Zero Waste and Childfree, But Not in the Way You Think

Black man tilting his head to the right and lifting his thumb to his mouth as if to suck it He may look like a man, but he’s a child.

I’m in a Facebook group which has daily, heated discussions. At least once a week, someone in the group will post something that reinforces my decision to both be childfree AND to remain single.

It’s not the group you think.

I’m Zero Waste.

“Zero Waste”, of course, is a bit of a misleading title. It doesn’t mean that I literally do not contribute to any waste whatsoever, but it is a lifestyle that focuses on minimizing the waste that we produce on an individual level in our lives. We focus on reusing, repairing and reducing the material items in our lives before it gets to the recycling stage (which is very energy intensive). Eliminating single-use plastics is an important part of the movement, but not the whole thing. 

For the most part, in my day-to-day life, it means that I shop at the farmers market (with my reusable bags) instead of the supermarket; if I do have to go to the supermarket, I bring those bags (including produce bags). I buy in bulk. I carry a water bottle and cutlery around and bring my own lunch to work and on day trips. I provide my own containers on the rare occasions I get take out, and I don’t use toilet paper. (If you really want to know about this last one, shoot me an email at info@childfreeafrican.com.) 

ZW is not totally accessible to everyone for a number of reasons: financial poverty, time poverty, location, or lack of a support system. Being ZW isn’t about shaming people. It’s about doing what you can, and educating people who you can along the way before humanity ends in 2030. 

This last thing — the lack of a support system — is what I want to address today.

In the ZW group I’m in on Facebook, at least once a week, a woman (always a woman or a feminine-presenting person) will post about her husband (always their husband) who is not on board with the ZW lifestyle, sabotages her recycling (throwing perfectly recyclable items in the garbage), her composting, her reusing (throwing away the reusable containers she saved), and mocks her in public. 

Without fail, the comments section will have at least all of the following suggestions, if not additional egregiousness:

  • “Lead by example; don’t preach!”
  • “Use positive reinforcement the same way you do with your kids or pets! Tell them ‘good job!’ every time they use a reusable container.” 
  • “Pack his lunch for him in a reusable container!” 
  • “Watch documentaries together but don’t talk to him about things because it’ll seem like you’re telling him what to do!”
  • “This is your thing, don’t try to make it his.”

I really, truly wish I were exaggerating. While I have not copied verbatim, I have followed the spirit of many, many suggestions. 100% of these suggestions (that I have seen) have come from women.

All of this makes me absolutely relieved to know that I will never be in a relationship with a cishet dude again for a number of reasons. 

Firstly, while I know there are male environmentalists, who for whatever reason (with the exception of Greta Thunberg), tend to receive all of the saving-the-planet accolades; environmentalism; and by extension, ZW; is seen by straight guys as being an affront and a threat to their very hetero masculinity. (Also, I know the reason.) 

Say what you will about… I dunno, people having their differences? but having similar values systems is something that is very important to me in a romantic relationship. Or, it would be, if romantic relationships were something I was still willing to engage in. 

If you don’t care about your impact on the environment to the point where you’ll go out of your way to sabotage what I’m doing — or you’re invested in white supermacist hierarchies, or you’re sexist, or you’re a homophobe, or a transphobe, or a capitalist, or, if you know, you want to be a DAD — we are fundamentally incompatible. The fact that people are acting as though this is just some quirky trait that a woman should just push aside for her man, rather than a valid personal value (coupled with the fact that we are actively destroying the world) is at best, worrying. 

Secondly, the idea that a woman should have to literally treat her husband the same way that she treats a child is revolting to me. I’m literally nauseated right now. Hold up, I have to go vomit.

Okay, I’m back.

Apparently just having a conversation with your husband about basic scientific evidence is so offensive that it will turn him off ZW, so you need to coddle him and make sure his widdle fee-fees don’t get hurt because you… started composting? You need to tell him “good job” for putting his plastic in the PLASTIC RECYCLING, literally the most basic things that an adult an industrialized economy could do? You need to make his GODRICDAMN LUNCH???? And after all that you’re still meant to be attracted to him?? Like, romantically? Sexually???

