Runs Girls and the Sliding Scale of Nigerian Morality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tracy in this…

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Opting Out, Pulling Out And Discussions About The Reluctant Dad

In an ideal world, separated parents would just get on with it without any hard feelings or difficulties in communication.

 

Even before the recent exposè by the mother of his first child, Shola Ogudu,  we all suspected that Wizkid had more than a touch of arseholery about his person. His vicious half of the long-standing riff with Davido1, his use of sexually violent language in reaction to Linda Ikeji’s admittedly stupid and malicious reports about his living arrangements, his failure to show up for concerts without apology and the occasional slip in interviews demonstrated that his arseholery is very much informed by Nigerian-style sexism.

I think we ignored (for the most part) his little pop-ups of nastiness because of his talent, his unstoppable rise and his contributions to bringing ‘Naija to the World’. However the 10-page instagram post, which I have not read in its entirety, seems to reveal that he is or can be a cold, sneering, arrogant, narcissistic (Look at me now! I’m famous! I TOLD you the world – and you! – would bow at my feet one day. HA HA HA HA!’) man who uses his ex-girlfriend’s requests for financial upkeep and emotional support for his son to wield power over her, rarely sees his first son and is oblivious to the hurt it would cause the child to see him fawning over his other children in the circumstances.

Unfortunately, having listened to friends and family, read stories on social media and worked in the past as a court clerk for a family law practice, some of his behaviour is not uncommon. It is  probably many an embittered separated father’s fantasy to be able to tell a despised ex-partner  to sod off on a regular basis.  How many men, people, would love to do that with no apparent  consequences?

Some of it however, like his efforts to prove that his son (4 years old at the time) was not gay are so sociopathic and incredible that all I’ll say is this. If you are a Christian and you believe St Paul’s teaching about the fruits of the spirit and the extended version presented by some pastors, this would be a fruit of the kind of pathological homophobic ‘spirit’ which  exists in Nigeria. I doubt very much that it is any part of God’s plan.

The commentary to all the sensation and drama included the typical accusations of Shola trying to trap because he is or was rich (I believe he was a 19 year old struggling musician when she became pregnant but I could be wrong) or that she shouldn’t have had a child if she could not afford to care for the child without his help.

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That last little gem was from feminists and sexists alike and ignored the fact that (1) he has an obligation to pay for the upkeep of his child  (2) it is very difficult, even in countries with free education and health care, to raise a child on a single income.  In fact this particular woman has done very well for herself considering her age and qualifications. (3) if married women’s incomes drop when they have children, what do we think happens to single mothers who don’t have Dad to hand the child(ren) to now and again?

I could go on but suffice it to say that a lot of the criticism strays from a sensible caution to women that, in reality, they are likely to bear the brunt of unplanned pregnancies in Nigeria to presupposing that Shola alone is to blame for the pregnancy and is predominantly responsible for the child.  Wizkid, it seems, should permitted to opt or dip in and out as his career demands.  Despite  being left with the care of the child and therefore less time to make any money, she has been labelled by some a gold-digging, manipulating, layabout  who expects Wizkid to pay for her existence.

Other people (the sensible ones) agree that Wizkid is really not trying but moving from the specific to the general, even with the best intentions, it is difficult bringing up a child with someone you are not with, who you may not like, may have had an acrimonious split with and whose motives you do not trust. Heck, what with parents being two completely separate human beings, it is sometimes difficult to co-parent a child when you are married to the person you love (I’ve lost track of whether the right phrase is ‘co-parent’ when the couple is together or whether it is reserved for separated parents?).

In an ideal world, separated partners would just get on with it without any hard feelings or  difficulties in communication. Both parents would have no interest in or feelings for the other which are unconnected to the welfare of child. Some of the debate I have seen does not acknowledge that this sometimes does not happen. I have mad theories!

Firstly there is the issue of feelings. I am not sure when they ended their relationship but their texts to each other seem very emotional, especially the ones from her. It is not clear whether she just wants a more cordial relationship where he doesn’t bark-text orders at her, she feels that pleading with him and trying to appeal to his conscience will make him actually perform his duties and would make her son feel less abandoned or she wants something more. I would be very surprised if it is the third, especially with his other children, and the fact with each new partner, he moves further and further away from his local dating pool. However one cannot underestimate the social, religious and cultural factors that would encourage her to keep trying to revive a relationship with her child’s father.

Wizkid, on the other hand,  claims to be emotionless but seems to be very resentful of her presence, upset with her, even and punishing her for something. You get the feeling that he wants her to just disappear but is simultaneously deriving some kind of perverse pleasure from her distress.

