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.

The Race Issue (Part 1): Reverse Racism and Cultural Appropriation

Until one day in my twenties, I had absolutely no doubt that black people could be racist and no awareness that people thought otherwise.

Reverse Racism

Is there such a thing as reverse racism? Can black people be racist, specifically against white people? Until one day in my twenties, I had absolutely no doubt that black people could be racist and no awareness that people thought otherwise.

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It was at some sort of conference for black lawyers that I was enlightened. A cocky but articulate teenager was speaking (she’s probably secretly running the world now) about a black barrister who she obviously considered to be a bit of an Uncle Tom.  Her main complaint was that he refused to acknowledge that racism existed at the Bar. It’s not that he expressly denied it, but he didn’t mention it and was, in her view, deliberately opaque even when prompted. I think when asked how he ‘made it’ at the Bar – a question which was supposed to prompt a discussion of black inclusion at the very middle/upper class, very white Bar of England and Wales – he said something like ‘Well, how long is a piece of string?’ – not sure why – ‘people go to the Bar because their fathers have done it and their fathers’ fathers have done it.’ The teenager was most unimpressed with his answer.

Because I had, by that time, met one or two black male barristers who seemed, for whatever reason, to be unusually unfriendly towards me, I was nodding enthusiastically at her speech until she said something followed by “with his WHITE wife!”. I stopped nodding and started shifting around in my seat probably thinking of the string of white boyfriends and crushes (well, a couple), I had left in my wake at Bar School more than anything else.

I can’t remember if it was I or someone else who raised their hand to protest what we felt was racist language. In response to our objection, someone from the audience said “Excuse me! Excuse me! Can I just say….?” (in an ‘excuse me, excuse me, can I just say’ voice) “Black people cannot be racist because we lack the power as a group to be racist.” One or two people clapped. Others disagreed. The chair eventually encouraged us to move on.

At the time, I thought I’d never heard such gibberish in my life. By the very definition of racism, which is regarding one race as inferior in any way (intellectually, morally, physically or otherwise), of course black people could be racist against white or any other group of people. As time passed, my indignation expanded to cover the term ‘reverse racism’. Racism was racism and as a black person, my racism was as good as anybody else’s, thank you very much! It was not ‘reverse’.

I think I spent an entire decade railing internally and externally against this stance before I realised that it was the other part of the definition of racism that this person was talking about. Not the assumption of any kind of inferiority but the bad, unequal, unfair treatment that followed – the persecution, discrimination, denial of rights and benefits and antagonism directed at members of the degraded race.

A friend explained it to me quite well. Black people, where they are the minority, can be racist because racism is a state of mind but they often lack the power to implement real prejudice. It’s not that anti-white racism necessarily has no effect, it’s just more difficult to sustain a longer term prejudicial effect. A white man is likely to find racist insults and bad treatment difficult and traumatising.  However, unlike a black person and perhaps in a more racist society than the UK (despite recent goings-on), he may also find it easier to report and have dealt with racial prejudice at work, . It may be less likely that he will be accused of playing the race card or being over-sensitive; he may find it easier to find another job; it’s more likely that the people managing the racist person of colour will be white and therefore find the racist behaviour as alien, incomprehensible and bizarre as he does.

This may explain the irritation felt when a black person makes a point by saying white people do this unfair thing or the other and and receives the response is “But isn’t what you’re saying just as racist? You said ‘white people do’. You actually just said that. Isn’t that just as racist as, say, Jim Crow??”. Presumably the objection is based on the view that any statement starting with the words “white people always…” is always racist because of its generalised nature but equating it with institutional and historical racism will naturally grate.

As always the position isn’t clear cut. The drive, especially in the 1990s and early 2000s after the equality legislation of the 1970s had had some time to bed in, to tackle racism sometimes failed to have a basis in eradicating inequality in general or the realities of economic distribution.  Also, in some parts of the UK, there has been a failure  to tackle racism beyond people knowing what not to say to avoid ‘trouble’ and who to avoid saying it to  – gypsies, for instance, remained fair game long after racism was decried as something only cowards and stupid people do.

