Whose Vagina Is It Anyway? – a discussion on Christianity, feminism and the concept of virginity

Choice or Wrong choice? What position should faith feminsim take on the V-word?

The scandal!

Twitter is up in arms again (at least it was when I decided to write this post)! It’s all about actress and comedian’s Yvonne Orji’s decision to wait until she’s married before she has sex. Yep! She’s a card carrying Christian virgin and proud of it!

 

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The feminist outrage

Some people, feminists included, are somewhat annoyed at this news. They profess not to have a problem with celibacy as such, they just condemn the idea of holding on to one’s virginity as a patriarchal concept of preserving oneself for ownership by a man. Just in case, like me, you’re not sure what that means, I think it has to do with presenting yourself as a gift to your husband on your wedding night, unspoiled and (relatively) untouched. I guess it does imply ownership and potentially more worryingly, your husband’s control over your sex life even before you’ve met said husband.

Others are concerned about the unrelated link between a ‘woman’s worth’ and her virginity. Somehow being a virgin means a higher value should be placed on a woman. Still others lament religion as an oppressive force bullying women into repressing their natural sexual urges. Finally, I have heard criticism of the concept of sexual purity – the implication that sexual activity soils and therefore damages.

In all honesty, there is some truth to these criticisms. Historically various cultures, whether Christian or not, have placed value on a woman’s virginity and chastity . There is for instance the practice of virginity testing on the wedding night. Even in cultures where the wedding did not take place until the woman became pregnant (I understand that this was the practice when Mary married Joseph – the sequence was engagement, pregnancy and then wedding to avoid childlessness), few of them would have celebrated or even agreed to take a (previously ) sexually active wife.

One has to take into account that in historic times, girls were married off at a fairly young age. Perhaps sexual activeness at that age carried the risk of some kind of physical damage. Or perhaps ancient cultures were also bastards to women (like everyone else) .

A big part of feminism and sexual liberation (apart from tackling sexual harm to women) continues to be to (1) ending double standards between men and women when it comes to sexual activity (2) reversing the thinking that a woman’s personal sexual choices and sex life are matters of public shame – slut shaming and his evil twin brother who decides whether a woman is a victim of sexual assault based on how she’s dressed and how many sexual partners she’s had in the past (3) allowing women to acknowledge and express themselves sexually (4) and yes, ending the practice of determining a woman’s ‘worth’ by her sex life, past or present.

I must confess, I take issue with the whole ‘woman’s worth’ concept. It makes women seem like commodities and plays into the good woman (or ‘queen’ – a word I’m beginning to despise when not used to refer to actual monarchy) /bad girl division. People make commitments, behave honourably or badly, are compatible with you or not. That’s how you decide whether you want to be with them. They are not priced or awarded points as if they were on display in a supermarket. Anyway!

The Christian perspective

It is likely that the reasons for Orji’s decision are nowhere near as sinister as the above. In modern charismatic churches, both men and women are expected to abstain from sex before marriage. The thinking is that sex is a special expression of a certain type of love (romantic, I suppose, but that word feels too shallow) that God intended for us to undertake with one person in the context of marriage.

As to how some Christians apply it beyond their own personal standards and stray into ‘judging’ others, most (media-savvy) people would say “It’s just my personal belief. I’m not imposing these standards on anyone” then (in what seems to me like a slight shift in position) “I’m not judging !”  In reality, it often goes beyond personal belief. Just like choice feminism has been roundly condemned in relation to this issue, ‘choice Christianity’ is, I suspect, not really credible in many charismatic churches.

The general belief is that if sex before marriage is wrong, it’s wrong for everyone or at least every Christian. Some churches may see at as a personal conviction, in that they do not expect individuals to account to some deacon or pastor about their sex lives, and may even tacitly accept that some church couples who are in a long-term relationship may be ‘doing it’. But generally in these churches you are not supposed to announce and publicly celebrate the fact that you are having sex before marriage.

