Child of the World: Misogyny or A Massive Overreaction?

The thing with rape and sexual assault is, for whatever reason, you are either full of rage about it or you are not. The rage is neither good nor bad and it is not an indication of whether or not you support rape culture or how woke you are. For as long rape continues, the rage will remain. It will be right there alongside us angrily analysing gender politics and rape culture, whenever anybody, be it a stupid comedian telling rapey jokes or a pious rapper, decides to settle on the topic.

Introduction

So, a couple of weeks ago, Falz released his music video for Child of World. I read the lyrics (https://genius.com/Falz-child-of-the-world-lyrics) when the album ’27’ came out last October  and I was so put out by them that I couldn’t bring myself to listen to the song. I wrote a couple of bad-tempered unpublished posts and moved on. I read a few similar posts but most people hailed it as the most socially valuable song on the album.

Now that the video has been released, previous grumblings about Falz’s alleged misogyny, particularly in relation to his numerous songs about the evils of ‘runs girls’ have turned into loud, vocalised outrage. I was a bit gratified that other people have noticed this but  tried to contribute to the conversation in what I hope was a reasonable and even-handed manner.  Unfortunately I just happened to read the lyrics again and filled with fresh rage, have decided that now is the time to write the objective article that I vowed not to be distracted into writing.

Social Media Wars

Predictably, with the Falz dissent came Falz’s super-fans, ferociously in support of someone they deem to be the most ‘socially conscious’ musician in Nigeria. I don’t really understand why there is such a burden on Nigerian artists to produce conscious music or how this will make Nigeria a better country but there you have it. I can understand their outrage, if I’m being honest. Falz is a brilliant rapper and I too feel a constriction in the throat area whenever I think that people are criticising him unfairly. The fact is some people think that he’s a genius and, like Beyonce’s fans, feel real emotion when he is being attacked.

However, I was astonished that respected feminists and allies also praised and couldn’t see the problems with the song. They were conspicuously silent during the short period of backlash and counter-backlash. You can always tell a good debate by the number people who feel compelled to keep quiet to avoid being caught up in a mob – that’s what I say. Other people also expressed genuine bafflement at the outrage.

Incidentally I have kept a tally, in terms of likes and retweets, between Team Falz and Team ‘Falz Is A Sexist Little Shite’. Team Falz is winning judging by the retweets although there is a sneaky Team FIASLS tweet which may have more retweets than the most popular Team Falz tweet but I’m not sure I should count it as it doesn’t mention Falz by name. I am aware that this is not the most accurate way to judge the competition since sometimes people retweet to mock rather than endorse the original tweet.  However, I think any further analysis of the tweets would mean my descent into madness over this issue has finally become irreversible.

The Hard Questions

So! Is the song sexist? Is Falz sexist? Why are we so invested in the answers to these questions? Also, what is it about mild-mannered Falz that occasionally evokes such frenzied bursts of public outrage? Tracy investigates…..

The Lyrics and Story

Okay, the lyrics are graphic and triggering (I have hesitated to say this out loud because I don’t want to sound like I’m censoring his art) and the storyline is so clichéd that it would make a 1990s Nollywood director blush but is there anything actually wrong with the song? Is Falz not entitled to tell a story, dumb it down and sensationalise it as he sees fit like anyone else?

I will freely admit that very few fictional accounts of rape pass muster for me in terms of whether the triggering is justified by the story or message. I didn’t like it when Adichie dropped a rape scene into Half of Yellow Sun and I ain’t going to like it when Karashika Boy drops one into an album but even taking into account my personal bias, I do think that some of the lyrics are extreme (and by extreme I mean vile and disgusting) and I find it hard to explain why:

Uncle please stop…Shhh be silent Uncle didn’t stop till he broke the hymen”

“She don dey look for the thing she dey resist before
She never had a daddy figure so she need the love (?)
Uncle peter don create a beast he can’t tame the storm (???????)
She like make e rough, she can’t have enough
She met some ladies wey go like rub shoulder
On some quick business with a high turnover
Say if you ride the stick, you go ride range rover”

The first line above sounds like the imaginings of a rape by someone very unfamiliar with the topic with the kind of detail that can be harmfully triggering or be turned into a rape fantasy. It would take an extremely good point to justify such detail and as it turns out the song almost has no point at all.

Also, what the heck does “Shola ti mature, gbogbo body ti di large size” mean in English? Surely he hasn’t thrown in a reference to the victim’s figure. Not in a song about rape. Please tell me he hasn’t.

It appears that director Kemi Adetiba has tried to make something more out of the song by including captions  like ‘rape is never the victim’s fault’ in the music video. Well, who but a complete idiot could think that this particular rape was the victim’s fault? She was in her room, in the house she lived in when a trusted relative forced himself on her.

I once watched a trailer of a Nollywood film or series where a woman, played by Adesua Etomi (W), appeared deranged by her desire for a married man. She made it clear to all and sundry, including his wife, that she intended to continue a sexual relationship with this man for as long as she wanted to. She stalked the couple and subjected the man to unwanted sexual attention (it turns out that any sexual attention from your mistress in front of your wife is almost always unwanted – go figure). The characters ended up in a criminal court case as Etomi’s character accused the man of raping her when they were alone somewhere.

I don’t understand the jump from pursuing an affair to the rape allegation and of course, nothing, including any previous sexual relations between the victim and the rapist, negates the necessity of consent. However I can understand how this story could, in Nigeria, start some kind of discussion on how rape is never the victim’s fault. A man creeping into his niece’s room, on the other hand, is a bit bloody obvious!

As the lyrics above illustrate, the terrible thing that the victim becomes is a person who (1) likes sex (with the added unnecessary detail that he means rough sex – whatever the heck that means) and (2) starts to have sex for money which results in abortions and an HIV infection. She doesn’t, for instance, become the kind of person who empties a machine gun magazine into a crowded theatre.

I have no doubt that being sexually assaulted can have a traumatic effect on a person and may even change their sexual behaviour but the fact that he chose these fairly common things and doesn’t explain how they are inherently wrong to make his grand contribution to the issue of sexual assault makes for a very unimportant and clichéd tale and shows his warped thinking on the subject.

People have pointed out other aspects of the song. The girl laments that she has let her mother down when it is she who  has been let down by relatives. Nothing is heard of the uncle but of course the story follows such an obvious line that the missing detail about the uncle can only be a flash Christian conversion and the uncle clutching his wife’s knees, wailing that he will ‘never follow devil again’ before gratefully accepting a large plate of jollof rice from her. No, not jollof rice, it has to be some kind of starch and soup, eaten with his hands to show his astounding humility.

Falz is entitled to tell any story he wants to and the path from good girl to runs girls to abortion and HIV to activist is, however implausible and unevolved, just a story. One reason for the anger, I suspect, is that it reinforces what people think of as a sympathetic rape victim – virgin, not fraternising with strange men etc – therefore not disturbing people’s comfort with seeing a so-called bad girl being harmed. Worse than that, it attempts to distinguish the characteristics of a good girl and bad girl based on the very flawed assumption that a woman is to be judged as good or bad  by her sexual behaviour.

