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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In The UK

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

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

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

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

Modern Living

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

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

Gender Issues

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

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

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

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

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

1‘Recently’ at the time of first draft

World Views Round-Up: About the Royal Wedding and New Music

I write about last week’s royal wedding, the album About 30 and Falz’s ‘This Is Nigeria’.

The Royal Wedding

The royal wedding was last week and I found some of the opinions and takes on it to be a bit strange. I think it’s great that our beloved Prince Harry has found love. It’s also great that the couple were in a position to have such a stately and lavish wedding that was watched and adored by millions. As with William and Kate before them, it was like watching a fairytale come to life.

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In terms of the wider picture, yes, it is a sign of progress that an American person of colour is now part of the royal family. I can’t deny that this would have been unimaginable just 50 short years ago. The same reasoning applies to the fact that she is an older divorcée.

The sentiment that the wedding ‘gives black women hope’ is obviously offensive and ludicrous but I’m mostly over my outrage – although I did tweet at Alex Jones who repeated it during the commentary to the wedding (she didn’t reply proving that she is committed to remaining an ignorant simpleton).

It’s the ‘this is what you have to do to became a princess’ takes that got to me. The advice included being a feminist, renouncing feminism (which Meghan Markle apparently did by giving up her career for Duchess-dom) and, of course, making sure that your first stupid marriage doesn’t work. But really, even if the princes (or every male with one drop or more of royal blood in England) decided to re-marry a minimum of 5 times each, how many women (even white women, Alex) have a shot at marrying into royalty?

Also, in respect of giving up feminism, the analysis of exactly what she’s getting in return – i.e. a bigger platform for her charity work – doesn’t hold water. May I go on a little side rant? I discovered during the many interviews in the course of the coverage that the end goals of one of the charities supported by the new royal couple are giving a disadvantaged group a ‘voice’, a ‘bigger platform’ and a ‘chance to change the world’. Yeah, I’m definitely not donating to that charity.

It seems to me that Meghan Markle’s decision to give up her career is less about any kind of forensic weighing of pros and cons and more about the realities of falling in love and deciding to marry a member of the British royal family. It’s clear that being part of the royal family is a demanding, scrutinised task if you choose full participation. It would be noteworthy if you didn’t and you retained your original profession, especially as a woman but it’s far more usual to give up your career and immerse yourself fully in your new role. Nothing more to it, I think.

The race takes were less annoying. Like I said, it’s impossible to deny the signs of progress – including the royal family having to deal officially with racism, previously conveniently ignored, and the slightly more diverse official wedding photograph. It was heartening to see the couple bring a bit of African American culture to the wedding, if only as a thumbs-up to people who are incredibly grumpy that Meghan identifies as mixed race instead of black.

Some takes and jokes were a little out there. It’s not that the wedding will change race relations; it’s that the wedding is a reflection of how society has changed for the more inclusive – a rather cheerful reflection given the race shenanigans going in both the United States and the United Kingdom. I also don’t accept that the ‘black elements’ of the wedding was a cynical ploy by the royal family to use black culture to remain relevant. If it was, judging by the tormented looks on their faces during the sermon (which I was astonished to discover was less than 14 minutes long – it seemed to go on forever!), they were definitely failing to keep up a convincing performance. The jokes about Harry’s previous girlfriends were sexist and in poor taste.

Nigerians uniquely took the opportunity to complain that Nigerian brides, in comparison to Meghan, wear far too much make-up on their wedding day. The theme was taken up by sensible and less sensible people. Debates raged as the twitterazi couldn’t decide whether to blame the brides or the make-up artists for this assault on their senses and whether brides had trial sessions or not; turning even (religious) feminists against (choice and sex positive) feminists.

From my limited experience, I can make two observations – yes, Nigerian make up artists can be a little heavy-headed and no, this doesn’t have anything to do with the royal wedding.

About New Music

About 30

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I’ve finally got my new computer to download my iTunes library; thus permitting me to listen to About 30, the new album by the saintly and gorgeous Adekunle Gold. When I told my husband this morning that ‘it’s actually really good!’, he asked why I had bought it if I thought it was going to be bad. It’s not that I thought it would be bad but I have a theory about the apparent disappointment that sometimes comes with second albums, especially when the first album has been so well-received. I’m pretty sure this theory is not originally mine.

