In this Era of #MeToo, even women don’t understand the concept of bodily autonomy.
“What kind of nonsense is this?” my mum asks from across the couch. “Why do they have to be dancing naked while all the men around them are clothed from head to toe?” We’re watching the music channel muted and just then, the male singer donning chains and a half-way buttoned shirt appears behind the very ample bosom of a young woman who looked like she was in her late 20s. Many a Nigerian aunty have and continue to make comparisons to these women who have decided to profit off the objectification and sexualisation of their bodies. Daughters, nieces and newborn baby girls are continuously screened in order that the image and differentiation between their good daughters and “those immoral ones” are made distinct. The way a woman dresses, the jewelry she wears, how she walks, how she talks, the books she consumes, the movies she watches, and where she spends her free time are all scrutinised in a bid to make this distinction. Those women are the bad eggs, they seem to say, and they do not represent us.
The idea that a woman’s lifestyle choices and politics represent that of all women has historically been a ploy to keep women in the file and ranks. In fact, historically, the concept of a woman’s choice is one that has had religions and traditions built around its oppression: women couldn’t just up and leave the home — father’s or husband’s — in search of scholarship or adventure, women were homemakers who sat and waited to be picked by the men who did those things; She even had her genitals mutilated and any chances of pleasure eliminated to avoid the eventuality of becoming “loose.” Any woman who chose to assert her power to choose risked bringing embarrassment to her family, and even till today in some countries like Jordan, honour killings are performed by family members on women who flout the boxes they are supposed to fit into which include no sex before marriage.
It wasn’t until feminism that a woman’s choice was considered paramount. But even in an age where the highlight of the movement is choice, questions abound on where and how individual women’s actions by choice are representative of feminism. Stephanie Hamill, a journalist who works for the Daily Caller, on Tuesday, tweeted asking how Cardi B’s new video “Twerk” empowered women in the age of #MeToo. In the video, Cardi B and Yung Miami of City Girls are on a yacht filled with women painted in all stripes and spots while they splashed champagne, danced on a pole, and twerked. Her issue was how the video appears to objectify women: “This video, & others like this sexually objectify women. I think this hurts all women & the cause. We’re not sex OBJECTS!” she wrote on her Twitter handle. “Clearly we see things differently,” she said while inviting the Bodak Yellow singer to a debate.
In an event closer to home, this concept is also one many women and men especially, including rapper Folarin Falana, popularly known as Falz TheBahdGuy, also fail woefully to grasp. Falz, in a viral video taken during his listening party for his recently released album Moral Instruction, had let the whole world know how much he detests “transactional sex” and went on further to explain why: “The same feminists that will say “a woman is free to do what she wants to do” and “who am I to say to the woman not to put herself up for money,” are the same feminists that say that women are being objectified and that it is not allowed. Now you are that same person that is going ahead to commodify yourself. You’ve turned yourself into a commodity, he said to mild applause while reemphasising his detest for “self objectification” and “self commodification”. Years of male musicians using women as props in their videos, sending the message of sexual objectification, has seen little protest than a request for a classification of nudity. And so it is revealing just how many people do not understand the concept of consent and autonomy when they ask why, and get riled up when, these same women do it for themselves.
To the society, even advanced ones, the concept that the woman’s body is hers and does not belong to the family, the community, or the country, is foreign; and for most, it is hard to let go of the idea that being a member of a group does not entitle the group to the sexual functions of its members. Tales abound of teenage and adult women who are subjected to virginity tests, abortion laws are still debated heavily upon — while countries have and continue to make decisions that are harmful and detrimental to its citizens, parents, and by extension the society, constantly send out messages that tell their daughters what to or what not to wear and state these as reasons why harm could come to them. On a TV show with host Lolo Cynthia in December 2018, two men had bemoaned the fact that parents allow their girl children walk around public spaces in bum-shorts “which attracts pedophiles,” rather than placing responsibility on the perpetrator. In fact, in a very Nigerian society, no matter the age, regardless of gender, parents feel entitled to the lifestyle choices of their children which may include deciding to keep one’s hair, get a tattoo, keep one’s beards, and style of clothes. The only difference is that where a man often gets mere disapproval and the occasional outrageous incident, it is tacit and implicit agreement that women are not entitled and should be automatically shamed for expressing a choice that does not augur well with social norms.
September 2018. The Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS), a unit of the Nigerian Police Force whose job was to deter robbery incidents, came under fire for target, unlawful arrests, humiliation, detention and extortion of mostly young men who decide to wear their hair in locks or who carry a laptop. Their voices were heard and their experiences were given a platform. A petition was signed and submitted to Nigeria’s National Assembly. There were no questions of why a man should choose to dress the way he did, drive the car he did, or not have the receipt for his laptop. It was generally understood that those were his properties and his decision to wear his hair the way he did was his choice which should be respected. Also that “yahoo” crimes, which involved mostly men who use laptops, were not an indictment on a random man choosing to carry a laptop bag down the street, without sufficient evidence. Recently, Mohammed Adamu, the inspector-general of police, ordered the immediate disbandment and decentralisation of the FSARS. In contrast, the GEO bill presented to the Senate in December, 2016 was thrown out due to religious reasons which have been conflated with state responsibilities by senators who do not deem women’s rights and gender equality important. (Till date, President Buhari is yet to apologize for his comments in Germany where he relegated a woman’s role to the kitchen, the living room, and the “other room.”) But the sexual activities of women deemed unrespectable by society, even though between two agreeing parties, is seen as even more indicting on the general view of women, and not a consensual choice for one particular person. It is something that a self-imposed Moral Instructor, akin to the bus preachers that plague public transit systems, has deemed fit to not only dislike, but detest to the point of spitting barraging comments and fueling this hate in the majority of his songs in which, ironically, he continues to portray himself as the man who can afford to pay for the needs of his lover.
Comments like: “You’re not like all those other girls” which pass as compliments from men which some women revel in, and “Do I look like all those girls?” which women use to emphasize their status on a scale that only affords them the cut-out-of-the-box personality, continue to enforce the divide which denies women bodily autonomy.
Cheating in a monogamous relationship, which hurts another party, is more likely to be accepted by the female party as a flaw in her male lover: all men cheat. But a woman who has a body count of 10 is seen as useless, and a woman who has had five abortions? Her womb has finished. The rhetoric that a man who finds his wife in the church or religious house will have a holy and successful marriage plagues the whole of society. And it is all so that women who embrace their complexities, own their bodies and don’t fit into these lines, can be excluded from the reward for good behaviour: being seen as a respectable human being.
In this era of #MeToo, women like Stephanie Hamill and men like Falz TheBahdGuy need to understand that they are not god, like we say. It is not your responsibility to give or take points to or from those who do or do not fit your restrictive moral ideals. Rest assured that if everyone were to kill off those with lifestyles which we do not approve of, we will all be dead. We would do better to make sure that people have better choices, rather than seek to control or actively instill hate over what they choose.