How is this different from having a child? 

Oh wait, it isn’t. Even the people suggesting this shit imply that it’s not different from having a child. A partner should be part of your support system, just like you should be part of theirs. Not someone you have to coddle.

My real question is, how is this better than being alone? 

I’m childfree. Being childfree means being childfree. Even if the child is my age, or five years younger or older than I am, I’m still unwilling to be his mom. 

If your man behaves like a child, then you have to mother him, and I have no interest whatsoever in being a mother. 

That’s the whole point.

 

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How to Be a Carefree Black Girl, Part II

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about being a carefree black girl, and what it took to get to that point. Where did the concept even come from?

Although the term originated in America, I strongly believe that the concept of being a carefree black girl can and should apply to black girls, women, and femme-identifying people everywhere. Indeed, the founder of the blog by the same name  describes her Tumblr as “A safe space for black girls across the globe and beyond to share their diverse fashions, passions, conversations, and cultures without any drama—and a home away from the various struggles we face in the real world”.

Although the stereotypes about black women in the villages, towns, and cities across Africa may differ from the ones that persist throughout the media in the diaspora, one consistency is the expectation for us to put everyone else’s needs above our own. Although society pretends to laud self-sacrifice, it’s not truly expected for everyone to put themselves at the bottom of their priorities list. Although no women are able to easily escape the patriarchal conditioning that we’ve received — as the former favorite, now somewhat deservedly soon-to-be-excommunicated from black feminism Chimanda Adichie said in We Should All be Feminists, “we teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man” — this goes double for black women. From the mammy stereotype that persisted from the antebellum American South until today, to the backlash that black women receive on social media for simply speaking their truth, the idea that we don’t even merit an afterthought in our own minds is pervasive.

While community and social ties are an important part of every culture, every society, and putting others’ needs ahead of our own, even to our detriment, is one that can cause serious psychological harm to those on the receiving end of it. And let’s be clear: not everyone is on the receiving end of it. People are so accustomed to seeing  black women and other women of color in service to others that they expect it, even when it’s not our responsibility. We are frequently mistaken for being the nanny instead of the mom, or for being employees when we are clearly customers. Or told that we are responsible for other people’s decisions (although it never goes the other way around).

That’s not to say that no white person hasn’t ever had this experience, but it happens more frequently to those of us who are more melanated due to these pervasive stereotypes. While not overt and violent acts, these microaggressions chip away at our self-esteem, our self-worth, and our ability to practice self-care.

Social media, for all its ills, has also allowed black feminist critical theory from academics of old has to become more accessible to people around the world. Although these women are not always cited by name, their ideas — as well as the ideas of the new guard — are reaching more people, and also teaching us, that no, we aren’t anyone’s mules, and yes, putting priority on our own mental, social, physical, and economic health is our right.

It may be difficult to understand or believe this if everything you’ve been taught is contrary. And many women don’t have the time to seek out black Twitter feminism because they’re busy trying to make ends meet. Some women — known on African feminist Twitter as “patriarchal princesses”— wholly believe that a woman’s primary purpose is to marry, procreate for her husband, and spend her life in service to him.

Although I never consciously bought into the idea that that was my role, I certainly haven’t always been immune to patriarchal brainwashing. I suspect that even the strongest feminists among us, at some point in their lives, have done things they didn’t want to or even believed that they should do, have still done unreasonable things because a man, whether their boss, father, or just a guy they (thought they) liked demanded it of us.

Getting older (and hopefully wiser), though, has helped me lean into the person that I was probably always meant to become. This means that even though the well-being of the people in my life, as well as people I may never meet, is important to me, that shouldn’t come at my own expense. People who work tirelessly to make the world, or even just their world, a better place for everyone are admirable. That shouldn’t mean, though, that they have to put themselves last to do so. A more just world shouldn’t come at anyone’s expense, and the world’s injustices are hardly the fault of those with the least privilege. Everyone is deserving of a life of dignity and security, which means that black women and femmes shouldn’t be sacrificing themselves at the altar of white supremacist and patriarchy.