Firstly, the artist has had an unlimited time period, I think, to write their best material for the first album but, conversely, is under pressure to replicate their success in a shorter space of time for the second, often leading to shoddier songs. Secondly, even if the album is as good as the first, their audience is no longer in awe of their particular type of music. If their second album is too similar to the first one; they are accused of ‘not growing’. If it is too different, they have abandoned the original sound that endeared them to the world in the first place – striking the right balance is a difficult challenge.

I’m pleased to report that I don’t think this album has any of the above problems. I honestly thought, having bought the first album and then heard the intermittent singles Call On Me, Only Girl and Money, that the second album would be more of the same. I was prepared to put up with it because of AG’s beautiful` voice and above-mentioned saintliness and gorgeousness. However, he has somehow managed to strike…well, gold (I can assure you that AG has never before and will never again hear this particular pun about his music). My favourite songs so far are Yoyo, Mama and Mr Foolish (honourable mention to ‘Back to Start’).

This is Nigeria

Falz has also released his video and song version of Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ called ‘This is Nigeria’. Reactions can be roughly categorised like this: the vast majority, I’d say over 85% and that includes me, think it’s really good, creative and clever and the rest are griping about it.

The complaints range from the fact that Falz didn’t use symbolism or as much imagery to the alleged shoddy production of the video (?) to disrespect for Christian and Muslim religions to something else that even I can’t understand but sounds suspiciously like trying to prove how clever they are by refusing to be impressed by Falz – someone who ‘woke Nigerian twitter’ insist continually and aggressively is the cleverest thing to happen to Nigerian music and only the truly thick can fail to agree with everything he says. Incidentally, if there is any general antipathy towards Falz, I suspect this type of thing is the source. Like Beyonce and the Beyhive, I think that he will rise above it all and the world will continue to appreciate him for his brilliance.

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The negative comment which has attracted the most gob-smacking is the accusation that he copied the concept from Childish Gambino’s video and song. Yes, that’s it. In a clear remake of the song, using the similar music, choreography and cinematography, a large group of people have decided to make political capital out of the fact that it’s kinda like the original, isn’t it?. Some people have grumped that he has no right to complain about yahoo boys if he is just going to steal someone else’s concept (proof that some people will NEVER EVER get over his yahoo boys comments) and wondered whether he obtained all the necessary copyright permissions (something that, as long as he doesn’t try to pass off the concept as his own, is actually none of our business). This reaction has provoked a pained video response from the man himself in which he couldn’t seem to decide between his comedy accent, pidgin English and regular English, sometimes switching mid-word, and more than one embittered ‘lol’ type tweet from him.

Somehow amongst all the contempt (as demonstrated above) that I have for the criticism, I have unwittingly fallen into the category of ‘haters’. This is how it happened. I retweeted the video as soon as I saw it – a simple reaction to a brilliant video, especially since I hadn’t seen the original. I didn’t actually see the negative comments at first, because I follow woke Nigerian twitter mostly; just the responses to them. I searched ‘falz’ to try and understand the furore, started reading unrelated tweets about how sexist some of his music, in the way that he and fellow ‘clever’ artist, Ajebutter, demonise women, is. I was so delighted that other people finally got it that I started liking these comments indiscriminately, trying to find the one that encapsulated my thoughts most precisely. Therefore my handful of followers, if they pay any attention to my tweets, may be forgiven for being slightly confused as to how I feel about Falz (I really like him and his music but his sexism discourages me in a way it wouldn’t if it came from someone like Wizkid).

Falz said in his response that the video is “moral instruction”. He  is a brilliant writer but his attempts at moralising sometimes fall flat mostly because he has a gender privilege blind spot and like the vast majority of well-to-do Nigerians, is quite classist. ‘This is Nigeria’ is actually one of his successes as far as moralising is concerned. He hasn’t said anything that he hasn’t said before, but he says it very well in the song. He understands that it’s not enough to pass on the message; he still has to fulfil his artistic obligations. It’s a great song and video.

