Runs Girls and the Sliding Scale of Nigerian Morality

Just to add to this, what *would* happen if a serious ‘socially conscious’ song was written about Nigerian politicians cavorting with runs girls? I think in light of what they are accused of including  looting and mismanaging public funds, corruption and gross dereliction of duties, many people, including me, would question the need to address their private lives. This suggests to me the true importance of the runs girls/prostitution ‘epidemic’. People are quite content to turn a blind eye to it.  The real reason for their outcry is that they are appalled that women would ‘debase’ themselves this way  and that possibly a larger and larger group of women think that this is an acceptable pastime and way to make some cash.

They are worried that girls are getting ‘spoiled’ while boys will be boys, whether its younger men sowing their seeds or older men who pay girls for sex (or they just want to gleefully slut-shame).

I don’t think the runs is great  ( although I can’t see how it’s any worse than casual sex, especially between strangers) or a complete solution  to objectification of women especially in the era of so-called sexual liberation which men interpret as an aggressive right to casual sex (if you refuse, you are apparently trying to manipulate them into a relationship) or older, richer men feeling the need to check whether a young woman is available for sexual services before resuming the normal order of business.

However in Nigeria, casual sex often reduces the social capital of a woman. She’s called a prostitute or a slut anyway and too much promiscuity means that she is not a serious candidate for a serious relationship and a target for very aggressive overtures if not assault. In that case, it stands to reason she would want to gain something other than the sex. It’s not just ‘sex that we both enjoyed’ as men get away with their social capital unaffected while the woman has to sit there trying to find a way to reconfigure her body count….

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Editor’s Note: Twitter outrage has become commonplace (while Facebook has become some form of family friendly place to air achievements, family portraits and unpopular opinions with relative safety). On the upside these ‘outrages’ have effected changes, as more and more people are using this platform as an avenue to hold governments to account and share histories that would have otherwise been lost in obscurity (particularly Black History).

Nigerian feminists have been using social media to educate Nigerians at large about social inequalities and highlight how cis-heterosexual men are at the top of the foodchain, how they use their privilege to keep women and sexual minorities oppressed.

The latest topic being discussed with a lot of passion is the rights of sex-workers/runs girls/side-chics (or the lack thereof). The trigger for this discussion is Falz, a Nigerian musician who embraces social consciousness, (wokeness) served with a side of misogyny.

Tracy in this…

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Mothers vs Daughter-In-Laws: A Misogyny Hangover?

Why do we spend so much time raging and plotting against mothers and daughters-in-law who we haven’t even met?

I wonder what I would do if I had one of those Nigerian mothers-in-law. You know, the ones who want their sons’ wives to kneel at every occasion of greeting, who think they have the right to scream at and even hit their daughters-in-law, who think their sons’ new wives are unpaid domestic help? How common are they anyway? Is this another narrative designed to portray Nigerian women as demons?

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I’m hoping, at least, that the evil Nollywood mother-in-law is a caricature which has been exaggerated for entertainment (much like the evil Nollywood daughter-in-law who instead of saying “I don’t like the way that you are speaking to me”, snarls inexplicitly “If you mess with me again, I will kill you!”). One clip that recently1 made the rounds on Twitter is from a film featuring a younger Funke Akindele-Bello. Her character’s husband tastes a meal she has prepared, coughs dramatically and complains that it is too spicy.

“I’m sorry, honey. It was a mistake.” she says sadly, abandoning her comedy accent and emphasising first syllable of ‘mistake’, late nineties/early noughties Nollywood style (incidentally this was the second time I’d heard Akindele speak without her comedy accent. The first  was at the 2016 AMVCA awards. Before then, I had, in a very patronising way, been congratulating Nollywood for promoting an actress with a strong regional accent contrary to their previous obsession with Western accents. Imagine my shock when she gave her thanks for the award and announced in a transatlantic accent “You guys rock!” The whole thing has gone full circle and posh young Nigerian entertainers, who were educated in foreign, elite and/or private institutions, are at pains to demonstrate with their accents how close they are to the average Nigerian. Ah…the joy of a completely unrelated rant!).

Anyway, back to the film. Seconds after Akindele delivered this line, her character’s freshly-faced mother-in-law burst forth from the kitchen, armed with a fully cooked alternative meal for her son and an arsenal of insults and aspersions about the wife’s upbringing.

What would I do in that kind of marriage? I doubt I would do the right thing which is either to get a divorce or politely refuse to respond to such treatment, enduring whatever physical or verbal abuse may come my way as a result. I think I’d either become a slave or a psycho. Either way, there’s a high chance it would end with murder and mayhem, after a few long years as slave-Tracy and very quickly as psycho-Tracy or maybe at the funeral of said mother-in-law when someone comments that I don’t look sad enough.