Gender Issues

The song touches on four very important gender issues and reduces them to a hodge-podge of mawkish sentimentality, pity and judgment, I’m afraid. Social media informs us that so many people are dealing with memories of sexual assault and abuse. It happens at every age, every where and to every type of woman with various degrees of sexual experience and values. Rape is not committed just by monstrous uncles but by thousands of young men who think that a girl stepping over the threshold of their house is the equivalent of signing an irrevocable consent form and men who think that buying a girl food or paying her bride price grants them  inalienable rights over her body. Falz knows this – he appears to be good friends with Nigerian comedians who advance and joke about these ideas. It’s committed by school boys who have made a pact with each other and lecturers who threaten to fail women who won’t have sex with them.

I don’t expect him to rap about rape culture (what a fun song that would be) but I expect him to speak about rape as if he understands that rape culture exists or not to speak about it at all. We don’t all become runs girls, we don’t all require redemption. We don’t live our lives completely driven by the experience and the most basic research could have shown Falz this. If we did, a high percentage of Nigerian women would be non-functional. It is always there in the background and in the forefront as we hear of more and more stories of rape; as nothing seems to be getting better. We don’t need someone telling us to ‘rise above our circumstances’, we need society to buy into concentrating on making it stop.

As to runs girls, there are conversations about agency and transactional sex and whether marriages and our more conventional sexual relationships have an element of the transaction about them. On abortions, conversations about reproductive rights. There is an entire television series on HIV and safe sex. There was no need for and no value to this triggering nonsense.

The Man Himself

I’ve watched quite a few Falz interviews and listened to a lot of his music because I am a fan. The most obvious thing which is now being pointed out about is his obsession with runs girls. This song might have passed under the radar if (1) Someone else sang it (2) Falz didn’t turn the victim into a runs girl and spend an entire verse lamenting the evils of the runs girls lifestyle or (3) he didn’t decide to make such a big, bloody production of it all.

When I started listening to Falz, I did notice his contempt for runs girls and women who didn’t fit his definition of a good woman – women who bleach for instance. At first I assumed he just thought that it was a clever thing to write about. That such women were an easy target and perhaps he didn’t expect to be challenged on it in sexist Nigeria . To be honest, I didn’t really expect him to be a feminist. If all Nigerian entertainers were feminists, that would probably be an indication that the gender issues in Nigeria are not as dire as they are made out to be. In my naiveté, I compared him to American rappers who wax lyrical about bitches, hoes and harming women who don’t behave

However the lyrics seem to be getting worse, as with Lekki Girls and even comedy rap Faize Yi, and it does make me wonder whether there isn’t something more to it. Also, I’ve noticed that it is frequently in the background of some of his non-runs girls songs – the girl he loves who doesn’t ‘drop for the cake’; the workaholic who ‘prices her body’ in the evenings.

I don’t know what his issue is with runs girls is.  It is however noteworthy (has been noted in fact on Twitter) that the male characters in his songs are often wildly promiscuous and don’t, according to him, require similar bashing or an idiotic backstory to justify their actions.

Actually contrary to the various rumblings about him and his mates and runs girls (said with startling confidence), he seems to have very specific standards for women that he would consider dating. These interviews , (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBBd-viX4hM, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZ8Hnavvo5Q) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZKJlLNZNTk, show that he is blasé about his observations that ‘body count’ is a matter that is judged differently between men and women. Also, he appears to be highly suspicious of Nigerian women who aren’t themselves rich. The interview with Beat FM contains (just in case you can’t be bothered to watch it all) a long, self indulgent whine about why he is still single and the state of Nigerian women.

He is put out that women he meets often want to be openly associated with his fame or (and even I was shocked when he described this behaviour) want him to appear in their SnapChat stories!!! Even asking is indicative of deviousness. My conclusion from watching the video is that he requires a prospective girlfriend, upon meeting him, to focus immediately on the inner him (who she doesn’t really know much about) and put out of her mind any thought of his fame, wealth and talent (which apparently aren’t part of the real him). A woman who expects him to spend money on her is a no-no. Very idealistic in a country where women are sexually harassed, discriminated and shamed, for not being wifely enough, out of money making opportunities.

His open contempt towards runs girls is unfair and demeaning to them. It encourages us to think of them as less human – the hop to deserving of harm and not deserving of sympathy is not a long distance. It is also harmful to women in general. Imagine, if you will, a white singer who constantly sings about the bad things he thinks goes on the black community. Oh, but he is not singing about all black people – only the ones he thinks are bad. Would that have the effect of demonising and dividing the entire community or not?

There really isn’t that much to link between being raped and being a runs girls. And being a runs girl isn’t the evil thing that Falz thinks it is. I personally don’t think it’s great and I certainly wouldn’t want us to concentrate so much on protecting the validity of sex work that we accidentally leave swathes of women with this as their only career option (“I don’t know what she is complaining about? How is it different from working in, say, a Nigerian commercial bank?” How indeed.) but there really is a better discussion to be had about it before he plonks it in the middle of his moralising song.

Another thing I’ve noticed from his interviews is that his activism isn’t accidental. It’s highly unlikely that he is going to say that he was just telling a story in Child of World. The screenshots I’ve seen of the video, complete with the trite captioning and his outspread arms, definitely give the impression of spreading a message. But even if it did not, when asked about the song a Pulse Magazine interview, he made it clear that he wanted to speak about the societal problem of sexual abuse. He didn’t do a bad job in the interview- https://www.pulse.ng/entertainment/music/falz-rapper-talks-about-27-album-m-i-abaga-s-fix-up-your-lives-more-interview-id7532629.html. The only glitch was when he said the “upside” of it all is that sexual assault victims can always “bounce back”. Apart from being hopelessly inept phrasing, yes we do survive but we still think it’s a terrible thing and we still want it to stop happening to other women.

The interviews about ‘This is Nigeria’ also shows how serious he is about being an activist (as stated in this critical article about Falz – https://thenerveafrica.com/19168/woke-falz-this-is-nigeria/). In his view, things are messed up in Nigeria, people like him need to talk about these things and anyone who disagrees with him is guilty of something- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1HjXdELuhM and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6u-ELxvWlM. It’s just that sometimes he, and other well-to-do socially conscious young Nigerians, get it wrong.

His detractors have asked him to concentrate on Yahoo boys instead of runs girls and his supporters have retorted that he has taken shots at Yahoo boys actually. Firstly, he talks about runs girls about 78 billion million more times than he talks about yahoo boys. Secondly, when he talks about Yahoo boys or other poverty driven crimes, his thinking is still confused.

He was lambasted for some very mild comments about praising known fraudsters in music in June 2017 and since then he’s spoken and sang about the topic more boldly. Fraud is of course bad and rich Nigerians seem to be aware of the need to make some kind of reference to political leaders who put Nigeria in the position that it is in. However they happily conflate all the issues and conclude that if everyone would just stop stealing, then everything would be alright. But it wouldn’t, would it? The rich will still have their loot and the poor will starve to death.

Peep the pearl clutching in his interview with Wazobia Max, linked above, – Do you mean to tell me that people actually commit property and theft crimes in a poor country with a chronic lack of opportunity??? Who would have thunk it?.The song ‘Confirm’ tells us how how you can go from being a plantain seller to flying first class if you hustle honestly but in reality, this is very difficult even in a relatively stable country and this kind of thinking in Nigeria is the reason why people give all their money to rogue churches in hope of ‘breakthroughs’ and ‘blessings’.

Falz is obviously very passionate about some real issues and I generally try not to be critical about his efforts especially in light of  the unnecessary pressure on Nigerian singers to be overtly political. Unfortunately, I don’t really believe, I can’t believe having read the lyrics to Child of the World, that rape is one of those issues. I think this song is the worst combination of his excesses – the desire to write a worthy song mostly for the sake of appearing ‘socially conscious’, too little research to convince me that he has any real interest in this subject, his failure to examine his own gender bias and his sometimes deficient activist tactics.