As for being unique, he approached the song in a different way from Childish Gambino (and if he understands ‘This is America’ completely, then Falz is a much more intelligent person than me). As far as I can tell and having watching some explanatory videos, ‘This is America’ is directed at the distractions of celebrity/insta/popular culture (black or not) with an undercurrent pointing to the disregard for life and freedoms in America, presently and historically, while Falz took a more straightforward approach of pointing out various ills in Nigerian society.

Both are good. Falz’s is not better than Gambino’s of course – don’t be silly – you only have to see this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_LIP7qguYw to appreciate that the original version is as intricate as Falz’s is literal. And there’s nothing wrong with either approach. Well done everyone. Wehdone.

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.

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

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

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

Beauty Privilege

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

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

weird fem pic 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

weird fem pic 2

Feminism and Capitalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feminism and the Other Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 13th Spooky and Grim Worldviews Round-up: Everything’s Connected, the Dove Ad and Weinstein and Our Inability To Directly Address the Male Wrongdoer

Everything’s Connected

I think we all get irritated by mass surprise at bad things which should be blatantly obvious.  I’m just beginning to figure out that sometimes the surprise isn’t genuine – it’s supposed to show that what they are surprised at is so clearly wrong that, rather than being angry at the person doing it, they are astonished that the person had the bad judgment to do or support it. It’s what is encompassed in the expression “I’m surprised and disappointed in you for so and so.”

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This piece is partly about the surprise at Tiwa Savage’s views on gender politics – firstly saying that yes women are discriminated against in various industries, but if women want something badly enough, they should be prepared to work harder than men and not waste time complaining. I initially found it difficult to comprehend that point of view but I suppose she means everyone knows that gender bias exists so if you choose to go after something, why bend everyone’s ear about how unfair it is? Just accept the reality or do something else with your life.

I don’t want to waste too much time setting out why I find the above advice wrong. A big part of feminism and equalities is about not simply accepting institutional unfairness or, as it’s more commonly known, prejudice (why don’t, for instance, black people simply accept that they make policemen and women nervous and just be still when they are apprehended for goodness’ sake!?). Her statement also ignores the fact that people can’t just choose not to work or earn money.

Incidentally, what happens to women who don’t want to work or who may find it hard for the very reason she mentioned (and also things like sexual harassment)? They are labelled lazy, gold diggers who deserve everything that men dish out to them and their contribution to the home is simultaneously ignored and taken for granted. Follow a popular radio host who goes by the Twitter name of Cinderella Man if you have the similar views to mine and want to spend an evening tearing out your hair in this order – head, armpit, pubic – and you’ll see what I mean.

She went on to say that while it is okay for women to pursue successful careers, they need to realise men are the heads of the family and submit to them accordingly as men and women are not equal at least not “in the household”. I also disagree with this fundamentally but I find myself more annoyed at the outraged surprised tweets about what she said.

Firstly, if you’ve read any of Tiwa’s interviews about gender, you would know on what side of the equality fence she stands by now. I wouldn’t describe myself as a Tiwa fan but I admire her music, singing and song writing skills enough to read the odd article about her (and, really, who didn’t fall in love with her at the UK X-Factor auditions, apart from apparently her husband who spent quite a bit of time taunting her about her appearance at the auditions).

When asked about sexual harassment in the music industry, she acknowledged it existed but said she was able to avoid it because her manager, who was also her partner, essentially protected her from it (https://www.bellanaija.com/2016/04/tiwa-savage-reveals-how-she-overcame-sexual-temptations-in-the-nigerian-music-industry/).

Not a word about how unjust it is that women have to suffer it. Basically, just get yourself a man who is willing to protect you and you won’t have to worry.

I recall reading an interview (which I can’t now find), prior to her sensational separation and apparent reconciliation, where she states that she considers her husband to be the head of her home. The difference in the recent interview is that she applied the principle to women generally and not just herself. I’m not particularly bothered by that aspect of her statement. I think a lot of my feminist principles should apply to all women not just me. I don’t think feminism is just about supporting women’s rights to make choices (although that freedom to choose is a central tenet of feminism) especially if that choice is steeped in and borne out of centuries of sexist indoctrination. I think that’s how a lot of people feel about their values – however pro-choice they may try to sound to avoid appearing illiberal and inflexible.