I think with the state and society sanctioned inferior status of women in Nigeria, it’s easy to think of reasons why a mother-in-law would wield her power over her son’s wife. It’s possible that, having had to put up with similar treatment as a daughter-in-law herself, she feels it is only fair to flex her muscles when someone is stupid enough to marry her son. Her time has come, as we used to say, but the serious point is that it is very common for an oppressed person to seek to emulate their oppressor when dealing with someone on an even lower rung than them.

Also, quite a lot of Nigerian women seem to find disrespect from their “fellow woman” very difficult to bear. Add to this a very strong culture of respect for elders and a lack of tolerance for disrespect, or even disagreement, from a younger person and the fact that a young person is supposed to treat their parents, their friend’s parents and therefore their spouse’s parent with the utmost respect, and one can easily see the potential for some serious abuse of power.

I’m not saying all Nigerian mothers-in-law behave badly towards their daughters-in-law but judging by some of the stories even positive behaviour can be benevolent rather than good. The stereotype goes something like this: the daughter-in-law is only rewarded if she is the epitome of respect and subservience and a potential source of unpaid labour at all times. She must always be delighted to see her mother in law. She must never forget to call her ‘mummy’. She is expected to anticipate that her mother-in-law can act irrationally at any time. She herself is never granted any leniency to have a bad day. She must communicate any complaint she has through her husband.

If, and this is a big if, any of this is true in a substantial number of marriages, I marvel at the things I get away with with my own mother-in-law. I also get very suspicious when a Nigerian woman starts praising her daughter-in-law (I’m mad, I know). What has she had to endure to merit such praise, I wonder? I’d almost be more comfortable if she said ‘Gosh, I love my daughter-in-law but she really can be a bitch sometimes’, I feel like at least that the daughter has been allowed to be human.

Now I’m a hundred percent sure that many Nigerian mothers-in-law are kind, gracious, respectful and loving and don’t only respond to extreme subservience. But if you are an African woman reading this, imagine this scenario. Your daughter-in-law has just had your new grandchild, is wretched with sleepless nights because of a colicky, constantly-feeding baby, raw bleeding nipples and the fact that she can feel her tummy dragging her C-section stitches every time she tries to get comfortable in bed. Now let’s say she responds with a bad-tempered ‘Not right now, mum!’ or ‘Can it!’ when you ask her ‘won’t you do your hair?’ (I’m not judging; stupid questions happen to all of us). Would you be more concerned that she is so overwhelmed by the experience that she has acted out of character or the massive disrespect that has come your way (apart from worrying, quite naturally, that this will become accepted behaviour on her part)?

In The UK

It’s easy to point to reasons why there’s this dysfunction in mother/daughter-in-law relationships in Nigeria but it also exists in the UK and presumably the rest of West. One reason is, despite my use of the word hangover, the misogynistic reasons that may apply in Nigeria were firmly entrenched in Britain not so long ago. Of course, a substantial part of Britain’s diverse population is made out of 1st and 2nd generation Africans (and Asians) and some of the more traditional attitudes regarding marriage and this particular relationship persist. But is the modern-day division just (or even) the result of misogyny or are there other psychological factors at play?

All I can say about my own mother-in-law, apart from the fact I love her dearly, is that she’s extremely generous, liberal and tolerant. I try to be courteous and loving but am allowed to have bad moments and days. Having said that, the relationship is not without its difficulties in communication. We’ve had different upbringing and life experiences that have made me more protective of the children than perhaps she would like. I’ve been told by other women that they found their relationship with their mother-in-law to be tricky. One day my mother-in-law surprised me by telling me she hated her own mother-in-law!

Complaints on Mumsnet (or Netmums) and blogs are more subtle than Nigerian examples – they are complaints of manipulation, power struggles especially regarding the kids, implicit undermining and of course criticism about how mum keeps the house and raises the children. Issues that have come up include whether mum should stay at home or work (subtle, very subtle “Oh I don’t blame you for not having time to do so and so. You career women are so busy. In my day, I just led a simple life and took care of my family. Simple old me!” and other declarations of war) or whether babies should be breastfed and for how long.

I read an article in which the author expressed her lack of comprehension at her own need to explain to her mother-in-law in explicit terms exactly why she disagreed with suggestions by the latter. I can relate. If a friend makes a suggestion that I don’t like, I can fob it off with an excuse without expressly disagreeing (while secretly thinking that she’s lost the plot). If my mother-in-law makes one, it seems absolutely compulsory to tell her expressly that I don’t agree and give a reason (or 300) why. Very odd. Perhaps I feel that if I don’t say something now, whatever she has suggested will become the absolute rule. An almost opposite problem is friends tell me that while you can tell your own mother to go away, you can’t do that with someone else’s, even your partner.

