantage (“Let’s see now, she has to bring in 90% of the household income and do 180% of the housework. Sexually liberated, of course, as long she doesn’t mind me sending strange men pictures of her naked…..”).

Perhaps that is a bit far-fetched. I do think that if a male artist said half the things (the good half obviously) that Simi says about gender issues, he would be an untopple-able hero. There seems to be an element of male centred feminism that criticises Simi but heaps praise on a Nigerian male celebrity simply for not overtly being an asshole or because he had a few (entirely male-benefitting) seemingly liberal ideas, seeks to make Hugh Hefner a feminist icon (I still can’t get my head around that. “RIP Hugh Hefner” – a man who made his entire fortune out of sexually objectifying women).

As for the beauty and style criticism, it seems to have taken on a life of its own – not, I hasten to add, predominantly sustained by feminists – Tablecloth-Gate, Canvass-Gate, the reference to her clothes as “rags”, the comparisons with Rihanna’s unconventional outfits and so on. Some people find it amusing, some find it outrageous, it’s not completely beyond the realms of possibility that some people criticise because of the potential likes, comments and retweets such criticism will generate. The great and good men continue to twit away at their ‘bitchy women’ narrative which means there is now an edge of defiance to the commentary. Personally, I find it uncomfortable, exasperating and bordering on bullying but then again, I’m still trying to find my place in faith feminism, radical feminism, Nigerian feminism, choice feminism and 1st/2nd/3rd wave feminism – with their various virtues and shortcomings. What do I know?

1  I say ‘never’. Since the first draft of this article, I’ve noted at least NF coming out in her support and defence. Also, as I’m technically an NF, I suppose this sentence isn’t literal…but you know what I mean!

Weird Feminism: Conversations in Modern Feminism that Make Me Uncomfortable – Part 1

As a single girl, if a man couldn’t show me his two penises, he was going to have to explain to me in words of two syllables or less why he needed two women. It was as simple as that – not about female solidarity or empowerment.

Beauty Privilege

I’m always tempted to dismiss pretentious-sounding phrases that I see on social media and don’t quite understand like ‘beauty privilege’ and ‘sexual capital’. However, attempting to write dismissive articles about said phrases has forced me to consider if I’m being 100% honest with myself.

Take beauty politics for instance; it’s okay to like being attractive. It’s equally okay not to care about being attractive. The value placed on women being attractive is ridiculous. It’s unfair and quite frankly, in some cases, plain racist that some groups of people are considered, by default, to be more attractive than others (God gave each race different physical virtues and humans, in their perversity, relegated those virtues to a league table). But if as feminists, we don’t care if we are considered attractive and fight for opportunities not to be dependent on our physical appearances, then beauty politics loses its power over us. Right? Wrong (apparently).

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Why? Beauty privilege. Society doesn’t just label us attractive or not and leave us to nurse our smug/hurt feelings in peace. It rewards and punishes us accordingly. One big way is in the area of employment and therefore money. From people who want to pursue careers in show business to opportunities within more mundane career paths – attractive people and especially attractive women seemingly win.

I say seemingly win because they are made to pay a price for that victory. There is definitely some resentment and hostility towards attractive women as men and society in general exert themselves in the vital task of ensuring that pretty women don’t get too big for their boots and remain humble. As demonstrated by the Weinstein débâcle, sexually harassed attractive women seem to receive less sympathy from certain elements of society.

Another example is in the area of romantic love, partnership and marriage. Marriage is not an achievement in that lack of marriage is not a failure to achieve or be a complete woman. However, many people eventually hope to find that one person they can partner up with in life (and building a relationship can seem like hard work!). Women especially are simultaneously rejected for not being attractive enough to boost a man’s status or if they are attractive are made to prove that they have a brain (what living mammal doesn’t have a br..never mind) and are generally regarded with high suspicion.

Beauty privilege and, to some extent, sexual capital (not this nonsense about how ‘sex is power’ and how great it is to have a man brought to his knees by your sheer sexual force which is just regressive and a false victory) means that failing to be attractive, which you may not have a lot of control over, can have some influence over getting the basics in life.

Black women moan about white women’s beauty privilege causing me (along with our constant bothering of anyone who dares to write anything critical about Beyoncé) to despair a little. I would love for us to concentrate on what, to my mind, are the real issues and I hate the fact that we look so damn needy for validation. However, I can’t say that I don’t see their point. A white friend of mine eschews beauty politics. If you tell her that  her young daughter is beautiful, she will give you a blank stare. If you try to talk to her about losing weight after a pregnancy, you will get the same reaction. She once blasted me on Facebook (the shame!) for praising Kim Kardashian for her post-pregnancy figure (North not Saint).

