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

How to Be a Carefree Black Girl, Part II


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


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


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


Choice Feminism Part II


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

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


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

Choice Feminism

black girl tinsel

Photo by Xan Griffin (via Unsplash)

“Feminism is about choice! It’s my choice to [decidedly unfeminist thing]!”

This is a common idea and refrain in feminist circles. It’s usually invoked as a defense by a self-identified feminist, after another self-identifying feminist has questioned a choice that the former has made.

“Choice feminism”, while without an official dictionary definition, basically boils down to a woman deciding that any choice she makes is supported by feminism. Clearly, women should be allowed to make choices about how to live their lives.

Regarding choice feminism, Fem Magazine points out, however,

The argument… seems to ignore the results of socialization, which mediate every decision humans make within a given culture. We are socialized to uphold a power structure in which women are valued based on their adherence to strict Eurocentric beauty standards. Deviating from norms can result in social rejection or at the very least, endless questions on why you are not simply conforming to certain standards. Our fear of these consequences subsequently influences how we navigate our own behavior and social interactions.

So sure, a woman may choose to wear makeup and that can be a feminist method of self-expression, but often times the “choice” women make to wear it is rooted in the desire to conform to patriarchal beauty standards. The same goes for shaving and most other beauty rituals, which all serve to reinforce the same narrow and oppressive idea of femininity.

Feminism can’t always be invoked as a woman’s justification of her choices, otherwise it begins to lose all meaning. (Reminder: feminism is a political ideology that is concerned with the economic, political, social, and cultural equality of all genders.)

I, for one, have made the choice to not have children, romantic relationships, to live alone (for now, anyway), not to wear earrings, makeup or dress in a “feminine” manner.  These choices go against patriarchal conditioning and norms that state that a woman is to enter a cishet marriage, change her name to the man’s name (this varies depending on culture), be responsible for all emotional labor while being being the submissive partner in the relationship (see: changing her name to her husband’s name), have children who also take that man’s name, because, well, women are men’s property, and women exist to create more property for men. Don’t @ me.

Sure, everyone has a right to make choices, as long as these choices don’t harm others. Still, I would also argue that not everyone has to agree with everyone’s choices, particularly those that are made as a result of, and thus support, systems of oppression. Even while typing, I recognize what a slippery slope it is to say that not everyone has to like everyone’s choices. This is, after all, the argument used by bigots to justify their homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny. What’s the difference between saying “I don’t agree with the homosexual ‘lifestyle’” and saying “I don’t believe that children should automatically be given their father’s surname”? The difference is obvious to me: one of these is a choice made out of being is conditioned in an oppressive system, and the other…. well, isn’t.

No one’s choices are made in a vacuum, and no one’s choices are above critique. This includes mine. I’ve chosen a field of work whose goal is to loosen the grip of white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy around the world’s throat. So then, why do I choose to be an active participant in a capitalist society when I could move to the woods and live off the grid when I know that capitalism is an oppressive system that enriches very few while undermining the rights of many? While I try to make the most ethical choices possible, I no doubt fail to live up to all of my ideals, probably on a daily basis.

Where I start to find it difficult to reconcile things, is when women make choices that are clearly rooted in patriarchy, choices that help to fundamentally sustain women’s oppression in both overt and insidious ways, and pressuring other women to do so. As I’ve written about before on this blog and elsewhere, women constantly hassle me about my choice not to have children, demanding what I would do if I found a man who wanted them, telling me that I’ll change my mind, or alternately just pretending as though they don’t know that I’m not having children (despite me having been explicitly clear on the subject. I have this blog, for fuck’s sake). Women constantly hassle me about my choice to not engage in romantic or sexual relationships, when plenty of anecdotal evidence indicates that hetero relationships require far more work on the part of the female partner. The stories being told by women (and some men) right now also suggest that the safest thing a woman can do is to stay away from men, both socially and professionally.

People actively choosing to participate in their own oppression extends beyond gender and applies to other systems, and is manifested in myriad ways. It’s gay or poor people voting Republican in the United States. It’s black people having complete and utter disdain for their phenotypical characteristics to the point of using damaging chemicals on our hair and skin to change them.  It’s British people voting to Brexit when they didn’t really want to leave the European Union.

Maybe instead of yelling that “feminism is about choice”, when making unfeminist choices, women should own that their choices run counter to the goals of feminism, but that they’re choosing them anyway.

I don’t have all the answers. I’m not sure I have any answers. But these are issues that I’ve been grappling with for quite some time, and it seems they won’t be going away any time soon.


We Don’t Owe Men a Goddamn Thing


You really think I care if some hypothetical man wants me to have kids?? How cute!

I have been crap about blogging for months. I have no real excuse. Weeks just turned into months, before I knew it, summer was gone and now we’re halfway through October.

This summer, my mom came to visit. She had never been to Europe before so we did a lot of traveling. None of this would have been possible had I had a child to raise, and who knows, maybe she would have made it to Europe years ago had she not had two kids.

Recently, I came across Bethany Webster’s blog post, Leisure Time, Motherhood and the Mother Wound, where she discusses women’s agency within a patriarchy: “…The age-old lie of patriarchy to men is that they are entitled to the control of women. The lie to women is that we are ‘less-than’ and deserve to be controlled.” Although the idea that men are entitled to control women is clearly absurd, it’s also a pretty prevalent one in nearly every society around the world.

Women are taught that they should be submissive to men, both through subliminal messages and overt aggression. The president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, just made the ill-advised statement to the press that his wife, Aisha Buhari, after she criticized him publicly, shouldn’t be running her mouth because she belongs to various rooms in his house. A tape of American presidential candidate Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women recently surfaced, and people are tripping all over themselves to defend him, stating that it’s locker room talk and that American women read 50 Shades of Grey, and therefore men are entitled to their bodies, or something.