If you’re aspiring to be a carefree black girl, the first thing you need to do is take care of yourself with the resources you have available. That might be your friends, family, or your excellent health insurance plan. It might mean reaching out for help, or finally making that dentist appointment. It might mean telling your partner what you need from them to make your home life more fulfilling, or even just mean taking 10 minutes for yourself each morning before getting your children ready for school.

Start making time for yourself, and carefreeness will follow.

Photo by Krys Alex on Unsplash

How to be a Carefree Black Girl

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I’ve been thinking recently about how I became so unorthodox: childfree, atheist, asexual, radically feminist, anti-racist, vegan, anti-capitalist, zero waste.

I was born as at least one of these, while others are conscious choices.

I don’t know what makes me — and a significant minority of people — so resistant to accepting the status quo when most people go through life never questioning what they’ve been taught, or becoming hostile to having their ideas challenged (something I’ve both observed throughout my life).

But I don’t think that we — the questioners, the amateur philosophers and sociologists — are particularly remarkable. Certainly, there are millions of us, and we tend to agree on many topics. Although that might make us seem “weird” or eccentric, it reinforces the idea that there is nothing new under the sun and even radicals find their ideology somewhere. Maybe our genes make us naturally contrarian. Maybe someone, somewhere, at some point in our lives told us to challenge “the man”, even if we don’t have a conscious memory of it. Whatever it is, something makes us prone to question rather than conform.

We understand the importance of social norms. But they become dangerous when we stop thinking about why they’re there: rules, whether legal or cultural norms, are useful when they prevent people and institutions from causing harm to others, but that’s not what many of our rules actually achieve. Yeah, random acts of violence being not only illegal, but also frowned upon is a positive. Legal loopholes allowing the wealthy to hoard their riches in secret accounts, rather than being taxed to help ensure basic rights, are indisputably not.

Neither are social norms or legislation stigmatizing marginalized sexualities and genders, or conditioning about women’s and men’s roles in the home, at work, and in society.

Or you know, the obligation to have children, even if you don’t want to.

We’re given all this messaging before we’re even born (see: gender reveals).  And those of us who make conscious, alternative choices aren’t necessarily immune to groupthink either. Just go take a look at any comments section of an article where someone has renounced veganism. I’ve met self-identified feminists who are insistent, to the point of aggression, on upholding completely arbitrary and dogmatic tenets of patriarchy. This holds true for me too. I’ve also been guilty of holding white supremacist, sexist, or speciesist beliefs while not being aware of it.  

Like I’ve mentioned before, until I was 22, it had never occurred to me that being childfree was an option. I dreaded having to do it someday, but I still knew that I would. It was only after I became strongly involved in the then-nascent blogosphere (I’m old, y’all) that I realized that foregoing motherhood wasn’t any different from the other cultural hallmarks of white supremacy, patriarchy, and Christian normativity that I’d chosen to reject on my way to becoming a carefree black girl.

 
Photo by Paulette Wooten on Unsplash

The Best Humanity Can Get

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I 10000000% do not understand why people are up in arms about the phrase “toxic masculinity” after the release of Gillette’s new commercial. Toxic is an adjective. It describes a type of (harmful) masculinity.  The phrase “toxic masculinity” doesn’t mean that masculinity is toxic any more than the phrase “chocolate cake” means that cake is chocolate. Some cake is chocolate. Some masculinity (the type that HARMS PEOPLE) is toxic.

I’ve been coming across a lot of (ill-thought out) “rebuttals” such as “How would women like it if we said TOXIC FEMININITY??!” (I will not link to any of these spectacularly bad takes, but a quick Google search should reveal hundreds if not thousands. I actually saw one person refer to the Gillette commercial as “hate speech”. I didn’t know whether to scream or cry. The only response I have to that is that if you think that’s hate speech, you’re too privileged for your own good. )

First of fucking all, the concept of toxic femininity already exists. Secondly, femininity is not so fragile that women and transfeminine people, and other femme-identifying people would be offended by a phrase that describes something harmful. Thirdly, “masculinity” and “femininity” — both concepts I don’t truly believe in — are largely cultural constructs, something that is demonstrated by the way the vary from culture to culture and species to species.

