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International Women’s Day

“The women of my grandmother’s generation in my home town trained their daughters for womanhood. They taught them to give respect and to demand respect. They taught their daughters how to churn butter; how to use elbow grease. They taught their daughters to respect the strength of their bodies, to lift boulders and how to kill a hog; what to do for colic, how to break a fever and how to make a poultice, patchwork quilts, plait hair and how to hum and sing. They taught their daughters to take care, to take charge and to take responsibility. They would not tolerate a “lazy heifer” or a “gal with her head in the clouds.” Their daughters had to learn how to get their lessons, how to survive, how to be strong. The women of my grandmother’s generation were the glue that held family and the community together. They were the backbone of the church. And of the school. They regarded outside institutions with dislike and distrust. They were determined that their children should survive and they were committed to a better future.

I think about my sisters in the movement. I remember the days when, draped in African garb, we rejected our foremothers and ourselves as castrators. We did penance for robbing the brother of his manhood, as if we were the oppressor. I remember the days of the Panther Party when we were “moderately liberated.” When we were allowed to wear pants and expected to pick up the gun. The days when we gave doe-eyed looks to our leaders. The days when we worked like dogs and struggled desperately for the respect which they struggled desperately not to give us. I remember the black history classes that did mention women and the posters of our “leaders” where women were conspicuously absent We visited our sisters who bore the complete responsibility of the children while the Brotha was doing his thing. Or had moved on to bigger and better things.” – Assata Shakur

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“DSC_5153” by Trishhhh 

I don’t believe that men will liberate women from patriarchal institution any more than I believe the wealthy will save the poor, or the capitalist will marry the communist. I believe a woman’s best shot at a decent life has at some point rested in the calloused hands of a woman before her. The excerpt above is from a piece of writing by Assata Shakur, a civil rights activist who was a member of the Black Liberation Movement and Black Panther Party in the 1960s. Here she so aptly revisits a narrative known to many a black woman. We have seen our mother’s cook for their communities, singlehandedly raise their children, support their husband’s and neglect themselves in favor of duty. The black woman has known sacrifice, abandonment and struggle. We have been rejected by the world, endured denigration of our aesthetic and abilities- an article in Psychology Today went as far as to declare that black women are objectively less attractive than other races of women. Worse still, several other polls and studies do not vie from this conclusion. This being one of the more trivial examples of how we are viewed in this world. However, there will be no greater adversary we face than ourselves.

When we look more specifically at women in developing countries, we cannot ignore the injustices subjected to those who can ill-afford what should be basic human rights. Sexual and reproductive rights, for instance, have been referred to by some feminist theories as the site at which men are most oppressive and women most oppressed. Our bodies have literally been turned into consumer goods for sale to the highest bidder; be it private healthcare agencies, corporations or marketing firms. It is so ironic that somehow the only people who are demonized for the sale of women’s bodies are women. The way we dress cannot be too provocative though we cannot be too prudent. We cannot express our sexuality or admit to a desire for, or enjoyment of sexual encounters at the risk of being called promiscuous hoes. Perhaps worse still, women are known to endorse the demoralization of other women.

Let’s not forget that Maya Angelou was a prostitute. Billie Holiday was a heroin addict. Leymah Gbowee was an alcoholic. And yet here we have a writer, a singer and a nobel peace prize laureate that we openly and excitedly celebrate for their contributions to literature, music and peace. What have they taught us? That we have no business telling women who they are. Too many have shown up, transgressions in hand and holes in the soles of their feet ready and willing to redefine their narrative against the script written by patriarchs.

We have so much work to do. This world is cursed with indiscretion. In some countries, there is forced sterilisation for HIV positive women and restrictive abortion laws for women confronting unwanted pregnancies. The same work as male counterparts for unequal pay. Underrepresentation of women in governance. Misrepresentation of women in industry. International Women’s Day. A day some of us show appreciation for our mother’s, their mother’s, our siblings, aunties and daughter’s. We acknowledge the women we love who have contributed to our growth as individuals and the one’s this world has elected to remember. But we cannot forget to praise those who are different, who broaden the scope of our travels. Those prostitutes who will write, those alcoholics who will organize and those singers who will drive our anthems of egalitarianism! There are no hoes, no bitches-only flavors of awesome dressed how they please.