I started attending the Church of England after I got married (so the whole sex before marriage wasn’t really my problem by then ha ha ha). I’ve not heard the prohibition against sex before marriage actively advocated in C of E . Much will depend on the individual church of course -for instance Holy Trinity Brompton is one of the biggest and most charismatic congregations of the C of E, as far as I know, its founder, Nicky Gumble, believes that sex should take place within the confines of marriage.  In the churches I’ve attended, it’s not unusual for the vicar to be openly accepting of people living together and producing babies before marriage. Perhaps someone has a word in private.

The issue is not without difficulty in the church. There is some discontent among Christians who reject promiscuity but wonder, when they find themselves involuntarily single in their late 30’s and 40s, whether the rule against sex before marriage has prevented them from forming compatible relationships. Some women (especially as there always seems to be less men in churches) find themselves completely disillusioned with the whole thing and wonder if they have wasted the ‘best years’ of their lives waiting for this ideal of a sex-less relationship (their mood, I suspect, turns especially sour if it turns out the married pastor has been schlepping the single choir mistress the entire time but I’m hoping that, despite the media sensation such events generate, that this is relatively rare) especially when there appears to be no direct Biblical authority for the rule (although plenty of implication and Biblical context).

It doesn’t help that some pastors take it too far and preach all kinds of weird analogies for the consequences of sex before marriage. My favourite went something like this: when two people come together in sexual union, they somehow mould together so that they are incomplete and damaged when they are ‘ripped apart’ – a bit like cookies or cakes which, meant to be separate, have (wrongfully and annoyingly!) migrated towards each other on the baking sheet while in the oven, formed an unsightly whole which you first try and break apart and disguise the flaw with icing then abandon the idea and end up eating them standing up, cursing, in the kitchen.

The above is to demonstrate their belief that sex is an act which invariably has emotionally and spiritual consequences as well as long term effects. My main problem is with presenting these theories as if they are undisputed Biblical law when at best they are interpretations sometimes tenuously based on scripture.

My general perception is that a lot of active Christians have managed to overcome whatever reservations they had about having sex before marriage although few would defend promiscuity as being within Christian beliefs or ‘God’s plan’. It continues to be a difficulty in the church, especially in light of the very different standards of secular society, and I’m not sure how consistently or effectively the rule is followed.

Most importantly….my opinion!

I’ll get to the two things that disturbed me about the feminist outrage. The lesser is the hypocrisy of some feminists in supposedly rejecting choice feminism in this context. An example is a tweep (she may even be what another tweep described as a ‘thought leader’ with her 19k followers – I’m not jealous at all) who has been pro choice feminism about a number of sex positive things. Such were her bizarre conclusions that she had me exploring radical feminism like:

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I was shocked (shocked!) to hear her condemn choice feminism when it came to Orji’s virginity (I don’t know if Orji is a feminist but the issue is whether feminists can justifiably assert that her position is inherently patriarchal or whether this is one of the choices that feminism should absolutely protect ).

This tweep was quoting anti-choice-feminism threads with not a hint of irony or qualification – as if her previous pro choice/sex positive feminism tweets didn’t exist. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood her. I regularly follow and unfollow her out of exasperation/sneaky admiration/envy (I’m afraid I’m one of those ‘unfollow and scroll’ people. I’ll unfollow because some tweet annoyed me, check on the tweep’s timeline to see “wha’ gwan”, follow again because “ah she/he doesn’t seem that bad”, get annoyed by another tweet…ad infinitum).

The bigger issue is linked to my own personal experience. I never fully accepted that a sexually active person/woman was soiled or that sex before marriage was necessarily damaging. I have been and am a bit suspicious of the claim that it is a sin because of lack of a direct Bible quote.  I am a bit wary of promiscuity, partly because I’d like my partner to be faithful and I think what keeps you faithful is commitment and self-control, which is built through life experiences (as opposed to ‘love’ and the fact I’m so much woman he won’t go elsewhere).

However, what really bothered me was the fact I never felt I owned my sexuality. I always felt that when I was dating, I owed it to society, to men, to be sexually active when they decided I should be sexually active. I never even got a chance to make my own objective decision and (much like my eating now) after a while I had completely lost anything resembling a natural instinct in my 20s and early 30s.

