Can this selfie get me a date?

angry nird

It’s 2am, I just spent the evening at a club drinking tea (it’s complicated) while pretending I can’t see guys ogling my dress. I am showered but the cigar smoke is still in my hair, so here I am on my balcony trying to air it out. I am also whatsapping a friend in New York, she wants to see what “airing” one’s hair looks like, so I send a selfie.

“Ooh sexy,” she types back.
“Think it will get me a date?” I quip with a laughing emoji. There is context to this but that’s another post. So begins an idea.

I have a vested interest in online communities, mostly because I am trying to figure out a way to get a PhD out some of them. On a deeper level most of my closest friends live in different cities/countries/continents (I also don’t get out much), so the internet is our best way to connect and keep up with each others lives. I wrote a piece just over a year ago about Tinder and the confusions it is causing in the dating scene and how we need to redefine what we are looking for online. I still stand by that piece, but last night I had to ask myself a deeper question: can a simple photograph (selfie) get me a date?

I have a point, I promise.

Think about it, how many of us communicate with each other by way of photographs? To share where we are, what we are doing and wearing? Even to share who we are with. It is part of our culture, a very important part of it.

I was added to an online group a few weeks ago about dating, ordinarily I would remove myself from groups like this but something about this community got my attention. Yes, it is a community of people who support each other and there is no negativity just fun and hopefully a match or two. But what was most fascinating was the redefinition of the selfie culture that exists there. It is used to ask questions, respond to questions and explain the current mood. The conversation is the selfie and it communicates bundles. It is so much easier for people to post a selfie than to engage in comments or otherwise. No one set the rule, at least I don’t think so, it’s just the way it is and it is acceptable. The norm, even.

We would all be lying if physical attributes are not the biggest contributors to attraction. It is what gets you interested, a person’s mind and other attributes may keep you interested but it is their physicality that gets you thinking of them without prior contact. More and more we live in a beautified world and we can’t blame it all on the media anymore. There is a strange sense of voyeurism that currently exists on social media that allows us to celebrate beauty in a new and fascinating way. A place where we know is cruel to women and ugly to people that don’t fit the unrealistic/predefined standards of beauty. Yet, there is a strange confidence that selfies bring. There is a quasi-Jungian persona that we have gained in the post-self conscious era. The selfie generation have taken what the ancients used to call “fatum”, to us destiny into their own hands. Selfies create a tapestry of words that culminate in an exquisite, sublime conversation. To outsiders it might look like the tactics of vanity, to the players it is simply the only way they know how to move on the chessboard and the best steps to the dance they own.

If anything you need to respect the courage of the quasi-Jungian persona, to pitch oneself out for date, with the danger that no one will respond. The fragility of ego for some could easily send them into a panic attack. No matter what your judgement is, the pseudo-intellectuals will have reason to disagree, it is ballsy. Selfies become the currency of conversation for the soft spoken, the brazen and the fierce, there is no way to lose if you were never prepared to win.

But back to my question: can this selfie get me a date? It turns out it can, several in fact, my dad should be happy; pity they don’t live in the same country. Selfies as part of the dating currency and it makes perfect sense, just look at Tinder. Even when you are set up by friends, they use photographs to convince you to say yes or no. Blind dates aren’t so “blind” anymore because we stalk them on social media, because we need to be prepared. It is simply who we are.

Being an engineer for young girls is as normal as breathing

women IWD

The conversation around women in the workplace, in the media and socially keeps getting derailed because somehow in 2017 women are still viewed as second class citizens in parts of the world. Just watch this video to see what I mean. It has never been more important to make your voice count.

The feminism movement is in its 4th wave of affirmation, where every voice counts and must count. I hope that as women and men we will use our voice for the important things and create dialogue on our future. Now more than ever women are under attack. The fight to create balance has left bullseye target on our backs.

Today there is no acceptable way to be a woman. It is a lose-lose situation no matter what you do. When all genders judge women by the way we choose to practice womanhood and take agency of our own lives and our own bodies. What chance do women stand to just be women? As women we have to work around a lot of self conditioning, being interrupted and society’s created invisibility of us, micro-aggressions and a scarcity of role models.