“The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” -Dante Alighieri

The celebration of women on this day, at present, seems to be no more than another opportunity to acknowledge that women exist. That we were all expelled from some woman’s womb. That too many of us are still silently acquiescing to our own gender-specific, sexist roles. It is as though we have forgotten that there was a time women were not allowed to vote. Women were not allowed to study. Women were not allowed to work. Men legally had to give their wives permission to undergo tubal ligations. Women could not legally own property. This did not change because men decided women deserved better. It changed because women decided they deserved better.

Tell me, have we stopped deserving better?

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Prom Dresses and American Presidential Elections

de·feat

verb

Win a victory over someone in a battle or other contest; overcome or beat.

 

Defeat is tricky. When I was younger, I remember being told things like:

“Quitters never win.”

“When you get knocked down, dust yourself off, get back up and try again.”

“Don’t give up because it’s too hard. Nothing good ever comes easy.”

“Hard work pays off.”

“Focus on the work and the rewards will follow.”

But then I also remember hearing a lot of the following too:

“That’s life.”

“Maybe this wasn’t for you.”

“Life’s a bitch.”

“That’s how the cookie crumbles.”

The contradiction stunned me. I was expected to aspire to and work hard for the things that I wanted, but if hard work proved insufficient I was expected to adopt a less palatable resolve. Reach for the sun, I suppose, with the hope that you might just touch a cloud. The result of this week’s American presidential election brought these words back to the forefront of my mind. Hard work and reward. Inadequacy and resolve.

Few of us live in a world where we set the rules. Often we are born into an existence where our lineage, citizenship, appearance, race, ethnicity, physical capability and/or academic prowess pre-determine our worth and opportunity. Silver spoons for the wealthy, vouchers for the poor and hope for the in-betweeners. We are not expected to succeed if we do not show signs of exceptional ability or can’t afford to subsidize our shortcomings, and so we are expected to ‘only aspire’ to a higher standard without any of the extra help. ‘Do the best you can, don’t give up’, when in fact we have already been written off. This made me wonder, did Hillary Clinton enter a race she was never really in to begin with. After all, she is very well educated, seemingly smart and has a resume boasting experience in the political realm- yet she still lost. She spoke against rhetoric that undoubtedly demoralized women; demeaned ethnic minorities; denied rights and freedoms; and depreciated the value of environmental science. Yet she lost. However flawed or less amiable she may be, of the two leading candidates, she still spoke the language of progress. Yet she lost. She worked hard and against the odds became the democratic nominee, yet she lost.

“I first ran for Congress in 1999, and I got beat. I just got whooped. I had been in the state legislature for a long time, I was in the minority party, I wasn’t getting a lot done, and I was away from my family and putting a lot of strain on Michelle. Then for me to run and lose that bad, I was thinking maybe this isn’t what I was cut out to do. I was forty years old, and I’d invested a lot of time and effort into something that didn’t seem to be working. But the thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work. Because if you’re worrying about yourself—if you’re thinking: ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’ – then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.” –Barack Obama

It’s hard to believe the world we live in sometimes. The fact that Americans vote, essentially on behalf of the world. A few hours after months of campaigning- and then a single moment when one concedes. And her concession- our new resolve. Four years of governance bought and paid for by a single moment. And maybe the ground won’t start shaking and maybe the sun won’t fall from the sky. Religion will perhaps continue to be for the religious, rebellion for the recalcitrant, and criminality, ostensibly, for the morally malnourished. But that’s really it- maybes and perhaps. The struggle to keep it about the work and less about the individual.

