On the feminist rhetoric of the African Diaspora Bourgeoisie

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I read a guest post over at the feminist blog, MsAfropolitan. The post was entitled “5 Things My Vagina Does Not Make Me” by Doreen Akiyo Yomoah and can be found here. I proceeded to comment, but what turned out to be an almost 2000 word response was probably more appropriate as a blog response. This is what I said….

OK. I am reading this… and it frustrates me because… OK. Let me try to be objective, but also because I have a tendency to write provocatively (which I have purposely chosen to put on the back burner, and just write about cooking, because I need a break from drama online as I have enough drama off line), I write my response not as a personal attack to the writer of this post, but to invoke some deeper thought, reflection and meaningful debate, other than who cooks or not, in response to what has been written… Is that OK? I hope so. Remember… nothing personal…. just debate.

I know full well that statement “because I am a woman” and how it has been used in a light that simply dis-empowers. I have often heard these words come from my own mother’s mouth, and she is a phenomenal woman who turned hell and high water to educate her 4 kids as a widow. Now as an adult when we speak of why she didn’t confront this person when such and such wrong was done, that is the answer I got. I wonder whether she says it because she has actually tried, and has found that people just don’t learn. But I digress…

I am TIRED of reading posts like this. TIRED!! What difference do they make in the grand scheme of things really; other than sound like the thoughts of a single and oblivious (rather than irresponsible as other commentators describe) woman living in what I can only refer to as “lala” land? Look, I was once single and oblivious too, it is OK.

Men actually don’t say enough these days because they can see women are filling much more than one’s head space can take; with nothing other than hot air! A man can just as easily have said no one should assume having a penis makes him intrinsically more capable of doing anything and perhaps less capable of cooking… yet as someone has pointed out, most of the world’s most famous chefs ARE men.

How unfortunate! How unfortunate that it actually is not dominated or perhaps levelled as a playing field for women. Men are also expected to have children by many a society, not just African societies. Men ARE expected to be good at DIY yet I often find myself fantasising about handymen and why my beloved other half… or despite being an engineer, myself, were not quite ever so inclined. I think some of the points you have noted are actually not a matter of the fact that you have a vagina but that you as an individual have certain preferences. Perhaps you chose to study history and are a writer because that is what you liked. But why do so many women gravitate towards that and not science, technology or engineering? Why? Is it because classrooms consciously or unconsciously steer girls that way?

I wish someone could write something along the lines of what they are BECAUSE of their vaginas. For instance, I have good reason to believe that, aside from the fact that I had no match in high school when it came to my academic capabilities in maths and science, I am actually an electrical engineer BECAUSE of my vagina. It so happened that when I was at school, girls were targeted by companies campaigning in schools to encourage them to consider other less female-travelled career paths such as engineering and technology. I took that path and it is NOT an easy industry to work in.

Should I get an award for it just because I have a vagina? No. Of course not, but I do expect to get paid at the same level of my male counterparts. I have 2 young kids, and it is NOT easy to juggle full time work and family, BUT I am still in my workplace, not bowing out to the pressures of society to exit the workforce BECAUSE I have a vagina and believe that my very presence there is educating people who know no differently about the pressures of the modern day working woman. I am exhausted almost all the time, but it is also because I have a vagina that I choose to painstakingly maintain my ability to earn a good income, because too many women suffer from being economically dependent on their husbands.

Now, when I was training as an engineering student, I was in the midst of pulling apart a 2 cylinder engine when my trainer, a gentle elderly African man in Botswana, looked at me, and uttered that I am probably useless at cooking sadza (banku/kenkey) because of the way I was handling the metal sanding rod, as well as the fact that I did not really belong there (in engineering) and in the same breath, stated that I belonged in the kitchen. I have learned over the years to let idiots be idiots, don’t sweat the small stuff, we are too hot and fabulous for it.

Fast forward 15 years and I can tell you that, on the contrary, I belong in the kitchen, in this case, not because of my vagina, but because I actually like… no… LOVE to cook. Oddly enough, so do many of the men who I work with. Majority of them are the ones who go home after work and cook for the wife and the kids after the wife has had such a horrendous day looking after her own kids. And they have the same complaints as any women cooks will have, and I think it comes from a place where one feels they are not appreciated.

