Friday, February 02, 2007

On criticism

An interesting thread from the yesterday's first post. Of course True Love is generally a good thing in Nigeria and how many would not want it to go from strength to strength. When you like something, it is surely even more important that it is criticised than when you don't like it. Nigeria at times can be an uncritical culture, where any criticism is immediately personalised, prompting an overly emotional response mechanism. But when criticism is intended to be productive and constructive, the recipient organisation should work hard to take it on board and improve. Evidently, from the comments to the TL post, quite a number of people were negatively affected by the half-joke, to the extent of considering not buying it again. In a society which is deeply prejudiced against women, even half-jokes have to be off limits for any organisation wishing to promote a more equitable future for men and women. Enough said?

Meanwhile, it is nothing short of a tragedy that many women in positions of power and influence in Nigeria think they have a right to choose to be feminist or not, as if it were the same as deciding whether to ice cream in the evening. What 'right' is there when the choice is between ignoring the widespread pyschological, spiritual, physical and material abuse of 50% of the population or aligning oneself with the struggle to change the configuration? I find it very difficult to see feminism as optional in these circumstances...


St Antonym 11:47 pm  

If we refrained from using the word "feminist" (a word which, after all, has its own baggage) I wonder if there would be more common ground.

For example, if we say "a person who believes women are equal to men, and is willing to actively promote the idea" instead of "feminist," how many people would describe themselves as such? Women shouldn't be subordinate to men: if you agree with that idea raise your hand.

Perhaps in a Nigerian context, the F-word itself (i.e. feminist) is a barrier towards the conversation that could be happening on equal rights for women.

Just an idea.

Anonymous,  1:17 am  

St Antonym, you are right on this one.

Unfortunately many young women (and men) whether in Nigerian or elsewhere totally don't understand the feminist project. I guess it is a testimony to the power and success of patriarchy itself that many women try to dissociate themselves from the term.

Whether we like it or not labels are powerful weapons to mobilise and agitate for change. Nobody really listen to a lone voice asking for equality and justice. This is why people mobilise on particular issues and ideas and give it a name. One could say that many of these change agents (feminist, the Black Panther) are actually pioneers in more way then one. They understand the power of brand association.

One could argue that one reason why there hasn't been any progressive or transformative changes in gender relation in Nigeria, is that there hasn't been a powerful enough ideology to bring people together. Whatever problem we might have with lables whether it is feminism, black power, gay liberation, anti-capitalist movement etc. many changes that we are all beneficiaries of have come as a result of many people standing up to be countered.

Each of us have to make a choice as to our relationship to change and it is not for you Jeremy to demand that people must do so. Of course, it would be nice if people don't get scared about labels, but at the end of the day it is their choice whatever that mean.

On Criticism: Jeremy, I think you and Bibi have lived in Nigeria long enough to know that Nigerians are generally averse to critique, especially if they think it is coming from an outsider. We are not use to dissenting voices anymore.

My advice to both of you? Get of that place. There is only so much the soul can take before it caves in. You have been warned!! Get out while you still have the fire burning inside you and use that energy elsewhere. As much as I love Nigeria, as an artist, I will never ever ever live there again. Not with all the money in the world....get out now.


Opium,  2:24 am  

I agree with St. A, the word feminism has too many negative connotations attached to it and is more likely to hinder constructive discourse that foster such.

In my experience you are right on point re criticsm, I'm yet to find a Nigerian forum in which people can disagree without being disagreeable. It seems that too many people can't tell the difference between insult and critique.

Anonymous,  2:35 am  

I'm with St Antonym. The word "feminist" is a barrier, as is an uncompromising attitude towards women who question the label and its merits.

I think your message could've been heard with much less consternation if you'd chosen to expand on your brand of feminism and what exactly it entails.

I also think that to generalise about the plight of the Nigerian woman was a mistake. It showed a complete failure to understand everything that she stands for, and looked to be a patronising and judgemental pronouncement from atop an "intellectual high horse", as Kemi said.

You're on the right side Jeremy, but perhaps you're yet to learn that you will get nowhere with the Nigerian by calling her (I stopped myself from saying "him") a fool :-)

Carmen 3:47 am  

An interesting thought that St Antonym poses. Is much of this language? I think that actually works across many contexts. For example, my mother expresses feminist sentiments frequently, but she would not call herself a feminist because i think she has this stereotype that a "feminist" is this sort of harsh person that goes around bashing men.

And, yes, of course, it's important to criticize cultural products that we like. I'm thrilled about the flourishing Nigerian hip-hop scene, but I'm a bit worried about the sexual objectification of women I see in so many of the videos. Is this new to hip-hop? No. Is it new to Nigeria? No. Does it mean that I throw it all out as trash? No. But, it does mean that I'll write about it and optimistically hope for a change. I suppose that is a little naive...

Anonymous,  9:07 am  

Somebody has the question what has feminism achieved and I was about to do my list (which I will still do). But then somebody sent me this from another blog and i thought I would share it here because it is written by a man (he might be a Westerner, but his views actually captures some of what I would have said). Even if I don't call myself a feminist (because of the negative attachment, which is my problem and not that of feminism), a day does not go by when I don't thank and praise those feminists who stuck and continue to stick their necks out and demand for change by any means necessary.

