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?

Faces of feminism: the age of the selfie

Selfie collage

“The act of women taking selfies is inherently feminist, especially in a society that tries so hard to tell women that our bodies are projects to be worked on and a society that profits off of the insecurities that it perpetuates. Selfies are like a ‘fuck you’ to all of that, they declare that ‘hey I look awesome today and I want to share that with everyone’ and that’s pretty revolutionary.” — Lindsay Bottos.

The internet is a hard place for women. It is the place where slut-shaming has become second nature, the home of the self righteous and a cesspool of hate. You can pretend it doesn’t exist but you aren’t you tired of running out excuses for this stubborn denial? Yet more proof is Lindsay Battos, a 21-year old who dared to express herself the way she wanted. The internet’s response: vitriol and mocking. Battos didn’t ask those people to read her site she simply existed in the vast space known as the web.

The conversation of what is feminism seems to keep popping up in recent years especially since we have been gifted with so many ways of expressing ourselves. Our latest tool for express is Facebook-owned photo sharing app Instagram, a new societal favourite. The rise of Instagram has give way to an onslaught of self portraits (selfies). Some skeptics will argue that for feminism the act of taking a photo of yourself posing and then sharing it with the world is more an act of vanity than defiance against the status quo. I, like Battos, and many other women disagree. It can be said that “selfies” as a form of activism is simply setting up the gender debate to fail because what does beauty and photographs to do with feminism?

Everything.

One of the biggest failing in female representation is the “Media Woman”. The way women are represented in the media has left a society of impossible aspirations, abused and fragile self confidences. The Media Woman is both offensive and demeaning. So the personal selfie taken by young women to express their self love and appreciation of their bodies and their beauties is the ultimate form of rebellion. It’s not just women either, men too take selfies and express their mainlines and self appreciation so why is it bad thing that finally we have a society rising up to be themselves.

We are as society, not just women, have given up our control to make up our own minds. We have allowed ourselves to be bullied by the media, to be bullied by the state and the greatest disservice of all, to be bullied by each other. We embody complacency and acceptance. Cruelty has become common place and the internet has help amplify our vile. It is terrible state of affairs.

The selfie is liberating. It is friendship. It is caring and gentle reminder that there nothing wrong you with you.

As an often lone traveller, the selfie is a paramount component of my journeys through the globe. As an expat with most of my good and oldest friends all over the world, the selfie serves as a reminder to friends and from friends of where we are and what we are up to. We may jest about the selfie and its frequency but we dare not discredit its power.

When shared, the selfie is a tribute to the ferociousness of your personality, an ode to your mischievousness and a welcomed explosion of the youthfulness of your spirit. The selfie takes nothing from you but gives you freedom. It is an indication that you are who you have chosen to be and an incandescent salut to your soul.

Afrofeminism: understanding the modern African feminist

silhouette of mother kissing her daughter

A few weeks ago on a cool summer’s evening while under the carefully guided hand of a full bodied glass of red wine, a friend turned to me and asked what the modern African feminist looked like, the women he tacked on. This question should have been easy to answer as I thought I understood who she is, but it wasn’t.

Like most things that happens on a summer’s evening where sunset can be dragged on depending on the sun’s sluggishness, the question grew more fierce and terrifying the more I surveyed the dimming skyline. I think I shall address the question as best I can now. It would be easy to say that the modern African woman is all business and dominates the boardroom. It would be easy to say that she has beaten the mythos of the old world and embraced the tigress of the new world. That would be easy.

Truth be told her way is still a murky unknown, barricaded by loopholes in the law and regimes that refuse to step out of the dark ages. She is stifled by religion and bound by the emotional blackmail of her peers and the male figures in her life. When all fails, the default for African women is to go back to the old ways, the way our mothers and their mothers did it — acceptance.

However, there is no denying the onslaught of Afrofeminism, a striking second act in the history of African women and their revolutions. The emergence of the modern African woman is both accidental and purposed, an unorganised movement united by a simple cause — to be all that we can be. This resurgence and affirmation has swept through the continent and everyone is taking notice and making room for the quiet intensities and the exhilarating expression that is the modern African woman.

It’s easy to pin her down to preconceived ideas and the flawless quality of the media headlines and the newsmakers. The truth is that the modern African feminist is deeply flawed, a creature of rash decisions and fiery passion. But can you blame her though? Growing up, African girls are forbidden from dating, yet at the appropriate age they are expected to bring home the perfect husband. An idea that defies logic, leaving young girls to date in secret. The African feminist is built on this defiance, always forging a way when the path is blocked.

