I wanna go home.
Tag Archives: women
“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
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?
“If you consider a woman less pure after you’ve touched her, maybe you should take a look at your hands.” – Kaija Sabbah
The day started with me calling the eldest of my sister’s to let her know my vagina was about to meet a foreigner.
“Good luck, dude.” She responded.
I was scheduled to have a physical exam and prior to this doctor’s visit I had not disclosed any details about my sexual activity or lack thereof to the nurses and techs on duty. Once blood tests, blood pressure checks, an ACG exam, weight and height measurements were behind me, a straight-faced lady called my name and beckoned me to follow her into a room at the end of the hall. She shut the door behind me and asked if I’d ever had a pap smear before. I smiled timidly and shook my head, identifying a spot for my handbag while I moved to occupy the space next to her.
“Oh no.” She exhaled, evidently disappointed.
I panicked. “Um, is that bad? I’ve never had penetrative sex, so I guess my gynaecologist has never brought it up.”
“You haven’t had sexual intercourse?”
“Then we can’t do this.”
“Why not? I thought it was part of the physical?”
“It won’t work if you haven’t had sex.”
She stood up and pulled out a packaged plastic speculum from a supply pocket and showed it to me. “This is what I will have to insert inside you. If you haven’t had sex you’ll be in a lot of pain.”
I glanced at the instrument and diverted my eyes back to her.
“I’ve tried with virgins that have insisted on getting it done and they can never go through with it because of the pain.”
“You just have to stick it in to see?”
“Well, I have to insert this and then squeeze on these ends to open you up so I can get to your cervix. Look, if you think you can get it in we can do it. But you’ll have to insert it yourself because I don’t want to hurt you.”
I paused to contemplate her suggestion.
“You think you can get this in?”
I looked at the apparatus again. “I can try.”
She ushered me over to the bed and asked me to strip off from the waist down while she lubricated the speculum. I got into the lithotomy position (lying on my back with my legs raised), admittedly unsure of where to rest my feet- resulting in my ridiculous search for stowed away stirrups on the sides of the bed.
“Uh. Hmm? Yes!” I wasn’t. She knew it. I knew it.
“Your feet need to be together.”
“What?” How am I supposed to reach my vagina with my legs together?
“Your feet need to be together and then you spread your knees like this.” She made her instructions clearer as she pushed my knees apart.
“Right.” I tried to sound confident in my new position.
“Here you go.” She placed the speculum in my hands. “Let me know when you have it in. I’ll wait behind the curtain.”
I nodded obediently.
You can do this. The chanting had begun in my head. I was uncomfortable laying the way she’d left me and I thought to ask her if I could stand up and try to insert it like I would a tampon with an applicator. Wait, let’s think this through. No that wouldn’t work. Unless? No, there’s no way she’d agree to try look up at my cervix from the ground. Would she? No. No.
“Is it in yet?” She called out, brining me back to reality.
“Can we lubricate the tip? I don’t think it’s slippery enough. It won’t go in.”
“I already did. A lot is on there.”
“Lemme try again.” The room was silent for a few more seconds. “Wait I think I’ve- ouch!” To say I felt like a rotisserie chicken trying to figure out where my stuffing goes does well to describe how oxymoronic the whole ordeal seemed at the time.
“How much of it needs to go in?”
“You need to feel like you’ve hit a wall, that’s your cervix, that’s what I need to see. Push till that.”
I took a deep breath, tried to relax my muscles and pushed till I felt the foreign object creep up my vaginal canal. I called out to the lady in attendance to offer a progress report.
“How did you manage to get it in if you don’t have sex?” She sounded sceptical.
“I don’t know? I wear tampons. I did ballet for a long time. I tried to relax. I mean- Could be any number of activities. I think.” Apparently I’d employed rambling as a defence mechanism, trying to substantiate my departure from what was supposed to be an impossible feat for virgins. Before I could enquire as to what she was insinuating, she’d pushed the curtain back and started to direct my fingertips to the ends of the speculum.
“Squeeze at your own pace and I’ll tell you when I’m able to see.”
It was excruciating. I had barely pinched the ends when shocks of pain raced through the lower half of my body. It felt like needles clawing through my abdomen and legs. I tried to maintain a somewhat calm demeanor before finally conceding defeat.
“I can’t do it. It’s too painful.”
“You’ve done well to get it in. Hold on, let me try now.”
I boldly resigned the task to her, laying back in effort to focus my thoughts elsewhere.
“Nope! Can’t do it. Pull it out, please.”
So, why did I go through all of this? Penetrative sex is not the only way to catch STD’s/STI’s. Some are spread through oral sex, handgenital sexual contact (e.g HPV) and even kissing. While this may not be a novice realization, it is something I want to take more seriously. I don’t want to be careless with my body or make the kinds of mistakes that could lead to irreparable damage, or psychological pain. We’re living in times when love and sexual activity are seemingly interchangeable, and while everyone is entitled to govern themselves sexually, I think it’s dangerous to assume everyone is being as vigilant and careful with their own physical beings, as you might be with yours.
Russell Brand said something in an interview once that has stuck with me: Be careful with your soul, be careful with yourself.
I didn’t do this for the PSA on unprotected sexual activity. I did it because I am a woman. In a world where women’s vaginas and uteri have been regulated by state law; subjected to public ridicule; and reduced to sport umpired by men, I feel women have no choice but to demonstrate the respect our bodies warrant. At the very least to appreciate the power of our sexuality complemented by the delicate nature of our mortality.
Someone loves you.
P.S. Props to all the women out there keeping their cervixes clean. You’re my heroines today!