That is her absolute right and I would give anything to reach her level of nonchalance about beauty. The luxury of not despairing for at least 15 minutes ( to 15 hours) a day because I can’t shift that stone! However as a white woman in the UK, she already has a certain amount of beauty privilege that she is perhaps oblivious to. People see her as default femininity and whether she accepts it or not she gets whatever privilege (and disadvantages) that derive from that. In light of that, I’m a little kinder to my sisters who get hung up on beauty politics. Rightly or wrongly (wrongly), sex and beauty sells and not only has someone decided women have to be the ones to predominantly sell it; they’ve decided that a sizeable majority of black women can’t even have access to whatever financial or other advantages flow from this flawed system.

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Feminism and Capitalism

Speaking of beauty and money, when people say we have to dismantle capitalism in order for feminism to be established what the *&^% are they on about? This came up in this segment (https://twitter.com/AJUpFront/status/923231917406687232) of an Al-Jazeera interview where Meghan Murphy and Jamia Wilson were asked whether they think Beyonce is a feminist icon.

Having read a lot of Murphy’s work, I starting feeling tense even before she opened her mouth as she had the twitchy, unsmiling demeanour of someone who was getting ready to announce that Beyonce’s brand of feminism was pure BS. However, she surprised me when she simply said, to summarise, that Beyonce’s feminism was suspect because it was entrenched in capitalism and that it was not possible to be a feminist and a capitalist at the same time. Wilson, a self-confessed Beyoncé fan, responded that she agrees with the need to dismantle capitalism.

murphy

If I actually stop to think about it, I can understand how capitalism props up sexism, in particular, and a lot of other inequalities. There’s money to be made in pressurising women to obsess about beauty, youth and sex appeal, getting people to think that men and women are so radically different that we need books, seminars and retreats to decipher each other, teaching women how to keep your man or on the darker side, the sex industry which is based on the idea that women can be bought, sold and consumed. In fact, if the choice, beauty obsessed, sex positive type of feminism is not an invention of capitalism, it definitely is a gold mine for consumerism as aspiring to look like your favourite pop/film/instagram star is now not only girly idolising but also apparently empowering. In parts of the world where capitalism results in abject poverty, it’s often the women who are the most vulnerable to the worst of the suffering.

So, I’m not confused when people link inequality to capitalism; I’m confused because despite this apparent need to ‘dismantle capitalism’ I can’t see any effort, which is sufficient to make the slightest dent in capitalism anywhere in the Western world (or does dismantle not mean what I think it does?) to do so.  Sure, people like me would rather a more socialist form of capitalism but I haven’t really noticed people doing anything other than talking about how bad it is and attending the odd rally. Neither Murphy or Wilson looked entirely untouched by capitalism in that interview; if I may make a judgment based on their physical appearance.

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Take me for example; I don’t consider myself to be a leader in the capitalist system. I don’t own my own business or any shares. I merrily collect a salary and continue to consume. Now that I have kids, the endless consumption doesn’t even seem that pleasurable. I may remember to question the ethical origins of the thing I’m consuming but that doesn’t happen very often. I don’t work as hard as some (take Kevin Hart for instance whose aggressively capitalised and comprehensive Twitter bio states “My name is Kevin Hart and I WORK HARD!!! That pretty much sums me up!!! Everybody Wants To Be Famous But Nobody Wants To Do The Work”) but I think I’m making a small contribution to society, through my employment.

I know lots of feminists. I haven’t seen any evidence that they are fighting capitalism in any kind of organised way that has any chance of succeeding. The most I can say is that some of them oppose (or mildly disapprove of) the worst excesses of capitalism. I don’t even really know of any truly non-capitalist country that has been a success story. I’ve always thought feminism is a doctrine that should be promoted in any context but perhaps naivete like mine has bred the kind of thinking that says the obtaining of money and power by a woman is in itself a feminist act, even if that money and power was obtained by sexist and patriarchal means. That would make the female owner of a brothel a feminist because she has found a way of making lots of money.

Watch this space. I’ve already started gathering intel on the issue.

Feminism and the Other Woman

One of the most fantastically stupid threads by a feminist I saw was in response to a nutter threatening to display a woman’s naked pictures on Twitter because the woman allegedly sent them to her husband. There is a significant risk that the first woman was unhinged as the second woman denied everything. The first woman’s account was eventually reported and shut down by Twitter and that was that. Storm in a tea-cup.