I can’t deny that a part of me wants Shola (it feels presumptuous to call her by her first name but I’m not going ‘Ms. Ogudu’ my way through this piece like some kind of court reporter for the Vanguard Newspaper) to abandon all attempts at friendliness or even cordiality and be more business-like but I can’t say what effect that would have on Wizkid, her or her child.

This is I suspect not unusual. Even with all intentions of being unemotional, you are likely to be affected by someone you have had a close relationship with. You will be hurt when they are being deliberately hurtful and you may even misinterpret them when they are not. You cannot take a pill and make yourself feel nothing.

On the actual co-parenting, even couples that live together have different views on how to raise a child. However, they at least have the opportunity to discuss and dissect each other’s views. They have enough access to each other to understand where the other person is coming from, if they choose to make the effort. When they are not living together it may be more  difficult to understand why the other person is taking the stance that they are. With the potential for argument,  they may not have the time or inclination to sit down with the ex and dissect their views.

Their priorities are different, as well.  If you are living at home with the child, the home, bills, education, clothes etc are staring you in the face; forcing you to take notice. You notice when the heating goes off or the air conditioner is on the blink or when junior is running around in too-short trousers. Things like that are a bit more remote, I would imagine, when you live away from home.

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Take the example of a (fictional, more amiable) pop star and his ex-girlfriend and child. He may think it is better to invest money in a business opportunity on the basis that it may pay off later making everyone better off. She is aware of domestic needs that have to be taken care of now. He has to take her word for it. He may be distrustful or just not trust her judgment. They never have the chance to have an in-depth conversation about it. It’s difficult. One party often ends up feeling short-changed even though both parties feel they are doing their best. You also have factor in that the non-resident parent may have another home, partner and even children to be concerned with.

Another example is hearing through the airwaves that pop star dad has earned so and so for a concert or other deal.  He may know how much that deal is worth in real terms and how much he gets to take home and how much he has to pay out. All she may know is what everybody knows and what his management wants the world to know in an effort to increase his hype and therefore his value.  I’ll just add that like every other sensible person out there I believe that his child support payments should be commensurate to the paying parent’s wealth; conversely, the courts and I agree that if the paying parent is a low earner, they shouldn’t be driven to destitution by the requirement of an arbitrary level of support.  What I have seen is men who are so indignant that any money paid will pass through the child’s mother’s hands and may be used on some things that indirectly benefit the child like energy bills, rather than things that the child uses directly, that they refuse to work.  It’s a sad, angry world out there.

Then there is the thorny issue of the man who thinks that the woman should have had an abortion and is resentful that she did not. Abortion is not an easy topic for me but I think practically and in terms of the balance of harms, the woman should choose. I also recoil at the idea that a man or even society can demand that women have abortions for any reason. Firstly, having an abortion is an issue fraught with emotional, physical and practical difficulties and secondly, just no!

Forcing a woman to abort  is at least as subjugating as forcing her to carry a pregnancy through. It may not be technically fair but she should choose in this imperfect scenario. And a man ought not to be able to opt out of caring or providing for the child just because he doesn’t agree with her choice because they are both responsible for creating the baby. It’s not as if she gets off scot-free. She is likely to be left with a lion’s share of the care as well actually birthing and nursing the child.

However, I do acknowledge the ill-feeling that a man can have, when this decision is taken out of his control. Yes he should have been more careful with the protection.  They both should have been but the argument that if Wizkid did not want a child with the incumbent permanent relationship with the mother, acceding to her every request in exactly the way she wants him to, he should not have had sex is dangerously close to the one that says Shola should not have had sex or had a child if she was not prepared to be abandoned by him (and a little postscript note, from my memories of sex-ed, ‘pulling out’ is not the contraceptive miracle that some people on social media seem to think it is).

It’s a difficult situation. I myself am in a position where I am financially responsible for someone who I feel made a series of avoidable and unwise decisions that caused the current situation (and I’ve failed to help out with a sibling’s child but that’s another story). I do not think that this is comparable to Wizkid’sand Shola’s situation by any stretch of the imagination. The only similarity is that at some point you have to pull yourself together, do what you can and stop being an arse. I think I spent far too much time being resentful and grumpy about my situation. The other difference is that a child is involved – the only party who is truly devoid of responsibility for the situation – and a reality which cannot be wished away, no matter how badly a parent acts, and which should be the priority.

