Living Alone

One of the best things about being childfree, boyfriendfree, and petfree is that I get to live alone. Reading what women who are partnered with men go through — even during regular times, let alone during this hellscape— honestly makes me wonder why they’re in their relationships at all.

A 2019 article in The Globe and Mail talks about older couples not wanting to live together. Knowing what we do about how carries the burden of care in the home, it’s unsurprising that the couples featured in The New Reality of Dating over 65: Men Want to Live Together; Women Don’t, well, have men who want to live together and women who don’t. 

Women around my mom’s age, especially women like her who grew up in Ghana, didn’t really see not getting married and having children as an option. It makes perfect sense to me that women who already raised and took care of a family (including a husband), many of whom also worked outside the home, want no part of it now in their golden years. 

Antonio D’Alfonso, a Toronto senior in his mid-60s, learned this firsthand the hard way: 

“For more than a decade, D’Alfonso, a Montreal writer, has been dating a Toronto widow. The two see each other every couple of months. D’Alfonso wanted more: He proposed five times, only to be rebuffed with every try. The older woman refused to live with him, D’Alfonso said, because she wanted to travel and be free. ‘I have to ask, and I always ask, so what do you want from me?’ he said.

“The pair took a two-year hiatus, during which D’Alfonso tried dating other senior-age women only to find that they, too, were reluctant to share a home – this even as D’Alfonso said he cooks and keeps a tidy house.

“‘I really believe that women no longer need men, whatsoever,’” D’Alfonso said. “‘I’m totally irrelevant.’”

Well, I mean, yeah? Women around the world—regardless of social status, and belief systems— work. Although a lot of women never worked outside the home, leaving them dependent on husbands or extended family in their old age, many do have the means to support themselves after retirement.

If you are unmarried and have no need for financial support, why have an extra person in your house who adds to your unpaid care load if you don’t want one?

Regardless of how clean of a house Mr. D’Alfonso keeps, it seems like he still feels, like many men, entitled to women’s time and labor. Not to mention the level of entitlement inherent in thinking that a woman should be so thrilled to be proposed to that she should accept, even though getting married was something that they’d evidently never reached a consensus on. Maybe companionship in the form of a boyfriend is sufficient for her, and that’s what she needs him for.

When I was living in Ghana, people were constantly talking about how it was my responsibility to cook and clean and rear children for a man; self-actualization be damned. (Also, I didn’t ask for your opinion?) My mom told me that this made sense when she was growing up because men worked outside the home and women didn’t. I asked her “Well, what about now that they both work outside the home?” My mom said “Yeah, the thinking hasn’t caught up.” 

I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few things about living with a partner, or even just a friend or roommate that I miss. Cooking with another person takes less time than having to do 100% of the cooking and cleaning yourself. If you’re too tired to go out, you can still socialize with your partner. Even watching shows on streaming services can be more enjoyable than watching yourself. When I did my Master’s degree, my housemate and I got along very well and are still in touch. It was even nice knowing that someone else was in the house, even when we weren’t hanging out. When I lived in London while doing an internship after my Master’s I lived in a house with three other people, one of whom was a Jamaican man in his 50s. He was the shit. Just a very cool, calm, guy (who, unlike me, was also obsessively clean). 

On the other hand, living by myself, I don’t have to deal with a partner who leaves food to go bad on the counter. Or who will agree to watch a film I suggest, and waits until after I find it and am pushing play to then say “Oh, I’ve seen this.” (EVERY. FUCKING. TIME.) If something is done wrong, at least I’m the one who did it wrong and I’m not having to fix a grown man’s mistake. If something’s not done, it’s not because someone committed to doing it and then just didn’t, it’s because I chose not to do it. No one’s gaslighting me, making degrading accusations, or derailing conversations to avoid taking responsibility for any of his actions. 

These are all completely hypothetical, by the way.

I completely understand why women who find themselves unpartnered by the time they hit their 60s are no longer interested in living with their partners. Honestly, I’m glad for them for finally living the way they want. I am fortunate to have figured out in my 20s, instead of having to wait until I’m a sextegenarian before being able to enjoy my freedom again.

Image by rawpixel.com

How to be a Carefree Black Girl, Part III

In Part II of How to be a Carefree Black Girl, I encouraged black women who have spent their lives feeling crushed by the weight of society’s racial, religious, gender and cultural expectations, and who would like to get closer to uncovering their authentic selves, to start by practicing self-care.

Self-care has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, and people tend to associate it with getting mani-pedis, massages, and bathing in an Evian-Prosecco mix. In reality, self-care is just what it says on the tin: taking care of yourself.

Now that we’re in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, taking care of yourself is more important than ever, especially if you’re someone whose situation has changed drastically for any reason.

In the 21st century, even self-care— literally caring for yourself— has been taken over by capitalism. Buying the most expensive make-up, bath bombs, lotions, and candles is marketed to us as self-care. Marketing psychology is like, a job that people have. But really, self-care something we can practice every day: by enforcing your boundaries, by saying no to people and things that make your life worse, and stop comparing yourself to others.

A degree of privilege underlays being able to think about practicing self-care, even if you’re not exactly wealthy. I — a precariously middle-class person —have had times when the idea of being able to afford three squares a day, let alone a manicure, was laughable (which by the way, if that is something you can afford, maybe keep your mouth shut when someone tells you they can’t instead of saying some unhelpful shit like “it’s just what you choose to spend your money on”. People can’t choose to spend money they don’t have in different ways). But I was still privileged compared to most people in the world.

The next step in becoming a carefree black girl is figuring out what self-care means to you. Start by questioning everything you’ve been taught, whether explicitly or implicitly, about what it means to be black, to be a woman; hell, to be a person.