I take personal responsibility and I feel a social obligation to fight for young girls and boys everywhere because equality is not about one gender. Whenever I tell people I am a feminist they become apprehensive, it is an unpopular word, it is uncomfortable. Feminism is defined as the equality of the sexes. I think it is right that I am judged and measured on the quality of my work and my intellect than my gender. It natural and fair for me to earn the same has my male counterparts. I do not want be treated special because I am woman, I want to be treated equal.

Young African women and men need female role models to tell them that is okay to dream big, that just because someone says you can’t doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. They need to see equality at work, really at work. As Africans comes online and its people experience what the world of technology has to offer, women will have to take their place as technologists, engineers and entrepreneurs. So we must challenge ourselves to recognize the women who are moving the needle, the women paving the way for young girls to think of tech, entrepreneurship and the many varieties of womanhood as commonplace.

I have spent the better part of my adulthood learning about women in Africa who every day stand up and be an example that I can follow. Examples that young girls and young women in the workplace need to have strength and courage. Many of those women go unnoticed everyday but they are worthy of the role models titles. They make my voice count, they make it easy for me to speak. We all need to be bold for the change we want.

There is a new dawn for women in Africa. Women who will not be mollified by simply a silent seat at the table. Women who will not be satiated by just being asked. Women who will stand up and have their voices heard but more importantly women who are part of the dialogue, who will tell the truth on what it is like to be the only woman at the table, who will carry on because the young girls and boys are watching and hoping one day they too will be you. A time, that being an engineer for young girls is as normal as breathing.

We need to stop calling grown ass women ‘cute’

Red

It’s a windy afternoon in the city of Cape Town, for the second time in my four-day trip here I have had to make the grave choice of what was more important, my dignity or may hair. Dresses are not meant for this city. I am standing just outside of one of the many entrances to the Waterfront shopping mall, a guy stops right next to me mobile device out – likely waiting on an Uber. He looks familiar, he is smiling, my current dignity/hair predicament is amusing.

“You were just in the iStore, right?” he asks me, almost daring me to deny it.
“Um, yeah,” I respond apprehensive. But understanding colours my familiarity. I had seen him in there, staring.
“Yeah, I saw you. You’re pretty cute,” he smiles. This is a compliment and I should thank him, maybe flirt a little? But I don’t, I just smile, nod and luckily my car is here so I get in hastily.

Call me whatever you like, but I feel a grown woman shouldn’t be called cute. ‘Pretty cute’ most often for women doesn’t feel like a compliment but a downgrade from pretty, beautiful, gorgeous and stunning. If you don’t feel the person you’re about to compliment is any of the four words or million other words out there then don’t. Cute just makes them feel like that they are not attractive. You sully the word pretty by tacking “cute” to it.

Cute by definition means: “attractive in a pretty or endearing way“. This word is to been likened with adorable and sweet the same words you would use to describe a baby/child, fluffy stuffed toys and puppies. When you Google the word cute the above mentioned things come up. Not quite how a grown woman wants to be seen and I highly doubt grown men want to be cute either – not after they see what Google brings up. On the other hand the word beautiful is likened to attractive, pretty, pleasing to to eyes and alluring. You can see the problem here. Men and Women are creatures of physicality. When someone you think is alluring thinks you are nothing more than an adorable puppy it’s kinda harsh, intended or not.

faceCOLLAGE

In the description of the outward beauty of an adult, their intellect is just as intimidating as their physical beauty. This leads to using lesser words to describe, that’s what one of my guy friends tells me. He doesn’t do it of course but guys do, he says. They will use “cute” so they are not that intimidated, this implies premeditation. A way to level the playing field. I can’t match your intellect but beauty is in the eye of the beholder so I will behold with edit? They will use cute when they are forced to pick what category a female friend or acquaintance falls into. This is to avoid any confusion in the relationship if they are not physically attracted to said female. This is of course mind-boggling but perhaps understandable but more likely a full of shit summation. Compliments do not come with consequences, well they shouldn’t. In today’s world of sexual harassment and political correctness, you can understand the quandary presented. Just because I think a person’s genetic make up is a spectacular work of art does not mean anything. It is simply a compliment and we shouldn’t be afraid to give them. The crucial thing here is that words mean far more than we think they do.