For years, women in Africa embodied complacency. They were wives and mothers and growing up young girls bought into this destiny because no one told them they didn’t have to. As the tide now turns and these perceptions in turn unravel to reveal more roles for women in society, the myth of what is woman is growing more complex. Young African girls see this then quickly and easily begin to saunter through their own identities with ease while falling into feminism with glee and careless abandon. Because in the end, for them, it is the norm.

The African woman that we see now is unshackled by the burdens of the women that came before, she understands the sacrifices of those who came before her but refuses to inherent their prisons. She is much darker and unabashed, unapologetic about sexuality and has no time for coyness. For her sex is not a tool to be used in a game of chance or daring, but a factor of life and a source of pleasure.

In the end, what Afrofeminism really is: is an awakening. The African feminist is debunking the mythos that boxes her into one corner of a world that is far to big to only be one thing. She preaches self-love, calculates her career path factoring a husband and children as well as nannies that help out while she is at work. She supports her man and expects him to support her, emotionally and mentally. She actively contributes to household income and sometimes makes more money. She plays a dangerous game of careful and calculated chess, where partnerships and strategic alliances guide her path.

The modern African feminist looks like whoever and whatever she wants to look like, the person who is the most comfortable for her to be. She doesn’t seek self affirmation but endeavours to standout in her own way.

Beaten to submission: feminism vs feminine

daily_life_120211_06

Tucked away in a corner almost unseen, is a Facebook discussion on my newsfeed about “plus-sized” women and what the world thinks women should look like. I never see discussions like this on my feed much, they are probably pushed out by the many tips on weight loss, the abs challenges and the best ways to tone the buttocks.

People share a lot of content about getting thin, I guess I understand the world is facing a health crisis around weight. Yet people don’t talk about getting healthy they talk about getting thin. Women are plagued with is, when did women inherit the monopoly on having to be the thin ones? How come we have accepted and allowed society to tell women that they must look a certain way?

Women are airbrushed within an inch of their lives because it will sell more magazines and somehow these women are okay with it. They are okay with being abused in such a way, they are okay with such blatant disrespect because society has beaten them to submission.

A year ago I was in Seoul, South Korea, and I was lucky enough to meet one of the most remarkable young women I have ever met. She was beautiful, and it could not be denied or avoided. She had made herself so. One evening while we sat in the conference press room I asked why she had so many bags with her. Her response, her makeup and other outfits in case her boss didn’t like what she had on. For her it was key to look just like the women in the magazines, it was important to her that the men saw her as beautiful and delicate. Because only then will she ever be able to get married and be protected by one.

Jax (as we will call her) woke up every day at 4am in other put on her mask of perfection. She went to sleep at 1am because her boss who is a man prefers her to work late. She was okay with because as a woman it is expected. She barely ate for fear of weighing more than a feather.

In my travels in the last few years I have started noticing these patterns, where society has beaten women into submission, a world were rebellion is too much work so we rather get on with the programme designed by an ideology that isn’t based on reality. I was told I was fat when I was 18 years old, I saw a photograph from my 18th birthday a few days ago and the girl in the photographs could stand to eat a sandwich or a piece of cake.

This is our world. A place where fragile egos are put to a test they are doomed to fail. A place where confidence is built with physical approval rather than encouragement. A place where aspirations depend on what you’ve been watching on TV rather the role models your reality provides. We live in a society of child parents and child breadwinners and children masquerading as grown up and grown ups let their inner child loose everyday.

Women look at magazines and buy clothing a size too small only to do the jiggle dance and wrangle their hips into submission. The tighter the jeans the better, once you zip up that dress breathing is a luxury. So day by day meals are skipped and stomachs are held firmly in because society demands it and we are its bitch.

The issue of weight and obesity is an uncomfortable and difficult one for those involved. For the rest of society it seems to be a sport and a way to inflict cruelty. Soon we will find ourselves wallowing in the evil that skulks in adolescence, where we too begin to disregard young boys and girls for their weight because in our perfect ivory towers we can see it is their fault. We don’t ask about the boy whose mother suffers from addiction and he now must take care of three younger siblings. We forget to sympathise with the girl whose father killed himself in her presence. No, everyone with a real weight issue must have chosen without emotional scar because society tells us so.