I was completely unreasonable for ‘making him wait’ for any period of time/until I felt comfortable, I was manipulative, I was withholding, I was wasting his time, I was trying to force him into a serious relationship/marriage. I was too easy (when I finally said, “ah screw it/me”). I wasn’t making enough effort. As soon as I expressed an interest in a guy (not all my exes), I felt he was watching my vagina with a proprietary eye, waiting for me to give him what was rightfully his.

It wasn’t just the men. From my ‘non-waiting’ girlfriends, the advice seemed to be you had to have a strategy for determining whether he was serious or not. Once you decided he was serious, give him the most exotic, exciting booty he had in his life in order to ‘keep him’.

My waiting friends advised me to resist, resist, resist so that God would reward me with a good Christian husband. The problem was the potential Christian husband seemed to come from a pool of arrogant young men, subject to sexist indoctrination of expecting submission from their wives, who were very much aware of their special-breed status and WHO DIDN’T SEEM TO LIKE ME.

I was completely lost and I behaved very strangely, and sometimes badly, indeed during those lost years. All these people that say Orji should make her sexual decisions free from patriarchy, religion or this, that or the other; I wouldn’t have known where to start. From the moment I entered into a relationship, I felt burdened with the job of managing other people’s expectations about my sex life.

I didn’t know what I wanted until I said to myself “HALT! I am what I am. I am a product of my contradictory upbringing (my mum wanted me to be fairly chaste but not so ‘frigid’ (a sexist, entitled, rapey term) that I drove away a prospective husband), personal experiences and my religious beliefs. If I’m going to change, dismantle everything about the above, it’s not so some man can have access to my vagina or so some women can have some kind of collective validation about their own lifestyle. I YAM WHAT I YAM. Feminism felt natural to me. This does not”.

This is why I am bothered enough to write this post about some of the feminist discussion on this issue and on sex generally.  I’ve seen tweets describing the decision as sad. Before Orji, I’d previously seen a tweet saying that women should grow up and accept they are sexual beings (it’s the ‘should’ that bothers me). The brilliant ‘Dear Ijeawela/Feminist Manifesto’ says it is disingenuous to pretend sex is an “only in marriage” act – it is for some people (through choice obviously, most people are physically capable of having sex outside marriage).

There is of course the type of sex. One feminist suggested that a girlfriend who does not digitally/anally manipulate her boyfriend is not a real girlfriend (I bloody well hope she was bloody well joking – as an aside, I’m led to believe by Twitter that if I was young and dating in 2017 I would regularly be expected to ‘eat ass’. I’m ashamed to say that it took me a very long time to realise that this is not just crude slang for oral sex and personally the thought of it has shaken my liberalism a bit).

There’s probably nothing wrong with the  bum stuff and I’m a complete prude.  However, the serious point is that I’m alarmed to see that feminists and entitled men (from the left and the right unfortunately) saying some of the same things. Give it up (and in accordance with some pornographic fantasy of what is supposed to constitute good sex – I recently re-tweeted the article by Jean Hatchet about the pressure teenage girls are under to have anal sex) at THIS point or you are damaged/brainwashed/being bloody difficult.

My fear is, under the guise of a collective war on patriarchy, we are attempting to force on Orji our own ideas about sexuality and to be totally dramatic about it, co-erce her into sexual activity. I wouldn’t describe myself as a choice feminist – I think feminism is a global tool to fight inequality and oppression against women (and I don’t think sex work is ’empowering’ FFS) but individual sexuality needs to be left alone. It can be so complex and scary with so many people trying to lay claim to female sexuality. So much harm has been done in the execution of the idea that a woman’s vagina is collective property, of collective interest. There is so much entitlement in that area that feminism must march towards individual choice, in my view.

Patriarchy and sexism has done more harm to women’s sexuality than feminists can probably conceive of. But for me, there is something inherently terrifying in trying to co-erce a woman into sexual activity for her own good and for the common good.

Sunny Sunburn Holiday Blues: My Silly Holiday Article

…..like others before me, I would ask a question about fake tanning and then spend the next few moments concentrating on nodding vigorously to convey great understanding, instead of listening to the answer

suntan pic 2I don’t understand why fair-skinned (white) people ask me about tanning, sun protection, sunblock, sunstroke, sunscreen etc. I know, I know, black people, even ones as dark as me, can get sunburned or sunstroke. I got burned myself once, long before I knew what sunscreen was.  Nevertheless I’m frequently confused and uncomfortable during the questioning.