During Tiwa’s infamous post-separation interview, where she cited all the terrible things her husband did, she was asked whether he was physically abusive. She said he wasn’t. She also said something like ‘I’m not going to sit here and play the victim and claim that he beat me’. To me, this almost implies that someone who does recount her experience of domestic violence is angling for sympathy and milking her victim status (or just simply lying).

In fact, Tiwa’s views on marriage could be detected throughout the entire interview.   She appeared less outraged that her husband was chronically and openly unfaithful to her than she was that he was unwilling to contribute financially to their home and the upbringing of their son. This demonstrates how important his role as breadwinner (even though she was earning far more than he was) and head of the family is to her. Also not only did she go back to him, majority of Nigerians advised that she should do just that or expressed hope that God would heal their marriage as if his infidelity and appalling behaviour was inflicted on them by some unconnected third party.

In the light of the above, I think it’s disingenuous for people to pretend to be shocked at her views especially when we know how many Nigerians view marriage in this way. It’s everywhere – from the pastor preaching about disqualifying a future wife because she can’t cook to the fact that many future wives will be expected to kneel before their husbands, in their traditional marriage ceremony, to show that they will serve and obey him.

I think because Tiwa has spent some time living in the US and the UK people expect her to be more liberal about women and wives’ roles. She most certainly isn’t but there are numerous Pentecostal churches in the UK that teach what she said in that interview and even in the good old Church of England, you can still choose, as a woman, to vow to obey your husband. I fundamentally disagree with her but I am not shocked. I don’t even think she’s mad or bad for these commonly held views.

However, another type of surprise that irritates me more intensely is from people who hold these sexist views and then are shocked when bad things happen to women. You know, people who practice the big 4 anti-feminism pillars – Devaluation, Demonisation, Dehumanisation and Objectification of women (throw in Stereotyping for good measure) – then are shocked when the natural consequences of these are played out in society.

Those who think a woman is inherently worth less than a man and are surprised when Boko Haram buy, sell and use young school girls as if they were disposeable property. People who write entire catalogues of music demonising women as unreasonable witch like creatures who will suck you dry just for the heck of it and wonder why they have to appeal for support for domestic violence charities. People who sing/rap/joke that you are entitled to reject a woman’s ‘no’ if you (a) buy her food (b) flirt with her more than once at a party and she flirts back (c) see her wearing a short skirt (d) tell her in a reality show that you like her and then she has the temerity to fall asleep while you are in possession of an erect penis and are shocked when young teenage girls are subject to extreme and horrific sexual violence. People who state that domestic violence is bad but if a woman provokes her husband, she shouldn’t be surprised if he reacts then are themselves surprised when a girl is burnt to death by her boyfriend.

Terrible things start with questionable mindsets. Just a word of warning. Everything’s connected.

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Missing Something With Dove

Dove recently had to apologise for an advert. I was aware of the social media outcry before I ever got a chance to see the advert which has no doubt now been withdrawn. It showed a black woman lifting off her shirt to reveal a white woman. Further investigation has shown that the white woman lifts off her shirt to reveal a Latina or Asian woman. The advert was for hydrating cream.

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Twitter – from prominent celebrities to my favourite tweeps (I’ve definitely decided that ‘tweeps’ is a word) –  descended on Dove with some energy. Ava Duvernay and Gabrielle Union (otherwise known as people a lot brighter than me) asked what Dove could possibly have been thinking of when they approved the advert. Gospel artist Lecrae fired off a snippy tweet which said something like ‘I know you don’t need my 2 cents, but guess what? You’re never getting it again’. The advert was compared to racist posters from the bad old days for bleaching creams, soaps and potions showing black kids getting rid of their ‘dirty’ skin by bleaching themselves into lighter, happier, foolishly grinning children.

One singer tweeted ‘What bothers me is that the black woman agreed to this. Am I missing something?’  Well, plainly, yes. Although I find it difficult to explain how odd it is (and why) that her first reaction would be not against the institutional and corporate racism the advert apparently represented (if you agree that the advert was racist) but against the black woman who modelled in the advert and whose knowledge, circumstances and control of the final product she knows nothing of.

I however might be guilty of missing something bigger. I am not sure I fully accept that the advert was as racist as has been suggested. The outcry was about the implication that the black woman shed her undesirable skin to become a white woman. Then came the revelation of the Latina woman.