I mean, I wanted to slap one of my friends the other day because she complained bitterly about what her husband, the cook, cooked her for dinner because he cooked her favourite meal in a different way. I bet you would have slapped her too. If that was a man saying that????? Somehow, the person, male or female, who doesn’t cook has absolutely no appreciation of what it takes to do it. So men also feel like personal chefs, but I think that is perhaps when they or us women may feel a little taken for granted.

Now, one has put a comment about the fact that women are biologically and socially different from men and as much as people in this forum may not like it, it is in actual fact true and I doubt it will change… at least not in my lifetime.

We are not all parents on this forum, but humour me for a second. Of those who do have children, in the most part across any society you wish to choose, even Sweden… working women and women on the whole are still the primary carers of their children. It is a well known statistical fact. Until societies can address access to affordable childcare, and many child carers are women, I just don’t see how this social difference will change. Of course there is another way.

If women are willing to be the bread winners and men the primary carers. But let us not go ahead and emasculate men because that is another debate altogether and we all know it would be an insult to an African man to be a stay at home dad (you know I was being sarcastic here… or not… hmmm) Why? Well… let’s pop into the world of “Africa’s sex and the city” for a second seeing as they were worth a mention.

These women would not want to date anyone who cannot pay for both their dinners… yet claim to be modern feminists. We all want to date “progressive” men, but we all know, if we get hitched and decide to have children, we will expect our men to continue to progress, at the expense of our very own advancement as women. So, perhaps we stay at home, or allow our careers to take the back seat, why should anyone, man or woman, have to come home and then start cooking for the one who was already home? If it is that much of an issue just get take out but I find it is much better to respect your own body with fresh, healthy, low fat home cooked goodness catered to satisfy your own taste buds. I just will not say more on that.

The other thing I perhaps did not quite understand was the focus on the discussion of children in relation to what happens to a woman’s body as opposed to a colossal change in her life (unless your health is at risk?). I mean children are more than a 9 month event, it is a huge change to a life and a lifetime of RESPONSIBILITY for both men and women irrespective of whether those responsibilities are met or not.

A woman carries a sprog for 9 months then pushes it out of her vagina… The vagina is in fact quite magical… the fact it can expand enough to birth a human being… and then shrink back to its former romp-worthy glory (or close) is quite amazing. I know men can’t do that, so it actually is a wonderful testament to the capabilities of women because they HAVE a vagina… or rather… womb.

And women are “Strong enough to bear them children… then get back to bidniss.” But the real journey begins after those 9 months… a very shocking change… and long journey that gets so freaking awesome when little poppets run your way for no other reason than the fact that they want to be with you no matter how acceptable or unacceptable you are to other people. And then they don’t sleep, and you want to give them up for adoption… for that moment only… and perhaps on the other nights they keep you up.

I know you were trying to prove a point… but especially in reference to “Africa’s sex and the city”, it just came across as being sulky and lazy just because you have CHOSEN you can’t (won’t/don’t want to/hate to) do something (like cooking as an example). I find there is something quite dis-empowering rather than empowering when women decide they will not do something to prove a point.

I do not think you will find anyone on the planet who loves doing laundry and cleaning a house, but I am sure we are all capable of doing it. I am also pretty sure that even if you were incapable of cooking a decent meal for yourself or anyone else, or hated to cook, you are still responsible for nourishing yourself and anyone you may have the desire to nourish, and have the capacity to learn to cook anything you put your mind to.

PS. On the new “An African City,” I am following religiously because I find it entertaining. I am sorry, but an African version of Carey Bradshaw in everything that she desires or desires not to do or be, or how she wanted to live, as glamorous and fanciful as her life was presented to all SATC patrons, it will never be an inspiration to me. Carey Bradshaw was for the most part single and oblivious, and then became married and oblivious. Her reality would be so far removed from that of any African movement towards gender equality and the sexual emancipation of Africa’s queens.

Freedes, the author of the Afro Cosmopolitan Diet blog, My Burnt Orange, is a wife, a mother, and a professional electrical engineer who loves to cook dishes from across Africa and beyond. Freedes is working on a new African Cuisine site on the About.com platform which can be found at africancuisine.about.com. She is also passionate about supporting and encouraging women of African descent in science, engineering, technology and business and believes that women will play a pivotal role in driving Africa’s development forward.

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