I’ll give you an example. My husband got sunburned on very recent holiday. How? He went swimming without a T-shirt (he’s very fair). While taking off his clothes in preparation for bed, he asked “What do you think?”.  I confess, if he had been speaking, I wasn’t listening and I certainly hadn’t been watching him undress (the very thought!). “What do I think about what?”, I replied absent-mindedly, not turning from what I was doing.

“I think I’ve been burned” I looked at him and his torso was so red I thought he’d suddenly gotten very angry (but not in his face). “What’s that???” I yelped. “Ask your mum! She’ll know what to do! Should I call her now? Alison!…(we were vacationing with my mother in law)” “Nah. Don’t do that. She’ll get worried.” “What even happened?” “I forgot my t-shirt, didn’t I?” (“Yee-es?..” we heard Alison call faintly from the other room -we didn’t but it would have been so cool in a farcical type of way, no?) “Weren’t you wearing sunscreen?” “No”.

It’s usually at moments like this that I want to opt out of the sun conversation. Firstly, I’m scared of giving the wrong advice. I don’t know what to say! I don’t want to tell someone not to worry and have them wake up the next morning looking like bubble wrap or vomiting, fainting on the Tube or bowling over while singing in the church choir (all real examples) hours or even days after their encounter with the sun.

Also, I want to (or don’t want to, as it happens) ask, well, why didn’t you put sunscreen on? You are at risk of ending up with biblical scale blisters, your brain boiling away in your skull, raw peeling skin and utter misery and you couldn’t spare 3.4 minutes to apply sunscreen. You wouldn’t show me your arm, scraped to the bone, and say “Dude….if only I’d remembered to shut the door before the car starting moving…this really hurts”.

Bizarrely, when I was still studying, I heard of someone who was badly sunburned. He hadn’t used sunscreen of course but had taken the time to slather baby oil all over his body before hitting the beach which made the burns worse…. Stories like this make me afraid that when confronted by a sunburn victim, the first thing that will flow out of my mouth is a series of judgmental questions.

However, by far my worst fear is that the only real thing I feel like saying will emerge which is “I don’t know! I don’t know! Go and ask your fellow white (fair-skinned?) people!!”  I frequently felt like this when I lived in a house share with a girl I’ll call ‘Emily’ (‘Emily’ and I fell out eventually but not over sun issues).

Emily was very fair. From time to time, she used to ask my opinion on her adventures with fake tanning lotions. I was not of course the only woman in the house. There were 2 other women. I was the only black woman. I may be off here but I think her logic in asking me was flawed.

Firstly, as far as I can remember, she never managed to achieve anything that I would call a tan. This may be a problem of perception for me. If I looked closely, I noticed some additional colour on her elbows and knees but I had to look for quite a long time. Having peered at her for an uncomfortably long period (I should have just lied once she started talking about tanning but again I was probably scared of telling the wrong lie as I really did not know what I was talking about), I felt I had to say something.  That something had to be somewhere between my true opinion (too cruel) and what I thought she was expecting to hear (lacking in believability). I could never quite grasp the words I was looking for so ended up saying things like “Errrrr….well! You’ve clearly been done something there!” or the very daft “Did you do it for a long time?”

After a few back and forths, Emily would usually say something like “Don’t worry it will come out in a few days”, leaving me with questions. The first one, of course, is why ask me today then? The second – what do you mean it will ‘come out’ in a few days? Did you apply it to your skin or to your internal organs for it to slowly emerge during the course of a ‘few days’? I realised after a few of these Q&A sessions that fake tan is not like foundation. If it was, it would probably wash off. I still didn’t understand how it works though. Does it stain the skin? WHY DOESN’T IT SHOW ITSELF IMMEDIATELY? I suppose I could google it now if I wanted to.

