Book Review, Bell Hooks – Feminism Is for Everybody (Work in Progress)

Capture d_écran 2018-05-24 à 4.57.59 PM Dr. Negash assigned this book in our 7000 writing class and like any flustered grad student, I decided that I’d read an article or two about it and read the real book later. The one thing that made me come back to this book outside of course my professor’s swearing by it, is the confusion that surrounds this concept of Feminism. Whether you are indifferent, repulsed or simply really wondering what these Feminists are about, it comes as no surprise to me especially because recently, I shift uncomfortably in my seat when I read posts online while feeling increasingly anxious to call myself Feminist or engage in the distracting conversation that surrounds Feminism. Reading this book has been both an enriching and tedious experience and this post’s main aim is to demystify Feminism with the help of this amazing writer, Bell Hooks, while attempting to keep readers on track and constantly reminded of the concept’s core motivations ( the elimination of sexism ) as well as the introduction of all the many fundamental and motivating factors for the naissance of this movement. (In plain language, it is a lot to take in, but while reading, keep main ideas in mind, main ideas like the fact that Feminsim isn’t anti-male therefore trends like #MenAreTrash do not equal Feminism) I will highlight the core ideas Bell Hooks presents based on the sequence they’re presented in, in addition to connecting theory with examples from society.

What is the Aim of Feminism?

Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression ;the movement isn’t anti- male, rather it addresses sexism; which implies that all of us, male and female have been socialized to accept sexist thought and action from birth. As a consequence, females can be just as sexist as men; the patriarchy’s other synonym is institutionalized sexism;- a system that males benefit more from because of the assumption that they are superior to females and should rule over us….

In feminism, men will find the hope of their release from the patriarchy that holds them bondage too. A vision of mutuality is the ethos that must shape our interactions. – Paraphrase from Bell Hooks

For the purposes of this post, I’d state that this conversation revolves mainly around the theme of heterosexual relationships.

Half the time, the connotation of oppression is this vision of a person in chains. The truth though, is that oppression can still happen in subtle ways through the policing of bodies and the indirect or direct compulsion placed on individuals to conform to what is ‘right’ or ‘acceptable’. Your dressing as a female can be policed, your personal sexual reproductive choices can be policed, your conduct at work or at home can be policed, examples are endless. Women can be as sexist as men and this manifests itself in a myriad of ways including your baby brother or another male waiting for you to get home to clean a sink full of plates because mom or some female told him it was your job/role to do ‘those’ things around the house simply because you are the female. Faux feminists present essentially as women who are sexist knowingly or unknowingly. Those women that feed into the idea of pleasing the patriarchy. My mom has told me over and over again about the need to exercise, not for the sake of my health, but because men don’t like hanging bellies. 🙂 My mom has my interests at heart but is unknowingly placing it in my mind that my fitness goals need to be out of the need to look appealing. To who though? Though men have their unique struggles, this post is mainly to demystify Feminism because often, it is seen as an anti-male train and remains daunting and antagonistic in the eyes of society. Bell Hooks suggests that we all become feminists, not literally label ourselves feminist while actively engaging but to at least have a basic understanding that though idealistic, aiming for the elimination of sexism can help everyone including men find the hope of their release from the oppressive tag of ‘masculinity‘.

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Feminists are not angry

 

That type of oppressive masculinity that tells men not to cry because they are men. Needless to say, crying is a human phenomenon. That norm that suggests to women to feel less ‘feminine’ if they are unable to cook three square meals or that voice that tells a man who does most ‘womanly duties’ around the house that he isn’t man enough or the other perception he has of not being ‘man enough’ if he’s unable to financially provide or if rather, unfortunately, his partner earns more than he does.

Sexism conditions us to act in certain ways only due to our sex and from that point, it places oppressive expectations such as the ones mentioned which limits individuality or in this specific context, favors one sex ( the male sex ) over the female sex.

