The Best Humanity Can Get

patrick-coddou-386904-unsplash

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

 

Advertisements

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

oliver-roos-571292-unsplash

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

 

Challenging Assumptions, Changing Lives: An Interview with Nina Steele

Nina Steele

Today’s interview is with Nina Steele, the 42-year old founder of nonparents.com.

Can you tell me about yourself?

I am originally from the Ivory Coast, now a British citizen. In short, I am a British Ivorian.

In terms of which ethnic groups, I would rather be known as Ivorian as opposed to a specific ethnic group. This is because ethnicity in Africa, and the Ivory Coast , has  become a highly divisive issue. People have lost their lives because of it, so I prefer the more inclusive approach of identifying myself as an Ivorian.

What do you do for work?

I work full time running nonparents.com. It’s a global community for people without children either by choice or circumstance. The site’s overriding aim is to promote a positive image of people without children. For far too long, the narrative has been that we are all destined to be parents, and that those without children are somehow missing out. The site debunks that myth by showing how fulfilling being a non-parent can be. From having more money to spare, to the freedom of doing all those things that parents often have to wait until the children have left home to start doing, the advantages of being a non-parent are endless.

Another myth the site has continuously challenged is the assumption that anyone without children will automatically suffer loneliness in old age, implying that parents always have their children around in old age to look after them. Well, I worked for an old people’s charity for eight years, and I can put that myth to bed. In my former job, the majority of elderly people who complained of being lonely had children. Being lonely in old age can strike anyone, regardless of whether they have children or not.

How long have you been childfree? Have you always known that you wouldn’t have children?

After trying to conceive for 9 years, my husband and I chose to accept that having children was never meant to be. Once we made the decision to stop trying, we never looked back. That was in 2013. In retrospect, I can see clearly that the only reason why I kept trying was because I had bought into the narrative that having children is a must for every couple. Not only that, coming from an African culture where having children is viewed as a person’s greatest achievement contributed to warping my view about what constitutes a life well lived. But of course, I became enlightened and realized how misleading all this message about parenthood is. For example, many of my relatives in the Ivory Coast have children they cannot afford. Some of the children are left to fend for themselves. And of course, many of us know of children in Nigeria and other parts of Africa being abandoned for being witches. I mean, the utter hypocrisy of it!

How have your family and friends reacted to you being childfree?

There was resistance at first. Some of my relatives had assumed that we would end up adopting. Now that everyone can see how happy we are as a couple, the subject of children is seldom mentioned.

You mentioned your husband. How does your partner feel about you being childfree?

My husband was never keen on having children to begin with. It was me who wanted them at first because of all the societal pressures and cultural issues I mentioned before. He is as happy to be childfree as I am.

Do you feel that society is accepting of your decision?

My relatives have certainly accepted our choice to be childfree. As for society, overpopulation (and all the issues that come with it) is forcing people to reassess their views on children. It is now obvious that finite resources cannot sustain an ever growing population. Not only that, increased pollution and damage to the environment are linked to overpopulation. These are issues that will affect all of us.

Do you think your advocacy is contributing to changing ideas about being childfree in general and for black people in particular?

My website is translated in 30 languages and so reaches people in all corners of the globe. I feel strongly about educating people about the benefits and advantages of being childfree. For too long, the narrative has been negative around this issue. But thankfully, people are now waking up to the reality that parenthood is far from the ideal we have been made to believe that it is.

As for black people in particular, I  believe that social media and the Internet in general are helping many see that parenthood is not the only way. Many people from Africa have reached out to me through social media to tell me how much finding my website has changed their lives. A woman from Nigeria whose husband left her because she could not conceive went from being totally depressed to being empowered, thanks to nonparents.com. She is one of many, and that’s just the beginning. As the site continues to grow, I anticipate that many more lives will be impacted positively, wherever people happen to be in the world.

Photo credit: Nina Steele

No, You DO Want to Date! Single-Shaming and the Childfree African

mpumelelo-macu-323304

I came to party on my own

Four years ago, I made the decision, after an awful date (not entirely unlike Grace’s encounter with Aziz Ansari), to stop dating men.

I’m not going to go into details, about what happened, but it was an awful date. I did what people screaming on the internet about how Grace should’ve said no and was ridiculous to expect Aziz Ansari to be a mind reader (I’m not going to give any of those garbage takes clicks, but you can find them if you Google.) I said the word “No” explicitly and repeatedly, and dude didn’t give a shit.

I deleted him from Facebook, and he sent me a message saying “Oh! I see we’re not friends on Facebook anymore!” A month later, he sent me a message cussing me out for not fucking him. For context, this is a man that my roommate at the time set me up with, so I had gone into it expecting to not have to be on guard for rapey behavior.

So I quit dating. Prior to this, my entire dating experience had been with men, and to say that it had been awful would be an understatement. For some reason, any time people find out that I am no longer dating, I have experienced the whole range of disrespectful behaviors that childfree people are usually subjected to, only this time for a different reason.  From people asking me “What would you do if you met someone you really liked?” (Does “I don’t date” sound like “I’d be willing to date someone if I met someone I really liked”?), “Are you seeing anyone?” (What part of “I don’t date” makes you think I’d be seeing someone?), arguing with me nonstop (some nonsensical version of “You have to go out with guys”), giving me unsolicited sexist advice on dating men (“you see, men want a woman who will play hard to get” — how the fuck is that relevant? I don’t give a shit what men want) and even going as far as to bringing other people into the discussion to get them to gang up on me.

As embarrassing as it is to admit, my entire life, I assumed that I’d meet someone one day, because I had bought into the bullshit cultural narrative that “There’s someone for everyone!” (There is literally no evidence to back up this claim, but it’s often repeated as though it’s some kind of a universal truth.) I did once get engaged to someone, but that relationship didn’t work out. I  eventually came to terms with the fact that there is a huge disconnect with what I want from a relationship and what men actually do. Yet, people  find it extremely important to blatantly disrespect me and try to force their amatonormative  values on me, and try to argue me into continuing to put myself in harm’s way. As we’ve found out, even a man who’s made a name and tons of money off of marketing himself as a feminist ally, going as far as to write a book about modern romance, isn’t a safe person for a woman to be around. (There were already hints of this in his first stand-up, but I wrongly believed he had learned and evolved his ideas on women.)

So yeah, there might be a handful of good guys out there, but is it a good use of my time to keep putting myself in physical and emotional danger just on the off chance that I happen to meet one of the good ones, who also happens to be available, who I am attracted to and who is also attracted to me, and is also childfree?

Obviously, it’s not. I just can’t wrap my head around why people (and especially when it comes to women) find it so important that I devote my life to doing something that makes me absolutely miserable. I’ve taken a hard line on this: if you choose to treat me this way, I no longer have room for you in my life.

When I was in Ghana — mind you, I hadn’t even stopped dating then — the extremely religious, heteropatriarchal culture meant that all my family members and acquaintances had plenty of unsolicited commands about what I was meant to do with my life and my body — shit about me being single (like I’m just supposed to go to the boyfriend store and buy a boyfriend?), me not “giving a chance” to guys I was not at all interested in, not going out with every guy who demanded I do so simply because he demanded it, and not having children. These people didn’t know I was childfree. They just demanded that I “have kids now”, just because they said so.

People can choose to live their lives in a number of ways, and none of them require making themselves miserable just because other people say they need to. The amatonormative, natalist shit just needs to stop.  I live my life on my terms, not yours. The significance that people place on culture is disproportionate. People create culture, and people can change it.

Photo by Mpumelelo Macu on Unsplash