5 things feminism has done for me.

But it is important to remember all that has changed for the good because many strong women have spoken out in the past.

1. made me a better dad: parenthood is not just woman's work and it's not just about handing out allowance or throwing the ball around or driving to hockey practice. It's about getting the bottle in the middle of the night, hugging your kid when he scrapes his knee, sitting down and helping him learn to read, being there with him before being somewhere else (work, pub, hockey game, etc.). Feminism has completely changed fatherhood for the better.
2. made me a better husband: being a husband is not just about a paycheque anymore and that's a damn good thing. My life is so much more enriched by having a deeper equal relationship with my wife. That doesn't mean we share every duty, but it does mean we are a team.
3. made me a better citizen: We forget how hard feminists had to fight just to even be allowed to vote or sit in the senate or get elected. That everyone deserves a vote and a right to participate in our democracy, not just propertied men. This is obviously not a change that occurred in my lifetime, but as I look around the world, and particularly the work Canadian men and women are doing in places like Afghanistan, I'm reminded of the heroism of the first feminists, the suffragettes.
4. made me more conscious of crime: specifically crimes against families such as assualt, abuse and their affect on society as a whole. Some would say that merely recognizing sexual assault as a separate category from assault is to make society a "blame men" society; others like to focus on the fact that such recognition and ensuing discussion totally ignores the women who assualt, yes all 3% of the cases. Whatever. Doesn't change the fact that at one point in time, sexual assualt and abuse of spouses and even of children was not even considered a crime. But for the bravery of some feminists, it would be still so.
5. made me appreciate that "strength" comes in many different forms.

Do I have to stop there? Well, I could go on (and on and on) of course, but the meme said 5 so there you go.

Jeremy 9:39 am  

SA: I think ditching the word is a mistake. Let's say we start to use Alice Walker's 'womanism' or even Oyewummi's 'jenda' - what happens when there is another concerted patriarchal backlash? We change the name again? That way lies schizophrenia.. Instead, feminism must continually be reclaimed, in each generation. As Amina Mama says, it is an honour and a challenge to be labelled such.

Bitchy - I have been of course deliberately provocative. There are many ways in which African/Nigerian women should be celebrated, and of course according victim status is not always a good strategy. The over-generalisation gets its energy from the fact that so many African woman have internalised their inferiority so deeply that they have a thousand justifications at hand. I think: fuck that. The time for being quiet about the shit Nigerian women go through is over.

Anonymous,  10:15 am  

I see what St A and others are saying, but I have to, against my better judgement agree with Jeremy on this one. You can't keep changing a name because people are uncomfortable with. You have to wear the shoes and wear it proudly and walk in it in the only way that is unique to you.

Changing names or not assigning a name to what we don doesn't serve anybody. It only serves those who try to muffle the voice of oppositon.

Anonymous,  4:05 pm  

I completely agree with the spirit of St. Antonym's post. What is feminism anyway? And what does a feminist do? How different is feminism from humanism?

Throwing out words assuming a common understanding or worse, redefining it, strawman-like, is dangerous.

I believe no single person should be subject to any other (you English seem to like it just fine so I'll except you), whatever their sex. The problem with feminism is it's evolved into feminazism in which certain women and some bitch wimpy men overreach in their zeal and become intolerable, looking for the bogey men everywhere.

In many ways, that's a purely human response: as a species, we don't know when to stop. But, imagine, if you will, something called masculinism. How absurd would that be? Well, I believe feminism has become absurd.

2plus2 9:54 pm  

All I can add here is that we have a very long way to go. Until we are able to claim with confidence which ever identify we chose to claim wether as feminists, womanists, humanists, etc. We will not see CHANGE in the status quo. Patriarchy is about power, control and many of us get sucked into the denial of issues / choices we are often times FORCED to make in order to accomodate something that we really do not want as women/ mothers.

Speaking for myself, the day I claimed and identified myself as feminist was the day I became liberated. It frees your mind because now you can think outside the box in our highly conservative society.

uknaija 2:01 pm  

What no one has mentioned yet is the influence of fundamentalist religions that complicates the issue for many Nigerian women. Can you be a Christian feminist? Can you be a Muslim feminist? I think that you can but the prevalent interpretations of these religions in Nigeria is that you can't and therefore many who aspire to be faithful feel that they cannot lay claim to the tag of feminism...

That said I disagree that powerful Nigerian women have no choice other than to embrace feminism.The choice to be or not to be should always be open. By all means highlight the contradictions of their lives but do not force anyone into straitjackets that they are uncomfortable to wear...

If an African man decides to walk, talk, dress act and pretend that he is white, we can laugh at the absurdity, but at the end of the day it's his choice

april,  5:50 pm  

Going back to Jeremys original post he said so many insulting things that he really didnt need to say, he could have worded his arguement differently:

1. and yet one of the leading women's magazines in the country has the uncritical stupidity to give show time to raw misogyny - is this really necessary? do you know what misogyny means?

2. It still is the 1950's in Nigeria, and 99% of Nigerian women seem to be masochistically happy for it to stay that way -

No need to call us names Jeremy, as a Nigerian woman I am more insulted by your post than the quote in True Love

Anonymous,  6:11 pm  

well said uknaija. I think Jeremy should cool it.

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