Summary

Feminism isn’t anti male; it is rather anti – sexism

Feminism wants to eliminate sexism which is the lifeblood of the patriarchy

The patriarchy’s other name is institutionalized sexism

The patriarchy favors one sex over the other; which means both sexes are affected by sexism yet one (male) benefits more from the system than the other

If we all become feminist aka subscribe to the idea of eliminating sexism, men can also benefit through the elimination of their own unique and imposed struggles that society thrusts upon them ie not being ‘men enough’

Baking Cakes In Kigali – Book Review

Image-1 (3)         In fast-paced texts that darted from phone to phone, Marina invited me to a talk that she thought I was going to be interested in. Yaa Gyasi was speaking at the University of Michigan and Marina thought I had to be there. I’d read and reviewed Homegoing and I was more than ready to sit through a conversation with the author. In between inviting me and both of us nursing the hope that my schedule would not be too crazy in the quarter of 2018, Marina asked me about Southern African literature and if I’d read a lot of it. I’d not read much. However, NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names and J.M Coetzee’s Disgrace were books I knew I was going to reference and recommend for many years to come. Our conversation advanced and Marina suggested I read Gaile Parkin’s Baking Cakes in Kigali. Days later, I screamed as I opened a birthday package from Afi. One of the books was Baking Cakes In Kigali!

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Afi’s birthday note read; ‘Because you love to bake, I hope you enjoy this read too’. xxx

Opening

The opening scenes of the novel present us Angel, a cake maker from Tanzania who lives in Kigali with her husband and grandchildren. Right from the very beginning of the novel, I get pleasantly surprised at how diverse the characters presented are. They are from Somalia, are Somali-Italian, from Kenya, Egypt, Britian, Uganda, Japan and the protagonist herself is from Tanzania; all of these characters are in Kigali for different reasons mostly professional. The novel gathers momentum with the subtle discussion of topics spanning serious topics such as the wrong perceptions surrounding feminism, stereotypes that different countries have about each other, the preference of male children over female children in some African communities and topics as banal as daily gossip erupting from the proximity of humans to each other. One of the scenes that left me laughing was one in which the object of gossip was referred to by a coded name only the gossips knew. The former’s secret name was CIA just because it was generally believed that contrary to the former’s claims to be working with an American organization, it was strongly believed that he was really working for the CIA. This act of code naming to facilitate gossip is so relatable and funny and adds that authentic feel to this endearing novel.

Work in Progress..

Book Review I, The Sympathizer – Viet Nguyen

I stared at the paperback and suspected immediately that the name Nguyen in Vietnam must be as common as the name Mensah in Ghana. ‘Ngu…yen’ I slowly stressed each syllable while completely throwing away any remote knowledge of the uselessness of some letters in some French words. Studying French for years had taught me better. Also how these Frenchies are able to ignore whole letters in words without pronouncing them all while still physically maintaining the letters still baffles me.

Anyway, so I finally found out later from my Vietnamese colleague (whose last name is also coincidentally Nguyen and who agreed to write a part of this post) that the name Nguyen is actually pronounced /W3n/! How interesting.

Outside the use of the Vietnamese war as the backdrop of this novel, the narrative explores topical issues such as identity in the transnational space. This post will discuss identity in the novel and will lean on the perspectives of James Baldwin and Amin Maalouf to draw contrasts or similarities to the main narratives and issues presented in The Sympathizer. I’ll also have my Vietnamese colleague Mailé share about growing up Vietnamese in America.

Through the introduction of characters such as Ms. Mori, the General and Madame and the Crapulent major who names his twin babies Spinach and Brocolli, the narrator makes riveting commentary on identity in the transnational space.

Ms. Mori is American born and of Japanese heritage. She is criticised for her inability to speak Japanese and her personal choice to visit Paris versus Tokyo for holidays for example. She believes that how she is perceived in society’s eyes is flawed because deep within her, she identifies as American, Miss Sophia, the opinionated American who isn’t to be fucked with.

On the surface, I’m just plain old Ms. Mori, poor little thing who’s lost her roots, but underneath, I’m Sofia and you better not fuck with me

The General is disillusioned at life in a foreign culture. He probably dwells on past glory to keep his already downcast disposition from taking an even steeper turn. He is forced into a life that bows down to his former prestige as General and finds himself wasting away until his wife explodes out of fatigue and anger at him for leaving all their responsibilities on her shoulders. He decides then to open a liquor store which gives him some kind of purpose in life, however in the midst of his life’s troubles, he remarks that

fair percentage collecting both welfare and dust, smoldering in the stale air of subsidized apartments as their testes shriveled day by day, consumed by the metastasizing cancer called assimilation.’