Another housemate – we’ll call her ‘Kerry’ – once applied her fake tan too liberally in preparation for a sunny holiday. I wondered briefly why the real sun wasn’t good enough. I suppose even I could understand that she wanted to look tanned and sexy on arrival (she was quite sexy anyway) but she also told me that applying the fake tan would somehow enhance and speed up the tanning process for reasons which eluded me even as she was speaking.  This may be partly because I was so scared of appearing ignorant that, like others before me, I would ask a question about fake tanning and then spend the next few moments concentrating on nodding vigorously to convey great understanding, instead of listening to the answer

Kerry already looked very tan on her way out. When she returned, a combination of the sun and her fake tanning cream had turned her luminously orange (how?) and apologetic. “Sorry” she said to no question (or perhaps to her mind, unasked questions) “I overdid it before the holidays. It will fade soon” ????????

Domestic Violence: “But…What If She Provokes and Provokes till He Snaps?”

Obviously there are healthy ways to disagree and really two adults should not be shouting and screaming at each other but this is a separate and distinct conversation from the line of DV which should never be crossed.

 

 

There are some statements or even questions that I struggle to give a comprehensible response to, not to mention coherent argument, because I am so filled with rage. An example is when a woman is badly injured or killed in a domestic violence case and some bright spark comes out with “What did she do to provoke him?” or the cleverly worded “I wonder why he was so angry” or “We must also teach women not to provoke men” or whatever nonsense  Empress Njamah and ‘Silent Night, Christmas Lights’ Edochie spouted recently.

What triggered this essay is finding a Youtube clip from 2014 of ‘The Banky and Tiwa Show’ (who knew?) on Domestic Violence (“DV”). The clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5rXRywENCE) contained just a 45 second segment of the episode, which included, among Basketmouth’s comedic ranting about how parents should teach their daughters martial arts, Banky W asking something like this ‘but what if a woman pushes and pushes and pushes her husband and one day he just snaps and hits her?’.

Banky! BANKY! My chest (as they say on twitter these days)! I now realise that on the issue of gender equality, I’d put this man on a pedestal far higher than any other Nigerian entertainer simply because (1) he enjoys cooking and (2) he once posted a picture of himself carrying a #heforshe card on instagram.   I was actually sitting  in front of my computer like a lemon waiting for him to shrilly denounce any kind of DV in any situation in his usual earnest American manner.

Now I don’t know how the show ended. It’s very possible Banky said that under no circumstances should a man hit a woman (and presumably he was, during the clip, in ‘investigative mode’ and ‘asking the hard questions’) so I’ll concentrate on breaking down my  discomfort with the provocation/DV debate.

If I was on the show  I would ask for a definition of provocation. I can only imagine 3 scenarios. Firstly, physical violence by the wife; secondly constant emotional and verbal abuse by the wife (what Empress Njamah called ‘mental abuse’ causing me to now hate drum and base music because ‘its mentallist, innit?’ Stupid woman) or the far more common place scenario of two very angry spouses having an absolute howler of an argument.

In the first case of physical violence, no one should be hitting anyone in a relationship. As a woman if you hit your spouse or partner, you are  committing DV against him. This is just as heinous as him committing DV against you.

There are reasons why the spotlight is on DV against women. There are far more cases of DV against women. Women are more susceptible to DV because they are usually physically weaker than their male partners . The bigger reason is that it is an institutionalised form of sexism against women. Not only is it justified by upstanding members of society, sexist views of women actually increase the chance of DV. DV, as a societal problem, is partly a result of women being demonised (‘she will run wild if you don’t control her’),  infantalised (‘so that she will not misbehave’ – although men are also infantalised because they apparently cannot control themselves and are ‘like babies’), dehumanised (reduced to servile, submissive, domestic, child bearing/rearing property) and devalued.

I found this neat summary on the web:

On pages 45-49, Gary quotes from a pamphlet written by Dr. John Barger in which Barger admits abusing his wife but claims a complete transformation. There’s no way to hear his wife’s side of the story because she passed away from cancer.

Dr. Barger writes, “It’s easy to scorn women and most men do. We see women as physically weak, easy to intimidate, bound to the menial tasks of motherhood, emotional, illogical and often petty. Or…..we scorn and hate them for their commanding sexual power over us…”1

But DV does happen to men; there’s no doubt about that.  Hitting is a line that should not be crossed (even if he cheats; even if he lines dem bitches up wall to wall. If he cheats, LEAVE lol. I know folks ain’t tryna hear that but that is another article) other than in self-defence, defending someone else; possibly excusable if you’ve just witnessed him attacking someone more vulnerable but you are not technically acting in defence.