Overall, immeasurable good has been done by diversity programmes, not least in allowing people of colour to feel less like intruders in a country that often times is the only one they know.  While I can’t take seriously attempts by some white people to directly apply anti-racism campaigns to themselves, completely ignoring historical context, as if it was formulated to protect them first and foremost instead of people who have actually suffered institutional racism over the last few centuries, I can’t deny that swathes of working class people have been or feel left behind by the drive for diversity or multiculturalism.

It has in fact left some people seething with resentment because no one bothered to address or consider class-based inequalities and ripe for encouragement by main and fringe political parties alike to blame all their problems on ‘immigration’. These people appear to have come into their own post-Brexit but that is another article.

Another point is when does such a statement (“white people do this…”) cross the line from complaining about a genuine social problem, albeit in generalised language, into racism. For instance is a statement that white people in the U.S are oblivious to the fear of police brutality and make silly statements because of that oblivion racist or is it a false and disingenuous equivalence to say ‘well if I said that about black people, won’t you say I’m racist.’? Is it different from another disparaging (and to my mind definitely racist) remark I’ve heard to the effect of ‘well white people are quite unhygienic anyway’?

It’s also (as depressing as it may seem to someone who thinks that reasoning in this article has been crap so far) somewhat of a false equivalence to say, well if a black person is in a majority black country said something generalised about white people, would s/he be racist then?? Unfortunately because of colonial history, African ‘poverty porn’ favoured by charities and post-colonial economic and social upheavals, inhabitants of those majority black countries are likely to have been indoctrinated into the thinking that being white is somehow superior, so it doesn’t quite have the same effect as anti-black racism in Western countries

Having said all of the above, I’m not sure I agree that because of history, a black person can never be racist. I agree with my friend that racism is a state of mind although expressing despair at stubborn anti-black attitudes can just be that rather than proof that the person is just as racist as some club swinging policeman and his paymaster in apartheid South Africa (on that topic, it’s clear that the late Winnie Mandela was no saint but people bemoaning the fact that she was racist because she hated the apartheid regime and lashed out at its beneficiaries shows how far we are from understanding this issue. According to these people, it was her duty – duty no doubt! – to forgive her oppressors and show them the kind of love, empathy and respect that they spectacularly failed to show her. How dare she not!?! Monster.).

Even in terms of prejudice (depending on your definitions; I may have got these the wrong way round), if we are working to eradicate inequality, isn’t one of our ultimate aims, a rather depressing one admittedly, that one day every group will have enough power to be equally prejudiced against each other, so that institutional prejudice/racism will be eradicated? Kumbaya.

Cultural Appropriation

Has the push against cultural appropriation gone a teensy bit mad, like some of the fringe elements of trans rights activism? Or is it just on Twitter?

It used to be related to the general complaint that if a white person copied another group’s art, they were generally more accepted and rewarded for it, I think. I recall a taxi driver’s rant about Pink’s recently released debut r’n’b album which was playing at the time . “They steal our music and get all the rewards for it while black singers get left behind”. He moaned “It has to be in a white package to be acceptable.”  Unfortunately, I haven’t got the restraint to resist the urge to crow that yes, Pink used to be an r’n’b singer, you know….

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I at least understood his points and didn’t disagree sufficiently enough to challenge him in his own cab. I asked which radio station it was that seemed to be playing Pink’s songs on a loop. I really shouldn’t have been surprised when he mumbled that he had bought the album himself. In fairness, he seemed equally angry with himself.

Now, fast forward 20 or so years and it seems, according to some, that Bruno Mars can’t pretend to be Michael Jackson anymore and Kim Kardiashian is not allowed to wear her hair in braids.

