Child of the World: Misogyny or A Massive Overreaction?

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

Introduction

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 I wrote a couple of bad-tempered unpublished posts and moved on.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

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

Social Media Wars

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

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

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

The Hard Questions

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

The Lyrics and Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gender Issues

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

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

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

The Man Himself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does it bother me/us so much?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

MILimage1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In The UK

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

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

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

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

Modern Living

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

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

Gender Issues

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

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

MILimage1

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

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

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

1‘Recently’ at the time of first draft

Hip Hop and Its 30-Year War on Women

With the onset of groups like N.W.A, hip hop turned on black women.

Self-image is a funny thing, isn’t it? I obviously see myself as the kind of social media participant who is very much in control of her online emotions. Gone are the days of trigger-happy Facebook Tracy. Now I channel my anger into clever, sarcastic blog posts or hoard bits of outrage and under the guise of responding to tweets, release my little nuggets of wisdom (“I totally agree. This perfectly demonstrates…[something which I’ve been seething about for months and have written about in several draft blog posts which never made it on to the actual blog]”). I’m certainly not one to shout at strangers on Twitter and especially not at celebrities!

Well, that seems to be changing. I recently posted an angry rant in response to a tweet by all round dandy R’n’B singer Jidenna…and even more shamefully deleted it. I wish I hadn’t deleted it. I was confused about some of the surrounding facts but at the end of the day it was a tweet not a claim form.

Jidenna’s tweet referred to deceased rapper XXXtentacion. Very briefly, XXX was shot dead on 18 June 2018. Prior to his being shot, Spotify had stopped streaming XXX’s music. The reasons they stopped streaming his music included accounts of horrific domestic violence allegedly committed by XXX against his ex-girlfriend. XXX also admitted to a gruesome attack against a gay inmate who was apparently “staring” at him. Reading this http://www.miaminewtimes.com/music/the-real-story-of-rapper-xxxtentacion-10410980 and other articles, including his ex-girlfriend’s testimony and pictures, I am not at all convinced by XXX’s denial of DV. He was 20 years old when he died and awaiting trial for the DV charges.

Following his death, which came shortly after the revelations of his violent past, his fans naturally showed their grief on social media. There were also a number of people actively celebrating his death with memes, tweets and the like, presumably because of his domestic and homophobic violence. Jidenna’s discomfort over these celebrations turned into a tweet-rant about how we all did stupid things at 20 and how anyone can change (interestingly enough he seemed to accept that the DV allegations were true). He asked where our compassion is and seemed to come to the conclusion that woke twitter, not XXX, were the real villains here. He even went so far as to compare XXX to Malcolm X – apparently a shoplifter and abusive towards women at that age (is it very wrong to point out that, firstly, in no way was the level of Malcolm X’s abuse remotely comparable to that of XXX’s and secondly, Malcolm X did believe women were inferior to men although like Jidenna, he thought they were to be protected or revered or something benevolent that does not quite reach equality?).

A number of people took Jidenna’s point a bit further. T-Pain stepped out boldly with a series of bizarre tweets (‘Look your father in the eye and ask him how many times he’s thrown your mother across the room. The silence is scary, right? Right?’ The silence is because your father is contemplating how much money he will have to contribute to your state-enforced ‘rest and retreat’, T-Pain).

The tweets turned into a familiar attack on the left for replacing “compassion with moral superiority”, for being dogmatically intractable, tolerating no dissent from the party line, holding no truck with oppressive ideas like forgiveness and sympathy (which people keep calling empathy – must look up these words again) and just generally being bad, illiberal liberals. According to these people, XXX may have been bad but so were a lot of people at 20 and we were under some sort of duty to ‘forgive’1 him because of his youth and talent.

I won’t debate these points at length – I’m not sure I’m knowledgeable enough to. There are so many questions starting with the bizarre assumption that majority of people can relate to XXX’s damn near homicidal psychosis, a natural discomfort at seeing people openly celebrate someone’s death, why on earth people would have ’empathy’ for a very bad person, whether it is fascistic to say that anyone who mentions how apparently talented he was hates women and as stated above whether it’s now wrong to refer to the sheer level and depravity of his abuse or whether all abuse is equal.

What this case highlighted to me is how little regard American hip hop, and to some extent RnB, and its artists have for women. Specifically in relation to this incident and has been proven time and time again, these artists have no qualms about working with abusive men. As long as the abusive man in question is popular enough they will continue to be impervious to his abuse. As this article shows http://www.vulture.com/2018/06/a-complete-timeline-xxxtentacions-controversial-career.html, a number of artists weren’t discouraged by the tales of XXX;s stupendous violence from working with or copying him. Kendrick Lemar even threw a hissy fit when Spotify stopped streaming his music. This has been the case with Dr Dre and the distinctively unrepentant repeat-abusing Chris Brown and will be the case with Nas and Fabulous. The only thing that may make other artists pause is the possibility of any public backlash .

It is of course artists’ prerogative to work with whoever they want (and I reserve the right to my private, dark opinions) and they are free to ‘rest in power’ XXX into the devil’s arms if they want to. What I found particularly enraging about Jidenna’s tweets is the pious admonition of people who can’t mourn this man’s death or even those who are happy he is dead. He does not consider whether these people may have been DV survivors or watched their loved ones perish at the hands of an abusive man. Armed with moral and spiritual blackmail, he jumps to the conclusion that they are liberal posturers desperate to prove their wokeness. He preaches the power of redemption, not by providing a scintilla of evidence that XXX has changed, but by referring to a completely different man, a man who died over 50 years ago and whose memory is supposed to evoke unquestioning loyalty.

Actually I don’t believe he jumped to the conclusion. I think he is completely indifferent to XXX’s abusive behaviour and only framed his tweets in that way, I think, to add the appearance of morality and even-handedness. And then to add insult to injury, he threw in some shallow wording about respecting women and how he is thinking about XXX’s and other domestic violence victims. This is of course crap since there wasn’t a peep from him about DV prior to this man’s death. He, like many of XXX’s fans – celebrities or not – seemed annoyed that something as trivial like violence against women could stop a young rapper’s career. As you know, every time a rapper fails to reach his full potential, no matter how much vile crap-spouting that full potential entails, an angel loses a wing2 .

Perhaps I’m being harsh on Jidenna . It’s safe to say I have never warmed to him; not sure why –  is it the arrest scene in the Classic Man music video or the fact that he apparently is not going marry a woman who can’t cook jollof rice or just the almost lethal levels of grooming and styling? So much of so little consequence to choose from. Whatever the reason, I’d obviously just been waiting for an opportunity to unleash a tirade at him and that’s enough reason in itself for deleting my tweet.

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But more seriously, as tweep Kim Love says, it seems like since the 1990s with the onset of groups like N.W.A., American hip hop has turned on black women. In songs they’ve called us every name under the sun, spoke proudly of domestic violence and rape, demonised us, dehumanised us even – we are now female dogs and garden implements – dissected us, divided us into body parts, dragged us by our hair, put us on leashes, slid credit cards through our butt cracks…the list is endless. And it’s getting worse. There is conscious rap and religious rap but as I told my husband (who came into our marriage fully prepared to argue against hip hop to the death with me and has done so admirably notwithstanding his false start of angrily questioning me about RAGGA song ‘Boom-boom Bye’) not all American rappers are misogynistic; just the successful ones it seems.

Image result for hip hop misogyny documentary

I can’t figure out whether it was because of genuine hatred or just a convenient sacrifice. I watched a documentary about hip hop once that suggested that it was an antidote to all the saccharine love songs by Luther Vandross and the like. So…just an afterthought then. This would explain why I was one of the few people silently and bitterly cursing Ice Cube as he gave his impassioned speech to Bill Maher about the latter, as a white man, not being able to use the ‘N’ word. ‘Black people are not going to allow that anymore!’ he wobbled – one of the pioneers and reasons that women are customarily referred to to as bitches and hoes.