In the West, for example, hairy legs and armpits and no makeup are considered masculine or unfeminine. None of the women I knew in China, Ghana, or Senegal shaved their legs. I even had men telling me not to shave my legs (not that I cared about their opinion, because I wasn’t shaving for them).

Guess what, though?

Women have hairy legs and armpits. The idea that that’s not feminine is just an artificially constructed patriarchal ideal. Women’s faces don’t naturally secrete cosmetics either. The idea that women’s faces need to be painted in order to appear feminine, rather than them just being feminine by nature of being a woman’s face is also a patriarchal social construct.

I see absolutely no problem with a corporation, which is going to be spending millions of dollars on advertising anyway, choosing to spend that money to promote a positive message (“Let’s rethink the harmful things we have been taught about what it means to be a man”) rather than simply reinforcing the status quo. The thing that does bother me about the Gillette campaign, besides the ridiculous responses to it, is the commodifying of feminist messaging. Feminism is about dismantling oppressive systems, not helping their most successful actors to move product.

Gillette’s right, but don’t buy a Gillette razor. Get a vintage safety razor instead.

Photo by Patrick Coddou on Unsplash

 

Goodbye, 2018, and Sorry for Being the World’s Shittest Blogger

Another year gone and another year of me not meeting my blogging goals.

I made a promise to myself to update this blog consistently in 2018, which I started off doing, but clearly did not keep up. Like most people, my year was full of ups and downs. On the plus side, I had a lot of good experiences and learned a lot this year. I visited Ireland, Denmark, Malta, and Malaysia for the first time this year. In Ireland, I went to Dublin VegFest and participated in the Vegans of Color conference. In Malaysia, I met a friend in person for the first time who I first encountered through her blog, and I met another friend I hadn’t seen since 2008. I participated in a number of activities including Plastic Free July, Plastic Attack and six races. I started a podcast (I’m still learning how to edit, so please bear that in mind). On the other side, I didn’t quite reach the professional goals I set for myself, and I struggled with kicking a couple of bad habits.

Regarding my day job, a few weeks ago, my place of employment had its big conference (which usually takes place every five to six years). It was pretty big, with academics attending from all over the world. On the first night of the conference, there was a reception, during which I ended up talking to the African male attendees. If you’ve read all three of my posts, or ever spoken to me in person you can imagine where this is going. One of them in particular (there were three) had a major problem with me not having kids, and more significantly not wanting to have them either. He actually said “I hope you change your mind”, which I guess is different from saying “you’ll change your mind” but is actually more confusing. Unlike the arrogant “You’ll change your mind” assholes, he seemed to acknowledge that I do actually have a better handle of what I want and what I will do than he does, but for some reason had a problem with it. I said that I’m more interested in doing [insert every single one of the activities that I do] and he said “You can do that and have children. They’re not mutually exclusive” and I said “But I’m interested in doing all of those things. I’m not interested in having children” and then he just kinda stared at me.

Obviously, the conversation wasn’t resolved (the only resolution I would have been happy with would be him understanding and accepting that everyone doesn’t want to have children), but I do hope that I at least planted a seed and maybe, later on down the road he’ll consider that not everyone has to follow the cishet, amatonormative life script (also known as the relationship escalator) laid out for us by patriarchy.

In 2018, I wrote a guest post for the I Am a Vegan series run by the Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack podcast. I was also interviewed by Words in the Bucket about being childfree and African, and about how that affects not only people like me, but people with far less privilege than what I have. Full disclosure: the author, Isobel Edwards, and I know each other in person, but please check it out.