Why does it bother me/us so much?

Okay, I don’t like the song but why do I feel unreasonably aggrieved when somebody else likes or praises it. One obvious reason is Falz’s influence. He is not as popular as some of the other Afrobeat entertainers but people take him very seriously. He is at pains to emphasise his legal qualifications, perhaps because he uses poor people’s accents to promote his art. I see tweets demonising women for asking for ‘Something Light’, for being Karishikas (such a vague concept that it could include virtually any woman) or for being a ‘Lekki girl’. It’s even more disheartening because of his good guy image.

Also, I’m annoyed that, in his eagerness to cover every topic that he’s not qualified to cover, he could not take some time to do the basic research to dismantle rape culture just a little bit before producing this ridiculous song. Most of all, I’m glad some attention has been brought to his shortcomings, even if Team Falz won the Twitter war in the end.

But I have to admit that there is an element of irrationality to my reaction and the reaction of others. Even this post is a little incoherent in places. I can’t say I don’t understand why some well-meaning people are surprised about the backlash. However I have resisted the temptation to edit my anger out of this article.

The thing with rape and sexual assault is, for whatever reason, you are either full of rage about it or you are not. The rage is neither good nor bad and it is not an indication of whether or not you support rape culture or how woke you are. For as long rape continues, the rage will remain. It won’t always express itself properly or say the right things but it will be right there alongside us angrily analysing gender politics and rape culture, whenever anybody, be it a stupid comedian telling rapey jokes or a pious rapper, decides to settle on the topic.

 

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?

MILimage1

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.

MILimage1

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

What’s Choice Got To Do With It?

I wrote the first draft of this post before the Moesha/Amanpour debacle (aswear)….

I’m getting worse. I don’t know when I started to feel rattled by the argument “At the end of the day, feminism is about choice!”. All I know is that within an alarmingly short period of time, hearing the phrase in any context made/makes me feel like this:

I must admit I do find it difficult to understand, practically, where choice fits in with feminism. I think I can set out my theoretical view quite easily – feminism is about fighting inequality, bias, gender-based harm etc against women. One of the ways sexism or the patriarchy works is to take away choices from women; choices that men readily have. Therefore restoring those choices to women must be an act of feminism. However, women can make sexist choices….. Okay, so maybe it’s not that easy  after all.

Clearly, choices are not made in a vacuum.  Some choices have their origins in historical conditioning or even women obtaining what advantages they can from patriarchal systems. For example, the choice to take back a serial cheater in a culture where unmarried women are pitied and scorned and the blame for the  failure of a marriage is laid squarely at a woman’s feet surely must warrant some scrutiny.

On the other hand, I don’t want to stray into thinking that, whenever I disagree with a woman’s choice, it must be because she is too stupid or conditioned to understand all the relevant implications. So, where do we go?

Extreme Examples: When is A Choice Unacceptable?

My first gripe is that the bald statement ‘feminism is about choice!’ misses the point if it is meant to prohibit any criticism of a choice because it is made by a woman. I think, deep down every feminist understands this.  A sexist act or gender-based violence is not transformed into a feminist or even a fair act by choice or  consent.

To use an extreme example, take a mother who was subjected to FGM and wants to carry it out on her own daughter. Say, in her view, her own operation was done very well, she can’t see any way in which it adversely affects her life and she wants her daughter to be brought up in accordance with her traditions.

Of course, our first argument is that she has no right to make that decision for her daughter. Okay, she says, putting down the blade, but ‘I maintain that it hasn’t caused me any harm or distress. Please stop putting the idea out there that it is an inherently evil thing and listen to people like me who have actually gone through it’. Now I don’t know if such a woman exists – presumably yes because there are women willing to do it to their daughters.

It’s very likely that anyone who supports FGM when they have gone through it themselves is ‘brainwashed’ but we can’t prove it. The reality is that we fight and rail against FGM, regardless of women who choose to believe that it is advantageous, because it is unfair and cruel for girls to go through that physical trauma and to have their sexual organs and responses interfered with in that way.

Take another extreme example – this time in a distressing video I saw which depicted a Russian couple of some ultra-orthodox Christian sect. I’m not sure whether this had anything to do with their religion but the husband demanded complete subservience from his wife. His wife was articulate, published and seemed to completely buy into the idea that it was fair and necessary for her to endure beatings from her husband because of her, and women’s, natural deviousness.

Like the FGM example, there is  some doubt as to whether I can blame ‘choice’ for these women. However, there are many domestic violence victims who support and defend their partners and ask the public to respect their choices to stay with their partners even after footage of shocking violence. The fact remains that we cannot prove that these women don’t have the mental capacity to settle for beatings in exchange for whatever they think they are getting out of the relationship.

Indeed, beyond the initial feeling of shock and pity, many of us don’t really care deeply about the welfare of these strangers. A lot of our strong emotion is outrage and horror that we live in a world where people think that this is a viable way to live. We don’t want people living this way, partly because one woman enduring this has consequences for all women in a world where domestic violence is very much a pattern of the patriarchal society that we are struggling to get out of.

(Directed) Sexual Empowerment

On to less dramatic examples  – this part deals with the fact that we identify behaviour and patterns that are rooted in, and in some cases the very foundation of, sexism, pronounce them bad but then reserve a space for men to keep practising them as long as there are good things attached like consent (technical or not) or agency or not judging. And if that’s not enough, the focus shifts to protecting the choice to do these things and not the original patterns which were being fought against in the first place. Therefore anyone criticising these choices becomes the real anti-feminist because they are apparently attacking choice and ‘feminism is about choice (!)’ after all. As you can tell, this really cheeses me off.

choice gif 2

Before I give examples I will freely admit that I’m not the most sex positive person in the world.  However,  I  don’t really have anything against nudity per se. My first, second, and third thoughts when I see a picture of a naked woman are to compare her figure to mine and vow bitterly to ‘get it together’. This is before any moral, social or feminist thoughts.  Also, I’m not particularly modest myself.

The Passive Mistress

Disclaimer in place, let’s move to the first example which  is what I’d like to call the ‘passive mistress’. This is a geisha-like relationship, not to be confused with an ordinary extra-marital affair, between a wealthy man and an often much younger woman. The woman is not a sex worker but the relationship is rather one dimensional – he gives her money and other advantages and she only shows the complacent, compliant part of herself – always ready for sex, always groomed and never arguing with, irritating, or challenging him. He is king in her house.

To me the feminist issue is that the character being played by the woman is a figment of chauvinist society’s imagination. It’s this idea that a woman exists solely to please her partner and free him of all the troubles of living in this troublesome world. It’s a bit like the 1950s ideal that when a man comes home from work, rather than reflecting real life, his house should be an oasis of calm. It should be perfectly tidied, there should be no sign of the children, a meal should be perfectly prepared, drink and slippers in hand. All things that would keep a woman slaving away physically while suppressing any emotional or mental needs that she may have. On top of that, she is supposed to keep herself forever youthful, attractive and perfectly groomed and very much aware of her sexual ‘duties’.

The feminist outcry was that women, wives and girlfriends were being reduced to this one-dimensional rearing, domestic creature whose only reason was to please her man  sometimes to the detriment of her children and always to the detriment of herself. To expose my radicalism (well, expose, scratch the surface, who’s monitoring?), it is sexist and dehumanising to want your significant other to do nothing other than look pretty, provide for your needs and never challenge you.