This is the trouble with the English language, the words that get perpetuated are the ones that pop culture finds convenient. Often these words are inadvertently chosen by gender bias. Take the titles Mr, Mrs and Miss. Somewhere in history we lost the title Master, a title used to describe a boy/man too young to be referred to Mr (someone of marriageable age). While the use of classification titles for women continue because we have to know who is Miss and who is Mrs. Someone women have begun adopting the title Ms, which can refer to married or unmarried. Yet society makes it a point that Mrs should be affirmed because history has taught us that married women should wear their title like a badge of honour while single women wear theirs with pity ( by choice or not). It’s pretty disgusting if you think about just how fucked up something as simple as this can affect the greater societal psyche.

Yes I know, the word cute is not some big societal gender conspiracy especially because women also use those words to describe men as well. True, and women also please stop describing grown ass men as cute as well. There is nothing wrong with this word, it just seems a bit less when describe the attractiveness of an adult woman or man. I think the thesis of this argument is that of all the words, the treasure trove of words out there, we choose the least flattering to describe beauty. Words are incandescent as is their beauty and the feeling they bring.

In Nigeria, an accent is a catalyst for love

yaba

I have been debating whether I should write this for days but a conversation with a friend just convinced me to do it. Please hold up on the hunt for me till you’re done reading.

When I decided to spend 30 days in Lagos, I intended to just work and go back home but many people told me that would be a loss. Lagos is one of Africa’s most vibrant cities with something exciting each week. Its people are dynamic and energetic. I am yet to be in an African city that makes being African so cool and sexy and just darn fun. Yes, there are some challenges here, most of them deal-breakers but that is a different conversation.

As I come to the end of my trip, many people have asked me if I met any nice guys here (I hope my father doesn’t read this). I didn’t go looking for guys, and to be honest I had no interest but I did meet a lot of people and a number of them were guys. The dating scene in Lagos has mixed reviews from residents, some who love it and others who despise it. For most women, that I spoke to, it seems that Nigerian men are not much loved, some of them. “Nigerian men deceive with intent, it’s almost as though they set out to be evil and hurt you,” someone recounts to me. The creepy thing is this perspective is held by both men and women. My male friends warned me to not be alone with guys I just met or have only known a few days, and to watch everything I drink while out. It paints a rather terrifying picture of men in Las Gidi.

While men are deceiving with intent they also seem to be existing in a faux conservative world. More than one 20-something confessed their undying love to me after only an interaction of less than 15min, maybe I got mad game maybe not. When I relayed this to a friend he responded “it’s that tinge of British in your accent”. Nigerian men and women seem to fall for people by their accent, at least that is what I understood from his response. Here an accent is a catalyst for love, marriage and the world because Nollywood. The movies say when you fall you should fall hard and it should be a forever kind of thing – real or not. I would be flattered if I didn’t feel quite ridiculous every time it happened.

No one here ever tells you they just want to have sex, the conservative nature of the country makes that a fake taboo. It’s not like people aren’t doing it they just rather pretend. Goodness me, Nigerians can lie. Men lie about their physical desires and what they want from women, women do it too it would appear. Is there a law that says you must lie for survival? Nigerians believe in love at first sight, or at least they think they do. The way it plays out it seems Nigerians need to grab love by the collar and make it theirs immediately. They see a girl and they fall hard within 10mins. They will pledge their lives to these women, send flowers and even offer to buy lingerie. Nigerian girls must know the rules and signs of this game by now, so why are people still playing it?

No one asks you for a date, they ask you for a lifetime as though those are easy to give away. People throw the L word around like its going out of fashion, it’s rather perplexing. Why? It’s been an interesting 30 days learning and watching. The politics of love, dating and sex is weaved into the fabric of this city. Here it seems people are paying for sex one way or another, with the promise of love, marriage or money (security). In some cases all three. Quite the costly exchange for the promised.