Finally, I was on two episodes of the podcast Unchained. Unbothered. hosted by Keturah Kendrick, a “free black woman” and author of the upcoming book No Thanks: Black, Female, and Living in the Martyr-Free Zone. Check out my episodes here and here, but then be sure to check out the experiences of all the black woman who have broken out of the white supremacist, capitalist, hetero-and cisnormative and patriarchal script and have learned how to live in a way that is authentic to themselves.

In 2019, I promise to blog more regularly, to continue having fascinating guest bloggers, and to explore more and deeper themes related to the racial, gendered and heteronormative dynamics of natalism and choosing to be childfree among African (and Afro-descendant) people.

Thanks for sticking around and I wish you the best for the upcoming year.

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

 

Choice Feminism Part II

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I mentioned in Part I of Choice Feminism that I try to make choices that minimize my complicity in systems of oppression. As a black, African woman, I reject white supremacy, patriarchy, and xenophobia, because to not do so would be to be complicit in my own oppression. However, I believe that my responsibility does not stop there. As someone who does have certain forms of privilege, like cis privilege, and a degree of class privilege (I’m part of what economist Guy Standing calls “the precariat”, that is, someone who doesn’t have job security, but I am still well-educated and have a job for the time being), hetero privilege and other forms of privilege I may not even know about yet, I also see it as my responsibility stand up for the rights of other people who don’t have those forms of privilege.

To that end, I try to make choices that  minimize my participation in white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy to the best of my ability. Still, I make choices all the time that support oppressive systems. I buy products made and sold by corporations. I have an iPhone and I’m typing this on a computer, even though I know that people — black people — die in wars to control access to cobalt. I fly, even while knowing the effect that planes have on the environment. I do these things not only to be a society (it would be difficult to hold down a job in development without at least using a phone, computer, or ever traveling at all) but also for my own enjoyment. I like watching Netflix and keeping in touch with my friends all over the globe. I like to see different countries. I go to Japan to see my family.

I think, though, that one difference between capitalism and patriarchy is that while capitalism and requires people to be obsessed with consuming, a capitalist economy can exist alongside a socialist welfare system. In Switzerland, where I work, for example, salaries tend to be high to allow people a decent living standard (although this happens alongside their complicity in eroding women’s rights around the world by providing tax havens to allow the 1% to avoid paying their taxes). Patriarchy, on the other hand, cannot exist alongside gender equality.

I recognize that people, particularly those who are not white, male, and straight,  are conditioned into rejecting, suppressing, or hating parts of themselves or their whole identities thanks to the society we live in, regardless of where we are.  And we’re rewarded for doing so, even as we’re slowly killing our authentic selves. We receive access to employment opportunities when we destroy our natural hair, it’s easier to find a partner, and it’s just generally easier to navigate the world when we capitulate than when we resist. But it’s still reductive to ignore the fact that these choices help support our oppression and that of others who share some or all of our identities. Saying that feminism is about choice is not entirely erroneous, but it’s too simplistic to leave it at that without further unpacking why we make the choices we do.

The overwhelming majority of married women I know, for example, were thrilled to take their husbands’ names and give their children their husbands’ names, because the erasure of their lineage is something to be proud of. At least, that’s how it looks to me, although no one has ever said that to me in so many words. That’s a choice they are “allowed” to make, no question. But many of them posted social media statuses and articles about how it was a feminist choice, because feminism is about choice. And while it is a choice, it is certainly not a feminist one.

I often (read: constantly) run into other people who are not the beneficiaries of these systems, and are victims of them, trying to railroad other people into participating. On a personal level, I constantly have people disrespecting my choices and identity, and trying to alternately to persuade, mock, or bully me into participating in patriarchal heteronormative relationships, have a child which I don’t want, cut off my locs and straighten my hair, wear makeup, get my nails done, wear dresses, and stop lifting weights, to name a few patriarchy- and white supremacy-approved behaviors.