His wife madame, addition to dealing with domestic burdens has their young daughter Lana to deal with. Outside quickly realizing that in America, children talk back, Lana has acquired a taste for clothing that is distasteful to both her mother’s and culture’s expectations. Lana meanwhile has become more direct and less apologetic about the way she expresses her femininity.

The Crapulent major who names his children Spinach and Brocolli leaves room for questions surrounding the possible meaning or reason behind naming children vegetable names when he could as well have named them Vietnamese names.

Willie Lynch’s Letter on ‘How to Make a Slave’ and Personal Musings

Capture d_écran 2017-08-23 à 1.46.53 PMA friend and I had an extensive conversation in which I literally forced him to agree that racism had a hand in the original plan of slavery. We had time on our hands, and we were high from shoving down what would later turn into poop. We were bursting with a raw desire to toss around ideas. His main argument was that slavery had economic and political backing. Yes, but racism too, a desire to portray the superiority of one race over the other….That too! I screamed!

Who cares?!

So, when he mentioned this book, I was drawn immediately to its title. Among many things, How To Make a Slave. Okay, let’s go see what this literature held!

This material is simply a letter from Willie Lynch (whose last name is asserted to probably be the source of the word lynching ) to slave owners on how to keep their slaves from rebelling for a long time, (He promises them that if used well, this method could work for 300 years from the 18th century in which it was shared) Though I think this material aligns perfectly with some happenings in our world today, it is believed to be a hoax. Yet, it is written in such logical detail that it makes me believe it is ‘real’. The more I think about it, the more my conviction of an existence of what I like to call ‘workings behind happenings’. The fact that there’s always some twisted plot behind occurrences. Ebola, shootings of young black males in America,….Whether true or not, it is striking material that deserves attention.

This piece would highlight striking portions of the document while briefly discussing opinion on how it aligns with modern social happenings (largely in my Ghanaian society).

‘Use of fear, envy, and distrust for control’ (As a method to control slaves)

Excerpt

 ‘You must use the dark skin slaves vs. the light skin slaves, and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves. You must use the female vs. the male. And the male vs. the female. You must also have your white servants and overseers distrust all Blacks.’

Opinion

The social consciousness of pride associated with our black skin is growing, at least online, because of posts that demonstrate this, particularly on an online social space such as Instagram; however, how and why has there generally been a subtle preference for lighter skinned people women? Without any research, a cursory glance at my Ghanaian society, for example, presents anyone with a huge prevalence of lightening products. Lighter skin girls seem to be preferred by ‘society’ and playful accolades such as ‘Akosombo Kaniya’ (Ghana’s electric power source) is thrown around playfully hinting at the underlying thought of the lighter skin girl being preferable to the darker skinned one. Why would such a metaphor exist if it doesn’t hint at the superiority of a lighter skin tone? To compare a source of electricity of a whole country to a person renders that person quite powerful. Moving on, terms like ‘mi broni’ my ‘white babe’ (if you like) are terms of endearment some Ghanaian men use on their women. What does the use of ‘broni’ allude to? or bring to mind?

Excerpt

‘You must also have your white servants and overseers distrust all Blacks. It is necessary that your slaves trust and depend on us. They must love, respect and trust only us. Gentlemen, these kits are your keys to control. Use them. Have your wives and children use them, never miss an opportunity. If used intensely for one year, the slaves themselves will remain perpetually distrustful of each other’. 

Opinion

 Why do we seem to prefer doing business with Obroni versus another black man? In Chimamanda’s Americanah, she alludes briefly to one of the characters’ prosperity in business if only the face of his business is a person of Caucasian descent. This mentality is demonstrated further by the general preference of western products on our markets. Which is why the West (including people who trace their heritage back to Africa) can get the Shea butter, Cocoa, Angelina/Dashiki and Ghana- must-go and recently our Ahenema slippers repackage it for us, and we still buy…..

The Dashiki/Angelina cloth being a whole new conversation because do we own them technically if we don’t make them? We can argue that we do own them because they’ve been adapted to our tastes over the years and also because we have embraced and use them….