Another reason for not hitting is that it normalises violence in your relationship and in a physical fight, the man is likely to win. Again and again and again.

What should a man do if he’s hit? Ideally, I’d say because he’s stronger, getting away and if necessary, restraining the woman should be sufficient to defend himself. But I really wish more men would leave  for this kind of behaviour. I phrased my last sentence like that because, certainly in Nigeria, it seems very few people would advocate a man ending a relationship or a marriage because his partner slapped or hit him. This is probably partly rooted in patriarchy – the assumption that a husband should be able to ‘control’ his wife, a fully grown adult.

So no it’s not an excuse to beat seven bells out of your female partner, but, in the immediate aftermath of being punched in the face, who can say how anyone will react?

On to verbal assault. I’m thinking of abusive behaviour here. Someone who insults, demeans and belittles their partner constantly . It is still not a reason to hit your wife/partner. However if your partner is being verbally abusive it is a real problem and grounds to end the relationship. An illustration is the irrepressible Nunu in #BckchatLdn who said if I insult your mother, you can insult my mother back. You can’t touch me. I completely agree but if your girlfriend or wife is constantly telling you that your mother is a bitch, that relationship is probably on its way out.

Let’s move on to what people usually mean when they say that a woman is ‘pushing her husband’. You have two very angry people; communication has broken down; they are arguing in a hurtful and destructive way; they are both pushing each other. What people mean when they say the woman “should stop pushing her husband now. Can’t she see that he’s already angry?” is that she should defer to the fact that he can end this argument any time he wants – with one punch.

Because if not for that, her logical response may very well be ‘I’M angry. He’s PUSHING me. Why don’t you tell him to stop??’  Obviously there are healthy ways to disagree and really two adults should not be shouting and screaming at each other but this is a separate and distinct conversation from the line of DV which should never be crossed.

provocation image 2

Banky framing the question like that was, to my mind ,putting DV in the mix of normal, whether good, bad or regrettable, behaviour in a marriage. She buys groceries. He mows the lawn. He leaves wet towels on the bathroom floor. She spends too much time on the phone. He slaps her. She…Hold up! Hold up! What was that last one again??

In reality, couples do provoke each other. They do. Sometimes deliberately and sometimes not. If you constantly fail to flush the toilet or plan half a dozen holidays in one year without your husband and children, you are likely (rightly or wrongly) to get the tongue lashing of your life, which an observing stranger might find shocking to witness.

Of course, in an ideal world the offended party will explain in a calm way why your behaviour was unacceptable. In real life, spouses argue and something usually ‘starts the argument’ The message out there should simply be DV is unacceptable. This should ingrained and instilled in everyone’s head.

While we work towards getting better at communicating, DV shouldn’t be presented as something you accidentally slip up and do in the course of marriage – you know, not very nice but it happens.. It is deal-breaker. It leads to atrocities and abject misery. It’s usually more about control than losing your rag (except when you lose it because she dares DARES to disobey you). By the time it gets to death or serious injury, the victim is barely existing as human, a long term prisoner of terror and has learnt a long time ago not to ‘provoke’ her tormentor. He still attacks her regularly.

The question on the show was ‘should a wife stay or go in the case of DV’ (is that one even a question sef?). My answer is a marriage with DV, a relationship that has descended into violence, is not worth sustaining. The marriage is already over. Somebody just needs to do the paperwork.

1From the website ‘A Cry for Justice’ – review of Gary Thomas’ book – A Sacred Marriage – full review here – https://cryingoutforjustice.com/2017/05/17/gary-thomass-book-sacred-marriage-a-review-by-avid-reader/

Trending on Twitter: 4:44 and The Serial Cheat Who Really Really Really Loves You (Honest!)

The mad assumptions, the nonsensical talk that it is some sign of strength and character to resume such a crazy relationship and the lack of consequences it has for men – it’s not just about choice.

