Cursed Culture: Don’t say the F word (feminism)

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If a survey was carried out amongst FGN and SGN Africans alike, asking whether one would class themselves as a feminist, I wonder what the results would be? Perhaps slightly more numbers amongst the SGNs I imagine, but probably still a low figure. That’s because most Africans still associate feminism with negative connotations, as observed by Chimamanda Adichie in her TEDx talk “We Should All Be Feminists”.

 

I, am one of those Africans that shudder at the word “feminist”. I believe that the determination to have a society where men and women are treated and deemed as exactly the same, is misguided and unhelpful. That’s because men and women are different. For example those who follow that line would argue that a man should not give up his seat for a woman who is pregnant, because that would mean the woman is being treated differently! I also find it irresponsible when feminists argue that women should have the right to do whatever they want AND the right not face the consequences.

 

But if we take the feminism at its most basic level and meaning, even I would be forced to admit that ideology should not be entirely frowned upon. I looked up feminism on Wikipedia and found the following definition: “Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.”

 

Ok so that doesn’t sound so bad. In fact perhaps it a good place to start in terms of educating future generations about the way both men and women should be treated in society. The difficulty I have with African culture, is that there is often a noticeable adverse difference in how women are treated, starting with within the family, and then in society at large. To clarify, I do not think that there is a problem with society treating the woman as a “weaker vessel” (only in the sense of physical strength) if that means that the woman is treated more delicately, with respect, and in a chivalrous manner. What I do have a problem with, is society treating the woman as though she is an inferior vessel, less important, and is to be disrespected, and even treated as property.

 

Earlier this month International Women’s day was celebrated, which coincided with a long train of thought I’d been having about the inequality African women, in particular, face. It started with this picture, I saw online:

Asian Meme

 

This picture, although alluding to Asian culture, pretty much summed up my childhood. The fact that my brothers were allowed to go out and about as pleased, whereas the girls were not – that was just the start.  I was also frequently told that it’s not a boys’ job to cook or clean, and that I must learn to cook otherwise my future husband would leave me. From what I gather, it tends to be the same in many African households. How many boys who are the “only boy” in the family do you know that aren’t spoilt? Whereas if you’re the “only girl”, it’s most likely you’ve adopted the role of house girl.

 

I’ve tried to evaluate these experiences and consider whether there was any legitimate reason why male and females should be treated differently in this, starting from such a young age. I could think of none. I could however think of good reasons why both male and female children should be taught how to cook and clean. For example, until such a time as a man marries, and has a wife to do those things for him (if such arrangements still exist), then it would be useful for him to know how to boil and egg and not burn toast, and to maintain a hygienic environment. In terms of going out, as long as both male and female have safe arrangements to return home, do risks not otherwise exist in respect of both sexes?

 

I sometimes observe inequality when I come across African women in the line of work I do. There was once an Egyptian woman who could speak no English and had to have everything she said interpreted to me by a male interpreter. The Egyptian male interpreter was domineering, and at times tried to advise me as to how to do my job in between interpreting. The Egyptian woman had an abusive husband, and she was seeking protective help. She was trying to communicate her frustrations to me, and the interpreter told her to “shut up” in Arabic instead of interpreting what she said. She stood up for herself, but the interpreter deemed this as disrespectful and threatened to walk out. The woman started crying tears of frustration and helplessness. It was hard not to feel bad for this woman who seemed like another victim of a culture that oppresses its women.

 

Then there are the stories I hear of African women in oppressive marriages where the husband has fallen on hard times, leaving the woman to work and provide for the family, and do all of the cooking and cleaning, and once home, do all of the child care too! I hear of men treating their wives as property, though should this be surprising in a culture where a man has often paid a bridal price in exchange for the woman?

 

I have to be thankful that I’ve been exposed to certain opportunities in Britain. I’ve heard about how difficult things can be for the average non-connected female living in Nigeria to try and make a living. That female if not married, is therefore not being taken care of by a husband, and is put in a vulnerable position, because she does not have the power or status to take care of herself. When it comes to inheritance, her brothers will inherit everything and she will be entitled to nothing.

 

All these matters are concerning. Do we want to see a perpetuation of this aspect of the culture that demeans and sometimes even dehumanizes women? Is feminism the answer? Certainly not the traditional, white middle class type feminism that ignores the perspectives of other ethnicities. Maybe a repackaged, re-branded feminism that simply presents the woman as an equally intelligent, and autonomous being who like any other citizen, deserves basic respect and recognition.

 

 

If the fact is that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we must make it our culture

Chimamanda Adichie

 

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Cursed Culture? A View from the Second Generation Nigerian

This is the first in what I hope to be a series of posts about African culture. Of course I know that culture differs from country to country within the continent, but there are common themes that I have identified through my meetings and experiences with various people.

My attempt to analyse and critique what I perceive to be typical Nigerian, and in particular, Igbo customs and traditions, will be done through my Second Generation Nigerian (SGN) eyes. I anticipate I may be prone to bias, as I have dual cultures and therefore part of me – and I have to say, a larger part of me – does not relate to certain Nigerian/Igbo customs. I describe myself as SGN because my parents were born and raised in Nigeria, but they chose to settle and have children in Britain. In my opinion you do not have to have been born in Britain to be an SGN, but you would have spent the majority of your life living here, including during your formative years. Similarly, if you were born in Britain (you can also read America here, or any other Western country), but grew up in Nigeria, you probably will not identify as an SGN.

The SGN experience will of course differ from person to person. In sharing my personal experiences, I do not purport that they are shared by all SGNs but I feel there may be some commonalities. I’ll come to language first. If I had a pound for every First Generation Nigerian (FGN) that, with a face twisted with disgust, spat out the words “you don’t speak Igbo?” I would be a very rich woman. The moment created thereafter is always painful, awkward, and embarrassing for me, yet I don’t judge the speaker too harshly. After all, the heart of any people is their language. It is what unites them. It is often how they can seek each other out in a crowd. However where does that leave the SGN who was not taught the language by their parents? As an outsider, a foreigner, and a fraud. Notice how the SGN is the one castigated, even though it is the PARENT of the SGN that has failed in their duty to pass on the vital element of belonging. I am tempted to say so much more on this point alone, but I may save it for another post dedicated to the (decline of the) Igbo language.

On a separate note, what happens when Nigerian culture clashes with the other culture experienced by the SGN in the land of their habitation? I am speaking of when the FGN feels that things should be done in a certain Nigerian way,  as though Nigerian culture is superior to all else. The SGN may have experienced something different, and might have a different view on things, but the FGN, (usually the parent) will rarely question whether the Nigerian way actually is the best way. For example, my experience of the Igbo culture is that parents see themselves as demigods who are to be obeyed by their children in all things no questions asked. This continues even when said children are actually grown adults. From a British perspective, parents guide their children as best they can, but when they are adult, they acknowledge that they can no longer tell them what to do. In my opinion, on this particular point, what is typically British, is a better way. But an SGO expressing a desire to do things another way, can lead to a lot of friction and uproar.

Another problem an SGN is likely to face is, where do they belong? For an SGO that has known a Western environment for all of, or most of their life, living in Nigeria is not an option. This is simply lost on a lot of FGNs. When I am on holiday in Nigeria I’m often asked by my relatives “when are you coming back home (to Nigeria)?” This question presupposes two things: 1) that I left Nigeria, when I actually I did not start out there, and 2) that Nigeria is my home. If Nigeria is just a foreign place to the SGN, why is it expected that they will decide to live there, especially when all they’ve known is a life of relative comforts. It also begs the question, why do the parents of the SGN invest in so much land in Nigeria, under the assumption that their SGN offspring will want to leave everything that they are accustomed to go and inhabit the land, in order to ensure it remains in the family?

It is so tempted to go on and on at this point as I find these topics very interesting, and would like to see more discussion about them. However I will stop here, and leave certain other topics for other posts. It will be revealing to see how many traditions and customs survive into the Third Generation, and whether the dominant Nigerian culture will finally begin to adapt and synchronize.

Christmas Diet: The Results

I just want to get this post over with so I can move on. I mean what was I thinking declaring that I was going to lose weight over Christmas? Who does that? Although I guess it is timely to be discussing weight loss, given that it’s one of the top New Year’s resolutions. And I did promise I would share my results. Unfortunately I can’t actually say if I lost weight seeing as I don’t weigh myself, but I think I probably lost a very tiny amount which evidenced itself by my clothes feeling about half a centimetre more loose by the time I had to go back to work on January 6th. I don’t know if I can call that a victory, but I’m taking it!

 

Needless to say, I did not stick to the plan of having a “mouthful” of each treat. During the holiday season, my house was packed with mince pies, gateaux, chocolate log, three biscuit tins, Celebrations, Cadbury’s Heroes, icecream, crisps, fizzy drinks, and more besides (I have a large family, don’t judge me). By telling myself that I was only going to have a mouthful, it did help me to greatly moderate what I ate, and not over indulge in the way that I have done in years gone by.

 

Thankfully, I also didn’t stick to the plan not to exercise outdoors. I’ve been “enjoying” rigorous outdoor runs in my local park which has a handy flight of stairs ideal for High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). If you live in the UK, you’ll know what horrendous weather we’ve had of late. Yet somehow, the howling wind and torrential rain did not stop me from the leaving the house, and I actually started to find it refreshing! I’m certain that I had I not stuck to the regular outdoor exercise, I would have piled on the pounds.

 

 

So lessons learned going forward? I’ve learned that my metabolism is slowing down as I age, that I can no longer eat so much cake, and that I must aim for at least one hour’s worth of exercise each week. Simple really! -_-

 

As I go forward, I also plan to keep adhering to a looser version of my anti-inflammatory diet which means that I cut down on, instead of completely cut out the refined foods. Therefore, I can still enjoy eating out, and writing reviews. (This is basically my disclaimer to explain why I’ll still be posting pictures of culinary delights throughout the year). Yay!

2014: The Year Of…?

As 2013 drew to a close it was time to reflect and look to the year ahead. 2013 was like a flash in the pan. I can’t believe it’s nearly over! As is the case every year, I have much to be thankful for.

 

When the year started out I did not know what would be in store. I did not know that I would start writing a blog for instance. I had wanted to start one for a very long time, but then I just decided to stop stalling, and just do it. The response has been interesting and at times surprising. For example, my most popular post by far has been my post giving tips on transitioning to natural hair. I have written about political issues (a little more than I expected to!), as well as diet and nutrition, but it seems that most people are particularly concerned about… hair. Well I am adamant that I will not turn into a natural hair blogger, but if it’s helping people, then hey I may as well add some more posts about hair this year.

 

2013 also turned out to be the year I learned how to ride a bike. Yes aged 26, with the help of my partner, I learned how to ride a bike. I can’t explain the mixed feelings I had when the bike finally stopped wobbling, and I was able make some distance. I felt happy to have conquered, but sad that I had missed out on such an exhilarating activity for so many years of my life. This year, I hope to become more confident on a bike, and I may even try to learn how to swim too while I’m at it!

 

I turned 27, and it truly feels like old age beckons. I have quite a granny personality as it is, but now that I’m getting older, it seems that my energy levels are dipping, and just want to curl up in bed half the time. As a result, my body is just not what it was back in 2012. However, this presents another challenge that I am ready to take up this year; getting my body back in shape!

 

All in all, 2013 produced some good memories. Before I moved to the reformed church I now attend, the charismatic Nigerian dominated churches of my past would be coming up with themes for the New Year at this time. “2014 the year of Jubilation”, or “2014 the year of Fruitfulness” for example. I don’t know what 2014 is going to turn out to be, but there is no way I am going to stand still. I hope it’s going to be a year of moving forward. A year where I don’t make the same mistakes I made the year before, and progress in my Christian faith. A year of new things, new adventures, and new accomplishments.

 

Here’s to 2014! The year of the unknown! I hope I have fun discovering it.

How I plan to LOSE weight this Christmas

It’s December! I can finally allow myself to feel all Christmassy! Usually at this time of year, I’m looking forward to feasting on festive food, but this year is different. I haven’t even touched a mince pie yet. That’s because I’m trying to continue my healthy(ish) eating right through the Christmas season.

First of all, let me update you on my almost-vegan-anti-inflammatory-diet (for my post on this topic, see here http://adressrehearsal.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/why-im-one-step-away-from-becoming-a-vegan/). Well, I did well for two weeks straight, not eating white rice, white pasta, and any refined sugar. But then it got too hard, so I started to allow myself a little bit of this and that, which turned into a lot of this and that. Now, I’m just trying to eat everything in moderation, with my intake of cow’s milk to a minimum, and a careful record being kept of how much desert and sweet treats I’m ingesting each week. I hope that I will gradually get back into even better habits, such as sticking to brown rice or quinoa, and keeping refined sugar to an absolute minimal.

After a while, sweet potato and raw carrot became...tedious

After a while, sweet potato and raw carrot became…tedious

The big test will be whether I keep this up over the next month. I have tried to eat moderately over the holiday period before, and not done so well. It doesn’t help that at this time of year, it gets dark at 4pm, which makes me want to do nothing but sleep, and the cold outside puts me off going running. It’s also not great that my local gym is closed for refurbishment until the New Year. Whilst this all sounds like a recipe for disaster, I’m determined to not give in to gluttony this time around.

Here is my 5 point plan of action:

  1. Work out indoors. Seeing as my gym is closed, and it’s freezing outside, it’s time for me to make use of fitness DVDs. Even Youtube has a vast range of exercise videos for free! The Fitness Blender channel has some great routines, and I really like that there’s no distracting silly pop music playing in the background.
  2. Eat homemade soups. Winter vegetables are great for turning into soup. I need to make soup in bulk (simply because I have either the time or energy to make fresh soup everyday) and store in the freezer. This can be heated and put in a flask and taken to work, or I can heat some up in the evening for a healthy and light dinner. I love my butternut squash soup with fresh chilly (let me know if you want some recipes!). But this soup will have to be eaten on its own because I need to…
  3. Avoid bread. Bread is my absolute weakness. I could go without eating MEAT before I could completely give up bread. But it’s possible to cut down. I’ll be eating soup without bread, and choosing salads instead of sandwiches when I’m buying lunch.
  4. Drink more herbal tea. When it’s cold outside, I tend to visit the coffee shop more often and allow myself to be soothed by sipping a nice hot cup of gingerbread soya latte, or soya hot chocolate. But these drinks at the very least contain over 100 calories, and at worst up to 900 calories. Herbal tea is a better option because it’s still warming, but there are hardly any calories involved.
  5. Exercise self-control. This is the most important point, and will be needed most on Christmas day itself. Given what is usually on offer, my plan is to allow myself one mouthful of each desert, if it really looks tasty, and to just stop eating once I’m full. When it comes to mince pies, I have to be realistic. I’m not going to be able to have none, but I will limit myself to a total of 4 over the entire festive season. I know I’ve probably just exposed how greedy I am, by making it sound like 4 is very small number, but for me, it will be a challenge!

I really hope I stick to the plan, and if I do, I’ll let you know the results!

 

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Why Do the British Film Critics Hate The Butler?

I went to see The Butler a few weeks ago, a decision made out of my expectation of a good historical film about the presence of a black butler serving in the White House. I hadn’t seen a trailer, read a review, and in fact I didn’t even know exactly who was in it. But I usually get an instinct about a film I know I will enjoy. I did enjoy the film even if “joy” is not the best word to describe my cinematic experience. There were moments where I did laugh, but I also cringed, winced and felt extremely saddened in a dramatised version of real events that occurred in the history of America, involving the fight for African American civil rights. It brought home to me, just what many African Americans have been through; the shocking maltreatment, the police brutality, and the sheer injustice of living in an unequal society. A society that that still lives in the memory of those alive at the time to witness it. By the end of the film I was in tears, and by the sound of sniffles elsewhere in the theatre, I doubt I was the only one. I thought all the characters were played well, and even Oprah, who I was expecting to be a flop, did a fantastic job of playing the wife of Cecil Gaines.

I went home feeling very moved and inspired, and even feeling a sense that more needs to be done in America for a more equal society, given the stories we still so often hear about racial tensions, and discrimination. I wanted to learn more about the true story upon which the film was inspired by, and went online to see what I could find. I came across a review of the Butler on the Guardian online. The reviewer was eager to point out every departure from the true story that the film had made. For instance, there was no record that Eugene Allen (Cecil Gaines real life name) had been a slave, and witnessed his father killed, and his mother go crazy after being raped by her slave master. Allen only had one son, as opposed to two, as the film depicts, and his son was not involved with the Freedom Writers or Black Panthers. The reviewer also used the word “farcical” to describe the film, and pretty much rubbished it.

 

After reading the review, I toyed with the idea of writing a blog post about it. As the reviewer was a white British person, I wanted to point out, that maybe they did not enjoy the film because he just could not relate to it, as it is a race-themed film. Maybe he just wasn’t all that concerned or moved by how black people have been treated in America. Maybe he thinks that we should just stop talking about all that racism and slavery stuff already. Maybe there was no single character he could relate to because he has not experienced anything similar to the struggles that the black characters faced, or just because, the colour of their skin automatically made him feel detached from the film, and made him to immediately view it as a “black film”.

Well I got rather busy with other things and then forgot about writing the post. Then I read this piece:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olivia-cole/the-best-man-holiday-race_b_4295853.html

by a blogger who took issue with the New York times lazily labelling The Best Man Holiday as a race themed film, and thought that maybe I would write my piece after all, as race and film seem to be a topic of discussion at the moment. I wanted to try and find the review I had read in order to get the name of the reviewer, and carefully pick apart the review, but I could no longer find it. Instead I found another two negative reviews in the Guardian, one by Mark Kemode (a white male), and the other by Peter Bradshaw (who also happens to be a white male). These men both dissect the film in a very cold and deconstructive manner, without paying much attention to the substance. Bradshaw relegated the film with a comparison to Downtown Abbey. Kermode is slightly more generous by giving the film 3 stars instead of 2 as Bradshaw did, but still manages to denounce the film as a “fanciful retelling of contemporary history”. Both men totally miss the point.