The other interpretation of distrust can be the encouragement of the use of the colonizer’s language versus our own languages. Slaves were beaten forced to speak English and not their languages so that in doing that, plots and attempts to escape would be eliminated. Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is a great novel that features several examples to back this example. Check out the post here

The rest of the post features other parts of the letter that struck me. Yet, my commentary ends at these two points. I made a concluding remark at the base of this post and added a video I think sits well with the theme of this post….enjoy…

Other excerpts

‘Let us make a slave. What do we need? First of all, we need a black nigger man, a pregnant nigger woman, and her baby nigger boy. Second, we will use the same basic principle that we use in breaking a horse, combined with some more sustaining factors.’ What we do with horses is that we break them from one form of life to another that is we reduce them from their natural state in nature. Whereas nature provides them with the natural capacity to take care of their offspring, we break that natural string of independence from them and thereby create a dependency status, so that we may be able to get from them useful production for our business and pleasure

‘Hence both the horse and the nigger must be broken; that is breaking them from one form of mental life to another. Keep the body take the mind!’

You must keep your eye and thoughts on the female and the offspring of the horse and the nigger. A brief discourse in offspring development will shed light on the key to sound economic principles. Pay little attention to the generation of original breaking, but concentrate on future generations.

The Breaking Process of the African Woman

‘Take the female and run a series of tests on her to see if she will submit to your desires willingly. Test her in every way, because she is the most important factor for good economics. If she shows any sign of resistance in submitting completely to your will, do not hesitate to use the bull whip on her to extract that last bit of resistance out of her. Take care not to kill her, for in doing so, you spoil good economic. When in complete submission, she will train her off springs in the early years to submit to labor when they become of age. Understanding is the best thing. Therefore, we shall go deeper into this area of the subject matter concerning what we have produced here in this breaking process of the female nigger. We have reversed the relationship in her natural uncivilized state she would have a strong dependency on the uncivilized nigger male, and she would have a limited protective tendency toward her independent male offspring and would raise male offsprings to be dependent like her. Nature had provided for this type of balance. We reversed nature by burning and pulling a civilized nigger apart and bull whipping the other to the point of death, all in her presence. By her being left alone, unprotected, with the male image destroyed, the ordeal caused her to move from her psychological dependent state to a frozen independent state. In this frozen psychological state of independence, she will raise her male and female offspring in reversed roles. For fear of the young males life, she will psychologically train him to be mentally weak and dependent, but physically strong. Because she has become psychologically independent, she will train her female off springs to be psychological independent. What have you got? You’ve got the nigger women out front and the nigger man behind and scared.’ …….

Conclusion

‘Keep the body take the mind!’ 

The slavery that took the body and human effort ended long ago yet mental slavery continues to exist. Though the term ‘mental slavery’ sounds so overused and bloated,  it still very much exists and is a term that should be revisited often and put in perspective. Ignoring the elephant in the room because we are more concerned with our individual lives instead of going to war for the greater good of the race or mankind is expected, however, talking about issues at the barest minimum will provoke thought, trigger conversation and gradually bring change. as seen on our social media pages …

Lynch, Willie. ‘How to make a slave’

http://www.itsabouttimebpp.com/BPP_Books/pdf/The_Willie_Lynch_Letter_The_Making_Of_A_Slave!.pdf

Also, watch this video! It’s worth the watch!

 

 

Twenty Something and Learning

On Life

Life is a learning curve. I don’t have a favorite perfume, favorite food or favorite vacation destination. My reason is very simple, I haven’t experienced much to conclude on favorites. I constantly seek different perspectives, different views, different stories just because I realize there is one more thing out there that I can learn.

On Relationships

Every relationship is a waste of time. Whether platonic or romantic. Relationships take time, energy and a demand for your attention and resources. I’ve learned to examine the benefits I stand to gain from any type of relationship I get into. Now the word ‘benefit’ can be reduced to mean material. Unfortunately no. Have a conversation with yourself and ask and answer certain questions. Does the person make you feel good in terms of uplifting and supporting your dreams or essence as a person? Do they make you feel needed? Are you learning anything from them? Do they constantly put you down? Do they believe in your potential or capability? Do they always come through for you when you need them? Are you happy to hear from them or do you feel the need to make an excuse not to talk to them? These questions and answers are endless. Basically, just make sure you are not in a relationship that drains you of happiness (however you define it) because there is no point in being in a place you don’t want to especially when it takes away from you. I try to not to be afraid to let go because I’ve also learned that so many good people out there want other good people like you so do not be paralyzed by the thought that you won’t find anyone better. You will.