If you are a woman who experiences patriarchy on a daily basis — policing of your appearance, nonstop attempts to legislate your reproductive organs, a wage gap, being kept out of employment because a man in power either thinks you’re too pretty and he will get “tempted” or alternatively that you’re “too ugly” and what’s the point?, sexual harassment and assault — and you run into a woman who has decided that none of that is for her, why is it so important to you that other women choose to actively participate in the system(s) that harm both of you? 

Like Sway, I don’t have the all the answers. But I don’t think that means it’s invalid for me to ask the questions in the name of “respecting people’s choices”.  Do I go up to random strangers and berate them about their unfeminist choices? Of course not. But it is clear to me, that at the very least, making choices that are true to your identity (living with a same-sex partner, not wearing high heels or dresses, transitioning to a different gender, being childfree, being atheist or having a subaltern sexuality) is different from making a choice that is the result of patriarchal conditioning.

 

 

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

I Regret Everything: Mothers Speaking Out About Their Parenting Experiences

neonbrand-395901-unsplashI’m part of a growing movement of vocally childfree people who eschew the idea that parenthood is a requirement to inhabit the planet. Another parallel movement is that of regretful mothers. Perhaps most famously, Corinne Maier, a now 54-year old French woman, wrote No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children in 2008.

The backlash against women who are vocal about their regret has been vitriolic. In a Maclean’s article from earlier this year, women report receiving threats of sexual assault and death, as well as being told that their children deserve a better mother. The article’s author, Anne Kingston, argues that “Parents now raise children in a far more difficult, competitive world and are pressured to do more with far less.” One of her interviewees, Andrea O’Reilly, a professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies says that “Expectations have been ramped up to such a point that standards are impossible to achieve.”

While it’s true that life, which includes parenting, has become far more performative thanks in large part to social media, and that materialism and erosion of benefits from the state certainly haven’t made things easier, I don’t know if I’d agree that parenting has become more difficult, at least not from the women in high-income countries featured in the article and who are writing these books. After all, we have levels of infrastructure that our peers living years ago may not have even been able to fathom: running water inside our houses, cars, public transportation, slow-cookers and stores filled with (unethical) cheap fast fashion to cut down on the amount of time it takes to adult.

(Perhaps) unsurprisingly, the article features no experiences from women in developing countries in Latin America, Africa, or Asia. Perhaps because that wasn’t Kingston’s focus, but it maybe also be because none of these women have the room to express regret, even to themselves.

In low- and middle-income countries, it’s still the norm to live in extended family units, especially outside of urban centers, thus giving parents — mothers, more specifically, since they tend to be the primary caregivers — a built-in support network. For me, personally, though, this would not be a viable solution, even if I wanted to become a mother. Right now, I live in Europe, where people don’t live with their extended families after marriage, and I wouldn’t want to move back to Ghana to raise kids (that is, if I weren’t childfree). While it’s true that I would have logistical support, allowing me to continue to pursue my career, I simply wouldn’t wouldn’t want my children raised by my extended family. Parental influence can only do so much, and I wouldn’t want my offspring to be raised in a house and culture where they were told that Christianity is the only acceptable belief system, that personal boundaries and consent are nonexistent, especially for girls, that the sex that you are assigned at birth means you must adhere to certain oppressive behaviors and that there is no room for experimentation or deviation, and that your life has to follow a specifically laid-out script that was determined by colonial powers who left decades ago.

And it wouldn’t be tenable here either: I live in a tiny studio where there isn’t even enough space for me, let alone a human I am meant to be raising, my salary by local standards is… shall we say uncompetitive?, I have no benefits (like a pension or parental leave), and childcare, when available is extortionate. I simply have no room in my life to be a mother, logistically, emotionally, or developmentally.

In The Myth of Mothering Joy, Sarah Fischer, describes being a mother as “incontinence, boredom, weight gain, saggy breasts, depression, the end of romance, lack of sleep, dumbing down, career downturn, loss of sex drive, poverty, exhaustion and lack of fulfillment.”

For someone who wants to be a mother, all of that might be worth it. Clearly, for some of them, it wasn’t. I’m certain that that’s a path I will never tread.

What was it that Robert Frost said?

 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash