In the past few days I have found myself wading through torrents of feminism – the murky, the combative, the conciliatory, the prescriptive, the anxious, the embarrassed, the conservative, the misinformed, THE BADLY MISINFORMED, the ABJECT IGNORANT, the level-headed and the very level-headed.
I confess I was more enervated from resisting the temptation to respond to the arguments flying all over my head like drones than from actually responding. Some time ago, I made a personal vow to never argue either the basics of gender or sexuality with Nigerians. Those who already know do not need the rudiments. Those who do not know are sincerely ignorant and cannot be persuaded. It is a waste of time to convince anybody.
Like Barrister Tade Ipadeola said on a thread, feminism is one of the theories that have been badly taught in Nigerian institutions and one that has equally been badly received. I concur to that.
Last month in Ibadan, someone gave me a book –a festschrift actually- written in celebration of a Nigerian feminist professor. It was a 600 plus paged book. I started reading the Introduction written by some women. They were talking about male gaze and in the same paragraph blamed sexual violence on the way women dress. I closed the book and left it somewhere. Whatever else the book has to say has been destroyed by the poorly thought out and judgmental introduction chapter.
In the past few days however, I have come across so much talk about feminism that I am ready to make an exception just once to talk about feminism; just this once to inform those who have badly received feminism. We need them to understand that feminism is not about mundane exchanges about whether a man or his wife is supposed to cook; that feminism does not begin and end with Facebook posts; that feminism does not threaten the perfect “African culture” or “African marriage” they endlessly rhapsodize about. Instead, what it does is open their eyes to the imbalances they are wilfully blind to.
No knowledge, no philosophy, no thinking, is worth its name if it does not make one uncomfortable or threaten what is believed to be ‘normal’.
One of the arguments I hear over and over again is that there is no patriarchy in African societies; that our mothers were in no way oppressed; that black women are merely copying white women who, in private, are subservient to their own men. This argument has no clear gender divide. Women, especially those cocooned in the privileges their education affords them, rant endlessly about why we should speak of equality and not feminism. These women, ever afraid to be seen as having achieved anything based on gender kick against the appreciation of gender differences and the peculiarities of challenges that arise they spur. This makes me wonder how many generations it will take to undo the insidious effects of male domination in our society.
If you want to speak about equality in African society, draw near and I shall tell you the stories of my grandmother, mother and myself. We –three of us- represent different generations of women; we faced different challenges and I can share a narrative of how the changes in the material culture define what each of us thinks of “patriarchy.”
As an older female child in a Yoruba household, I can tell you that my age gives me certain privileges over my younger brothers. Yoruba institutions are primarily age –not gender- based. Yet, when I step out of my house in Ibadan and walk in the larger Nigerian culture, I am subject to a different dynamic.
One way or the other, we embody the contradictions of the gender relationship in our various ethnic traditions and the larger ones precipitated by forces of colonialism, globalization and other factors that order our contemporary world. These things are more complicated than the simple binary of man/woman; black/white; African/non-African to which some folks reduce every conversation. “Patriarchy” in Africa has never so been simple and shallow. If only people would take time to learn about feminism and its routes through African scholarship, we would have far more meaningful and sensible dialogues.
I understand the frustration of feminists when those who do not know jack, proudly confess they have not read shit, hand out verdicts on feminism.
To illustrate the complications of gender relationships, I turn to Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. In the book are three women who symbolize different (and contradictory) conditions (and positions) of women in our society at every point.
There is Ani, the earth; Chielo, the priestess; Ojiugo and Ekwefi, Okonkwo’s wives. If you want to argue that the Igbo society Achebe presents is patriarchal without any redeeming value, then you are confronted with the question of why the men would revere a female god. Why should a society like that give any woman regard enough to worship her? If you want to argue that Ani is just a metaphor, an idea, an immaterial being whose principles can structure the culture only because she is disembodied, what do you do with Chielo, a woman so powerful men feared her? If you want to take both Ani and Chielo as the quintessence of African women – powerful and unaffected by the lopsidedness of patriarchy, what do you do with Ojiugo and Ekwefi? In the book, both of the women suffered measures of physical abuse but their conditions were never resolved. Okonkwo was reprimanded for beating a woman in the Week of Peace but not for the act of violence in itself.
Think about it, there is no time that these women are not archetypes of sort and represented in our society.
While you are busy praising the Nigerian society that has “made” women like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and busy comparing her to every other woman as example of female power in contemporary society, remember, for every Ani, there are women like Ojiugo and Ekwefi whose abuses are not even a subject of conversation. Why did Achebe even create the character of Ezinma (Ekwefi’s daughter)? Why did her father look at her and wished she were male? What underlying critique do you think he was passing across about gender and social prospects?