Twitter has to be a world of its own when a picture of a white person wearing a kimono and arguing about crunchy peanut butter elicits the comment “Well you are appropriating someone else’s culture so you’re cancelled!” To which the equally bizarre response is “WELL TELL BEYONCE TO GIVE US OUR HAIR BACK THEN!!!!!!!!!”

I’m doing it again. I’m oversimplifying and assuming everyone else is an idiot. I will discover in 10 years’ time that I have missed a huge and important point so perhaps I should take the sarcasm down a notch and do some reflecting.

I know very little about the history of all this but it seems to me that cultural appropriation is somehow related to the earlier form of entertainment that was taking the piss out of black people. Blackface is an entirely different topic but I think there’s some correlation. White people who were contemptuous of or uncomfortable around black people were wildly entertained by ‘blackness’.

I also think the black band/white crowd combination you see in old films or new films about old times is also another related point of reference. My completely unsubstantiated theory is that there has always been a challenge of selling black art without selling the whole black experience. I think this has been mostly commercial rather than a cynical attempt to exclude black people (the exclusion of black people being habitual and therefore only collateral).

The first idea was selling a more palatable version of black people – the sanitised Diana Ross’s, Whitney Houstons and sharply dressed, soft-toned, tip-toey dancing r’n’b male groups (I’m ignoring the more overtly black acts like James Brown or Aretha Franklin and hip hop for the moment because I’ve discovered that if you are willing to let every single fact get in the way of your essay, perhaps informal, unpaid, no-one-really-asked-for-your-opinion blogging is not for you). Then they managed to just have white singers who sounded traditionally black and the public seemed to eat it up.

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There is of course no real crime of ‘Being White While Singing Black’ nor should there be. I for one want every single one of those records – from Elvis Presley to Pink to Jamoroquai to Amy Winehouse to Iggy Azalea (yes!) – to have been made. I have however been irked by complaints of oversinging against the likes of Whitney Houston and Beverley Knight which instantly morphed into cries of ‘genius!’ when Christina Aguilera and Joss Stone did it. 

Then there are things like Gwen Stefani’s affinity for South Asian dancers and Katy Perry’s experiments with different cultures which I’m more ambivalent about. I can understand how someone can interpret it as reducing cultures to a backdrop to a white pop singer but again there’s nothing wrong with it as long as it does not descend into caricature or mockery. What would be great is if  people from those cultures could take centre stage in popular music more often.

Now, according to some gatekeepers of the cultures, it seems there can be no sharing or sampling of cultures by a white person in any form – whether it’s a prom dress or a music video – without accusations of theft or ‘appropriation’. Groups are falling over themselves to accuse each other of cultural appropriation – presumably the top prize goes to the person who can accuse a black entertainer of cultural appropriation and make the accusation stick.   This is a competition that the ‘original oppressors’ – white Christian groups – will never win by the way.  Somebody tried to accuse the participants of the Catholic-themed 2018 Met Gala of it and in a tweet that impressed and exasperated me in equal measures, someone else droned that ‘when you violently impose your culture on other groups, you can hardly turn around and complain about cultural appropriation….’

Also, only black people are allowed to ‘dance or sing black’ no matter how times Bruno Mars says he admires black culture.

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Incidentally to appropriate some phrasing from David Mitchell’s memoir ‘Back Story’, anyone who thinks I’m going to cancel Bruno Mars because of cultural appropriation needs to find something more tangible to place their hope and faith in. Perhaps if you showed me a picture of him in full blackface – although some people seem to take his appearance and failure to wear a t-shirt bearing the slogan ‘I’m Filipino (& Things) By The Way, Not Black’ as an attempt by him and his team to trick us into enjoying his music.

Black people are the only ones allowed to profit from their culture, according to the gatekeepers – despite the fact that black culture is not a homogeneous thing and that an African rapper is as much appropriating African American culture as is a white rapper – and the role of others is to pay them do it. It’s fair to say that the more racial injustice and tension in society (like the re-energised wave of police brutality against black people in the U.S), the more extreme and exclusive these gatekeepers become.

It is now very, very mad. Also, few people seem to be paying the slightest bit of attention to the new rules and regime – people continue to appropriate merrily.

It was never the sharing of the cultures that was bad – it was the inequality, the pushing of black artists to the background, the insistence that only white sells, the public’s racism in griping and complaining about black art only when it was delivered by a black person, the already ingrained idea that any culture which is not Western white culture is a bit of a freak side show. These ideas play out in every part of of society and unlike what the record companies say, it is not inevitable. Address the actual problem and Beyonce can keep her blond wigs.

In Part 2…..My Windrush Story.

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

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

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

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

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Definition of Transwoman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Construct of Gender

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

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

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

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

Feminist Frustration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Female Spaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

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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.

Worldviews Round-up: 9 September 2017: Politicians on Abortion, the Art of Criticism and Simisola the Album!

Jacob Rees-Mogg recently made some frank statements about abortion on the programme ‘Good Morning Britain’ and other news…

Politicians on Abortion

Jacob Rees-Mogg recently made some frank statements about abortion on the programme ‘Good Morning Britain’.  The most controversial was admitting that he thought abortion was wrong even in cases of rape and incest, in accordance with his Catholic faith.

His statements remind me a little of Tim Farron’s resignation from his position as leader of the Liberal Democrats earlier this year. Tim said he found it impossible to live as a Christian and lead the party. According to him, the press hounded him because of what they considered to be prejudices that inevitably flow from his evangelical Christian faith.

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There was some evidence of this alleged hounding. In a number of interviews he was grilled about his views on abortion and gay relationships. He wasn’t allowed to get away with saying he supports people’s freedom to do what they want to or that he voted for this or that freedom or  that it was his political views, not his personal beliefs, that were relevant to his campaign.

Nope. He was asked to state categorically whether he thought these things were wrong. He was quoted scripture and asked whether he believed and accepted the quotes. Just answer the question, Tim, do you believe in this, yes or no. Simples. Perhaps a bit too far but the silly, sad and immature part of me chuckles inside when (some) Christians decide to graciously and liberally admit something or the other is a matter of personal conviction and not state or even societal censure. To our bitter amazement, we find that our new position is not enough, times have moved on and we are now required to endorse whatever it was that we thought went against Christian teaching. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN I’M STILL A BIGOT?!? I ALREADY SAID GAY PEOPLE WOULDN’T NECESSARILY BURN IN HELL!!!” (silent, internal screaming of course). I’m working on being a better person.

I suppose Rees-Mogg’s answer had the superficial merit of dealing with the abortion issue precisely although I note that he firmly shifted the responsibility for his response to the Catholic church and its teaching instead of his personal understanding of Christianity and the Bible.

Being a Christian, I’m not going to pretend to be shocked by Rees Mogg’s views (even though I strongly disagree with them  – let’s make that clear from the outset!).  Neither will I pretend that I’d find it easy to answer a question on abortion.  If I was asked about abortion, I’d have to say that my answer has 6 parts and I’m afraid I’d have to dogmatically insist on outlining each part in every interview.

The first is what the Bible says about abortion. Nothing, as far as I know. It does affirm the sanctity of life, starting with the commandment “Thou shalt not kill’ – but this is in the context where many many lives are taken seemingly with God’s permission or complancency (much like today but it’s more complicated than that really). There is also a strange story in the Bible of a man ejaculating outside his dead brother’s wife (while having sex with her obviously or else the story wouldn’t really be strange at all).

The second (and third) is I would describe myself as pro-choice but (apart from the obvious exceptions like health of the mother, rape etc) probably also a little anti-abortion. I absolutely do not want to live in a society where choice is taken from women but would rather they chose not to abort. I don’t think, for example, it’s wrong to speak to a woman about other options if she has asked for an abortion and wants to listen. I don’t think abortion is killing a baby; I do think that provided a certain age of the foetus – it’s ending life – or at least a tiny spark of life.

Incidentally, extreme members from both the left and right don’t think you should mention exceptions. The left think that any mention of exceptions suggests that some abortions are more deserving than others and chips away at the inalienable right to the choose and the right think that nothing justifies ‘killing a baby’ – not what happened to or what would happen to the mother. Both sides are mad.

Fourth: Abortion shouldn’t be but is politicised and I do not want to live in a world where the people who want to criminalise abortion get their way. A lot of them are largely interested in controlling women and with their constant campaigning for removing or reducing  welfare, sex education and access to contraception;  they are also mad.

Fifth: My views on ending a life involve, I must admit, a healthy dose of ignorance on my part especially the science bit. I’m very vague on this issue. I don’t for instance think taking the morning after pill is ending any sort of life. I start thinking that way when the embryo/foetus is around 6-8 weeks and has passed some kind of test in my head.

The second area of vagueness has to do with late abortions (which I understand are very much in the minority) and the brutal way it has been described. I can’t help but wonder if the foetus suffers pain. I ought to look it up but I’m afraid if I do, I will be drawn to one of the more extreme camps – probably the anti-abortion people. I think the law in the UK probably contains the right balance:

“Subject to the provisions of this section, a person shall not be guilty of an offence under the law relating to abortion when a pregnancy is terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith –

(a) that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family; or
(b) that the termination of the pregnancy is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or
(c) that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated
(d) that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.”

Yes, a foetus’ life may be important but so is the mother’s, in terms of the physical and mental effect of continuing the pregnancy. And also,  at the risk of sounding dramatic (and unoriginal),  I do think we have to question the outrage at a Western rape victim terminating a pregnancy if we are willing to accept the risk of refugee children, babies and unborn babies perishing at sea because of  immigration laws and statistics.

Finally: An analogy. Between my children, I had a miscarriage. I opted to remove the foetal matter by a D&C. So muddled was my mental state that I actually wondered if I was in fact having an abortion. I’m mad.

It became clear that the embryo/foetus was dead when I was 11 or 12 weeks pregnant. It turned out, from its size, that it had in fact died at 5-6 weeks. The reaction to my miscarriage is probably how most people would reasonably react to the termination of a pregnancy if the thorny (and very relevant) issue of choice wasn’t involved.

Even my most Christian, anti-abortionist friends (I’m not going to call them pro-life because really who isn’t pro-life?) didn’t treat me like I had lost a baby. Even the most convicted pro-choice/abortion people didn’t act like I had simply removed a bunion. There was a recognition that a huge part of my grief was about my hopes and aspirations for the pregnancy and baby. But there was also an acknowledgement that I had lost something outside of myself – the beginnings of a life or a child.

I suspect that had I had a still birth (defined as losing the foetus after 28 weeks of pregnancy) and the closer I got to term, the more  I would have been treated as if I lost a baby. And if I had lost a baby, then I guess I would have just lost a baby.

I wonder, had I chosen to terminate at the same time, say between 5 and 11 weeks of pregnancy, because of the viability or health of the foetus, would my (alright!) pro-life friends have accused me of killing a baby? I usually try to be even- handed but I can’t think of a comparable example for my pro-choice friends.

The Art of Criticism

M. I. and Osagie Alonge’s discussion on the recent Loosetalk podcast episode  has caused a bit of conversation. When I write about people, I try to imagine them reading it (even though at the moment there’s not a hope in hell…never mind) and I hope this helps me to avoid being too vicious. For me, in that episode, M.I. was a vivid reminder of the human face at the other side of every critical article or review.

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So I know what I got from the discussion  but I’m still trying to understand what either party achieved, especially by airing what appeared to be an unedited version.  M.I. obviously came out better than Alonge in many respects. I don’t think there’s any need to dwell on Alonge’s sweary outbursts as I’m sure he’s still ‘conking’ himself in private about that. I did find it amusing (alright, very funny), that when M.I. started to criticise one of Ayomide Tayo’s articles, he was met with loud hysterics before he even got to line 2 of his critique.

OA

No one really likes criticism.   It’s disingenuous to pretend that despite his friendly, chilled online persona, M.I. is in reality a raving egomaniac (just) for objecting to the treatment his music has received from Pulse Magazine. Some of the same people tweeting that if M.I. cannot take criticism, then he shouldn’t release music, will either send you a snappy retort (along the lines of ‘go and write your own!’) if you disagree with their tweet or produce a long thread on how you are trying to erase the validity of their experiences and existence. No one likes criticism. It’s just that we have accepted or assumed that part of a viable music industry includes a credible music critiquing/reviewing arm.

However, I don’t agree with M.I. when he says that critics should 1) understand the difficulties he has gone through to produce a record 2) somehow pay homage, in every critique, to his or 2face’s legacy in pioneering the current Afropop/beat/hip hop movement and 3) should criticise with the objective of supporting (not ‘bringing down’) the Nigerian music industry.

All that is suspiciously close to sycophancy. Music review in Nigeria should be the same as everywhere else. It’s not easy to define but, apart from avoiding gratuitous rudeness and insults, what I expect is some expertise both of music and the market and some level of objectivity. I’m not saying a reviewer is not allowed to have an opinion of the artist but I’m a bit cautious about reviews when it is clear that the reviewer either adores, idolises or hates the artist.

Alonge is very knowledgeable and unrivalled in his passion for hip-hop (particularly African) but some of his statements about M.I. and other acts  make him sound like a deranged obsessive fan. I’m very familiar with ‘the deranged fan’ being one myself (and currently having an object of my obsessive fandom). The deranged fan has moved on from simply liking, loving or approving of the music and now wants the artist to do exactly what he or she thinks they should be doing (despite, like me and perhaps unlike Alonge, not having a clue about making music). I mean he was talking to M.I. like M.I. was losing him, personally,  money by the way he was running Chocolate City record label.

I’m also not convinced by the justification for harsh criticism which is that it is needed “to make our artists do better”. The “we love them but we just want to make them better” narrative is bit too paternalistic for me. I suspect that we don’t all really have any vested interest in making artists better as such. If we don’t think they produce good enough music, we are free to drop our opinion and spend our money elsewhere. Presumably, it was this instinct to make our artists “do better” that drove Nigerians in their hundreds to Simi’s Twitter page during the AMCVA awards earlier this year to tell her they didn’t like her dress.

Speaking of Simi, I’ve bought the album Simisola and it’s  fantastic! Now I’m off to  listen to the album obsessively until I can find something in it to write a good, long, moany article about. Have a good weekend!

simisola

Trending on Twitter: Falz, Yahoo Boys and the State of Nigeria

This is rapidly becoming old news  but I thought I’d add my tuppence worth.  Falz gave an unusual (for him) interview a couple of days ago. He criticized musicians for glorifying fraudsters in their music. He said that such music encourages young people to think fraud is the thing to do, musicians should honour their status as role models, and was especially critical of singers who name fraudsters in their songs. Nigerian twitter has linked his comments to 9ice’s single, ‘Living Things’ as he appeared to quote some of the lyrics.

Coming from a relatively ignorant angle (I’ve neither been a victim of fraud nor of the type of anti-Nigerian prejudice that assumes all Nigerians are fraudsters), this seemed a reasonable statement to me. However the social media backlash had me wondering, did Falz say something wrong?

First came the badly written tirades. Did the terrible grammar and writing mean we could dismiss the authors as idiots or simply yahoo boys defending their trade? Or had Falz struck a chord among working class people –  people who are unlikely to have access to well-paid jobs in Nigeria, because of lack of connections or influence, or who will struggle to have his kind of career without investment from dodgy money? Some of the very people who Falz mimicks when he puts on his comically exaggerated Yoruba accent; who with a little money and opportunity may well turn to internet fraud for whatever reason (although I recognise that people from all classes in Nigeria engage in internet fraud).

Then came the twitter intelligentsia and ‘woke’ twitter expressing disbelief that anyone could possibly criticise Falz for his comments. Despite their condescending put downs and over-egged, ostentatiously dumbed-down authentic-Nigerian-twitter-speak (“Is Nigeria ok?” “I tire oh”), I found myself unable to fault their logic.

Then came the more articulate attempts to defend 9ice. Toni Payne, Fumni Iyanda, and some poor guy on a timeline debate (“I quit!” he declared “I’m overwhelmed!”). They made some good arguments but didn’t quite get there, for me, in terms of putting together a convincing defence.

I should mention that 9ice popped up once or twice but didn’t do a good job of defending himself; if indeed you feel he had to. “Erm…the song wasn’t about glorifying internet fraud. It’s about…oh yes..it’s about going to work in the morning….you have to be in the realm”. In his second attempt, possibly buoyed up by the online support he had received, he asked Falz to report anyone he had mentioned in his song to the EFCC if Falz had the evidence to do so.

I’m going to dedicate some space to the very special people who follow Falz on Instagram. They seem to hang around his page waiting for him to make any kind of political or social statement just so they can shout at him about his father. I thought Femi Falana was just a human rights lawyer myself. According to Instagram, he is a thieving, villainous rogue who, armed to the teeth, went from polling booth to polling both during the 2015 general elections, forcing people to vote for the APC. So vicious were the comments that I actually caught myself indulging in some victim blaming (you finished annoying everybody and you now went to put your face on Instagram – to borrow some Nigeria-speak from woke twitter – yes, of course I do it too.  You’ve never heard of a hypocrite?).

However, there was some real emotion in the Instagram comments. People said how dare you, Falz, with your privilege and your opportunities? HOW DARE YOU?!? ‘Yahoo’ fed me and my sister, sent us to school! Despite the misery that internet fraud causes for millions, I must admit the sheer hopelessness in that last statement got to me a little bit.

One of the questions that Falz’s fans asked him on instagram was who do you think attends your highly priced concerts? Who can afford your tables of 10 for one million naira but yahoo boys and corrupt politicians (the consensus appears to be that the latter are the underlying cause of crime in Nigeria but not of course an excuse for internet fraud)? In those circumstances, can you really afford to criticise internet fraudsters?

Now the point has been made that Falz wasn’t having a go at internet fraudsters as such, but saying, gosh guys, let’s not glorify fraud in our music. Things are bad, maybe crime is inevitable but that doesn’t mean we have to act like it’s a good thing; a viable moral choice.

Having absorbed the above information, what’s my (still ignorant) view? I don’t think Falz can be sensibly criticised for his comments. I do think however that people sing and rap about all kinds of crap and other people have their personal crusades. Nigerians’ reputation as internet fraudsters is clearly one of Falz’s bugbears. You can’t really blame him. He has made himself clear on the matter in many of his songs and was recently almost denied entry into Kenya because of completely unsubstantiated claims that he and his mates were fraudsters (shouldn’t have let big-boneded Shody carry the laptop then, should you? Ha ha).

However other people with other bugbears could pick at the lyrics in Falz’s songs. As gender equality is my current crusade (had to find a way to crowbar feminism into this article), I could object to Reminisce’s lyrics in Falz’s song ‘Clap’, or Olamide’s first line in ‘Bahd Baddo Baddest’ or even Falz’s character in ‘Soldier’ who is essentially telling a woman that she has no choice but to date him. Couldn’t it be said that  these lyrics are glorifying violence against women or at least  chipping away at the necessity of consent?

So long story…less long, I think Falz made a reasonable point but I think he could have had a more complex, sophisticated discussion about it. Perhaps one that didn’t involve him telling his colleagues what to sing (“Tell a story. Paint a picture”) and perhaps one that didn’t involve him using the same accent which identify those who have been robbed of opportunity because of the state of the nation.