This post is everything I said I wouldn’t write when I started this blog – it’s short, angry, impulsive and judgmental.  However it’s an issue that has been tormenting my brain for a while now.  Somewhere between respecting women’s choices and trying to avoid blaming them for all that stems from being cheated on, has evolved this poisonous ideology that  (1) a man can cheat on you multiple times and still love and respect you and have any interest in being married/together/in a monogamous relationship (2) that staying in these circumstances (when you have other options) is a viable, sane or even admirable choice.

To give some context to this rant, it has been triggered by  Beyonce and Jay-Z’s relationship and particularly his recent album and song 4:44.  No one really knows what is going on between those two but Beyonce’s 2016 album, Lemonade, more than hints that he cheated on her and the album 4:44  seems to confirm he has done so multiple times, in creative ways and against the backdrop of multiple miscarriages and stillbirths.  All desperately sad.

I’ve managed to avoid the kind of commentary that assumes that Beyonce must have done something wrong to make her man cheat or that a woman who considers leaving her marriage for infidelity is failing in some way.  (I’ll give you an example of this:  In the reality show Mary Mary, about the gospel group of the same name, we discovered that Tina Campbell’s husband  had been consistently cheating on her for 9 out of the 14 years of their marriage.  Leaving Tina’s reaction  aside, I was struck by what her sister said in an interview about the matter.  It was something to the effect that women who wouldn’t consider forgiving (forgiving means resuming the same relationship of course) in the same circumstances were perhaps “not really serious about their vows in the first place”  When I say ‘struck’ I of course mean livid).

I’m not talking about  that.  I’m talking about feminists and womanists and seemingly sensible women effectively saying the only relevant factor is the decision that Beyonce chose to take.  Anyone criticising that choice is being patriarchal and is trying to tell women what to do.

I’m going to assume that a large part of this is because the subject is Beyonce and for some of her followers (which includes me!), the  default mode is to jump to her defence and analyse later.   But the thing is I’ve had this argument several times.  I thought I was going mad!  I’d almost reluctantly come to the conclusion that I must be ‘missing something’ and decided to park the issue.

To illustrate, I’ll share a few thoughts I jotted down while thinking about the intersection between my feminist beliefs and my Christian faith:

  1. Infidelity – This is an interesting one. I’ve always felt salty when a man cheats and, in my culture and within members of my faith, the woman is told that the right (or patient, loving, however you want to put it) thing to do is to forgive the man. Forgiving in this context means taking him back and resuming the relationship. This has irritated me to the extent that I can get very grumpy indeed when the woman does end up taking the man back. I feel that the man has somehow gotten away with yet another thing in a man’s world.

In reality, it’s an individual and personal choice, regardless of my own (dim) views on  infidelity. It’s when people try to promote the idea that it is a Christian woman’s duty to keep the family together by carrying on with the marriage, regardless of how she feels, that it becomes a social and feminist issue. There are so many things wrong with this point of view that whenever I try to write them down, I inevitably forget some points. Forgiveness is a central part of Christianity but it does not necessarily mean resuming the same relationship. If a church treasurer is caught stealing money from the church, most churches would ‘forgive’; few would put him or her back in the same position.

Forgiveness is not forgiveness if it is not freely given; if it is done out of duty, emotional blackmail or societal coercion. Infidelity is a breach of one of the sacred vows of marriage – it is not just a ‘mistake’, an imperfection, comparable to being negligent with housework. Imperfection has nothing to do with it – it has to do with an act not a characteristic or a weakness. The person who carries out the infidelity breaks the marriage; the person who files the divorce is just doing follow up admin. If the couple decide to continue being marriage, they should be re-starting rather than resuming the marriage in my view.

However the most distressing thing for me is dismissing the level of betrayal, hurt, lack of trust etc that a woman (I say woman not because only men cheat but because only women apparently are expected to gloss over infidelity when it is done to them) feels when she is betrayed this way and not only failing to acknowledge that some women cannot just ‘get over it’ but shaming them for this.

These are the kind of reluctant compromises I’ve been making in my head.  Until salvation came in the form of one tweeter (tweep?) who goes by the name of ‘Nigerian God’.  After his tweets, well, this article is really not necessary (but I’m going to write it anyway).