So for the Nigerian anti-feminist who says feminism is unnecessary because women have never had it so good because they see the Ani and the Chielos of this world, I say leave us who profess feminism to speak for the Ekwefi/Ojiugos. If your life suits you as it is, like Barack Obama’s insurance, we say “keep it!” Nobody is asking you not to cook for your husband or to marry a woman who gets an orgasm from watching the pots boil in her kitchen-office. That is your life but your life is not everybody’s life. If you know how much the world that you thrive in has benefited from feminist ideology, you would think twice before running it down to embrace that illusion of your perfect African life.
It is unfortunate that I cannot open this letter with ‘Dear Paedophile’ because the furthest thing you are is ‘dear’. Yes you are human, and you have feelings, but when it comes to criminality, you are in a class of your own. So many things come to mind when I think of you, things like murderer, thief, rapist and most importantly, evil.
I can tell you categorically that there’s no amount of blood that can wash away your ‘sins’, no amount of self-flagellation, of fasting and praying can give you rest, because what you do is ruin lives. You take pleasure in other people’s pain, you take pleasure in the pain of the helpless and the vulnerable, you are beyond contempt and if there is truly a hell, I know you are already living in it. This hell is not the one designed by the religions, this hell is within your head, in the constant headaches, heartaches, in seeing all the things you love wither and die in your presence. You are already suffering from loneliness, dissatisfaction with yourself, and things can only get worse.
I know psychiatrists have tried to excuse your lack of self-control as a sickness of the mind, but you and I know you are not suffering from any mental illness, we both know that what you are is evil, pure and simple.
Psychiatrists may claim that you might have been also raped as a child, that you might have suffered while growing up, but news flash, so were a lot of people that had their childhoods taken away by your groping hands, sticky fingers, by your lack of self-control. We both know that you could have stopped this cycle of pain, if indeed you had been abused as a child, but you CHOSE not to, you CHOSE, to perpetuate the pain, we both know that having sex with children is the only way you feel POWERFUL.
Yes this is about power. The thrill you get when you take a young child of 5, of 7, of 13, a child who is vulnerable, who knows next to nothing about the evil that lurks in the heart of men and women like you and you crush that child by raping him or her.
No you do not love any of those children because we do not rape the people we love, let’s for one sick moment imagine that you actually, truly, love this child, why can’t you wait till such a child reaches the age of consent, why can’t you wait till such a child becomes an adult and can clearly define what he or she wants.
But your pleasure is taken from somebody you have decided is weaker than you. You enjoy seeing their fear, you enjoy taking their childhood and crushing it in your palms, you are the Biblical devil, the Satan in the Quran, you!
It doesn’t matter if such a child is your own, or somebody else’s all you desire is to kill the essence of this child, to impose your sexuality on this child, to break the child, to maim her or him, taking away any opportunity of such a child growing up freely and happily.
Many people might suppose modernity is the root cause of your evil, that you have access to the internet, to the image of children dancing shoki, but we both know that this is not the case, you and I know that you’ve been practising your evil for years, with the knowledge that in a country such as Nigeria, the likelihood that you’ll be caught or sent to prison for a long time is next to nil.
You thrive in dystopia, you love the way things do not work, and that is why you choose people who you believe cannot talk that is why you choose the weak the vulnerable, the one year old, the three months old child.
No you’re not sick, you are EVIL.
Did you also give to the Mirabel Centre? Oh you’ve not heard about them? Well that’s practically the ONLY centre in Nigeria where the victims of your wickedness are being put together the best they could. But if you’ve heard about them, I bet you did send some money to the fund that is being raised, all these noise, I bet you threw them a couple of naira notes, something to shut up all those infernal feminists.
That money means next to nothing to you, but money can’t buy you a conscience, or the power that you need to desperately to shore up your total lack of self-esteem. That is why you constantly need to rape children.
I wonder how you manage to live with yourself, how you cope with the self-loathing, the knowledge that you haven’t found what you’re looking for- love, self-acceptance, power… that you will continually search for these things inside of yourself and see…nothing because that’s what you are, what you’ll always be…NOTHING!
9jafeminista: Did you ever feel different while growing up?
Pamela Adie: Different. That’s a word I was very afraid of while growing up. I never felt different per se. In my head I believed I was “normal” like everyone else. Growing up was enjoyable. I was allowed to be a kid and I was a kid. I played outside a lot, ate a lot of food, played with my siblings, had lots of toys, a loving family, hated school (LOL) and loved riding bicycles and crashing toy cars… So, my growing up years were lots of fun.