So, in conclusion, I’m annoying. Just kidding. In conclusion, it is difficult to take care of a child, whether or not you are in a loving relationship with the other parent.  The fact that I can never escape or even take a break from parenthood occasionally fills me with panic.

It is probably more difficult to co-parent when the romantic relationship with the other person has broken down.   I acknowledge that past experiences, hurt and feelings cannot be instantly erased. However, the right thing to do is decide to focus on the well-being of the child. I say this but I can’t imagine how difficult it is for someone to decide to do the right only for the other party to continue acting like a Wizk…I mean, a dolt. Even if that is achieved, it may still be difficult and fraught with miscommunications, differing priorities and hopefully moments of joy and love and definitely memories that cannot be replaced. That’s all really except that Wizkid may still be an arse at time of publication but can choose to have some class and dignity and rise up to the occasion.

1During the said beef, Davido was heard saying things like ‘I heard he doesn’t like me. I don’t know what I ever did to him. I just try to be nice to everyone and concentrate on my music. Well if he doesn’t like me, I don’t like him either. I don’t need him to like me…’ to which Wizkid responded “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Frog Face!’ apparently striking at the heart of Davido’s insecurities.

Worldviews On Holiday: Another Celeb Obsessed Post

Wake me up when they start asking Nigerian male celebrities if they are feminists or whether they ‘believe in feminism’.  Until then, #freetiwa, please.

We’re back from our lovely holiday which included a trip to a Cornish hospital with a torn cornea, a conversation with a taxi driver about how to keep intimacy alive when you have small children, magicians, a children’s disco and shedloads of wine.  I’ve also been on Twitter.  A lot.  So much so that I’m definitely taking a break (soon).

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To demonstrate that Iain is unable to take a bad picture, he was very hungry and grumpy when I insisted on this selfie.

Abandoning all protocol and pretense at sanity, I’ve been sliding in and out of people’s mentions like James Brown and tweeting and liking in the early hours of the morning.  I’ve made political tweets about Great Britain and Nigeria and have been sarcastic at a celeb!  I started writing this post when I was told (in a display of admirable restraint) by a high ranking tweep to go away.

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Just so you know we weren’t in the back garden the whole time

If nothing else, publishing this post means I can finally end the pin/unpin dance with my last article which went something like this:

Day One:  Pin to Twitter profile

Day Two  (‘Ah Tracy, this is all a bit harsh.  What if he reads it?  What if his mother reads it…?): Unpin

Day Three (‘Ok, it took me a long time to write this post.  I’m keeping it pinned for 7 days and then I’ll take it down.  I owe it to myself’):  Pin

Day Seven (4:05 am in the morning ‘Well that’s that.  I’ve done my bit to spread awareness):  Unpin

Same day (about 13 hours later, having watched a YouTube clip where he said he has a ‘personal problem with prostitution’, full of premenstrual ragey hormones and Aldi white wine.  ‘Right! The post can bloody well stay on my profile page!’):  Pin – more about this mad reaction below.

Day 11: (‘Cripes.  He’s in the Independent.  Better take it down.  I don’t want to be outed as the misguided hater of a young revolutionary’): Unpin

Day 12: (‘Oh look, I have a new follower.  Why should he be deprived of my brilliance? Courage is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it’): Pin

I’ve also formed many opinions on trending topics.

#FreeTiwa

What is the point of asking Tiwa Savage the exact same question about feminism, which she answered in a Beat FM interview less than a year ago, other than to rile up women and feminists everywhere and subject us once again to the tedious debate on whether or not women are allowed to ‘choose’ not to be feminists?  Wake me up when they start asking Nigerian male celebrities if they are feminists or whether they ‘believe in feminism’.  Until then, #freetiwa, please.

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If  Olamide or Burna Boy were asked the same question,  would it result in one of those lengthy laughing sessions that constitute one of the most annoying sounds on radio?  We all but swoon a male celebrity replies that he can’t really cook, but can manage one dish, despite him saying previously that  he won’t accept anything less than a wife who earns lots of money.

I can’t see us making Nigerian male celebrities nail their colours to the mast on feminism, but, contrary to the way it’s treated, it is not just a women’s issue.  It is about equality all round and requires men’s participation.  Men are (in Nigeria) the principal beneficiaries of the sexist system, dish out majority of the gender-based harm and, apart from  having and implementing ideas which keep women at a disadvantage, have majority of the power so it’s even more relevant to ask them this question.