The thread contained such a  perfect mixture of stupidity, feminist-speak and truth that as I stared at it blankly and blinking, the only response I could muster was not to press the like button. Imagine that. A few weeks later I’ve figured out what my response should have been and I live for the day when she retweets the thread.

Firstly, the thread. It regarded the situation – which would have been trying to instigate a sexual relationship with a married man by sending him naked photographs if the whole thing hadn’t been a figment of Woman 1’s over-fertile imagination – as an example of how married women expect society in general to take responsibility for and protect their marriages and labelled that expectation as entitlement. Basically expecting people not to try and sleep with your husband is patriarchal entitlement.

I did agree with the part that said the solution was to address your husband and not to attack the ‘other woman’ but apart from this the message in the thread is cobblers. It was a disgrace even to the flakiest choice feminist and essentially shores up the false idea that feminism means doing anything you want and the consequences are always someone else’s fault. It doesn’t fight patriarchy; it plays into the idea that women are illogical creatures incapable of taking responsibility for their actions.

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It is not unreasonable for women to expect people to respect their relationships or marriages by not pursuing relationships with their other halves. The line comes when, if an affair happens, they go after the other women instead of addressing their husbands or partners, often under the guise that men can’t help themselves.

It is disrespectful to pursue a relationship with a ‘taken’ man but ultimately it is the man’s responsibility to reject the offer. I could imagine having a word (even jokingly) with both of them or finding another way to assert my presence if someone was openly flirting with my husband at a party but I would never take her aside and warn her not to mess with my man. That’s my husband’s job.

Sadly it is probably more common for married men to do the chasing. The narrative that has single women ‘stealing’ husbands, when not only do husbands allow themselves to be ‘stolen’ they are often the ones offering themselves up and attempting to break down the resistance of single women, is dishonest.

Another underlying issue is the divide between married and single woman in some cultures and societies. In these societies, the former automatically receive a higher status while the reaction to the latter ranges from pity to suspicion. Whether or not a woman wants to be single, there is pressure on her to feel like a failure when in reality finding a life partner is often just a matter of luck, especially with the high expectations that come with romantic relationships in terms of compatibility, overwhelming love, endless spells of uninterrupted happiness and fabulous social media photographs and updates.

In that situation, which can lead to bizarre behaviour like avoiding single friends once you get married, isn’t it incredibly naïve to expect loyalty from that single woman in the name of some contrived feminine solidarity which you yourself have failed to show to her? Wouldn’t, in fact, a more natural survivalist response of a single woman striving to meet society’s expectations be either to try and aspire to your marital status, by obtaining any man she can, including your husband (we’re still in the alternate universe where men are powerless in the face of even the slightest sexual advance) or the level the playing field by doing all she can to interfere in your relationship?

I think this is the frustration the author of the thread was projecting, rather than, as she implied, saving feminists from marriage which she described as the last tool in toolbox of oppression against women. Or perhaps she was angrily married and in love and frustrated that she was denied the opportunity to fight the good fight within what she thinks is the appropriate relationship status. I joke but I often torture myself with similar thoughts. Am I only a continuing to be a feminist because I’m happily married and ‘safe’? If, at 42, I wasn’t married, would I abandon all feminist ideals in my hunt to the death for someone who was willing to marry me?

Having said the above, if you are too evolved to accept that it’s immoral to sleep with a married man, then please understand that it is one of the least feminist things you can do. However woke your tweets are or sexually graphic your blog is, you are still operating on the basis that a man deserves the attention of two women – a modern day version of polygamy which includes dragging one man between two women and often fighting, resenting and hating the other woman simply because of a gutless codpiece that can’t make up his mind.  And guess who is the beneficiary of all this moral mind-bending?  Yup!  You guessed it!  The man again….

As a single girl, if a man couldn’t show me his two penises, he was going to have to explain to me in words of two syllables or less why he needed two women. It was as simple as that – not about female solidarity or empowerment. I was just too much of an angry, mouthy bitch to endure a man whining about how even though he was in a relationship with someone “he was weelly weelly unhappy because she didn’t understand him or tweat him wight”. In the interest of full and fair disclosure, it’s not like many married men approached me when I was single.

In part 2 of ‘Weird Feminism’: Tracy Treads Trepidatiously Into The Terrifying And Treacherous Terrain Between Terfs And Trans (If she dares. ONLY IF SHE DARES…..!). Before that,  some comic relief (still on about feminism though) in ‘Simi vs Third Wave Feminism’.