Firstly, this shouldn’t even be a feminist issue.  Looking at it objectively, a person who is supposedly in a monogamous relationship who cheats repeatedly is not interested in being in that relationship.  In fact, he’s already out of the relationship and you’re just there to provide food, shelter and water (in a manner of speaking).  One indiscretion I can perhaps wrap my head around, but multiple times?  You’re in that relationship on your own.

The only reason people are questioning this logic and finding excuses and “mental gymnastics” around this issue is because of how society is structured.  Specifically, a man is seen as a prize and it’s a woman’s job to satisfy all his needs including keeping him in a relationship that he’s not interested in.

It’s not that I don’t agree with people who say that we are wrongly focusing on the woman’s reaction.  They say don’t tell women whether to stay or not, tell men to act right. But there’s no point in telling men to act right if there’s no consequence to them acting wrongly.  That’s where the woman’s reaction comes into it.  You can condemn all you want with your words but if you’re taking them back  your actions are saying that they should keep on keepin’ on.

Simply reducing the matter to choice is ignoring the centuries of conditioning that has led to this even being a discussion in this day and age  in a supposedly monogamous relationship where both parties apparently care deeply for each other.  And then people have turned it from a discussion to a virtue; from a virtue to a requirement for all women who are serious about their marriage.  A huge reason why these men keep getting caught out like this (and assuming, contrary to what I think, that they do have any feelings for their partners) is not because they are any less sensible than women or they mature slower, it’s because they get away with it.  It is feminism’s job to attempt to redress that balance in my view.

What about Beyonce?  Is she just living her life, as several tweets have declared, with no responsibility to use her marriage to teach anybody any lessons?  Two problems with that.  Firstly, she has proudly declared herself an enabler of women empowerment and received whatever accolades and criticisms that has come with that declaration.  More importantly, she chose not only to share this story but to literally make music out of it.  Music that is supposed to be ‘real’, that is supposed to be inspiring.

Now, she’s an artist, she can sing about what she wants.  However to deny the influence this will have on her followers is to divorce yourself from reality.  As uncharitable as this sounds, perhaps she should have kept this mess to herself.  Or better yet, maybe we should scale back the importance of celebrity role models and concentrate on enforcing the fact that women deserve better than a serial cheat, no matter how sorry he says he is afterwards.

Finally, continuing from the theme in my excerpt, I’d just like to say something about the misery and depression this kind of enforced ‘forgiveness’ plunges women into.  I don’t care how many adultery seminars Tina Campbell holds, I strongly suspect that choosing to stay in the first place is mainly a result of a combination of lack of self esteem and societal conditioning.  The kind of love that means you can maintain an intimate relationship (not talking about sex here) with someone that has no regard for your body, the devastation he causes you by his actions and your very soul is alien to me and like some kind of ‘ride or die’ atheist, I don’t actually believe it exists.

Having forced yourself to stay, what kind of relationship will you have?  What kind of trust do you want to build again? You are either not allowed to refer to the indiscretion again because you have supposedly ‘moved on’ or you constantly think of or mention it and feel a burning resentment.

Take Beyonce for instance – Jay Z implies on his album that it was his cheating that caused Solange to  turn on him in the infamous elevator attack.  Now that it has all come out, some tweets have reaffirmed their approval of that attack.  I was one of the people who were shocked by the footage.  And I still think it’s wrong even if Jay Z did cheat.  I don’t even think it would have been right for Beyonce herself to attack him.   Violence is no substitute for the normal reaction to a grand betrayal of your trust – leaving.  People make all types of excuses for women to ‘choose’ to stay but when you have to set your sister on your husband just to make him see the error of his ways, you may just be better off on your own.

Even these confessionals make me suspicious.  Supposedly re-energised and re-vitalised in her marriage, Tina Campbell spent a good couple of years dragging her pillock of a husband all around the US to make him repeat how he cheated on her multiple times.   Is this really the reaction of a forgiving and peaceful heart?

The mad assumptions, the nonsensical talk that it is some sign of strength and character to resume such a crazy relationship and the lack of consequences it has for men – it’s not just about choice.    It’s more about the kind of thinking that says a woman is less than and lucky to have a man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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