I was inspired to write this after a lot of thought about who actually deserves dignity, in light of a post recently published by one of my fellow bloggers here at AOTB.
The post called into question the suitability of Madonna as a UN goodwill ambassador for Malawi, for many good reasons, I am sure, but I doubt whether they were the right reasons, or reasons that will continue to be upheld in the rise of Africa’s Feminisms and the advocacy for our culture to evolve.
Aside from the fact that indeed we should all have the right to question the credibility of the likes of Madonna or Victoria Beckham as goodwill ambassadors for the UN for some part of Africa they probably have no clue about, for some reason, that post sparked a lot of questions in me.
Perhaps it was the title of the post inciting that “Madonna shows her goodies” and is a bad role model for children, never mind that this is the very lady who was invited by the UN for her achievements [fame] and the UN deem her to have the personality and dignity to do so.
And so, a pertinent issue was raised in that post and the suitability of said goodwill ambassador was called into question in light of our children, both girls and boys. I have chosen to frame this as a question in light of our daughters, because we all know that girls are raised very differently to boys… still.
Who will our daughters follow?
We are living in the incredible age of the internet and social media. People we would have seen in nappies not many years ago are now on Instagram and Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook, amongst other social media outlets. And yes, for young impressionable people, the internet can be a very perilous place.
And so, whilst any of our daughters could search for Madonna and the internet serve up her goodies, will this necessarily communicate to our children that a girl’s sexuality is more important than her talent, or is it us Africans who are sending our daughters this message despite the talents of such women?
In trying to answer this question, rather than constantly look at which famous person [usually from the West] the UN picks to be a goodwill ambassador for Africa, let us look within. I am asking who we, as Africans, would choose for ourselves as ambassadors for our children and would we judge them by the same standards as we do people like Madonna or Beckham? I have decided to look at a few of the budding creatives coming out of Africa and the diaspora today, and one who I consider would have been the African version of Madonna, had she not passed away so young.
Brenda Fassie, or MaBrrr as we affectionately knew her, was a controversial singer, and ironically, she was dubbed the “Madonna” of South Africa as I knew her to be, probably because her rebellious persona and lifestyle was so lavishly risqué and she seemed to break all the rules that applied to Africa and women at that time.
Aside from all her blatant “craziness”, she was openly anti-apartheid and was very active in the poor townships of Johannesburg. One could say that was her version of charity work or track record which could have lead her to being a goodwill ambassador for the UN.
But what we also knew about Brenda was that she was a drug addict, had financial troubles and an assault charge, was tabloid fodder for all her public squabbles, probably wasn’t the best parent to her son, was openly promiscuous and although she was dubbed lesbian at the time of her death, she was actually bisexual and took on multiple lovers at a time. Had Brenda been alive today, would we judge her in the same light as we would Madonna?
To many within the LGBT community of South Africa, she was regarded a hero when she came out, as it encouraged others who were suppressing their true selves to come out of the closet as well. Tragically, Brenda died at the age of 39 from a suspected drug overdose.
Chimamanda Ngozi, a fantastic role model for that matter, says in her own words that we raise our “girls to aspire to marriage yet we don’t teach boys to do the same” or that we “teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.”
In fact, in much of Chimamanda’s speech, “We should all be feminists“, she asks us to evolve in our thinking, in the way we raise girls, the way we raise boys and the societal construct where it seems the woman, whether she is a sex worker, a rape victim, a wife or a single woman, is always at the receiving end of the apportionment of blame or some form of standard and responsibility; which men just do not seem to be held up to.
What about the darling of Africa who shot up to fame as the exotic beauty of Hollywood following her Oscar win for her performance in 12 years a slave? Lupita N’yongo is undoubtedly a talented actress, is well spoken, intelligent, hard working and is highly educated. She is also a performer, much like Madonna, and as cliché as it sounds, has benefitted from the age old Hollywood recipe for Oscar wins: show your goodies and get an Oscar.
Whilst I have no doubt that she won the Oscar for her pure talent and hard work as an actress and not because she bore all in one scene of the movie, would the fact that she has shown her goodies [somewhere] take away her dignity? I mean, just because we have seen her goodies, does that mean she hasn’t worked hard and is a sexual object with no talent? Or does it mean she has assets and is within her rights to use them to her advantage?
African Activists and Feminist Bloggers
And then we can venture into the world of pure African feminisms and activism. Before I go on, I must admit that after 18 months of trying to explore feminist theories and African feminisms, I still am at a loss at times as to what we are actually trying to say, because there are so many varying views. But as a short intro, and I mean intro, this is neither a definitive list nor an exhaustive one of what causes feminists will advocate for; it is:
Don’t rape our daughters! – Yes!
Don’t limit their careers because their women! – Yes
Don’t be violent against our sisters! – Yes
Defend the equal political, social, economic and cultural rights of women! – Hell yes!
Just love women for goodness sakes! – Ofcourse!
As you delve deeper into African feminisms, you will find a lot is being said about women and their sexuality. In fact what is out there is sex blogging in the name of feminism, p*rn in the name of feminism (makes it ethical?), sex work (and not prostitution) in the name of feminism, and anything else you can dignify under the sun in the name of feminism.
In terms of the actual people driving these messages forward, and there are quite a few, I will not mention any names here because I do not intend to appear to publicly put anyone down, or promote them for that matter, especially in the name of feminist p*rn. That subject is just not safe for work… or playtime with the kidlets.
Really, what would my mother or children say if I put a link up to one of these feminist p*rn sites, sex blog adventures or promoters of such for you or your children to follow and get “corrupted”? Hmmm. You are big enough and bad enough to find out for yourself. Just like I did ;).
I have but touched the tip of the iceberg here in terms of African people we could choose as suitable goodwill ambassadors for the UN, but remember, in order to meet the criteria, the candidate must first and foremost have the gravitas or klout to be invited to that position. They must also have the personality and dignity for it.
Sexuality and Dignity
And so, in light of the actual subject of my post, and how we as Africans rush to question the dignity of whomsoever we choose to victimise at the time, what are we actually arguing for here? If you look at all the examples I have given above, and we have quite a range, you will find that women and their sexuality is such a big, BIG topic and it does not necessarily mean this overshadows their potential and talents. Should our daughters be taught that they can be sexual beings or shouldn’t they? Should we let them know that they are sexual objects purely for the pleasure and fascination of men or that they are empowered if we allow them to explore their sexuality? When do we let them go to explore this; aren’t girls too young? Do we have to guard them until a certain age?
I would be lying if I told you that I have all the answers. I just don’t. All I know is what my experience was as a girl growing up in Southern Africa, and no matter what my daughters go through, I really do hope that they know they can talk to me at any time about any thing; and I will listen, I will truly listen.
The way we view women today and their dignity may be attributed in some respects to the message that African feminisms puts forward, especially if you read the 7 key issues as shared earlier on in a link.
But in my journey of exploration (and at times frustration) of the topic of African feminism, I have observed many things and what I can conclude is this: all women, all African women, no matter their experience, situation, fortune or misfortune, have a right to be treated with dignity. My sisters, you are queens. God bless you and heal you from the pain and suffering you have faced in your journey. You have come this far, you can make it through.