I believe in reciprocation. I think that if a person values you, there are certain things you wouldn’t even have to ask or beg for. If they are generous to you be generous in return. If they seem to be busy, be busy too. Relationship dynamics can be funny, but know that the other person needs you as much as you need them. That in addition to the fact that life’s demands can make all of us lose out on touching base with good people, however in all of this, train yourself to forgive, give without always expecting and be accepting of people’s flaws. Pick up on signs that inform you of red flags and do not ignore them. Ultimately, people treat us the way we allow them to.

On Dreams

I’ve seen people drop out of Ph.D. programs, people rebrand ordinary plantain chips that were previously in clear plastic bags, people sell straw hats and people sit on their couches and make money. Whatever your definition of ‘success’ is, work at it and keep in mind that consistency can make all the difference. These days a lot of people seem to be doing the same thing. MUA, PHOTOGRAPHY, LIFESTYLE/FASHION BLOGGING, YOU NAME IT. Only difference is consistency.

On Money

We live to eat; We do not eat to live  – Unknown 

I think money comes and goes. I won’t be a hoarder because there’s no way my hefty bank account can literally save me if something were to happen to me.You know what that something is. I’m not about to overstate it. Relatively, money can buy medical aid but not life itself. And this point is debatable. Yet, there’s an extent to which money can go. I do not place value on money and brands and ‘success’ defined by money. I try not to let money ruin my relationships also. I recognize that money is a vehicle that can help build relationships, but at the same time, it should not be the defining element of a relationship. Use money to show people you care about them, but do not let them see you as a money dispensing machine. Allow people to show kindness to you, but be sure not to become a taker.

On Failure

I think failure can give us a renewed sense of determination and zeal. It is not always negative.

On Friendship

Everyone who has your interest at heart is friend. I think a lot of us have to revisit the word ‘acquaintance’ for some people in our lives because not everyone deserves the word ‘friend’.

On Giving (not just money)

I went out to the movies with my cousin and gave my last to tickets for us. I knew I had nothing left on my cards but I knew my good deed was going to bring something good my way and if it didn’t, well yolo so it’s ok to see that movie and be broke. Days after that, I got money I did not expect in any way back!

Give your time, energy, and other aspects of you if you can, want to and if it works for you. Sometimes it may be uncomfortable but I learned that we do not get blessed for ourselves only.

On Independence of mind

Ultimately, every man is the master of his fate. I wish people could start to realize that modesty or bending for others is dependent on the willpower we all have. I grew up being apologetic. In a society in which assertiveness equaled arrogance, one always had to be sorry for everything. Sorry for being too beautiful or smart or lucky.  Sorry for having a good job or having a nice car. Sorry for demanding your rights or calling someone out on their nonsense. A typical response from a Ghanaian you complimented would be ‘hmmm oh thank you ooo, I’m learning from you’ or ‘hmmm, really? I didn’t even know’. Sometimes this sorry attitude was conveniently shifted onto religion where everything had to be by God’s grace. Of course, God is the core of our excellence however, there’s no denying he is sometimes put into the equation to prevent the onlooker from having the eternal impression that the other is living a little too large or a little too happy. Putting God in there shifts the blame of happiness and since God can’t be judged or attacked or questioned, we go free of scrutiny.

I also realized that this modesty or nature of being apologetic prevented me and many Ghanaians from saying or doing what we really wanted for fear of being judged. We care about every single little thing society has to say. If I wear this they’ll say that, if I say this it may sound like that and make me look like this. The fear even trickled into my writing because I was afraid people would think a certain way of me if I was too open in my writings but thank God for the independence of mind and thought. Be you, let them say.

Finally, I fell in love all over again with my friend from high school when I saw her snap and messaged her and said ‘Akosua you look beautiful!’ Her response was ‘I know!’