9jafeminista: Why were you afraid of that word? Different that is…
Pamela Adie: I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be like every other girl. Society indirectly prescribes ways in which females should behave and as children we never question that. We just do as we see and as we are told. So, to be different was scary. I mean, who will be friends with the girl who is different? Since I wanted lots of friends, different was scary.
9jafeminista: Would you say you’re still afraid of being seen as different now?
Pamela Adie: No, I’m over that now. Sometimes I think I am different personified. Everything about my appearance screams different. For starters I have Locs and that sets me apart already because many Nigerian women have long weaves or braids. Very few of us carry locs. Right now, I enjoy the fact that I walk into a room and everyone can see that I’m different. I stand out. It’s a lovely feeling! Sometimes, poeple see different as bad. Different is not neccessarily bad – it’s just different, and that can be a good thing.
9jafeminista: Would you say this feeling of being different has influenced your career choice/path?
Pamela Adie: Not so much my career choice, but certainly influenced my passion – advocating for equals right for the LGBT community and women. These two groups that are very marginalized, but my LGBT brothers and sisters are often discriminated against because they are different. This is a great injustice. Treating people differently because they are different is very dangerous and that fuels my passion.
9jafeminista: As a Nigerian and a queer woman what do you think of the narratives around sex and women in our part of the world?
Pamela Adie: Africans in general, and most particularly women, are taught not to talk about sex, not to be sexual or express our sexual desires. This is a taboo topic ingrained in our minds, right from when we’re children. I believe suppressing sexual desires or not talking about sex is harmful to everyone, and women in particular. Some women go through life having never experienced an orgasm because they cannot tell their partners what pleases them or where they would like to be touched. As a queer woman, it is more difficult to talk about sex.
It’s already considered a taboo to be queer, and sexual orientation is generally a sensitive topic. However, we find that narratives around sexual orientation are mostly portrayed in a negative light. I have always believed that if I do not like the story, I can change the narrative by contributing to it.
9jafeminista: In what ways are you doing contributing to these conversations?
Pamela Adie: Well, I recently started a blog, www.dizzlesbay.blogspot.com, where I tell personal stories about my struggle with my sexuality and how I got to the point of self-acceptance. I feel it is important for queer people in Nigeria to hear these stories because it gives hope. Most importantly, people need to know that they are not alone. I share my stories with the hope that others will be inspired to do the same. Together, we can create positive narratives around sex, sexuality, and women.
It is also important to expose the negative effects of homophobia and draw attention to how it affects everyone, not just queer women.
9jafeminista: What do you think of the impact feminism has had in Nigeria? Would you say we’ve made a lot of headway just are things still the same?
Pamela Adie: I believe even an inch progress is progress nonetheless. For starters, we are at point where we can have a discussion about feminism. That in itself is a positive thing and the conversation should be continued. I have had interactions with many people and when the issue of feminism came up I discovered that a lot are ignorant about what feminism is about. A lot of people think that feminism is only supported by lesbians or women who can’t find husbands and what not. I try to bring them to the point where they understand that feminism is about men and women having equal access to economic, social opportunities. Then I see the ignorance begin to fade. So, while significant progress has been made in changing attitudes, I think a lot of work still needs to be done in education and enlightenment to bring about the change we desire.
9jafeminista: How did it feel acknowledging your preference for women and then having to come out to members of your family?
Pamela Adie: When referring to my sexuality, I don’t like the word “preference” because it seems to suggest there is a choice. But my sexual orientation is not a choice I made. That is just how I am. So, acknowledging my sexual orientation to myself was a very interesting experience, and you can read all about it on my blog. More than anything, I felt FREE! Many people do not realize that for queer people, we first have to come out to ourselves before we come out to anyone else. That process is empowering. I also describe how I came out to my family on my blog, but I can tell you that it was scary and unpredictable. I did not know what to expect. But it was very rewarding because it opened my eyes to things I did not know existed in my family.
9jafeminista: Thanks so much Pamela for taking us into your world. One final question, what are your sentiments about the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act(SSMPA) passed last year by former president Goodluck Jonathan?
Pamela Adie: The SSMPA is a discriminatory law, and serves no purpose whatsoever. It is the kind of law that discriminates against people simply because they are different, not because they harm anyone. Furthermore, it infringes on the rights of all Nigerians, not just LGBT Nigerians. It is a harmful law and it should be repealed.