We judge women for not being feminine enough and then chastised for working the sexy because it is not very feminist of them. Making them mutually exclusively because our society asks us to, so we cave. How can one person handle it all? You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. It shouldn’t be okay to make people feel less than they are, yet everyday young girls look at magazines and wonder what they are doing wrong.

I don’t want to be part of a society that gradually manipulates and coaxes me into accepting the construct of what I should be or what I should look like. I refuse to be the product of a false identity and I refuse to raise a daughter who will suffer for loving cake.

The feminist dilemma: I am not a manifesto

feminism-now-what

This is not about one single globe trotting adventure but the trip of this year.

“You’re such a feminist,” a friend once told me. I looked at him mildly assumed, he meant it as a compliment because that is what every progressive woman wants to hear.

As a black woman I am held to different standards, I am a minority that must strive for more even harder and more fervently. There is an even higher glass ceiling that I must break through, or so I am told by successful women of my race. I am lucky, I have worked hard and very few people have tried to stand in the way of what I want. However, the glass ceiling that concerns me more is not my career it what society seems to think is acceptable to demand of me.

The more successful I get the more of a shrew I become in society, I am told that I will never find happiness because I am determined to be a feminist about life.

“You’ll never find a husband the way you are carrying on,” I was told at my sister’s wedding.
“What makes you think I want one?” I responded.
“Because you are a woman.”
“So?”
“Because what’s your worth is if you are not married,” the final response that silenced me.

My worth. I should not have given it a second thought but I gave it the better part of a year (and we will come back to this).

Months later, I posted photos of brownies I made on Instagram and a friend sent me a text message as a friendly warning.

“Why do you domesticate yourself so,” the text began. “You are so smart, all that baking and homey stuff diminishes your feminism.”

Women today face a dilemma of publicly rising to their feminist status and upholding the unwritten manifesto that defines women as such. I have never stepped up on any world stage and claimed to be radical feminist but because I believe in equality then I am. I do not reject it but I must now address it because my worth is neither bound to marriage or the feminist movement.

I believe in equality. I refuse to be bound by the shackles of society and norms and ideals built on some preconceived idea of what a woman, a man and a human being ought to be. I am not a manifesto, I am not shackled by false ideas of “sisterhood” that benefits a conversation for a platform that divides us from them. I refuse to be defined by a mob mentality because as a feminist it is expected.

I believe in equality. I refuse to be in society that teaches me to shrink myself in more than expand to experience the world. I am not a manifesto. I want the same rights that everyone else have. I have always said that equality does not mean the same. Equal should not mean exact halves of a whole but two different halves that make up a whole.

In Africa feminist means western ideals. Being an empowered woman means you have read too many books, watched too many movies and listened to many speeches. It is a society that condones slut shaming, a global pandemic, where it is okay to disgrace and publicly chastise women for their sexual behaviour but the men are praised for their worldliness.

Women in today’s society have mastered the art of perfecting pretence and civility, where they accept and play their role. Women fight for things they believe in but still worked hard to diminish their shine because society teaches us to. Women get dressed in the morning and worry what the look will relay, because all this is expected.

A friend once told me that she only gets complimented when she is in dress simply because it was a dress that showed off her legs. Yes the dress does look nice and she does look lovely and the compliments may be genuine. But we live in a world that teaches us to be cautious about everything especially when you are a woman. Why does no one compliment her when she is jeans she asked. Why indeed?

Women undermine other woman who dare to be stay at home mums belittling their sacrifice because it is un-feminist to choose to stay home and take care of your family. Women are taught to compete with each other for the affections of man and not be bold enough go to after what or who they want. We are dragged on by the chains of ideas born out of ignorance and ideologies as old as time. We bare the cross of compromise because someone must relent.

Women wage emotional wars on each other or unite in the fight against men when the real issue is to drive sustainable change and build a truly equal society. We search for the whores and ice queens because there is a category that everyone must fit, the perfect cage constructed out of civility.

Being part of the feminist movement does not define my worth. Women have made me feel less empowered than men have. Women have judged me more harshly than any man I have known. I refuse to be part of a platform that decides that my worth is one or the other. We have become so focused on telling the feminist story and upholding the ideals that we forget the human stories and human beings that make up the sexes.

I do not write this because I seek validation of who I am or who I hope to be. I write this because the world seems quite determined to pontificate about me, my gender, my race and my role here and I thought it was high time I chimed in.

I am a feminist but I am not your feminist. I believe in the social and political equality of the sexes.