Out of curiosity, are there any feminist male celebrities in Nigeria?  I’m hopeful about DJ Spinall, not because I’ve ever heard him say anything about women’s issues but because when he was asked about gay marriage once, specifically the nationwide status granted by President Obama, and he replied “it’s all love.”

I’m not sure that he’s ready to burn his bra yet but Adekunle Gold tweets and writes like he regards women to be fully human. It may have something to do with the fact he has a female manager.  There’s the lovely MI of course and the somewhat shaky-in-his-feminist beliefs Banky W.  We don’t ask male Nigerian celebrities if they are feminist but we are shocked (shocked!) when Tiwa repeats views which she has already made clear that she holds (heck, even I wrote a critical article about  the BeatFM interview).

I don’t believe the narrative that women habitually pull other women down, are their own worst enemies, always fight each other etc but I think sometimes we could stand to consider things a bit more carefully before we take the bait.  We can’t be tiptoeing around male rappers and singers who produce consistently sexist music (‘oooooh, I really like him but don’t you think his last 34 songs were a bit…off?’) and lose our collective cool when a female politician or artist agrees with patriarchal ideology into which we have been indoctrinated since at least colonialism.

I say colonialism because some people seem to think that pre-colonialism, most of Africa was a gender-equal paradise.  I remain skeptical.

A Personal Problem With Prostitution

I’ve pontificated about my mixed views on  prostitution many, many times.  I won’t repeat them here except to say I seem to always feel the need to caveat my support for legalising sex work  so people won’t think I’m one of those overly woke people who that think such work is the equivalent of working in McDonalds.

I’ll also say that my views are centered around harm to women individually and as a group.  However, when someone has a personal problem with prostitution and that problem only manifests in shaming and ridiculing women involved in whatever form of transactional sex – but mostly the sugar baby/runs girl variety where women tend to have more agency –  and does not include:

  1. bashing the men who participate in transactional sex or men who use money as a way of attracting sexual attention;
  2. addressing the problem of women being forced into transactional sex by, for example, lecturers who demand sex for grades (or more precisely not unjustifiably failing a woman), or employers who harass their female employees into sex with them or clients;
  3. addressing the entitlement to sex after money is spent on a woman;
  4. addressing the socio-economic reasons why women are drawn to sex work and linking them to their hatred of sex work; or
  5. acknowledging that women carry out real crimes – embezzlement, murder, human trafficking – instead of treating sex work as the most predominant ‘crime’ committed by women.

then, to use Adichie’s reasoning, that person doesn’t have a problem with sex work, they have a problem with women and particularly women having agency and real choices as to transactional sex.

Hating sex workers is wrong and sociopathic but not liking sex work is not necessarily sexist.  It’s all in the detail and the reasons (perhaps 5 generations ago, his ancestors were attacked by a vicious crazy prostitute and her 30 cats.  It could have nothing to do with the usual pseudo-religious and patriarchal reasons).

However, it’s probably more likely  to do with the way we have been conditioned to blindly demonise sex workers, and by extension women we consider to be ‘loose’, and be indifferent to or even sympathise with men who we believe to be caught up in their wiley snares.   All it takes for a nice, intelligent man to have an irrational hatred of prostitution, that only manifests against the women who sell sexual services, is a failure to examine his view of gender roles when it comes to controlling sexual behaviour.

RIP to the Queen

Chain of Fools, Never Loved A Man, See-Saw, Sweet, Sweet Baby, The Night Time, Think, Oh No, Not My Baby, Good Times, Don’t Play That Song, This is the House that Jack Built – I’ve screeched my way through too many Aretha songs not to feel a sharp jolt when I read about Ms. Franklin’s death  (on Twitter).  She is absolutely fantastic and like others have said before me, as well as having an incredible voice, is an exceptional vocalist and musician.  And I’m only just learning about her role in the Civil Rights movement.  Rest in peace, Aretha!  You will be missed and your legacy will continue forever.

Child of the World: Misogyny or A Massive Overreaction?

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

Introduction

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

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

Social Media Wars

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

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

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

The Hard Questions

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

The Lyrics and Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gender Issues

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

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

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

The Man Himself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does it bother me/us so much?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

MILimage1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In The UK

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

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

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

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

Modern Living

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

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

Gender Issues

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

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

MILimage1

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

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

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

1‘Recently’ at the time of first draft

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.

royal wedding 1

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 to thumb their noses at 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

about30

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.

thisisnig

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.

Simi vs Third Wave Feminism

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

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

Woman 1: This is my view

Woman 2: I don’t agree

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

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

simi face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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