It’s astonishing that black women put up with it for so long. We done more than this – we’ve internalised, endorsed and distributed it. We wouldn’t tolerate tweets which are a tenth as derogative but feminists are happy to be fan girls of rappers who spread these vile and harmful lyrics in the name of art. I think we might have got distracted because of the initial push back from white Americans; perhaps we were fooled into thinking we, black men and women, were in this together. Now that mainstream has embraced hip hop, and people have tacitly accepted that it is impossible for them to publicly condemn hip hop without being accused of an act of racism, these artists have exported wholesale their lyrical artillery against black women.

Off-stage, the story is the same. Rappers are beating, harming and disfiguring their significant others as least as much as other men. It’s certainly not a case of only using those lyrics on stage. It is, for many of them, who they are. The stories keep repeating themselves.  The ones who don’t are often illogical, rampant sexists or are  not concerned enough to distance themselves artistically from abusive rappers.

Obviously hip hop is not responsible for violence against women nor is it the first kind of art that has normalised this violence. However, as illiberal as this sounds, I think almost 30 years of this has had a real effect on relationships and especially how black women are viewed and devalued. I read screenshots of conversations that go like this:

Boy (heartbreakingly young): ‘I like the way you look. Please come and hang out at my apartment’

Girl: ‘No thanks’

Boy: ‘Fuck you, you bitch hoe! I’ma track you down and…..’ (insert your fave’s preferred act of violence)

This is what I think women should do. I don’t know how sexist British rap is but as far as American rap is concerned the default position is not to support any particular rapper until he has proven himself to be an ally or not harmful to women. Listen to the entire album – for free of course as buying it rather defeats the purpose. Give them two strikes to vent at failed relationships and then they are out. These men care about themselves and the industry and that includes any abusive man who can escape any consequences of his abuse against women. It’s time we start doing the same. But no one will listen to me of course……

1I’ve put ‘forgive’ in inverted commas since XXX did not do anything to most of the social media commentators. The way to stop people from saying that they are glad that a man, who may very well have ended up beating women to death, is dead is bring up the irrelevant concept of forgiveness. This is supposed to fill people with remorse and drive them to demonstrate their capacity to forgive by forgetting their outrage at the alleged DV and and continuing to support and buy XXX’s music, presumably.

 

2The part in italics is stolen wittiness

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 to thumb their noses at people who are incredibly grumpy that Meghan identifies as mixed race instead of black.

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

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

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

About New Music

About 30

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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.

thisisnig

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

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

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

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

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

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.

race 7

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.

What’s Choice Got To Do With It?

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

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

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

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

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

Extreme Examples: When is A Choice Unacceptable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Directed) Sexual Empowerment

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

choice gif 2

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

The Passive Mistress

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

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

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

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

‘Sex Work is Work!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Female Entertainers and Hypersexuality

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purity Culture and My Idiotic Childhood

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

Summary

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

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

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

Domestic Duties

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

cinderellaworking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cancer Scare

I think I’m in the middle of a very mild ‘cancer scare’.  I am supposed to be editing a post about choice in feminism to go up tonight but I’m doing this instead.  I’m not even going through my usual process of writing this as a word document first and copying it on to the blog.  I’m just going for it.  This is going to be another spontaneous post – we’ll see how it  goes.

Let me start by saying I don’t usually allow myself to think about cancer under any circumstances.  It is so scary.  The pain and suffering.  The horrendous process of chemotherapy (which is apparently a separate second set of  pain and suffering).  My personal fear of being cared for  – what if they get tired of me, begin to resent me, are forced to put on a bright smile for my sake or mistreat me (you have no idea where my mind has gone) – by even my nearest and dearest.