The fact that these British film critics have a difference of opinion about the Butler to me (and all my friends who have watched the film), could be dismissed as just that; a difference of opinion. But I remember reading an interesting article about research that had been carried into film critic’s responses to films that have a black leading character being reviewed more harshly than films with a white leading character. If this is correct there is a potential knock on effect of less people going to see the film because of reading the negative review, and the film receiving fewer takings. Even in a small way then, the difference of opinion can be significant.

I’m not saying that the British are wrong about the differences between the film and real life. Clearly they are right. But the film is only “inspired” by a true story, and not based on it. And it is actually quite clever, the way the film weaves into the plot what was going on at the time with the Freedom Riders, and Black Panthers. Even though various things that happened in the film did not happen in Allen’s own life, they did actually happen. Slaves were raped and killed. Freedom Riders were repeatedly thrown in jail, and the segregated society was an appalling affront to the rights of black citizens. Allen did live through segregation to seeing the first “black” president of the United States. That’s the substance of the film that I refer to.

civil rights dog attackcivil rights hosed down freedom rides burnt bus

Maybe critiquing a film is supposed to be a very academic exercise devoid of any heart. If that is the case then fair enough, but perhaps these British Film critics should consider that for many movie theatre goers, The Butler is a touching and sensitive encounter with the past.

Black Hair (Part 2): It’s None of Your Business!

I do not mean to cause offence by the title of this post; it is aimed at narrow minded people who judge black women not on the content of their character, but on something as superficial as how they choose to style their hair.

 

With this post I fall in danger of contradicting part 1, in which I sought to argue that it does matter how black women style their hair, in the sense that those who choose to wear it naturally, (knowingly or unknowingly) send a message to the world that there is nothing wrong the kinky textured hair of people of African descent. However I do think that it is also true that how a woman chooses to style her hair is her own personal choice, and as such should not be open for criticism and debate by others.

 

Let me explain what I mean. One day I was sitting on a train when I observed a very disturbing and bizarre scene. A black male starting speaking loudly to a young black female sitting across the aisle.

 

“Excuse me, is that your real hair?”

“No” she replied quietly, head down.

“I didn’t think so. You shouldn’t be wearing weave. It looks fake”.

 

I felt embarrassed for the young woman. Her hair was obviously a weave, and by the looks of it not “human hair”. Maybe she was not in a position to afford a better quality weave. Maybe she just wanted to cover her natural/relaxed hair with a weave as a protective style. Whatever her reasons for having a, not so great, weave, what right did that man have to question her? Whatever the state of her hair, in what way did it affect him?

 

Sadly he’s not alone in his condemnation of black women who do not wear their hair natural. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to stumble across certain Youtube channels of (black) men, dedicated to spewing venom at black women, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. In fairness, it’s not just black men, and it’s not just men. Women too can be very judgmental about what they perceive to be a bad weave or bad hair day. Remember how much stick Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglass during the

How could simple tied back hair cause such a fuss?

How could simple tied back hair cause such a fuss?

2012 Olympics? She was not criticised for her performance – and rightly so as she won two gold medals – but what was her crime? Not having freshly relaxed hair!

 

I accept that criticism of women’s looks is not limited to one race. The picking apart of women’s bodies in national magazines is indiscriminate. But when it comes to hair, there does not seem to be such a fierce debate around what it means if Caucasian hair is straightened or left curly, or if extensions are added in. If you listen to those venomous self-hating Youtube cowards (cowards because it’s easy to be foul mouthed and derogatory behind your computer screen), then a black women who straightens her hair, or gets a weave, does so because she wishes she were white. Of course it can’t be because she feels like a change, or likes the way it looks, or wants a protective style. Even if she does wish to be white, surely it’s only a small minority of people who would actually conclude that a woman wishes she were a different race because of her hairstyle? Or should I suppose that when Cheryl Cole wears cornrows she is expressing her inner desire to be black?

Not sure if this was before or after her alleged racial assault on a toilet attendant

Not sure if this was before or after her alleged racial assault on a toilet attendant

For the record, black hair is versatile. It’s probably the most versatile hair type that exists. Many different styles can be achieved with it. So when black women choose to explore the different styles, why not just leave them be? It’s not hurting you. And in my experience, most people of other races do not quite understand black hair, and so do not even realise that. For example, box braids involve fake hair! How many times have I taken out braids and then been asked by classmates/colleagues “have you cut your hair?” Before I would roll my eyes, and think “how ignorant”, but now I find it liberating. Knowing that my colleagues are not scrutinizing my latest hairstyle and scanning the back of my head for visible tracks, puts me at ease. If only all black women could feel that way all of the time.