Modern Living

There are clearly other reasons here that have nothing to do with sexism. A lot of people point out that while you choose your partner, neither you or your mother-in-law (who I will call ‘MIL’ for the rest of the article) chose to be in each other’s lives. The portrayal in pop culture of mother and daughters-in-law at war may mean that there is among polite people, a determined effort to make the relationship work (not all English people. A work colleague told us that her mother-in-law tried to punch her at her wedding. I never got the full story but there was something about her playing the guitar and singing at her own wedding that appeared to tip MIL over the edge. What kind of resentment must have been building up in MIL for that to happen? And why wait until the wedding?). You have to act as if you are in love with each other from the day you meet and it can be a shocking realisation when the mask occasionally slips.

Another reason may be a tension between MIL’s and mum’s needs. In modern UK, mum is often juggling work and a number of hobbies or sidelines she may have as well trying to live up to high standards of motherhood in a society where people are very sensitive to criticism. What she may want (or thinks she wants) is support from MIL on her terms. MIL may be retired and may have less mandatory obligations. Yes, she wants to help but she also wants to feel that she matters. She wants a stake in her grand children’s upbringing (which may be interpreted by daughter as wanting to re-live her glory matriarchal days; children  can of course bring out wide cracks in the pretend love affair that MIL and mum have been engaging in since husband introduced the woman he was going to marry) but she also wants a relationship with the family. Often times, what is seen as criticism is a desire to contribute more than anything else.

Gender Issues

However, I do think there are some gender issues (of course I do!). Someone on Netmums thought the difficulty that a poster had with her mother-in-law stemmed from the fact that her son defers to his wife in a way that he hasn’t done to his mother since reaching adolescence. This seems like a fairly plausible theory. But if this is the case, why doesn’t it happen more often with fathers and sons-in-law? That would make sense because people push around the theory that sons are more attached to their mothers and fathers to their daughters (snotty as I am about such gender-based generalisations, I must confess that when my daughter started talking she referred to my husband as ‘Daddy’ and to me as ‘Daddy Tracy’). Why aren’t fathers-in-law upset that their daughters now defer to their husbands? Is it because men are more likely to defer to women (and sneakily pass on all the labour) when it comes to household and baby matters, than the other way round? Or is there some discomfort, linked to the stereotype of the conniving, shrill, emasculating wife (every mother’s nightmare apparently ), that makes MIL uncomfortable about seeing her son ‘defer’ to his wife?

Digging deep, I also think there’s something in the re-living of the matriarchal days. This is probably dying out to some extent as people born in the 1970’s and later are becoming grandmothers, but it almost goes without saying that some of today’s mothers-in-law lived in different times. Their role was firmly centred around the family and the house and it created a definite sense of identity for women. Modern women want an identity outside the home but at the same time desperately don’t want to miss out on the ideals of motherhood even though in reality, we may be overwhelmed by work and our unfair share of domestic labour. MIL may, seeing us, miss the sense of identity that came with being the grand matriarch.I’m convinced that the above sometimes pits mothers-in-law and daughters against each other.

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Bizarrely the resentment seems to start even before they meet. How many hours did my friends and I spend as young girls trying to figure out our reaction to terrible things that our mythical evil mothers-in-law would do to us? Oddly enough, being a mum, to a 6 year old son, I feel quite stressed out when I see the same thing on Twitter. Threads are written about how mothers should take responsibility (including and up to being imprisoned) for their sons’ bad behaviour and how it is the mother’s fault if the son is domestically useless. They may be right but why isn’t any blame being laid at the dad-in law’s feet? The risk is that these women, while being fully prepared to go to war with their partner’s mothers, will be kind and over-indulgent to their future father-in-law and so the circle of men avoiding responsibility begins again. Men are allowed to opt out of this seemingly petty conflict.

Stereotyping doesn’t help either, like the evil mother in law cliché (this is thankfully dying out too), as it also demonises and ridicules older women, who having exhausted their ‘sexual and beauty capital’ have nothing to offer society except for comedy fodder because of their apparently weird and irrational ways.

I hate that this division exists. I hate that I am more likely to challenge my mother-in-law than male relatives when they are being patronising to her. I must work on that. I’m not entirely sure that passing any difficulty through your husband helps. Not only does he sometimes definitely fail to communicate accurately and effectively; why do we have to participate in this childishness  which seems a bit like the adult equivalent of passing notes in class? Why shouldn’t mothers and daughters-in-law be able to speak freely and respectfully to each other? It all adds to the pitting and dividing of mother against daughter-in-law, woman against woman.

1‘Recently’ at the time of first draft

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.

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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’.

Sunny Sunburn Holiday Blues: My Silly Holiday Article

…..like others before me, I would ask a question about fake tanning and then spend the next few moments concentrating on nodding vigorously to convey great understanding, instead of listening to the answer

suntan pic 2I don’t understand why fair-skinned (white) people ask me about tanning, sun protection, sunblock, sunstroke, sunscreen etc. I know, I know, black people, even ones as dark as me, can get sunburned or sunstroke. I got burned myself once, long before I knew what sunscreen was.  Nevertheless I’m frequently confused and uncomfortable during the questioning.