Diversity in tech: time to check our privilege

CT-water

A couple of weeks I spoke to speak on diversity in the South African tech space at Net Prophet. The talk addressed issues around race (mostly) and gender in the tech space. How can tech solve some of the gender issues and race issues in the country and perhaps beyond? How are companies and the tech industry at large dealing with fact there aren’t enough women and people of colour in tech in SA and Africa at large? From an entrepreneurial point of view.

It is such a big conversation that I felt that I needed more time to discuss I feel about this topic and some of the ways we need to start addressing it. Also, the need for context. We automatically assume the lack of something means a lack of interest or a lack of trying by other parties. When it comes to race and gender and entrepreneurship, it is a bit more complicated than that.

People get very defensive and protective when diversity comes up in their industry or company. They needn’t be. I am going to tell you something no one else will. This problem isn’t a problem but an opportunity to build change and find solutions that don’t impose on people but help and support. It is a great and important challenge that is necessary.

Why diversity matters: McKinsey and Company study

Companies with a racially and ethnically diverse leadership are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.Companies with a gender diverse leadership are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

McKinsey and Company makes the business case why diversity should be taken seriously by companies. But there is also the logically moral case. Businesses should be reflective of the society and industry that they exist in. If your company refuses to employ and empower women and people of colour how does it expect to succeed in a society where huge percentages are made up of women and people of colour?

The conversation around diversity needs to shift from what we would like to do what we must do. An entrepreneur trying to solve problems unique to people living in rural Nigeria will never truly succeed unless that entrepreneur talks to and even hires people from that part of the world.

Why are there not enough people of colour and women in tech?

Most people of colour don’t enjoy the prilivlege of being able to go home when it all goes wrong. In black communities there is the notion of “black tax”. Black tax undercuts whatever aspiration young black people have. It is the extra “tax” that the young professional back people are expected to pay to their family immediate and extended. The most publicized case of black tax is footballer Adebayor and the story of how his income was spoken for by family. Most black people don’t have the luxury of entrepreneurship due to circumstantial disadvantages. They cannot afford it. Even if they are not paying black tax they have no support system both financially of emotionally to indulge in starting a business.

There are far too many systematic and circumstantial disadvantages stacked up again people of colour in this country and women on this continent to truly engender an entrepreneurial culture. Culturally women are taught not to entertain careers in tech let alone start businesses in tech. When enough people tell you no, at some point you might start believing that is the right and only answer. The internet on its own has not been kind to women, strong talented women are often shamed and ridiculed by the same industry they are trying to break into. Companies barely recognizes female leadership with very little role models to look up it’s a wonder young girls are not clamoring at the door for tech education and jobs.

Education is also key. Most families find it difficult to support their girl child in a career path they no little about and are not sure it will provide security and life’s comforts. Gender transformation as it is in corporate South Africa and Africa at large is already dismal. Entry into tech can seem near impossible. The few women in real leadership positions are likely paid less than their male counterparts.

Things we can do to improve diversity

Tech companies need to offer better structured and paid internships. Paying intern is a great way to balance out privilege. We need to think about internships as systematically empowering. We need practical solutions for diversity transforms in tech. Companies need to stop choosing candidates algorithmically but more humanly. A diverse interview ensures that each candidate is given fair consideration and presents an opportunity to bust unconscious bias.

There are a number of entrepreneurs that have language barriers against them; vernacular translators could be employed at startup pitches. If not, investors need to make a concerted effort to incorporate what second language speakers are doing. English may be the language of business but Chinese entrepreneurs are not expected to speak English in their pitches are Africans?

Transformation in the tech entrepreneurial space needs to be thought about from a state level. Talented young black people will likely opt for a position in with the state a big corporate because familia responsibilities. Black tax as mention. We need a new form of empowerment to change this. Black Economic empowerment or affirmative actions are not enough, it is time for diversity entrepreneurial empowerment.

The unemployment rate in Africa is on the rise, there are not enough jobs for the people who need them. New jobs must be created and these new jobs will be created by entrepreneurs. It is up to the state to help empower those who will create those jobs.