What else? The excellent but less than completely co-ordinated National Health Service.  Money matters.  Not being able to look after the kids.  Maybe not even seeing  the kids grow up.  Being trapped in a hospital bed while annoying people visit me.  Changed physical appearance.  Those terrifying pictures accompanying pleas for people in advanced stages of cancer who have not been, up to this point, able to afford treatment.  I can’t think of or look at any of it.  I can barely read through a short article telling us how to check for breast cancer.

Another more trivial and rather mean thought that occupies me is what if I do  have cancer  and decide to ‘live life to the fullest’.  What would I do?  In what ways will I completely embarrass myself?  For example, I write stand-up comedy in my little notebook.  Just ideas that occur to me because I consider myself to be a funny person (I’m saying that with not a hint of irony, by the way).  I would never perform stand-up comedy because I would be terrible at it.  I’m a terrible actor and I am not good at delivering jokes.  When I do say these jokes out loud, I sound like a  really bad combination of Kevin Hart and Basketmouth.  I guess I sometimes think of selling them to an actual stand-up comedian, but mostly they are just for fun.

If I am diagnosed and as part of ‘doing what I’ve always wanted to do’, would I wrap my head in a scarf, drag all my friends to the first dinghy club that would accept me and force them to listen to my cancer comedy?  A friend of a friend has recently recovered from a very serious illness.  She’s taken up stand-up comedy and, having met her, is an unlikely candidate for it.  My friend has simply reported, without comment on the performance, that she attended her gig.  This bothers me.

My cancer scare only started on Thursday.  Yet here I am on Saturday full of enough terror (and vanity) to write about it.   For about 2 weeks, I’ve been woken  by a pain in my right arm.  It started with numbness and tingling in my hands, travelled up my arm  and became severe enough to wake me up – not going away until I had stood up for a few minutes, and then starting up again as soon as I tried to lie down.  It has been, quite frankly a pain, but until Thursday cancer has not crossed my mind.

Through the usual mish-mash of internet research, I’d come to the conclusion, having first started with the premise that I was sleeping badly and  then progressed on to carpal tunnel as I write a lot, that it was some sort of trapped nerve probably in my neck area.  I was actually miserable with the idea that I would become one of these people with ‘chronic’ pain for which no cure can be found and who people begin to suspect of milking it out of laziness and for sympathy (you will learn, in the course of reading these posts, that it’s not that I’m an unkind person but that I’d much rather be in the position of defending people who are suffering than experience any kind of  suffering).  I’m also dealing with a stressful new role at work so I hoped it would be some kind of muscle spasm instead, which would relax as relaxed into my new role.

One day, I finally called 111 and was given an emergency appointment with my GP (there were other symptoms, chest pain, shortness of breath etc).  She conducted a number of checks and tests, seemed puzzled and said nervously that ‘it could be a number of things’.  That still didn’t make me think of cancer.  She also mentioned some kind of test for pinched nerves.

The pain continued and then lessened but, as it happened the night before, I went to see my (quite spaced-out) GP on Thursday, as planned,  who said that she just wants me to do some blood tests and an X-ray before she tests the nerves.  “Good luck!” she sang as I left the surgery with my two fussy and disobedient children.  I still didn’t think of cancer.  I thought the ‘good luck’ was about the  kids (it  probably was – I had to hush all three of them, including the GP,  at least once during the visit).

It was my visit with a friend later that day that finally did it. My dear friend is bubbly and fun, but given to  intense spells of pessimism, especially when it comes to cancer.  It was she who uttered the phrase “It’s going to get us all!” a few years ago, which appears in my latest short story.

She hinted that a number of people had discovered cancer following a pain in their arm/shoulder.  She mentioned that I had lost a lot of weight (I have not! I was wearing black clothes and long, straight hair extensions), she questioned me about my hair loss and asked why I hadn’t gone to the doctor (I’m not balding from the scalp; my hair is breaking, I explained.  And now that I think about it, hair loss isn’t a sign of most kinds of cancer – it’s a side effect of chemotherapy) and asked me to keep an eye on it.  This got me thinking  and remembering that my husband had said one morning after I told him brightly that ‘the pain didn’t bother me last night’ that I needed to get it sorted out in one of his rare serious moments.  I’d expected him to say, as he normally would ‘Great! Let’s forget about it, then!’.