Why then do we approve of men doing this in the name of consent and choice? A passive mistress, geisha, runs girl, sugar baby, whatever should not be demonised  but I don’t agree that we have to act like it’s a choice that has no effect on other women. I think it is unrealistic to say that we want the standard for relationships in a modern society to be on a equal footing – both parties are individuals with their own needs and ups and downs, who are trying to make each other happy and build a life together – when we reserve this space for men who have enough wealth to escape equality this way. We also can’t pretend it doesn’t put pressure on wives to regress back into the intellectually-empty-vessel 1950s stereotype if it would reduce the chances of her wealthy husband from going elsewhere.

‘Sex Work is Work!’

I have a similar problem with presenting sex work (not exotic dancing or stripping which I don’t really consider to be sex work) and participation in porn as simply empowering choices. Again they are valid choices and for some, real choices. For sex work, I think decriminalisation would assist in regulating these choices and preventing abuse. I want sex workers to have the same right to respect and protection from harm as other women.

This is an entirely different matter from castigating someone as ‘not being a real feminist’ for questioning the  effect that some of these choices have on women or if they suspect that not everyone making these choices has any other option.

Perhaps prostitution, in a completely equal world, would not be inherently harmful to women (or more harmful to women than men). But we don’t live in an equal world – at the extreme many sex workers are not wiling participants and there are still prevailing harmful ideas about sexuality and consent which means viewing women as sex objects still harm women as a whole.

Apparently I am not allowed to refer to the fact that some people only do sex work because of poverty.  That’s now like saying people only work in McDonalds because of poverty.

I must confess that I am unable to reach that level of endorsement of sex work for reasons that I can’t quite articulate.  I get that it is inaccurate to describe prostitution (a term which I can tell is fast falling out of favour) as ‘selling one’s body’ and with the right amount of agency, it can provide more freedom than being, say, a Stepford wife but still….I don’t think it’s just because when transacting for money, handing someone a burger over a secure counter carries inherently less risks that going alone with them into a room, removing your clothes and surrendering to whatever act they think they paid for.

Perhaps it’s personal.  Or maybe it’s because many feminists and other women who promote the idea that sex work is nothing more than a commercial transaction are often lawyers, doctors and other middle-class people who have no practical concept of what sex work involves and no appetite for trying it.

It is true that some women simply don’t mind or even get a thrill out of sex work but if I was dating, I would be very careful around men who used the services of sex workers, no matter how liberal they appeared. Even if I could get my head around his addiction to relating sexually to women who are there predominantly to meet his own desires; could I really be sure whether he cares or checked whether any of these women are there solely out of their own will (I’m pretty sure that most of these transactions take place online but my overactive imagination has liberal men striding up and down grotty brothels shrilly demanding EVIDENCE of AGENCY)?

Any man who enthusiastically exercises his right to view women as one-dimensional sexual objects, whether through porn or prostitution, is suspect to me. I wouldn’t trust him to snap out of it when it came to ‘real relationships’. Incidentally, I think that’s where some of these well-meaning liberal men go wrong.

They have good thoughts and intentions but their diet of ‘harmless’ porn may explain why they are reluctant to take no for an answer when they come across a sexually liberated woman who doesn’t want to, on the first date, tangle herself into a some kind of complicated knot (that and constantly straying into wild inappropriateness. Pro-tip, liberal men: if a strange woman on Twitter is reluctant to give you her name in a personal message exchange, chances are she will feel offended and insulted if your next message is to enquire about threesomes. This is probably largely down to the fact that life is not actually a porn film. On a more serious note, enthusiastic consent also relates to, apart from touching, verbal communication and includes recognising and not ignoring signals that a woman does not want to have any kind of intimate conversation with you.)

Female Entertainers and Hypersexuality

A brief word about the pressure on female entertainers to be hypersexual: by this, I don’t just mean sexy, like the picture of Tina Turner above which I’ve only used because of the title of this essay and her brilliant song ‘What’s Love Got to do With It’.  I’m talking more about Nicki Minaj’s Paper Magazine Shoot or Beyonce’s sudden self-discovery in her videos for the 2013 album ‘Beyonce’.

Great if you make the choice; I just don’t believe a lot of women do make the choice. And if they do, it’s not for the reason that you think they do. I’ve seen singers in the….shall we say autumn of their careers, put under pressure to release that hyper sexual photoshoot. I’ve seen aspiring models verbally abused and screamed at for not wanting to ‘go topless’. I’ve read of actresses responding to a script which simply states that ‘she shows her tits’ for no reason that is connected to the storyline.

Everyone wants to be sexy and attractive; I think fewer people want to be as constantly naked as some kind of prisoner of war. I don’t believe Nikki Minaj or Beyonce really want to. They may not mind; they may accept it as a necessary step for a female entertainer to achieve world domination but that is not the same as the spontaneous expression of sexuality that is being presented to us.

So what’s the harm? These women are perfectly entitled to make commercial choices to disrobe, aren’t they? What’s the worst that can happen apart from Jennifer Lawrence freezing in a tiny dress, while her male co-stars are covered with layers of clothing talking about “ch-ch-ch- choice.”?

Yes a commercial choice is still a choice but I think it’s quite wrong to rip through people who question what this is doing to female self-esteem and future female entertainers. Firstly, it sends out the message that anything a woman has to offer in the entertainment industry has be accompanied by a side-order of T&A.  It chips away at our humanity; it seeks to reduce us. No matter how successful or powerful we are, we can only obtain recognition by being naked and hold on to fame by being even more naked.  It makes it all the more easier for men to insist that aspiring and usually quite vulnerable and young female entertainers are as naked as they (men) want them to be (there is an interesting story about a young Beyonce walking out of a photo shoot when the French director had the bright idea of her posing naked covered in honey).

Of course a lot of that naked investment is lost when our looks start to go.  It is a double con – if you want me to stop pretending to be sane about this – it is often not really a choice in the first place and the fake non-choice has a negative effect on women as a whole.

Purity Culture and My Idiotic Childhood

The other end of the spectrum is virginity and purity culture. I’ve written about virginity. All I have to add is this – when I was a teenager, I used to regard women who  scorned virginity as extreme cases of ‘pick-me’s’ or I would have if the term existed in my youth.   Of course, like everyone else, I regarded too much female sexual activity as sluttiness but I like to think that even then my suspicion of any kind of empowerment that seemed male-pleasing was already being formed. I thought basically women like this wanted men to want them so instead of holding out and making men suffer like a good decent woman, they gave it away freely, under the guise of expressing themselves sexually but with the real intention of holding on to men. A bit like I regarded women who appeared to like football. Absolutely disgraceful and a complete reduction if not erasure of female sexual identity. I’m only just understand how harmful purity politics and culture are.

Summary

Just in case anyone is in doubt or cares, I don’t think sleeping with men for money or ‘advantages’ is a good thing or anything approaching an ideal.   I think women should get on with their lives, whether it’s careers, relationships, sex, friendships, study, amassing wealth,  in accordance with their values,  instead of all this endless worrying about how their sexuality is going to get them a man, job, money, grades or whatever.   That, to me, is what a equality looks like.  And yes, I do think it’s wrong, in that it is participating in the hurt and deceit of another human being, to have a covert sexual relationship with a married person or a person in a relationship.