In my case, having spent my entire childhood in two of the most consumerist societies on earth (Japan and America), I bought into capitalism to an extent that I didn’t even realize (until a few years ago). Although I was never, like, “FUCK YEAH, CAPITALISM!”, it wasn’t until recently  that I began to be more deliberate about what I bought, and more importantly, why I was buying it. Even though I knew that people making the products we buy weren’t always working in great conditions, I didn’t really know what I could do about it.

Being a black woman, being “good” meant submitting (something I was never great at doing, to be honest), accepting people’s disrespect, and putting the needs of people who didn’t give a shit about my own well-being above my own. 

Same with having children. As I’ve mentioned before, I never wanted to be a mother. It wasn’t until I thought about it that and read feminist theory that I realized that I was allowed to live according to my own values, regardless of what our patriarchal society tells us we should value. 

Once you’ve evaluated the values you’ve been taught, you may find that some of them still very much resonate with you, and some of them are total bullshit. The next step in becoming a carefree black girl is to figure out what you really like and value. Do you actually like diamonds, or is that just that the diamond industrial complex, built by stealing black people’s land and then enslaving them, that taught you that diamonds are a beautiful symbol of love? Is having a whole new wardrobe every season actually something you care about, or is it a result of aggressively calculated marketing? Maybe what you really value and enjoy is something entirely different. Maybe you’ve never even had a chance to consider it.

My self-care is working out, reading, hiking, figuring out ways to organize my apartment, hanging out with friends, and *gasp*, the infrequent massage or manicure. 

Self-care is about taking care of your own needs, or hell, your own wants. We all have limits to our time and resources, but you still deserve to carve out part of your life to do what makes you feel taken care of.

How do you practice self-care?

Photo credit: Rawpixel

Childfree in the Time of Coronavirus

Image via rawpixel

Hello, readers, the world’s worst blogger is back!

I’ve had a few topics I wanted to discuss on my blog, but in light of the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic, I thought that it would be a bit a frivolous time to be discussing childfree issues when thousands of people are dying by the day. Ultimately, though, I decided that all this time spent at home should be put to work on things I enjoy outside of my working hours. Plus, who people (myself included) could use a distraction from the chaos.

A recent Vanity Fair article, Dispatches From the Gender Gap: Work-From-Home Moms in the Time of Coronavirus, put into perspective the issue of being childfree in the context of the pandemic. Specifically, when it comes to unpaid work or emotional labour. 

Even in the 21st century, there is no country in the world where women and men perform the same amount of care work. Those of us who have been sent to work from home — by the way, not nearly as sexy as Fifth Harmony would have you believe —already have an enormous amount of privilege, even if our conditions are less than ideal. Compared to those who have been laid off, and “essential workers” who either are in the line of fire by working with Covid-19 (the illness resulting from Coronavirus) patients every day, cleaning surfaces where the virus could be lingering, or interacting with people who could be carriers (and getting screamed at while not even earning a living wage), people working from home have it pretty good, even if it’s not an ideal situation.

Many households with two parents who both work outside the home are now in a new situation: both parents are now home full time, along with their kids. What does this mean in terms of childcare?

To a misguided manager who wrote in to Ask A Manager to well, ask a manager if it is “Reasonable to expect an employee to find a way to work her normal schedule even while she is telecommuting” while the employee is taking care of her toddler, because “It is frustrating to hear ‘I can’t’ do such and such when she would have been able to do it easily in the workplace”, and she shouldn’t be having trouble because “Her husband is also at home”, apparently, it means that men and women do equal amounts of childcare. 

This is demonstrably false. Even in the most egalitarian countries (and households). Men simply do not pull their weight when it comes to childcare. When a man does, it’s the exception, not the rule. 

The women quoted in the Vanity Fair article are dealing with things like a husband who goes to his home office and shuts the door because he’s “Pretty strict with keeping his office time pristine” and having to find ways to keep their kids entertained, because their husbands simply don’t. Even if their husbands are self-sufficient, they simply don’t care enough to take care of their own children.

Part of emotional labour is what author Eve Rodsky calls in an article on CNN by Elissa Strauss is “worry work”: “Moms are more likely than dads to anticipate the needs of the family and plan ahead for worst case scenarios. (Listen closely, and you can hear the hum of ‘what’s next?’ on a constant loop in most moms’ heads.)” Rodsky says that “research shows that the majority of daily life disruptions are handled by moms, including when both parents work”, so during a crisis like the one we are living in now, by default, the majority of the burden falls on mothers’ shoulders. 

This pandemic is not an easy time for anyone, not even for people like me who have it good: despite being able to work from home, not displaying any symptoms, having an uncompromised immune system, and an apartment to myself, I can’t work out, socialize in person, or buy groceries without planning my day around when there will be the fewest number of people out (both to avoid long lines and to avoid spreading or contracting the virus). These are petty complaints compared to what so many have to deal with. People are being laid off, struggling to find childcare, or are forced to put themselves at risk every day to keep society running; many without hazard pay, reasonable precautions, or personal protective equipment

Despite my own personal blessings, this still isn’t an easy time for anyone. I’m still concerned for how other people will make it through this. I’m still at risk every time I need to leave the house, just like everyone else — and no, being young(ish) and healthy doesn’t mean that you’re safe. I could be a carrier and be putting people at risk myself without even knowing it. And from my friends who’ve survived Covid-19, even if you make it through without permanent lung damage, it makes you feel worse than death. (So, like, stay inside, even if you feel “fine”.)

Even if being stuck at home alone without being able to go out and see your friends can be lonely (sometimes — I’ve been Facetiming like there’s no tomorrow, which is not a bad substitute), I still would not trade my relative freedom for anything. 

As Kim Congdon on Twitter put it,

Stay inside. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. We will get through this. 

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.

 

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