I started researching first signs of cancer and noticed fatigue.  I immediately started feeling tired and tried to remember how long I’d been feeling this way.  Also, apart from a few twinges which I’m sure are mostly psychosomatic, the pain has gone although the arm is still tingly, tender and weird.  Also, and this is very important, NO HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL HAS MENTIONED THE WORD ‘CANCER’.  All the GP did was order blood tests and a scan instead of, as I expected,whisking me off to the nerve specialist, tell me ‘it could be a number of things’, act with unprecedented haste and say ‘Good luuu-uuck’ as I left (she really is strange.  I mean, who says that?).

I therefore realise that I am far from a fully blown cancer scare.  What is a cancer scare anyway?  What do public figures, when they are doing ads for cancer charities or responding to a belligerent tweet, mean when they say ‘I had a cancer scare 3 years ago so I know how you feel’?  I think, hope, it’s beyond googling random symptoms and getting down to a cancer article on page 15 of your search.  Almost anything can be a ‘sign of cancer’.  I suspect it’s at or beyond the biopsy stage (she says, like she knows what she’s talking about).  I’m at the blood test and X-ray stage so I’m not even there yet.

And even beyond the biopsy stage, isn’t there the possibility that a tumour is benign? Isn’t cancer malignant in that it spreads and destroys everything (see? I told you I never read about cancer) thereby producing this kind of phrase that an average Nigerian man with a pulse may use “This idea that women are entitled to the same rights as men is spreading like cancer,” (Feminism, crowbar, any article.  It’s like a magic trick.).  And of course there is the type of waiting that comes after you’ve had cancer, have been treated and are waiting to see if the treatment is successful.

Therefore I don’t really understand what people mean when they say ‘I’ve had a cancer scare so I know how you feel.’ like it puts them in some kind of club with cancer survivors or patients.  Or people who give testimonies in church stating that their cancer scare turned out not to be cancer after all.  Of course we should always be grateful to God for life and health but, beyond going for the initial tests and all the anticipation and terror of waiting, what is this kind of testimony about?  How has the person actually changed?  How exactly does having a cancer scare make one understand what a cancer patient goes through??

cancer 2

Another grievance of mine is all this talk of taking cancer on as if it were an opponent in a boxing match.  Stand up to cancer.  Say no to cancer.  Give cancer the finger.  Give it two fingers.  Give it as many fingers as you want.  Eff you, cancer.  Spit on its….Has the world gone mad?  I saw an article that advised that people waiting to find out whether they are in remission should keep moving as  it’s ‘hard for cancer to hit a moving target.’.

I can think of nothing more off-putting than feeling at my worst, and being jollied along in this manner.  Also, I can’t help but think it comes from a world that is weary of taking care of any kind of sick person and wants to trick them into thinking that if they just smile enough and stop feeling sorry for themselves, they will hardly notice their green skin and propensity to vomit up anything they have eaten.

Well, I’m due an X-ray in a week.  I’ve been told I have to wait another week for the results.  I am going to force myself to wait a further three days before calling the surgery.  I may update this post.  Alternatively, if this article simply disappears, it’s probably because I thankfully do not have any signs of cancer and therefore have lost the right (and the courage) to write about things that may give true cancer patients some comfort.

Update:  The results of my blood tests came back and they are normal!  Whoop whoop!  I called the GP tentatively to ask about the procedure for reporting back on tests.  I don’t know why I was so tentative, why I’m so keen to appear reasonable.  Anyway the receptionist said they don’t report back unless there’s something to report – an unusually cruel way of operating, it seems, especially if they are able to climb into my mind and read my paranoid thoughts.  Yay!  Now I just have to wait for the x-rays but I doubt they will show anything too sinister.   I’m so relieved that I’m not even embarrassed about what a state I was in when I wrote this post : )