It’s just that it’s none of my business what women choose to do.  My feminist issue has always been, apart from wondering what aspect of patriarchy encourages women towards these choices,  that women are demonised  for the very same acts that men are held blameless for.  In fact, society would  rather blame the men’s wives, who had none of the illicit sex, than the men who instigated and committed them.

A more recent feminist issue seems to be that we are concentrating on and regressing back to the sexist paradise for men where women existed for their domestic and sexual pleasure instead of addressing the issues that got us there in the first place, under the guise of choice.

Domestic Duties

Moving on to my bugbear of the share of domestic labour in marriage and partnership. The choice here relates to a range of heightened level of domesticity for the female partner.

cinderellaworking

I’m definitely not one of those feminists who think that  it is a crime or pity or shame when a woman chooses to give up her career, temporarily or permanently, to be a stay at home mum or just wife or girlfriend. There are good valid reasons for this – a child that needs extra care, a female partner earning less (although there is a sexist back story to this) and the sometimes astronomical cost of child care. Being a working mother myself, I personally can say my job does get in the way of what I would consider optimal parenting (but would I optimal-parent? Or would I just sit around clicking on Twitter and overeating?).

My only concern is leaving the woman with less economic power – money that is not provided by her male partner and increased difficulty in getting back into work. This probably makes it harder to leave a harmful marriage and even with laws relating to shared marital property opens her up to humiliation and accusations of gold digging as her very valuable contributions to home-making are disregarded when she tries to secure a share of the joint property (notwithstanding stories of hard-done-by sports men).

Also, I’m a bit grumpy that workplaces around the world and male partners can’t collude to allow women to work more easily and be mothers. Why does the bulk of childcare emergencies fall on mothers? Why don’t men do more in the home?

This brings me to the feminist or woman who choose do all the cooking or take the lion’s share of housework. The woman who is happy doing all the cooking and cleaning for a boyfriend she only met a month ago. The woman who chooses to submit to her husband. But if she chooses to, aren’t I the real enemy of feminism, progress and everything else to comment negatively about her choice? Isn’t feminism supposed to be about being what you want to be?

It bloody well isn’t – it’s an organised system to fight harm and inequality. But leaving that aside, it’s the  inherent unfairness that bugs me – why on earth should one gender be allowed to be domestically incompetent leaving the other to run around after them like a toddler? I’ve had otherwise sensible women tell me  that a man shouldn’t go into the kitchen if he has a woman. Put that way, any self-respecting feminist would and should be outraged. And it’s not just about the cooking. It’s the constant drudgery of unshared housework. We acknowledge that this unfair system exists yet our answer to it is to create a space where, through apparent choice, men can continue to exist within it and defend that space with every breath in us.

Also, let’s examine that apparent choice, shall we? It’s not hard to imagine that the ability to make this choice would be a highly desired asset for men that have no interest in changing the status quo. Perhaps then finding a partner is the predominant factor behind this choice rather than a nurturing nature and a desire for only four hours sleep a night.  Also, I wonder how many men made the ‘choice’ to take on a significant share in the household chores before second wave feminists started hinting that they should do so?

But fair enough, if a woman thinks that this will  increase her chances at partnership, she’s perfectly entitled to do so. To have this presented to me as feminism sticks at the back of my throat; to be told that if I challenge it, I’m the real anti-feminist sticks back even further.

Weird Feminism: Conversations in Modern Feminism that Make Me Uncomfortable – Part 2: Bridging the Gap Between Trans and TERFS

Tracy Treads Trepidatiously Into The Terrifying And Treacherous Terrain Between Terfs And Trans

The war between the trans community and so-called TERFS has become increasingly polarised with the kind of name calling and paranoid debate where each side assumes that they are the true victims. Transwomen claim that some feminists are bent on excluding them from feminism and indeed womanhood (hence the acronym which stands for ‘Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist’), are of course completely transphobic, want to deny transwomen access to healthcare and treatment and delight in scare-mongering and witch hunts.

DUWGHKBU0AUzCcb

Feminists claim that, while they support civil liberties for transwomen in the conventional sense, transwomen and their allies bully anyone who disagrees with their “dogma” and are a new incarnation of a bunch of men trying to intimidate and shut women up. At its extreme, the debate has seen some feminists resorting to misgendering as a taunt and insult and dismissing transgenderism as a form of temporary mental illness and some transwomen advocating violent speech and actions against people who disagree with their beliefs and assertions, as in the ‘Punch a TERF’ and similar movements.

punchterf2

Definition of Transwoman

Is there any sane middle ground between these two points? I think part of the difficulty is that, unless I have misunderstood things from the start, the definition of transwoman has changed. I always thought it was a man transitioning to a woman, physically and otherwise but particularly physically. I thought sex reassignment surgery or at least extensive hormone therapy was the ultimate aim.

It turns out a transwoman is anyone who identifies as a woman. Physical surgery is not necessary and even other physical manifestations, like dressing up as a woman, can be done on a temporary basis. Some people have substituted the word ‘transwoman’ with ‘woman’ in this definition so the equation now looks like this: woman = transwoman = anyone who identifies as a woman.

So potentially you could have transwomen who are not physically transformed, have no intention of being (or can’t for some reason be) physically transformed and only dress up (‘present’ is the correct term) on the weekends. These transwomen are apparently women and anyone who questions this is at risk of vitriolic online accusations of transphobia.

There is of course the legal process one has to go through before the transition is legally recognised. For instance, in the UK, transwomen have to live as women for 2 years before being officially recognised as such (according to legal online law firm, Wikipedia)  although there are proposals for reforms to enable a quicker processes of identification and legal re-assignment.

Another part of this definition is the thinking that sexual and reproductive organs don’t determine gender. This in itself is not new to me if one tags on the word ‘necessarily‘. So in my ignorant way of thinking, the default position is that such organs do determine your gender but for reasons and psychological processes that I don’t claim to understand, a person can feel trapped in the wrong body as far as gender is concerned.

However the thinking has evolved. To some, sexual organs are just an irrelevant accident as far as gender is concerned. There is another internal indicator of gender that penises and vaginas have nothing to do with. If sexual organs have nothing to do with gender, why label them male or female in the first place (I saw a tweet stating “A penis can be incredibly feminine”) and why bother removing them if you want to change gender?

The final piece of the puzzle appears to be that it is transphobic (again, to some) to say that a woman requires a vagina, whether natural or surgical. To pose an unhelpful, clever-clogs (stolen) question, if it’s transphobic to conflate being a woman with possessing female sexual organs, is it also transphobic for a transwoman to surgically obtain a vagina because she thinks that having one is more suited to her true gender? Is the next divide and example of the ‘left turning on itself’, going to be between transwomen who want a vagina and transwomen who think it’s transphobic to want one?

A slightly related question is , within the spectrum of ‘transwomaning’, at what point can we be accused of bigotry if we think a transwoman is not yet a woman? Also, are cross-dressers and drag queens men who like dressing up as women or are they necessarily transwomen or non-binary? Presumably the key is in self-identification.

The Construct of Gender

To say this subject is controversial is an understatement. Hopefully this post can provide some understanding of the confusion that well-meaning people who are not, and may not prioritise, being immersed in  trans-culture have (even though I have tried to at least do some research before writing this post). I have identified two issues with the above thinking which demonstrate that the whole issue of gender is extremely complex.