I’ll give you an example. My husband got sunburned on very recent holiday. How? He went swimming without a T-shirt (he’s very fair). While taking off his clothes in preparation for bed, he asked “What do you think?”.  I confess, if he had been speaking, I wasn’t listening and I certainly hadn’t been watching him undress (the very thought!). “What do I think about what?”, I replied absent-mindedly, not turning from what I was doing.

“I think I’ve been burned” I looked at him and his torso was so red I thought he’d suddenly gotten very angry (but not in his face). “What’s that???” I yelped. “Ask your mum! She’ll know what to do! Should I call her now? Alison!…(we were vacationing with my mother in law)” “Nah. Don’t do that. She’ll get worried.” “What even happened?” “I forgot my t-shirt, didn’t I?” (“Yee-es?..” we heard Alison call faintly from the other room -we didn’t but it would have been so cool in a farcical type of way, no?) “Weren’t you wearing sunscreen?” “No”.

It’s usually at moments like this that I want to opt out of the sun conversation. Firstly, I’m scared of giving the wrong advice. I don’t know what to say! I don’t want to tell someone not to worry and have them wake up the next morning looking like bubble wrap or vomiting, fainting on the Tube or bowling over while singing in the church choir (all real examples) hours or even days after their encounter with the sun.

Also, I want to (or don’t want to, as it happens) ask, well, why didn’t you put sunscreen on? You are at risk of ending up with biblical scale blisters, your brain boiling away in your skull, raw peeling skin and utter misery and you couldn’t spare 3.4 minutes to apply sunscreen. You wouldn’t show me your arm, scraped to the bone, and say “Dude….if only I’d remembered to shut the door before the car starting moving…this really hurts”.

Bizarrely, when I was still studying, I heard of someone who was badly sunburned. He hadn’t used sunscreen of course but had taken the time to slather baby oil all over his body before hitting the beach which made the burns worse…. Stories like this make me afraid that when confronted by a sunburn victim, the first thing that will flow out of my mouth is a series of judgmental questions.

However, by far my worst fear is that the only real thing I feel like saying will emerge which is “I don’t know! I don’t know! Go and ask your fellow white (fair-skinned?) people!!”  I frequently felt like this when I lived in a house share with a girl I’ll call ‘Emily’ (‘Emily’ and I fell out eventually but not over sun issues).

Emily was very fair. From time to time, she used to ask my opinion on her adventures with fake tanning lotions. I was not of course the only woman in the house. There were 2 other women. I was the only black woman. I may be off here but I think her logic in asking me was flawed.

Firstly, as far as I can remember, she never managed to achieve anything that I would call a tan. This may be a problem of perception for me. If I looked closely, I noticed some additional colour on her elbows and knees but I had to look for quite a long time. Having peered at her for an uncomfortably long period (I should have just lied once she started talking about tanning but again I was probably scared of telling the wrong lie as I really did not know what I was talking about), I felt I had to say something.  That something had to be somewhere between my true opinion (too cruel) and what I thought she was expecting to hear (lacking in believability). I could never quite grasp the words I was looking for so ended up saying things like “Errrrr….well! You’ve clearly been done something there!” or the very daft “Did you do it for a long time?”

After a few back and forths, Emily would usually say something like “Don’t worry it will come out in a few days”, leaving me with questions. The first one, of course, is why ask me today then? The second – what do you mean it will ‘come out’ in a few days? Did you apply it to your skin or to your internal organs for it to slowly emerge during the course of a ‘few days’? I realised after a few of these Q&A sessions that fake tan is not like foundation. If it was, it would probably wash off. I still didn’t understand how it works though. Does it stain the skin? WHY DOESN’T IT SHOW ITSELF IMMEDIATELY? I suppose I could google it now if I wanted to.

Another housemate – we’ll call her ‘Kerry’ – once applied her fake tan too liberally in preparation for a sunny holiday. I wondered briefly why the real sun wasn’t good enough. I suppose even I could understand that she wanted to look tanned and sexy on arrival (she was quite sexy anyway) but she also told me that applying the fake tan would somehow enhance and speed up the tanning process for reasons which eluded me even as she was speaking.  This may be partly because I was so scared of appearing ignorant that, like others before me, I would ask a question about fake tanning and then spend the next few moments concentrating on nodding vigorously to convey great understanding, instead of listening to the answer

Kerry already looked very tan on her way out. When she returned, a combination of the sun and her fake tanning cream had turned her luminously orange (how?) and apologetic. “Sorry” she said to no question (or perhaps to her mind, unasked questions) “I overdid it before the holidays. It will fade soon” ????????