I’m not sure what the intention was but I find it hard to believe that in 2017 (even with all the white supremacy horror stories emerging from  Europe and the US ) Dove, or whoever manages their advertising campaigns, really intended to show that black was bad and white was you got after the improvement that came from using their product. No doubt someone in the company should have anticipated the response  that would be evoked by the image of a person removing black skin to become white but I think this shows more than anything else not only a lack of diversity at the company but of any kind of ability to judge the impact of their campaigns especially in light of complaints about their recent adverts.

So the advert was possibly ill-thought out in that someone failed to see all the possible angles but would the outrage have been avoided if the order of the models were reversed? Or is that what I’m missing – the subconscious arranging of the models? Also, even if you leave out the third model, what were they advertising that would change black skin to white? Was it bleaching cream? Or was it about feeling so unattractive that you may as well be black?

So the initial reason for my scepticism is the idea that any company who wants to make money in this day and age would show an advert with such a blatantly racist message. But then, Dove’s apology confused me. Why not just say what I’ve said above – ‘Didn’t you see the other model, dummy? What you are accusing us of doesn’t make sense as we clearly don’t sell any kind of skin lightening product? And by the way, how stupid do you think we are?’ Are they completely clueless and scrambling around even now trying to find out what was wrong with the advert? Is someone at this moment, in a late night meeting, tentatively putting up his hand to ask “Do you think they are angry because we pulled her hair back too tight?”.

Their vague reference to ‘missing the mark’ makes me think they either don’t take any race complaint seriously and simply patronise with apologies or there is something more offensive about the advert that I’ve completely failed to grasp. Perhaps I have a cooned-out blind spot when it comes to Dove. I didn’t even notice the ‘normal to dark skin’ gaffe until someone pointed it out in a blog post.

Why can’t we address the male criminal?

The recounting of sexual harassment committed by Harvey Weinstein is scary and depressing. Although we all know about ‘the casting couch’ and the fact that Hollywood and all of showbiz, a highly desired career destination for a lot of people, has the power and privilege to hold on to its sexist and sexually violent heritage more tightly than other industries. That heritage is evident with every creepy criminal that gets exposed, the fact that gratuitous nudity is required of actresses like an added tax,  that often times the only acceptable ‘fierceness’ from female pop stars is the sex positive, male-gaze benefitting, half naked, completely non-threatening kind from a woman or quite often teenage girl who ‘owns her own sexuality’ (whatever that means), it’s there when Rick Ross says that if he spends too much money on an upcoming star, he’ll be tempted to expect sex in return.

There are several imaginative reactions to it the Weinsten scandal and I was distressed by a tweet that blamed actresses, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, for not coming forward earlier and preventing the same abuse being repeated with younger women working in Hollywood. I shared the quick, strong disagreement with the tweet but it made me wonder, why we are so reluctant to directly address the male criminal or perpetrator when it comes to sexual crimes or just generally horrible things that are done to women? We discuss the women who are victims, the women who are not, the criminals’ significant others, look for ways to prevent the situation happening again, we theorise and hypothesise about sexist systems that allow these people to thrive but we rarely face the man squarely.

I have mad theories! Firstly, perhaps there’s almost not a lot to say to someone who’s been caught or admitted to doing something terrible. Even the most well-reasoned and articulated rant runs the risk of eliciting the response “Thanks very much for that. Can you now tell us something we don’t know?”.

I think the focus on what the victims did, did not and could have done comes not just from sexism but from the need to distinguish the circumstances of these crimes as a way of assuring ourselves that it couldn’t happen to us.   I’m not saying there’s no point taking in ever taking precautions or recognising signs but bad things, especially when they are propped up by institutional sexism, racism or any kind of prejudice or unfair system, can happen to anyone. The most effective protection is changing society. By immediately focusing on the victim, we are sticking our fingers in ears, shutting our eyes tightly and saying “It can’t happen to me! I don’t care! I don’t care! It can’t happen to me if I….”

This delusion that victims are somehow to blame or scrutinise for not protecting themselves and others and internalised sexism is perhaps what makes it much easier for me to focus on the female victims instead of the male wrongdoer – in this essay on Tiwa Savage and not Tee Billz and in previous pieces on Tina instead of Teddy Campbell, Hilary instead of Bill Clinton, Beyonce instead of Jay Z.