Most girls want someone to call daddy; to be the truest reason he continues to find God in her mother’s eyes, to be the fruit born of immeasurable love. He will set the tone for all men in her life. If he is a great man, all other men will fall short of greatness. If his desires control him and result in reprehensible conduct, he becomes the standard of her expectation. If he is absent altogether, she will look for his presence in her own reflection. But the power such a man wields over the vulnerable babe must be earned by his unconditional love. It must be bought in his promise to always protect her; paid for by his toil and commitment to provide for her, until such a time as she can do so independently; granted by his oath to put her before himself and all others, ripping feathers from his own back to strengthen her wings, so she can fly high above the stars. She must become the breath he takes before the beat.
I believe my father’s first love is Africa. He believes that: “East Africa will be a single, viable federation one day”. Days after that, he believes that all fifty four States will finally begin to covet unity and make it the goal. He believes that Kenya can change. That people born of the soil can be free. His soul is bound to the life of the continent; his heart beating in time with hers, his convictions owned almost entirely by his desire to see her soar- to see her win.
I moved to Kenya to ride the wave of my father’s love for this place. I wanted to fall as deeply and as passionately for this part of earth as he has, to better understand his motivations. So I could see as he does. I wanted to find in the soil my own direction and celebrate a path constructed for me by my heritage. I wanted to taste the blood of slaves in the fruit raised from the ground where their bodies lie, and marry the struggle they left me to inherit. I wanted to hear revolution on the streets and record the evolution of black- a new unshakable freedom.
Something else my father is taken by…jazz. I grew up on soft jazz, African jazz, African house, soul music and R&B. Like my father I fell in love with jazz and even harder for soul. As a teenager he played the trombone and harmonica, so I wanted to play the sax. I wanted to play it to make him proud and to give him something to celebrate in me. Pretty soon though, I learned to play it for myself. I would come home after a day of school, put a jazz CD into the sound system and blast it with the blinds drawn; playing along wherever I could make out the notes by ear. It was how I talked myself off the ledge- how I convinced myself to let another day meet me at the door. Just play, and hear something louder and more palatable than reality.
I thought moving to Kenya would be as easy as listening to jazz. I had already mimicked my father’s taste in music; surely I could mimic his affections. As easily as he persuaded me to learn about Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah and Dedan Kimathi, so easily could he teach me to love the land I am meant to call home. But Kenya is not like playing the sax. It is not the comfort I come home to at the end of a hard day that anaesthetizes my mind and soul to ease the pain. It is the poison that makes every move hard. I can’t be creative here, I can’t live creativity here. I have found foreign in home- an alien to my father’s love. Richard Wright to Ghana.
It was Jamhuri Day (Kenya’s Independence Day) on the 12th of December. But we are not free and I’m tired of hearing of a potential that not enough people seemingly want to realize. Sadly, I can’t be bought any longer by my father’s beliefs.
This is not my home. I’m not convinced this is where I’m supposed to be if I can’t be the version of me worthy of life.
We all have to know when to walk away.
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:
“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.
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.
I’ve been searching for inspiration. Normally my first port of call is the black community; men and women who have led the nations of Africa to independence; recorded the struggle for relevance; fought selflessly to gain something for generations’ that ‘humanity’ denied they meet. Those people who not only share the colour of my skin and the coarseness of my hair but the struggle that accompanies who and what we are. Who better to consult than the slave that birthed a warrior overnight? Who better than the selfless martyrs that fertilized our lands with their blood, to mourn the shedding of more? When we cry, will the tears of our freedom fighters not pour down from the skies and the bark of our trees not shed a layer of their own skin? And so it is- in those moments when I am lost to the world’s adversity, my eyes and my heart search for answers in the accomplishments of those who have come before me and overcome the challenges common to our controversial existence. Their fight, my inspiration.
As I sit here, it has occurred to me that the reason I search history for inspiration, is that of all the black (African) women in my life at present, not enough of them inspire me. They suffer in silent acquiescence; good wives clinging to a misinterpretation of love and loyalty. They raise their daughters to beware of glass ceilings, but refuse to be the sledgehammer that shatters society’s boundaries. They give up their careers and ambition to assume roles beneath their qualifications, even though they have the capacity to raise the bar in the industry of their choosing. And even in exceptional circumstances when they hold positions of power, they neglect to leave the pavement lit for those who follow; they treat who should be their greatest allies as competition. They are the definition of resilience and yet they refuse to rise too high or make strides too wide for the world to digest. They are heroines waiting patiently for a signal. They are witnesses to their own anti-climax. They accept expiry dates on their worth even though their value in this world is immeasurable. And yet if you ask they will speak of hope forgetting they were once a symbol of its meaning. And if you beg they will make promises of change without acknowledging their abandonment of its attempt at reality. And if you capture a still image of them they will smile for you, even if they’re dying inside, they will smile. Not in hope that a history book will print their portrait on happy pages, but more so that they themselves can verify they are alive, however dormant their being.
If only they knew who was watching and listening to them devalue themselves. If only they could see what they are passing on by subscribing to complacency. Or perhaps it should be me that wonders- what am I actively choosing to inherit, and what do I desire to pass on? No one can convince me that the life of a black woman is not the most challenging to live. If the world is not weighing our beauty on a biased scale, black men continuously fail, abysmally, to play a suitable role in our empowerment. When we find a voice, we’re accused of being combative. When we demand egalitarianism, we’re accused of inciting gratuitous noise. When we redefine our standards we’re accused of duplicitous radicalization. When we express ourselves, or love too hard, we are seeking attention. So, we will be scrutinized. So long as our hair has the ability to lock and our skin shares the shades of brown earth, so long as our voices carry and our convictions are substantiated by strength. I think that this is one of the sources of our resilience- knowing that we don’t make the cut- but showing up anyway. Showing up strong.
That is the black woman I want as my inspiration. The kind that shows up- and shows up strong.