Firstly, it seems to me that feminism and transgenderism are not completely aligned. Traditional feminism has been about questioning gender roles – pretty, quiet, and helpful for girls and loud, boisterous and undomesticated for boys. Some radical feminists believe that we are simply human with differences. Yes, there are biological and physical differences between men and women, undeniably in the area of reproductive organs and strength (most times) but we think that a lot of the gender roles and stereotypes imposed upon us are unnecessary and are often a source of great oppression.

Transgenderism seems to reinforce the notion that there is something so inherently different between a man and a woman, that our brains, hearts and minds are wired so differently, that being a woman can be completely divorced from the physical differences between us and men. This does not of course mean that transwomen support traditional patriarchal gender roles imposed on women. The truth (suspicious as I am of all this talk of ‘ inherent differences’ between men and women) probably lies somewhere in between.

Of course traditionalists would probably say that we feminists and liberals have brought this on ourselves. They claim that questioning gender roles (which they believe in almost religiously) in the first place is what has led to what they see as a merging of genders. This argument fails to take into account the probability that the existence of transpeople  pre-dates feminist discourse on gender roles.

Feminist Frustration

Another issue with the above is the insistence on the above formula, i.e. woman = transwoman = anyone who identifies as a woman, without allowing room for argument or even question about the history of feminism, biological or cis women,  and why they are reluctant to let former men into their spaces. There doesn’t seem to be an attempt, by transwomen and their allies to understand at least the bewilderment of some women who have had oppression thrust upon them because of their biological condition and who are now told that they cannot point out the differences in history, physical attributes and experience between themselves and transwomen. I appreciate, of course, that cis women like me are equally ignorant of transwomen’s struggles.

Apart from the issue of safety and spaces, there is clearly some resentment from feminists about the supposed take-over by transwomen of feminism and women’s issues generally. I can’t say I don’t agree with some of the resentment. I find it extremely irritating when someone tries to censor in any way a conversation about periods or pregnancy on the basis that it is apparently transphobic. But, is there really a take-over of women’s issues by transwomen? Are transwomen being invited to discuss women’s issues on, say BBC Woman’s Hour evidence of this takeover or is it that we are so unused to seeing them that their relatively small representation automatically sounds alarm bells?

There is also some outrage. Women have been fighting this battle for centuries now. How dare these former men come in and insist on standing by our side? Besides the temerity of joining us when we’ve finally made some gains and established some systems for protecting ourselves, they want to tell us how to define women. I can completely understand these arguments but I think they downplay the history of transwomen and huge deal it is for a man (as far as the outside world can see) to come to terms with the need or desire to transition into a woman. It must be an extreme psychological process and is unlikely to be brought about by the shallow reasons of becoming a woman for the fun of dressing up or annoying us.

Another interesting thing is my strong adverse reaction to anything that even hints of guilting or pressurising lesbians (or straight men) into welcoming sexual advances from transwomen, including ones who are not physically transformed. This is probably part of a larger reaction to the growing visibility of transwomen. Even as we champion their rights and use them as an excuse to heap more insults on the Religious Right, we as a cis-society are just waiting for them to attempt to tell us that our failure to be attracted to, or consider sex with them, is as a result of our own bigotry so that we can slap them round the head with a clunky first generation iPad. Whatever it is , whenever I read the unfortunate phrase ‘the cotton ceiling’, I feel a fierce protectiveness towards my lesbian sisters, who are otherwise as under-represented in my mind as in the real society.

In fairness, transwomen have denied more than once that they are trying to pressure anyone into feeling obligated to form sexual relationships with them. Firstly, there is no shortage of cis-men very much interested in having sex with transwomen (although they are often shamed for doing so, by apparently liberal media that feels the need to broadcast these liaisons complete with photographic and video evidence !). In relation to lesbians, transwomen say they are simply discussing one of the many difficulties they face in blending into cis-society.

What I think it does show is that the assertion that a ‘transwoman is a woman’ is not a complete answer to the complex questions that arise between trans and cis-women. Clearly one can decide and may be socially obliged to, in an inclusive society, address and think of transwomen as women, but when it comes to defining them for the purpose of our intimate relationships, Adichie was right in a way. A woman is a woman yes but a biological woman is a biological woman and a transwoman is a transwoman. It’s not, I would argue, just a matter of preference for a lot of people.

Female Spaces

JhHuybX8_bigger

At what point do we have to let transwomen into women’s spaces without question? Do we even need women’s spaces anymore? Should that be the topic of debate?.  All very controversial questions that go against the ‘transwomen are women’ ideology but which a lot of people quite obviously have.

It’s fair to say that some of the resentment regarding transwomen in women’s spaces does seem to be based more on emotion than fact. It may be that some women feel that the only way to be safe from male or patriarchal oppression is to keep away from men or anything that seems male as much as is possible. There is an emphasis on safe spaces which extend beyond bathrooms, refuges and locker rooms and to entire websites and online chatrooms .

Having said that, there are reasons for some safe spaces, particularly bathrooms, refuges, prisons and locker rooms. Perhaps an ideal world will contain exclusively unisex bathrooms and people will be so well-behaved that there won’t be any physical threat from having 30-something year old men milling around naked fifteen year old girls (and vice-versa, I know!) but I daresay that utopia hasn’t arrived yet. There will still be some discomfort and questions as to whether a person who openly displays male organs (presumably another rare occurrence since not all transwomen are out and proud types) should be in women’s changing rooms.

There is also apparently a new threat of men posing as transwomen for the purpose of entering changing rooms and the like. I’ve done a bit of research and I genuinely don’t know how real or likely this threat is. You can always, I suppose, be attacked by a bad biological woman in a locker room or public toilet; the difference is that men (on the assumption that they are not just simply confused or bad transwomen or even men who think they are transwomen and are not) have 2 weapons at their disposal that cis women do not  – a penis and substantially greater body strength (someone said ‘upper body strength’ once. I don’t understand – do we have the same leg strength as men? Will I win a fight with a man if both of us are restricted to kicking? I have pretty strong legs). It’s not the only threat in the world but it’s precisely the kind of threat that women were trying to avoid when they created female-only safe spaces.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: MY JUDGEMENT ON ALL PARTIES AND MATTERS CONCERNED!

The question is can the bridge be gapped? I don’t know. We can all stop calling feminists that question the popular leftist transgender view ‘TERFS’. Some of them may indeed be transphobic but you can’t define transphobia as questioning a view that a number of vocal people on the internet hold . For instance, I find it ludicrous that the person who wrote this article – https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/02/are-you-now-or-have-you-ever-been-terf felt they had to write it under a pseudonym.

I also find it absurd that, solely based on her comments on Channel 4 news, that Adichie has been dismissed as a TERF, a term that seems to be synonymous with a rampant racist or homophobe (a woman who defends transpeople in Nigeria. Does anyone have any idea how hard it is to defend transculture in Nigeria???? – although I don’t agree that gender can be defined solely by reference oppression vs privilege.  Privilege may be part of it but to me,  a more complete way of describing the difference is that it is between women who have inhabited male bodies and have lived as men and those who have not).

There are transpeople and their allies and there are people who believe transpeople are bad or mad. There is a whole spectrum of people in between, including people who are very ignorant of the issues raised – they can’t all be TERFS, can they? Wondering whether a person is or should be immediately regarded as a woman, solely on the basis of self-identification, may or may not be transphobic but it’s not the same as believing black people should sit at the back of the bus. This should be obvious even without the need to refer to any kind of Oppression Olympics. if I’m honest, I think the term ‘TERF’ needs to be abandoned.