Everything’s connected. I told you.

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Worldviews Round-up: 6 October 2017: How Not to Be A Boy, How Tina Got Trumped, Divorce and the Real Head of the Marital Home

The head structure [for marriages] falls down for me because I can’t understand how you can love and value someone and still hold the view that your opinion is inherently more valuable than theirs.

Tina and Trump

A lot of people are being horrible about Tina Campbell and it’s all because of President Trump! The rumblings started when she posted a Facebook message shortly after the inauguration of the President earlier this year. It was an open letter which essentially said, although she hadn’t always agreed with Trump up until then, now that he’s president, she chooses to have faith that God can use him for the good of the United States. A simplistic approach, perhaps an infuriating one both for those who were vehemently opposed to Trump or for those who don’t have faith – we’re stuck with him now, lads, no point moaning, let’s hope for the best!

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What people objected to most was her declaration that she has chosen to “stand with Trump” but I understood this to mean despite his shortcomings and not to be an endorsement of those shortcomings. Yes, from a faith point of view, Christians ultimately rely on God and not on human beings. However, I do think we should try our damnedest to make sure the best and most just human structures are in place – for instance, try a lot harder than voting for Trump and hoping for the best.

In an interview last month with theRoot.com, she confirmed that she did indeed vote for Trump. She didn’t really like Clinton or Trump but she chose the latter because of some of his Christian views. Now that he’s in office (and cocking everything up massively – she didn’t say that!), she still chooses to pray for him rather than bash him.

Like I say, she’s receiving a lot of abuse and criticism on social media. The fairest basis of this abuse would appear to be that it is irresponsible to vote for someone who appears to be both incompetent and objectionable and say “But don’t worry, God will sort it out!”. Other people question her understanding of Christianity if she was convinced by Trump’s apparent faith . Still others think she has more sinister reasons for choosing Trump – which involve supporting some of his more controversial illiberal polices.

I didn’t pay a lot of attention to Trump’s campaign from the start when I dismissed the idea of enough people being stupid enough to vote him in to when it became apparent that he had a fighting chance and it was too distressing for me to watch. It seemed obvious to me that he lacked the experience, competency and something else which some American politicians have labelled ‘statemanship’ to be a president. The latter relates to a certain lack of integrity and tact combined with an unhealthy vanity that made me think people would avoid voting for him to prevent the United States becoming a international joke. However, I obviously didn’t spend too much time researching this point and accepted my lack of understanding as to why he had a big following among the American people.

I wouldn’t have voted for him if I was American and I couldn’t at the time imagine anyone voting for him but it’s also true that I never imagined he would be as bad as he appears to be now. I thought a lot of his ‘eccentricities’ was posturing to make himself stand out from the average politician and that when he was elected, he would do things I didn’t approve of but not in such blundering ways. I also didn’t think he would follow through on some of his more controversial policies.

I can’t understand why Tina Campbell would vote for him but I can understand why she or anyone who voted for him would be surprised that he has carried out certain policies or sometimes behaved as bizarrely as he has. I suppose people also thought that if he was bad, the ‘system’ would protect most citizens. Clearly, he still has his supporters so some people must think he’s doing a good job.

I think the media (including the leftist media and social media) has to bear some of the blame for the success of Donald Trump. The problem is they villify anyone they don’t like with the same level of hysteria – from George Bush, to Mitt Romney and even Hilary Clinton herself when she was up against President Obama. It’s easy to see why Clinton wasn’t popular during the elections– her political career had taken a major bashing at least 3 separate times. First, due to irrational sexism, when it transpired that her husband was serially unfaithful to her and when she stood against Obama and then Bernie Sanders in the democratic primaries. Like the boy who cried wolf, when the press is justifiably outraged about someone, previous concerted attacks will mean that not enough people pay attention . They are now memes comparing Trump to Hitler. I still have hope that Trump won’t get as bad as Hitler but what will happen if an actual Hitler arrives (assuming such a person can sit side by side with a free press), what are they going to compare him or her to then?