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Above is my old high school prom dress. My mother, being very sentimental, has held on to it all these years and recently dug it up and gave it to me. The night I wore it I wanted to feel beautiful, but I did not want that to be the extent of my significance as a living being. I did not want to be defined by a dress, or a date, or a dance. I just wanted to experience another cliché moment in time that was bought and paid for by a four year sentence in what was termed the pink prison (my old high school’s nickname). I don’t care so much for the dress now. It was not meant to be perfect forever. In fact, it doesn’t even really fit me anymore as evidenced by the positioning of my hands (I was just over a size 2 back then and now I’m a 0). I grew up but it did not grow with me.

I hope this election does not mean the end of growth and progress these next four years for America and her allies. Dresses can quite easily be discarded; human beings, not so much.

 

 

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I wouldn’t be a Gen Y kid if I didn’t make a breakup video!

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Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man

“Don’t be afraid to lose him, because if a man truly loves you, he’s not going anywhere.” – Steve Harvey

These past few months I’ve been writing a lot about heartbreak. You see I got my heart broken by someone I loved deeply and somehow unloving him has been the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my personal life lately. He is the 2nd man I have dated but the 1st I have ever been in love with, so understandably there will be scarring on my heart that will take some time to clear.

I’ve never been the kind of girl that NEEDS to be in a relationship; I don’t feel a sense of emptiness when I’m not dating and there is nothing I despise more than serial dating. Which is coincidentally what he has gone and done. This I have to say is what really broke my heart. Now I get it, men and women are different. Some men heal by moving on to the next one and some women (me included) heal by dealing with the hurt, grieving the loss and making peace with what can be no more. Knowledge of this doesn’t take away the pain any faster, so I did what I thought I would NEVER do- I read “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man”. A relationship book– oh the shame!act like a lady

I found a lot of it more applicable to older women (I’m in my early twenties), who have had children and past marriages, but what I found helpful was how direct Steve Harvey was in explaining the actions of men and the simplicity that is the male mind. The best advice I took however is what I have chosen to quote above. I wouldn’t go as far as to say he didn’t love me, but I understand that my fear of letting him go will hurt ONLY me. Clearly he has moved on, he is with someone he could possibly grow to love much more than what he could me, and rather than be chewed up by my bitterness, I have to accept that this is a choice he has made. That said, I personally cannot serial date in effort to move on because it just isn’t how I’m wired. I believe people who do so end up carrying baggage from one relationship to the next; which I fear is what played a role, however minor, in the demise of ours. Furthermore, I’ve always believed that if I give my heart away too many times, by the time the right one comes along he will only get what’s left of me, not all I would want to give.

I guess what I am trying to say is, tears and a broken heart mean I actually cared, so I refuse to be ashamed of them or try to bandage them up in something new and shallow. However, time will heal these wounds. Until then I get to focus on being the best possible version me that I can be because I know that the right man will be deserving of nothing less.

I can definitely say having read the book that I do feel a stronger sense of acceptance. It’s over. He’s moved on. I’m single.

And you know what, I think this is ok.

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The African Woman in Me

Often as African women, it seems as though the world expects us to make apologies for our dark skin and coarse hair. We’re not modelled to suit the look of what society idolises as the ideal/beautiful woman. In Africa, what is perhaps more saddening, is how the system seems to turn a blind eye to the ill treatment of women; we are often targets of unprovoked degradation and abuse. I read a quote this week that made me so proud to be an African woman and thought it was worth sharing:

“African women in general need to know that it’s OK for them to be the way they are – to see the way they are as a strength, and to be liberated from fear and from silence.” -Wangari Maathai

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My body is not a dumpsite for your ejaculate!

An Indian minister said this week “rape is a social crime; sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong”. This mentality that seems to be especially prominent in the developing world is at the detriment of many women who have been raped and have not or will not see justice done because some law enforcers and authoritative figures, like the minister (above), refuse to see women as human beings; equally deserving of security and justice. But rape is just one issue among many where women have not been able to rely on the promise of justice and security. At what point do we say- enough?

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