I am not my hair: discovering my face was good enough

M1

“No colour?”, “Your natural hair is so long!”, “What happened to the weave?” and “Woah you are gorgeous!”

I have been a loyal member of the weave cult for the better part of the 10 years, as soon as I realized that braids were not doing my hairline any favours. For ten years, I have not seen what my natural hair actually looked liked and neither had the people closet to me. It felt like a state secret one that me and my many hairstylists in the last ten years guarded with our lives.

I had good reasons for not wanting my natural hair exposed the world, or at least they seemed good to me. My hair is quite thin and after years of trying to fix it I gave up. It also frizzes, just introduce it to air and it will grow a life of its own, with the most intense tiny curls known to man. This meant that my natural hair would require straightening every day, it laughs in the face of relaxers and at the risk of looking like ‘Cousin It’ in every photo I take I just to hide it. It was my secret shame. My untamable beast.

So what changed?

The weave I had seemed uncomfortable somehow, I felt like a fraud in it and I needed to take it off. I marched into my stylist salon and said to him please take this off and give me temporary braids till I decide what is next. He wants to get paid so he did as he was paid. I generally never pay attention when he is working as I trust him with my hair implicitly. He was in the process of blow drying my hair, when he asked if he could try something before we braided. I said yes. He blew out hair and styled it with very hot GHD and asked me to look. My natural hair, long and beautiful. Stared at the person in the mirror for a long while because I clumsily asked: “Is that me?”

“I know you want to cover this up as quickly as possible but, I have been doing your hair for a year now and I have never seen you more beautiful, please keep it like this,” he said to me.

M2

Then it hit me, I wasn’t afraid that I would be unable to manage the crazy hair I had been blessed with, I was afraid that without the weave extras I would not be enough.

It’s almost as though as black women, we don’t trust that we are beautiful enough without the weaves. At least this held true for me. I didn’t trust that my face on its own was beautiful and that as the perfect product of both my very good looking parents that I was enough without the mask of the weave.

I don’t know why we do this. A friend of mine reckons its the media. We have been influenced to think that our own hair is not good enough and enhancements are needed for us to truly be beautiful. I suppose that is what India Arie meant when she said I am not my hair, because underneath all that weave or braids or whatever you have the person remains the same, the face remains the same. We have been sucked into a cultural vortex that we get introduced to as children when parents try to beat our hairs into submission for the purposes of the school conduct. We look at our wild crazy hairs and think if only it can be straight and just do as it is told. We wonder why we don’t look like all the beautiful people and their perfect hair, and we forgot to look at where beauty truly comes from and that our faces are made of the smiles and generosity of spirit we allow it.

I am not my hair, but I am face and my heart that should be more than enough for me and anyone else who takes interest.

Courtship and intimacy: the scar tissue of the Tinder generation

Tinder-Logo

“You are a walking contradiction,” Demi says to me as he peered into my eyes trying to unlock its secrets. He had interrogated me for the last 70 minutes. We were on a first date and somehow it felt more like an inquisition than a date. I met him on Tinder the previous week and we chatted for a couple of days before I summoned the courage to ask him out. It wasn’t a big deal, but call me old-fashioned I still wonder if people I meet online are serial killers.

For reasons I will not explain to you now I spent two weeks on Tinder, it was an experiment, of which I am not sure what my conclusions are. I found myself sitting across the table from my Russian interrogator, his probing gaze daring me to deny him the answers he desperately wanted.

“Where do young successful people (women especially) meet people?” I was asked two days before my Tinder explorations began. I get this question a lot, I don’t know the answer. I don’t think these so-called young successful people know either.

“Somewhere on the path of life?” I offered.

Somewhere between theorizing where these young people found to mingle: for love, friendship and dare I say it for sex, I found myself signing up for Tinder. There is some irony to that but I digress.

“You have to tell me more about your travels. Have you been to Saratov, I am from there.” Demi’s thick accent was giddy with excitement as he whispered the word ’Saratov’ like a love song, a longing for his home town no doubt.