Poland recently tried exercise even more governmental control over a woman’s body by completely banning abortion (which was already illegal except for cases of rape or if the woman’s life was in danger), and now a right-wing member of parliament who I’m not even going to name is trying to force women to carry unviable pregnancies to term, because religion. And it’s not like abortion access is free and fair throughout the rest of the world.

I have heard countless times, from both men and women that women need to be submissive. When I was living in Senegal, a Ghanaian ambassador told me upon finding out that I don’t cook — completely seriously, mind you — that I needed to cook because my husband would pay the bills while another diplomat told me no Ghanaian man would every marry me because I don’t cook.

A Cameroonian woman I met recently, upon finding out that I’m not going to ask children, asked what I would do if I met a man who wanted kids (my favorite question). I told her that it’s my body, and therefore, it is my decision, and that my decision is not to have children. She told me that was “extreme”.

A woman thinks that another woman exercising control over her own body is extreme. She found it more important that my body is used to fulfill some hypothetical man’s wishes than it is for me not to be miserable. She’s not alone, but that really struck me. The underlying assumption is that a woman’s primary purpose is to belong to a man — cook for him, bear his children, clean for him and do all of his emotional labor. Fuck her own desires and her agency. Fuck basic human rights. A hypothetical man out there might want to force his will on another human being and force her to use her body in a way she doesn’t want, change the course of her entire life, and relegate her to doing chores and childrearing that she never wanted to do (in every society, women are still responsible for doing the bulk of unpaid housework) and that is his entitlement, goddammit.

This mentality is also responsible for the prevalence of violence against women. People who think that women don’t have the right to control their own bodies, well, don’t think women have the right to control their own body. Our bodies and our entire existence are meant to be in service of men. As Webster put it,

For those espousing the viewpoints of patriarchy, nothing is more enraging than a woman who doesn’t feel indebted or self-deprecating…

Nothing is more offensive than the woman whose presence unapologetically states:

                         I don’t owe you a child.

                         I don’t owe you a fuck.

                         I don’t owe you my approval.

                          I don’t owe you ego-stroking.

                          I don’t owe you explanations.

  I don’t owe you my attention.

  I don’t owe you anything.

I am enough as I am.

I don’t owe you shit.



Book review: Swallow



Sefi Atta’s novel, Swallow, was both a blessing and a curse. I bought it three years ago to read on my Kindle because I knew that I had a long bus ride coming up, but I couldn’t put it down after I purchased it. I was already halfway through it before I even boarded the bus. There was a lot of thumb-twiddling for the last two hours of that journey.

It was hilarious, insightful, harsh, and nerve-wracking. I really got into the characters. Atta discusses everything from workplace sexual harassment, corruption, poverty, what those of us raised in the West would call “child abuse” and what our counterparts raised in Africa would probably just call “parenting,” prostitution, to relationships— between mother and daughter, husband and wife, roommates, neighbours, and colleagues.

One central theme is motherhood and its relationship to marriage. One of the characters says that in childhood, she believed that

the worst thing for a woman was to be married. Yes, I knew that I would be one day. All girls did. You reached a certain age and you were married off. Your family arranged that. They received your dowry: cloth, yams, palm oil, goats, or whatever your husband’s family could afford, to show his appreciation for your upbringing. It was a token, nothing more. You moved into his home, had children, and took care of them.

The same character, later, when berated for not having had a child thinks, “So that was all I was born for, to give birth?”

Although she’s a fictional character speaking about what I’m guessing is the early 1960’s, is it really all that different from real life in 2016? Although those in urban areas are less likely to participate in the dowry system, in my experience, it’s still a given that you leave your “father’s house” to go and join your husband. My maternal cousin, for example, when she knew that I was getting married (don’t worry, that crashed and burned spectacularly) and wanted to have the wedding in Japan because that’s where I grew up, agreed that’s where it should take place, but for a totally different reason: “He’s coming for you, so you should have the wedding your parents are.” “Um, no,” I said. “He’s not buying me.” She said “I know he’s not buying you, but he’s coming for you.”

How is that different from buying me?

My paternal aunt also once made a comment that when I get married, since I will be absorbed by my husband’s family, maybe the family curse would be lifted for me.

I was working at a human rights organization where I was chastised for not subscribing to gender roles. A human rights organization. People constantly tell me that I’m never going to find a man who will accept that I don’t want to have children. I was once at a birthday lunch where my Ghanaian-American friend who I’ve mentioned before announced to the entire table that I didn’t want to have kids because I didn’t want my body to change, and everyone (except the birthday girl, who, ironically was pregnant) began attacking me for it.

I am not joking. They descended upon me like a bunch of fucking vultures on a wildebeest carcass. Arguing with me that their bodies bounced back, trying to analyze why didn’t I want to,  and my friend’s mom telling me that I’m a woman and I have to give a man children because they’re entitled to have them, and wouldn’t tolerate a woman who wouldn’t have children.


It’s common for everyone to think that they know a woman’s mind better than she knows her own- she will change her mind about wanting to have children, or she will realize that it’s her obligation to her husband/the earth/as an African, and will do so. When you add specific cultural expectations, it seems to me that women’s agency is nonexistent; that personal rights are meaningless, and that the messages in Atta’s book are reality for so many.

Have you read Swallow? To what extent do you think it reflects the realities of being an African woman today? Do/did you feel pressured into having children even if you didn’t want any? Do you think an African woman is obligated to have children for her husband?