World Views Roundup: November/December 2018

Speaking of Twitter, I feel like I am addicted to it. I don’t know if I am but I cannot believe I ever thought it was acceptable to incarcerate addicts because ‘if you keep accepting their excuses, how will they ever learn?’.

Twitter Fights and the New Biology

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A few weeks ago, I was dying to jump into a Twitter argument that went on for at least 48 hours. The only thing that stopped me was my staggering ignorance of the topic which was whether sex is a construct and/or a biological fact. Actually, another thing which has prevented me from entering into fights about trans-issues is that, while I’m willing to enter into theoretical debates about transpeople, I’m nowhere to be found when discussions of their persecution arise.

Anyway, during this debate, we, being feminists of West African origin, found a heretic among us, in the form of Twitter handle, @Omogedami, or as I’m going to call her for the rest of this article, ‘Dami’. Dami is an important voice in online feminism. Some people are blessed with passion; others with righteous anger and still others an ability to appeal to our emotional core. For me there is something about the type of tweep who can calmly (almost politely) and methodically take her opponent’s arguments apart, over the course of several days if necessary, that brings out the fan girl in me. It is immensely satisfying when she is fighting ‘on your side’.

This is all very well and good but unfortunately Dami is a heretic. She believes things like sex is a biological fact (described, I think, as biological existentialism  – a phrase with an almost infinite capacity to annoy) and that it is gender that is the problem. At the heart of her heresy is the fact that she does not believe that one has to be a qualified scientist to identify a female member of the human race. Others do. Another handle in the heat of the argument signed off one of her tweets with something like this ‘Sincerely, someone who holds a B.A. in Biological Science’ . I was itching to ask her when she obtained that degree and whether the degree covered anything to do with the recently transfigured biology regarding the sex as a spectrum, but alas I was not brave enough to join the fight.

Well, Dami, I see your heresy and I raise you this piece. Here is what I would have said (and probably regretted afterwards).

Yes, sex is a human construct. So is the chair I am sitting on. So is the thing on top of our head that we frequently call hair. Sex is a construct because humans are assigned one sex or the other based on our genitalia. They also decided one day that the thing on top of our heads and in various parts of our body is hair and that. depending on culture, some people should keep some on and remove some. They could have called it ‘the evil halo’ and mandated complete removal. A chair was put together and it was assigned the role of accommodating our bottoms to save us the stress of standing constantly.  That too is a human construct.

Sex is an essential classification/construct used to separate males from females. Before the days of theoretical online debates and advanced scientific discovery, someone took the gamble that those with penises are different from those with vaginas. And they were right. As Dami pointed out, there are fundamental biological differences between us and those differences dictate how successfully we can fight ‘the other ones’, how we respond to medical treatment, whether we can give birth or not, whether our bodies will produce milk for our babies and who, assuming equal training and skill, will probably win in a race that could lead to a sports scholarship.

I also agree that the intersex exception does not invalidate this classification.  I can now understand the argument that it is wrong to surgically or medically nudge intersex babies towards one of the sexes although I feel confident that I would have definitely agreed to it had one of my children been born intersex. I may set myself a heretical task. I’m going to find out whether people born with ambiguous genitalia have other sex indicators that point, in the majority, to one sex. Now, I know that male and female babies don’t look massively different, but are intersex babies a mish-mash of the sexes with chromosomes flying all over the place and if left to develop naturally, would they really grow up to be a complete mix of what we regard as male and female? Presumably yes, as hormones are also administered but we shall see.

A final word on sex. One contributor to the argument said that she knew someone with XY chromosomes who gave birth to a baby. She was lying (or misinformed). That didn’t happen.

Now on to gender. The consensus, on which all participants to the debate agreed, was that while the sex binary was debatable, the gender binary was bad. I’ve been very careful to avoid referring to gender above. I’ll have to check again because the truth is I use sex and gender interchangeably. I think most people do or at least did until very recently. I don’t talk about males and females, I talk about men and women, usually meaning males and females or even transwomen and transmen if I am not specifically discussing trans-issues. I don’t generally talk about people’s sex (which makes me think of sexual intercourse and also I feel I would cause some confusion and embarrassment two tables down if I start bellowing about ‘sex’ in a restaurant), I talk about their genders.

Here’s my real heresy. I don’t actually think the gender binary is bad in and of itself. Gender may be a construct but again it is a useful construct. I think the vast majority of people would identify themselves as either a man or woman. Even trans people do this and make considerable efforts to present as on or the other.

The first danger of the gender binary is excluding certain non-conforming people or using it as an excuse to persecute trans people. However that isn’t the inevitable result of using the gender binary as a reference point. I’m not sure how much you have to accept as ‘scientific fact’ to not be transphobic but I think a general understanding that while the gender is a useful classification system, the classing of people into boys and girls at birth isn’t the end of the matter is the minimum.

The second and more pervasive (in the sense that it affects me more, of course) danger, in my view, is the strata of sociological and behavioural traits that are attributed according to gender. This branch of ‘science’ has spurred entire industries made out of gendered toys and self-help books; female brains and men from Mars. I think for the most part, it is bollocks (no pun etc) and it has caused immeasurable harm.

I hope it goes away but there’s another new definition of men and women that has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with oppression. Discussion of gendered oppression is important and refusing to acknowledge the differences between trans and cis women can further that oppression. However I don’t agree that a woman is defined by oppressive history. Therefore although some transwomen do act with astounding male privilege, I don’t think that alone disqualifies them from womanhood.

The question I have is what was the purpose of this argument? Was it a scientific debate or is the suggestion that if you don’t agree with the latest re-arrangement of biology, passed down second or third hand through the internet, you are a transphobic bigot?  Is it necessary to replace what we know about human development, to believe that transwomen were literally born female, before we can accept the trans community? I can understand why, if what they are saying is true, an understanding of biology will remove the ‘freak, just a bored over-privileged man indulging a fantasy’ slur but judging from articles (e.g. https://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/us_58e1878be4b0ca889ba1a763/amp) I’ve read, what is out there is far from convincing.

Another heresy, this time against the feminists, is I can’t really see the inherent oppression against cis-women in redefining women to include people who identify as women. One fear is that (cis) women will be erased by the insistence that transwomen and cis women are exactly the same. I’ll have to think about that one. I’m not sure that realistically there is any danger that cis-women are going to be erased in the way some ethnic minorities have been done in the past . I think cis women will always be distinguishable from transwomen. Also, I’m still hopeful that ludicrous terms like ‘menstruators’ will quickly fall out of fashion.

The real danger, to me, apart from the thinking that says we must disregard and deny physical facts in order to avoid oppressing transwomen and that if we do not agree with this new biology, we are not just ignorant or wrong, we are bigots, is the tendency to conflate facts, evidence, emotion and feelings of ‘oppression’ when arguing about science or anything else. You can’t just say you disagree with something, you must consider the hierarchy of the right to disagree which is, in descending order:

  • whether it is your oppression

 

  • danger to women/children/minorities/trans or other vulnerable people;

  • effect on others’ rights;

  • intellectual or scientific reasons and finally;

  • moral or religious reasons

Could we not just accept that trans people exist and have a right to exist, free from persecution and with respect and dignity (and the lack of erasure and all the new woke phrases), and you know, agree that there some fundamental differences between them and cis-women which are sometimes worthy of consideration? At least on Twitter.

Twitter Addiction

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Speaking of Twitter, I sometimes feel like I am addicted to it. I don’t know if I really am but I cannot believe I ever thought it was acceptable to incarcerate addicts because ‘if you keep accepting their excuses, how will they ever learn?’. I’m now genuinely worried about it. It is sucking up my life, I do it when I don’t want to and I do it even when I know I’ll suffer for doing it the next day. I sometimes resent the presence of family  if it would stop me from ‘doing Twitter’. Whereas before I used to at least attempt to hide the fact that I checked Twitter at night, I now tweet, like and reply with wild abandon at odd hours. I’ve just done it now, in the middle of an article about my Twitter addiction.

I have made some efforts. I have deleted my account for about 1 ½ days after carefully checking that for 30 days, I could get it all back again. The plan was to return on day 21 (pffffft!), when I would be cured of my addiction . I’ve been told that if you can’t stop doing something for at least 21 days, you are addicted. I’ve locked my account for an even shorter period but re-opened it because some stranger just had to see my opinion on his abhorrent tweet. I have checked out books from the library and read a bit of them.

What to do? There are no treatment centres or no 12 steps as of yet that I know of. The harm is real. I’ve sat bleary eyed at meetings, talking nonsense and forgetting the names of the project or site we are talking about, other colleagues and even sometimes my own name. I’ve tweeted in traffic. Yes, you read that correctly. Not just scrolled but actually typed out long answers to debates in traffic (admittedly, it was slow moving traffic, but still). I have piles and piles of admin that have gone neglected because every second of ‘spare time’ in my life is filled with Twitter. I hardly read and am constantly missing school and nursery deadline.

Everything is there – the self-loathing, the whipped submission and the insatiable appetite. I am now supposed to be on a 7-9 pm Twitter diet (which is not working by the way) but sadly I think my only real option is to de-activate my account permanently in the New Year. I am not looking forward to it. The annoying thing is I can’t even say I’m quitting Twitter because it has become ‘too toxic’. People either ignore me or are more polite than I deserve. It has changed the way I speak and think. It’s not been all bad. I am more knowledgeable about many things and have had some opportunities, on one hand, but on the other hand, I now use the n-word (mostly, to myself).

I’ll be spending December blogging about my first attempt to moderate my Twitter use. If I get to it. I note that this is the 1 December and I have not blogged since the end of September.

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.

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

Everything’s Connected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Missing Something With Dove

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

dove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why can’t we address the male criminal?

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

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

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

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

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

Everything’s connected. I told you.

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Worldviews Round-up: 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