I have never been to Saratov, much to his disappointment but his questions were not done. He had one critical one left.

“Why did you swipe right?” he asked.

Do people actually ask this question? Shouldn’t you just assume that people swiped right because something about you piqued their interest. Are we a generation of such insecurities that we are surprised that our carefully chosen images and perfectly crafted bios get us attention?

The truth: my friend that convinced me on this ludicrous exercise actually did. But I don’t tell him that, I know where all this is going. Instead, I get cheeky and ask, why did you?

“Because you look like you would be good in bed.” All sense of civility was gone, and the false curiosity about me peeled away. A part of me admired the moxy a statement like that must take but another part of me rang in the ‘told you so’ with a disappointing sigh.

The evening ended and Demi went home alone. I had a series of dates some playing out like the one above and others bored me to the point of narcolepsy. It really could just be me, I could just be a disinterested snob. Though from the people I have spoken to about their Tinder experiences, it seems there is a sense of understanding. One person called it a ‘sex app’.

In the last three weeks I have read a lot about Tinder experiences and what is happening to the generation of Tinderers. Young people all over the United States see Tinder and apps like it for what it is, is a means to gratification. One that mostly leaves women hollow and some men counting.

Tinder is a platform sorely dedicated to satisfying the sexual appetite of a generation too busy to figure out how to make connections away from screens. It gives this generation carte blanche on openness and sometimes bad behavior. It is the play ground of instant gratification, there is little to no real human connection there.

It has been touted as the hookup culture, 20 years ago this culture still allowed for some human niceties and maybe polite conversation. Now it doesn’t seem you have to play at being nice anymore but available. The creators of Tinder built a place for people to meet, what they met for was up to the people.

Human beings have a propensity for creating technology that will make their lives easier. Food on demand, cars on demand, homes on demand, why not sex on demand as well. This is not necessarily a bad thing if everyone is clear on the rules of engagement.

There are of course exceptions to the rule. People who have met and made genuine human connections and since left the world of Tinder to go enjoy those connections. However, the majority of the Tinder experience are the rule, just read many of the think pieces that explore the average experience. Friends convince you to keep at it because they know guy who knows a guy who met his wife on Tinder.

What people do with Tinder is actually quite irrelevant, it is here to stay and with busy lives it is likely the easier way to try to connect. What I am interested is how Africans are playing on Tinder. Is the app’s use, results and experiences universal? Have young Africans too resided themselves to the hookup culture as well and is it a case of wham bam thank you ma’am? Is there even a thank you? Or do people just go back to swiping? Are we also playing the game of who gets to care less? Or Perhaps when it comes to sex and love, more is more?

There isn’t a fine line between love and sex. I am not sure people are looking for love on Tinder. How would that look if they were? However, there is a fine line between sex and intimacy, hookups and courtship. On Tinder, we don’t bother to fake intimacy anymore, the nature of the platform requires images to be doctored to attract a suitable coitus partner. There are no courtship just hookups.

If young successful people are looking for a place to meet like-minded people for the purpose of courtship, then we are all in trouble. We keep asking the question, where do you meet people in current times? It seems the real question should be why and what. Why are we looking for places to meet people? What is the outcome we hope for?

If Tinder is our last hope for connection, then we may have some thinking to do. Perhaps we need to begin with a redefinition of connection before we can find the place we connect. To exist in the world of this appify dating, you have to be open to the reality that no one will give you their heart, just their body. Frightening more, no one will want your heart, just your body. A generation that solely thrives on that is bound to leave some damage.

As we make our way through the evolution and revolution of our sexes we forget that most revolutions end in blood shed and the broken pieces of a world long gone. The hookup culture only works if everyone checks their hearts and feelings at the door. The societal and emotional damage that will follow is bound to shake up the fabric of how we date and maybe even love.

The scar tissue of what the Tinder generation are doing to courtship and intimacy will be indelible and not in a good way. No one has given this much thought, the consequences of who we are becoming, of who we have no choice but to become.