As for Tina Campbell, if she did have to admit she voted for Trump (and that’s a big if. I have a few friends who voted for Brexit and their secret is safe with me), her best bet would have been to say ‘Look, I didn’t think he would be this bad. I’m now sorry I did it. I pray God helps out of this mess that we got ourselves into’ instead of tying herself into knots trying to defend her decision. Anyway she voted in California, I think, and Clinton took California so none of this is her fault. Anyway, I don’t care what none of y’all say I still love her (in my Kanye voice).

How Not To Be A Boy and the ‘D’ word

I’ve recently finished reading Rob Webb’s memoir/manifesto ‘How Not to Be A Boy’. It really is excellent and contains genius insights on the negative effects of the gender stereotyping on society. One of my favourite passages, discussing relationship self-help book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, that exploded into our consciousness over 20 years ago, is this:

The slight downside to popular books about relationships is that all of them are wrong. Wrong because they all start from the premise of difference: that men and women are so fundamentally, innately, mentally and culturally different that they might as well be considered as two different species from two different planets. If you start from there, you give yourself permission to accept every stereotype you’ve ever heard about men and women. So books like the one mentioned – ….are there not to question the different expectations placed on men and women: they’re there to excuse and reinforce them, usually with a truckload of hokey metaphors and dodgy-looking science”(page 295)

I knew (even without reading it) that Men are from Mars book was crap! Now I have a well-articulated reason why (and why I’m stubbornly recalcitrant when someone starts a conversation or point with “Well what you have to understand, Tracy, is that men and women are different in that….” I bloody well do not have to understand anything of the sort! )

This article, however, is about something else in the book – how divorce changed Webb’s dad for the better. To summarise, Robert Webb’s father was not an atypical working class man in small town (well village really), 1970s and 80s England. Maybe he drank more or was more promiscuous than some but one gets the feeling that the town was not flooded with “New Man” types as they were termed in the 1980s. He was a working class hero who showed little regard for his home, wife and kids, often terrifying the latter.

Had Webb’s dad stayed married, would he have continued to violently discipline his sons and be completely useless around his home? Would he have turned his wife into a nervous mental wreck and drank himself to an early death? Instead he became this self-sufficient man who not only possessed physical domestic skills; he took on mental and emotional tasks domestic tasks. He could run a home! As feminists have been telling us for…well since that woman did that clever cartoon in the Guardian (just kidding forever!), running a home is so much more than handling one or two jobs around the house a day.

Personally I found the fact that he had put in place house rules when 17-year old Webb moved in a heart warming sign that he was a changed man. Also, later in life, he actually had the emotional intelligence and confidence to have a conversation with Webb about his sexuality.

Some Christian leaders, particularly in Nigeria, often denounce divorce as Satan’s plan for your marriage. Anything should be endured to avoid that colossal failure. This is not even about the adultery loophole – something which some Christians either ignore or view as a last resort (presumably after both of your legs have rotted away with gonorrhoea, otherwise you’re just not trying.).

I’ve heard the same sentiment repeated in the West. Fewer people will say to me that a woman or man should stay in a horrendous marriage or relationship but when they start citing the ills they blame on divorce or single motherhood (not on the underlying reasons for the same) – gang culture, violent or sociopathic youth, the drain on public funds – I can’t help but wonder what they are advocating the woman (or man) does in those circumstances.

It seems to me that marriage (and divorce) are not magic words or formulas. Clearly, the ideal that marriages should last forever can’t refer to marriages where one spouse is beating the other to a pulp, humiliating them with continuous infidelity, passing on STDs or abusing the kids. Clearly God didn’t mean for us to stick around through that.

Funnily enough, when I was younger and people told me repeatedly that marriage was hard, required compromise and sacrifice and I would have to be TOUGH and focused for my marriage to survive, I thought they were talking about the regular stuff. That is, two different people, most likely different personalities, coming together with their life experiences and baggage, struggling through life with its ups and downs – jobs, money or lack of, illnesses, kids, caring for elderly parents, the lot.

I knew how often my close friends pissed me off (and how often I annoyed them – something that I can’t really understand even today if I’m honest). I imagined that if you had to live with the same person for 30 to 50 years, you’re bound to take a deep breath once or three hundred times during that time period. I thought the ‘struggle’ was learning to handle conflict and hard times with love, patience and kindness.