Some feminists need to stop with the taunts and the insults and realise that transitioning is a complex and probably traumatic process. It is only fair and right to acknowledge the proportionately high level of transphobic violence and bullying (beyond saying “it’s MEN who commit the violence” while simultaneously complaining that a verbal slur, like TERF, is going to lead to violence against them). If like me, they don’t understand parts of the transculture, that should not manifest in sarcasm and insults. Also, when they cite extreme examples like the one above – bad fake transwoman beating seven bells out of everyone in the women’s locker room with superior strength and penis –  they need to give full facts including stating whether or not the examples are relatively rare to avoid scaremongering.

The truth is, despite the explosion of interest in the media and the frantic rush of legislation to keep up,  most of us are still at the very early stages of understanding transculture within the context of the mainstream. This is one reason why the ‘Punch a TERF’ movement is so scary and wrong. We are only just understanding trans discourse – maybe we should have got there earlier and yes, people can’t use ignorance as an excuse for bigotry  – but there is still so much to untangle. In this context, how do you even define a TERF, much less advocate violence against a concept that can be twisted to individual will and agendas? Bullying, shaming, labelling or threatening people or saying ‘enough is enough’ may lead to the demise, rather than the strengthening of the movement (this is what I always say about these divisions – until it relates to sexism or racism or something else that directly affects me).

So there you have it. Some of my thoughts on the subject. Perhaps they could be described by some as TERF-y (or TERM1-y if you count the contributions made by men to this article) but I hope they show what I intended –  a genuine wish for a discussion that promotes understanding rather than just protecting one’s turf.

1Trans-exclusionary Reactionary Male – we just made that up

Guest Feature: Mansplaining the Bible by Iain Lovejoy

First off, there is no such word as “helpmeet”: “help” and “meet” are two separate words, with “meet” meaning “suitable”: the phrase means “a helper suitable for him”, “help meet for” coming from the King James version of the Bible: if you can’t read 17th century English, leave the KJV alone.

Christians who can’t be having with all this “women’s rights” malarkey are very fond of mining the Bible for “proof texts” about how women should shut up and do what their menfolk tell them. Non-Christians, too, are happy to help and point out how terribly sexist the Bible is, and Christians who don’t think having a Y chromosome brings you closer to God often get accused of ignoring the Bible in order to pursue a personal agenda of their own.

This is aided and abetted by the fact that the Bible is written in Koine Greek, which nobody speaks any more and which is not fully understood and men looking for justification for lording it over women have had centuries to dig out all the helpful out-of-context little snippets they can find to support their case.

It’s also very easy to take passages explaining how to be a Christian in 1st century Rome and creatively misinterpret the bits that explain how to be a 1st century Roman as bits on how to be a Christian.

Now, although you might think as a man I would have a vested interest in preserving a Biblical justification for ordering my wife about, I have no particular desire to do so (and Tracy wouldn’t let me anyway) so I have, as a public service, set out below some of the most common “clobber” passages for misogynists and what, in fact, they say.

(I have no doubt some people may disagree with my interpretations, but I don’t care.)

Women are just “helpmeets” for men?

“God said, It is not good that man should be alone; I will make a help meet for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

Creation of Eve from Adam's rib

First off, there is no such word as “helpmeet”: “help” and “meet” are two separate words, with “meet” meaning “suitable”: the phrase means “a helper suitable for him”, “help meet for” coming from the King James version of the Bible: if you can’t read 17th century English, leave the KJV alone.

Secondly, “help” is a translation of the Hebrew “ezer” which of the 19 times it appears in the Bible not referring to Eve, 17 are referring to God as man’s “helper”, so if you think being man’s “helper” means being man’s obedient little servant, you might try explaining that to God.

Man rules over woman?

“To the woman he said “I will greatly multiply your labour and your pregnancy, in pain you shall bear children, and you shall desire your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)

See, God says man must rule over women: case closed!

Cobblers.

For one thing, this isn’t a command from God, but part of a warning as to mankind’s future now they are cast out of Eden: God doesn’t say man is obliged to rule over woman, or that it’s actually a good idea.

For another, I’m not at all sure the above is what the Hebrew says, anyway.

The last phrase doesn’t fit: the verse is about Eve bearing children, then her desiring her husband, and then an unconnected bit about Adam “ruling over” her.

In Hebrew the word for “and” is “waw”, but it can also mean “but”, “ when”, “or” or “because” depending on word order and context. The word order suggests that “and you shall desire your husband” might in fact read “when you desire your husband”, and the whole thing may read something like:

To the woman he said “I will greatly multiply your labour and your pregnancy: in pain you shall bear children, when you desire your husband and he has his way with you.”

and have nothing to do with men being the boss of women at all.

Husband as head of his wife?

“The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3)

Now, obviously, this is a heirachy, with God at the top, then Christ, then men, and with women bringing up the rear: another slam-dunk for the penis-worshippers, right?

Nope.

For one thing, Christ is God and not some kind of servant or subordinate to God, unless you want to re-write all of Christian theology.

For another, the above fairly standard translation is a bit wrong: the middle phrase actually says “the man is head of a woman”, or, more accurately, head of a wife (since in Greek they were the same word). This is directed at men, not women, and reminding men that they are accountable to Christ as their head, and also (if married) have responsibilities as the head of a household (and that even Christ has responsibilities if his own).

Sure, in Paul’s time, the Romans had hubby legally in charge of everything and everyone in his household, and he had responsibilities accordingly, but then the Romans also had gladiatorial games and crucified slaves who rebelled against their masters and child prostitution was legal, and we are not commanded to copy them either.

Keep Your Hat On

“a man is the image and glory of God, but a woman is the glory of a man” (1 Corinthians 11:7)

hat

The problem with trotting this out as a quotable quote for misogyny is that it, and the preceding and following verses, have nothing to say about the relationships between men and women, but in fact purely and exclusively about hats (seriously!).

Paul’s problem in 1 Corinthians 11:4-16 is that women have been worshipping in meetings with their heads bare in the same way as the men were. He sees this as a problem because, to the Romans, wearing a veil or headcovering was the sign of a being a respectable woman, and for a woman to be going around bareheaded in public was seen as something of a scandal. Indeed, a woman who had committed some offence against society (e.g. adultery) would be humiliated by being forced to parade through the streets with her head uncovered or, in extremis, even with her head shaved completely. This was still done in Europe fairly recently: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/jun/05/women-victims-d-day-landings-second-world-war

What Paul is trying to do is put a stop to this, while being very careful to say it’s not because women are somehow less in God’s eyes than men.

So what he says is, is that while men are required to pray without their heads covered, as it is a sign they are unashamed before God (verse 4) the same rule doesn’t apply to women because having their heads uncovered would actually signify the exact opposite (verses 5-6).

The rule for women, Paul says, is that they instead should cover their heads (and here we reach v 7, quoted fully): “because, while a man ought not to cover his head being the image and reputation of God, a wife is the reputation of her husband.” (NB “Glory” in this verse is really “reputation” and, as usual, the words for “man” and “husband”, and “woman” and “wife” are the same.)

It’s hopefully clear that Paul isn’t saying that a woman isn’t the “image and reputation of God”, but rather that she doesn’t need to keep her head uncovered because of it. But what’s all this “a woman is the reputation of her husband” stuff?

What Paul is saying is that while a woman doesn’t need to uncover her head out of consideration for God, she should cover it up to avoid embarrassing her husband, whose dependent she is. Not exactly “woke”, but a piece of realism in 1st century Rome.