Cages of construct: the African reality and dream

An African city

Africa loves to adore its women as long as they fit perfectly in their cages of construct. African men love their women, as long as that woman is African enough. African women love their men as long as he can provide and take care of them. These women expect certain things from their men within certain constructs. We dream up these perfect gender roles that make no sense in reality.

I started watching a show called an African City on YouTube, it is about five African women, re-pats, trying to navigate their way through life in a bustling West African metropolis. The stories are interesting and characters have a certain charm about them. Kudos to the creator of the show for giving us five engaging women with enigmatic lexicon that often incite a giggle.

I told a friend about it and he hated the first 10mins, he didn’t like that all the women had done so far was rag on Africa. He kept watching though, and as I write this he is still watching. He is hooked he says, he loves the way the women talk. The show got us talking about being single in 21st century Africa. The rules of engagement on a continent that is supposedly rising. Issues that should command great presence in the national conversation but still finds its way to the bottom of the agenda in most African cities. Things like safe sex and finding a job based on merit.

You hear the crazy made up stats that it is easier to be killed by a terrorist than to get married or date after a certain age as a woman. I love those stats mostly because they get crazier everyday. This show tries to navigate this world of single and ready to mingle in Africa. A world where causal sex is great and abstinence is encouraged as well, a place that people talk about great loves and great lovers. A friend of mine once told me that when you are single in Africa, you get used to being invisible — these women beg to differ.

What got me interested in this show, wasn’t just the lexicon, or the delightful characters. It actually troubled me because it made me painfully aware the constructs around genders in Africa. In Europe it is alright to go dutch (these women say) on a date but in Africa men as expected to pay for everything. We joke about it all the time about these women who expect things from the men they date. His intellect is optional, thinking is optional so long as his wallet is available and the cards are platinum. Really?

Then there are the men. Who expect the women to be erotically beautiful and dutifully domesticated. The men who are happy to treat women both as goddesses to be adored, as well as sexual playthings. These women are mutually exclusive it seems. They will marry the goddess but not the playthings. The construct is quite laughable really. On my last trip to Nigeria an older gentleman told me: “in Africa we love our women, all kinds of ways. From the front to the back and sometimes on her knees.” It was disgusting and I pitied him, he is married and has three daughters. I worry for his daughters.

Modern African men don’t wear wedding bands apparently. When navigating dating in Africa, a friend gave me some sound advice, “assume everyone he is married until they prove you otherwise”. According to her, if you begin this way then it is a pleasant surprise when they are not — mostly they are she says. Men lie is the lesson apparently, something the women of An African City drive home.

These African gender constructs are so schizophrenic and complex that trying to meander your way through leads to questions and frustrations. What does it mean to be a man in Africa today? What does it mean to be a woman in Africa today?

Is there some maniacal genius to these constructs? If we imagine that they have one solitary architect. The creator watches as African men and women struggle with the confines of their constructs while fastening the locks on the cages with smiles and inconsequential remarks. Must be nice – not.

Dear single girl: it is okay to be alone and be happy

silhouette of mother kissing her daughter

Last year, on the occasion of my birthday I began to reflect on my life and the lessons I was learning in my twenties. As part of the transition from my early to mid to late twenties, my life was only as complicated as I made it.

As I settle uncomfortably into the last year of my twenties, the lessons from last year become even more important and my transition into adulthood is that much more critical. The questions that family and friends pose now are different. For the girl in her late twenties it is clear that it is time to forego the criticism that every act in her life is a publicity stunt because it is not the norm. It is time to just get on with it.

Single girls in their late twenties have a clock ticking, and everyone reminds them. Women in their late anything are problematic to the world. To some, it is an embarrassment to womankind, a terrible choice that likely stems from unchecked feminism that the examined hierarchy of life has not approved. Don’t achieve too much because the men might be too intimidated to share their lives with you. The thought is an insult to the men of the world. A society that prides itself on the assumption that men do not have the emotional maturity to handle success in women, an assumption that success is intimidating and not attractive?

We are the problem with the dating world, I have been told. We, these women who value success above all, these caustic women who refuse to be vulnerable and are able to separate their lives, emotionally and professionally. We are problematic because we are steely creatures with unapologetic sexual appetites. We, these women, in our late somethings entertain the thought of coupling forever without marriage — perish the thought.