Imagine my shock when I realised that what these fools were hinting at was that as a woman I should be prepared put up with my husband’s deliberate and calculated efforts to hurt me. I think, for me, that may be taking Christian literalism to the limit and beyond. Incidentally, the converse way these people found to irritate me was to tell me (with what my paranoid mind thinks is a hint of a threat in their voices) that, because my husband is not a dick, that I am very lucky indeed that I found a ‘good’ man. I find this additionally annoying because I think my husband is wonderful, BUT NOT BECAUSE HE MANAGES TO RESTRAIN HIMSELF FROM CHEATING ON AND BEATING ME. And not even because he shares the domestic load in the home that he lives in. This is no less than what is expected of me. But I’m lucky because Men are from Mars.

Marriage (in Nigeria): Head, shoulders, knees and toes

The issue of submission in marriage has come up again, this time in response to a singer stating that, while it’s acceptable for women to pursue success in their careers,  they need to realise that the man is the head of the home. The usual derision, via Twitter, has ensued. There is also a lot of support for her point of view with people asserting that no organisation or institution can function without a ruling head or quoting ‘God’s word’ (or Biblical text twisted and misinterpreted by patriarchal society – article loading on that one).

submissive

Feminists have expressed dismay questioning what makes a man qualified by default to be the head of the family and stating that a lot of men aren’t fit to head anything, much less a home. Of course, I’ve been in people’s mentions like a social disease and of course said people have been ignoring me like said social disease. Hmmph!

I have so many questions starting with why does anyone have to be the head? What decision is so important in a marriage that it requires someone to surrender their status as an equal adult human being and not just as a one-off – the idea is to maintain the woman’s inferior status at all times to be ready for that critical decision which will be the making and breaking of the marriage and which has to be made by the head of the home? In fact, what decision or indeed any process of marriage is made better or more efficient by this blatant inequality?

I’m not sure why marriage is being compared to a business model, but it should be obvious to anyone that the head/neck business structure is not the only structure in the world. In fact now that I think of it, I’ve heard of partnerships, companies and directors, employer and employer but I haven’t heard of the head and neck structure. I suppose it’s comparable to senior manager and junior manager if I’m to avoid being obtuse about it.

People keep saying ‘you can’t have two captains in one ship’ but no one explains why. There is no reason for or logic to the head/neck structure and the only consequence seems to be gross unfairness, equality and the reduction of the woman’s humanity. It provides an excuse for the man’s rage when a woman – who is also an adult and has comparable qualifications and life experience as him and in fact often times does the practical job of running the home – dares to defy him. It creates a situation where a man is waited on head and foot because of arbitrary biological reasons; it allows us human beings to indulge our dark side that derives pleasure from treating fellow human beings as if they are less than us. It also allows women to irrationally blame men for circumstances beyond both their control because as the ‘head of the family’ they are somehow magically supposed to fix things.

There has to be above all love, respect and kindness in any marriage. If you don’t have that, the marriage is probably going to be knackered no matter how many Fortune500 business models you put in place. The head structure falls down for me because I can’t understand how you can love and value someone and still hold the view that your opinion is inherently more valuable than theirs. How you can know that they fundamentally disagree with something or have deep concerns about it but ‘put your foot down’ because it’s your right.

Respect comes in because you value and trust your partner’s judgment. Incidentally, the whole head thing starts to unravel at an intellectual level when people start saying things like, choose a good ‘head’ but even if you don’t remember he’s still the head. Therefore if your husband is prone to making bad decisions, you should submit to him driving you and your family into rack and ruin because he’s the head. Oh I forgot! If all else fails, pray. Pray that he starts making good decisions. In the meantime, watch your children suffer. This rarely happens, doesn’t work and is the reason why this head thing is a crock of crap.

If it’s compromise and sacrifice is required, I still don’t understand why people have to add that extra layer of discourse and oppression which is involved in labelling the male partner ‘the head’. I don’t always agree with my husband’s viewpoint but I consider him to be inherently sensible and to be acting in good faith. He feels the same about me. We always manage to resolve our differences in a way that we can both live with – sometimes I convince him; sometimes he convinces me; sometimes one of us gives in. Neither of us would be comfortable doing something that the other has a major problem with. Not many decisions are worth overriding someone’s concerns and esteem. If we can’t agree, the priority is our relationship and not the decision.