But what about verse 11: “For this reason a woman ought to have power on her head because of the angels.”?

Again, nope. What this says is: “For this reason a woman ought to wear an exousia on her head because of the angels.” Although exousia means literally “authority”, in this case all the commentators are agreed it is here either a veil or other kind of headdress, and all Paul seems to be saying, as he says all along, is women should, out of respect as being in the presence of God and his angels, keep their hats on in church.

No talking at the back

Women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” – 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Tittle-Tattle; Or, the several Branches of Gossipping

This has nothing to do with women preaching, and everything to do with conducting orderly meetings, which is what Paul has just been writing about in the immediately preceding passage, and which is what this bit too is actually about.

In the above, almost every word is translated a bit “off” to get the result wanted:

The Greek word for “woman” was the same as that for “wife”, and the fact that Paul goes on to talk about “their husbands” means that is what we have here.

“Be silent” is actually more accurately “be quiet”

The word translated “speak” actually principally means “talk”, and while Paul could be saying women should remain completely mute throughout, not even praying, saying any responses or singing hymns or participating at all, this would be completely contrary to everything we know about Christian practice in the early church (and indeed ever since).

“Be subordinate” is the Greek “hupotassó” which as a technical military term meant to line up in order or place oneself behind a commander, but in civilian use had a number of meanings, none of which were exactly “be subordinate”: the most applicable one here is “keep oneself under control”; and, finally

There is no known law, Jewish or Roman, which forbids women from speaking in churches, but the same word also means any kind of rule generally, and Paul has just set out a rule that meetings should be conducted in orderly fashion without everyone speaking at once.

If the above is taken into account, what Paul is actually saying is:

“Wives should keep quiet in the churches, since they are not permitted to talk, but rather they should keep themselves under control, as this rule indeed requires. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a wife to be talking in church.”

What Paul is objecting to is believers’ (non- or only nominally believing) wives who have been dragged along by their believer husbands not participating at meetings but chatting at the back instead. (Non-believing husbands, of course, got to stay home…)

What do you mean, “submit”?

“Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord” – Ephesians 5:22

wives-submit

First off, the word “submit” doesn’t actually appear in this verse: it just says “Wives, do so to your husbands …”. That what they should do is “submit” is read in from verse 21, which is a bit of a problem, since verse 21 is a general instruction to all Christians which says “submit yourselves to each other in the reverence of Christ”. Now, it’s kind of hard to submit to someone if they then insist on submitting right back at you: it creates a bit if an impasse.

Fortunately, “submit” is completely the wrong word. This is our old friend “hupotassó” again, and one of its civilian uses is to place oneself at the use or disposal of someone else, or place their interests first, and is the only sense that sensibly can be mutual, which is what is required here. A wife’s duty to her husband, then, is part of the general duty of all Christians to serve each other and place each other first: it doesn’t mean a wife is supposed to be at her husband’s command. (After all, if her husband is Christian, he should be placing himself at her service too.)

Don’t get hung up on “as the Lord” either, and try and read it as “as if the Lord”, as if women were supposed to abandon God entirely and served their husbands instead. It means “equally as the Lord”, and all Paul is saying is that women shouldn’t neglect their responsibility for running the household for their husband for the church. Sure, it was a bit unfair that Roman husbands left their wives to do all the housework, but that’s 1st century Rome for you, not the Bible.

Not that sort of head

“For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church” – Ephesians 5:23

This verse runs straight on from the last bit we have been looking at.

There is a further last bit of verse 23 after this which is variously read “his body of which he is the saviour”, “the body of which he is the saviour”, “his body, and of which he is the saviour” and other combinations, but what it actually says is simply “he is the saviour of the body”.

Now this only makes sense if you take into account that sneaky “for” at the beginning of the verse, which everyone ignores: Paul is saying that it is a husband, not Christ, who is the saviour of the body”, or rather that a husband’s being his wife’s sustainer in material / bodily things (which is what the Greek can also mean) makes him her “head” in worldly matters, in the same way that Christ is the church’s spiritual head because he is its saviour in matters spiritual, and so a wife ought to do her duties at home for her husband accordingly (there tended not to be that many married career women with househusbands in 1st Century Rome, as I understand it).

But what kind of head?

“However, in the manner that the church places itself under Christ, so also in the same manner are wives under their husbands in every respect.” – Ephesians 5:24

Having made a concession to 1st century Roman realities, this is where Paul gets radical. The key word in this verse (which of course everyone ignores) is the “however” at the beginning.

Roman law, society and custom made the husband the head of the household in the sense that the wife was basically his slave or subject, existing for his convenience and at his command. In this verse and in the rest of the chapter Paul turns this in its head. Paul says that although custom and law made a husband head of his wife, the way a husband should be head of his wife is in the way that Christ is head of his followers: not as a monarch or lord and master but as a servant who gives himself up in service to them. Between Christ and his disciples, which one of them washed whose feet, do you recall?

Women, know your place!

vintage-ads-that-would-be-banned-today-14

“Let a woman learn quietly with all due submission, but I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” – 1 Timothy 2:11-12

First off, this isn’t Paul responding to the alarming news women were in fact being taught with a reminder that if they do so they must still be properly obedient to men as their divinely-ordained superiors, but rather Paul responding to a question about whether women should be allowed to learn at all by saying that they should be if they show the appropriate respect to their teacher (a respect which would be required by the standards of the time of male pupils too). ‘

You can tell this by looking at Paul’s but (will the dirty minded note the spelling!).

Most versions of the Bible pretend the “but” isn’t there, but it’s a very prominent and important “but”, and can’t be ignored. Without the “but” it sounds like Paul is saying women should firstly keep their traps shut when learning, and furthermore shouldn’t teach at all. The “but” means that in fact the first half Paul is instructing that women should be permitted to learn, while setting out the limits of his permission in the second.

But what exactly is Paul prohibiting women from doing?

What it isn’t is “exercising authority”. The Greek actually says something more akin to “take over”: it may even mean “usurp”. What Paul is in fact saying is that while a woman should be permitted to join in and learn with the men, that doesn’t mean she should be allowed to come in and take over the class. (Quite what was going on in Timothy’s congregation that Paul felt he needed to say this, God alone knows: I have visions of gangs of hacked off women excluded from Bible classes turning up en masse and heckling…)

What is clear, however, is that nothing here suggests that once the woman has completed her study, she can’t go on to teach herself. There are plenty of mentions of women in prominent positions in the early church.

Weaker vessels?

“Husbands, likewise, live with your wives out of consideration of them as a weaker vessel” – 1 Peter 3:7

Savior on White 2

This is a fine example of a determination to read the Bible as it is wanted to be read, rather than what it actually says. The verse comes right after Peter exhorts wives to stay with non-believing husbands, and says that “likewise” husband should stay with their wives. That “out of consideration of them” is just two words in Greek, and in fact says “in respect of / with regards to understanding” – Peter is describing nonbelievers as “in respect of knowledge weaker vessels”: it has nothing to do with their being women.

Conclusion

The Bible isn’t a feminist tract, and its central theme may not be the overthrow of the patriarchy, but it makes it quite clear all are equal before God. As Paul himself says “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28): when we were made in the image of God, God created us male and female, and if you think God’s image isn’t female too, she might want to have a few words.

By Iain Lovejoy

IMG_0374

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.

blue dress
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.

afrima
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!