There is a dynastic threat that single women in their late twenties and beyond pose. It is a generational question that is coming more and more into societal consciousness. How do you keep the ideals of old in a world where things of old are easily discarded or no longer on hand? The more comfortably you settle into your place in this new world of generational angst and raspy well-meaning voices asking questions you rather not answer, the finely honed your skill of civil politeness gets. For the most part all you want to say is ‘mind your own fucking business’ but civility demands you say something nice. No one bothers to ask if these women are single by choice, the assumption is that they are unable to attract a partner because of something they are doing wrong and by default happiness will elude them.

The real threat and problem is far more insidious than generational or hierarchical misunderstandings. It is the doubt that begins to creep into women’s minds that it is not okay to be alone and that being single is an unnatural thing. It is the dangerous problem that links happiness to coupledom and alone to loneliness. You could argue that this is not the case, that women are happy to be single and are not bothered by the comments from friends and family. Your argument will be debunked by the number of Facebook updates and Instagram posts that begin to take on a rose-tinted and happier tone once a significant other is present. Almost every book, movie and tv show always finds a way to couple up before the end. The happy ending seems to only work once heroes and heroines have been coupled up.

This argument is not that coupling up is a bad thing, but how we sell it and its unrealistic correlation to happiness. There shouldn’t be a culture of humiliation around being single, people should be encouraged to get to know themselves, succeed and fail before they find someone to share all of that with. We should teach young girls that their lives will not be judged by the match they make but rather the person they chose to become.

Dear single girl, it is okay to be alone for as long as you see fit.

Who teaches the young boy to be a good man?

woods cellophane

A few weeks ago, I was invited to talk to young girls about the consequences of “naked selfies” and putting too much of themselves online. When I was asked to do this talk, it was explained to me that the internet is a hard place to for women and it was best to prepare young girls for those harsh realities now rather than later. Young girls the world over are having their sexuality used as a weapon against them — this is tragic. 

Though I agree that the internet is not fair to women, what we keep failing to teach young girls is that the world is not fair to women or any minority. Preparing people for the consequences of what some may deem as “not great choices” is one thing, but why don’t we teach people to change their world. 

In recent years revenge porn has become the norm, break up with someone and in a moment of anger and haste said person posts a “naked selfie” once shared in confidence, to the world. I have heard many arguments on this issue. On one side of the fence, people say young girls today are degrading themselves by taking these pictures and sending them to these young boys. On the other hand of the issue people say these young women have the right to do with their bodies what they want. What I haven’t heard is the role of the young boys. 

Young boys seem to be given a free pass in this situation. There is a fence, and on that fence there are women on either side, women who should be ashamed and women who should own it. Women discuss this issue of how young girls are behaving. Women and men talk about how young girls need to stop behaving. Who is talking about how the young boy behaves? While we are all busy worrying about how our young girls behave, what they post on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, has someone asked what the young boys are doing?

When a young boy slut shames a 13 year old girl, who sits him down and discusses the consequences of what he has done? Who talks to him about betrayal and the cost of ‘shame’? Who explains that he has taken advantage and that someone is suffering for it? Better yet, who makes sure this actually never happens?

No matter how far we seem to come, how many campaigns go viral and voices rise up for equality on all fronts, society still puts the young boy above the young girl. I see school teachers making pleas on Facebook for people re-share posts so the young girls in their classes can see the viral nature of the internet. They do this because they hope it will stop them from sharing pictures in their bras or suggestive images on social media. I want to see the teacher that says “share this so the young boys in my class can see how hurtful it is to betray someone to the world”. So they can see how far their act of revenge can easily destroy a person’s life. How a joke can cost someone their future. 

Revenge porn is the norm and many women are having their lives ruined by men who once promised to love and protect them. We see it everyday and as women, we want to change it, we want to correct behave. We accept our sexuality so no one can use it as a weapon against us. 

But, how did these young boys grow up to be men that behave like this? While we so busy teaching young girls to be good girls, who teaches the young boy to be a good man?