Category Archives: Gender & The Battle of the Sexes

Who knows the language of the ‘dude’?

Dude feminism is apparently a mantra.  Who knew?  We are constantly finding more fights to fight and this is no different –

I came across an article today that lambasted the anti-slavery campaigns that feature celebrities saying slogans like Real Men Don’t Buy Girls.  This is not new.  J. Timberlake and Sean Penn have been supporting campaigns such as these for a while now, but the argument itself fueled something in my sense of justice.

This wasn’t because the author thinks trafficking is okay.  He knows it is not.  It goes beyond mere description of how men worldwide are still an active part of abuse against the female.  J.A. McCarroll seem to think the root of the problem is that the campaign language advised that the real men here simply re-instate the age old power framework that privileges the male and the ‘masculine mystique.’

After hearing this argument a few times I wonder if perhaps we are missing the point.  Living in Mozambique has caused me to go back a few steps in my lines of thinking.  Maybe there is space for reinventing language and old notions of the patriarchy but I think we need to begin with some basics. The actual process of change… it takes a while.

In many African countries, the men simply treat women as disposable objects – the average amount of children a man has numbers around five.  The high end of this spectrum is around 12 children in this country. This wouldn’t be such a problem if they could afford to pay for food, clothes and medicine for these 12 kids.  But they can’t.

The women take care of these kids alone. Of course I could discuss how this occurs – lack of education is just one problem.  I would rather talk about how it just needs to be a part of a different fight.  It is more important than the dude feminist fight.

McCarroll talks about how the Real Men Don’t Buy Girls marketing justifies a masculine mystique, despite it being “a kinder, gentler version. By flattering men’s strength and asking them to use it to protect women, we once again place men in the driver’s seat of culture.”  Well, McCarroll, is it possible that we may want to begin with stopping a cycle of violence before we go on to newer issues?  It isn’t over until it is over.

Is this something to smile about? Harrummph.
Is this something to smile about? Harrummph.

Aren’t men still in the driver’s seat when it comes to leaving their wives for eighteen year olds and being a part of Nigerian kidnappings of 234 students in one of the most progressive schools for girls?  (see here: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2014/04/boko_haram_growing_militancy_the_nigerian_group_s_crimes_will_not_remain.html)

Yes.  Maybe we should take a step back.

I think it is worth showing that men still run the African world.  While some nations have made some serious progress for women, such as Ghana and South Africa, there are many who are still struggling with literacy, job creation, sustainability, and equal opportunity.

In the same vein, I would like to ask a new question about the so-called privileged world where we have the time to talk about such complex issues.  Is it really men who reinstate old notions of women and patriarchal dominance?  I think we have enough on our hands when it comes to how women portray women.  Take a look at the TIME cover.

In the same week Lupita Nyong’o graces People as the most beautiful in the world, a pop star is given to us on a silver platter as the most influential.  While it is lovely that two black women are on the front covers of important American media magazines, I wonder if what we deem as influential is more about “showing off.”

Who runs the Western world?  According to major media reports, it may be Beyoncé .  There is something very wrong about this, as National Public Radio subtly suggests, in their treatment of Beyoncé and simultaneous assertion of the importance of Nyong’o.  Nyong’o is graceful, intelligent and she looks beyond looks.  Knowles? I’m not so sure if she is much more than a (very) good looking face.

I champion the idea that women can begin to assert their equality but can we do so without shaking our short miniskirt into a zoomed-in lens and writing songs about how ‘Pretty hurts’ ?  The idea of the female body as beautiful (and generally worth equal to the same) is as old as the notion of cavemen throwing them over shoulders – these are the ideas that continue to suppress progression for both sexes.  I know that pop stars have their own ways of showing so-called leadership but …seems lacking.

The video depicts a load of anorexic ladies running in a global pageant but the only thing that comes close to resolving this issue of the pressures of beauty is in the statement “My aspiration in life would be… to be happy.” Although somehow she doesn’t seem quite to believe herself as her fake smile radiates the question.

Am I happy?

If her aspiration in life is to be happy and ‘pretty’ isn’t enough then what is?  Her magazine cover has drawn a lot of criticism because of its full-length bikini shot in a sheer not-so-cover up. If she wants to tell us women are independent and strong, and they are beyond ‘pretty’ why does it seem like the messages are so mixed up?

If the driver’s seat of the world could be run by a woman, shouldn’t we be thinking about what we are dealing with, mind and soul rather than how she looks while she’s waving from the front seat?

 

—————————————

Works Referenced

Bates, Karen Grigsby. “Who Runs the World? ‘Time’ Magazine Says Beyonce.” National Public Radio. 28 April 2014. http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/04/28/307178912/who-runs-the-world-time-magazine-says-beyonce

Bates, Karen Grigsby. “Why Lupita Nyong’o’s People Cover is So Significant,” National Public Radio. 23 April 2014. http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/04/23/306235499/why-lupita-nyongos-people-cover-is-so-significant

Frydenlund, Zach. “Beyonce Cover TIME’s ‘100 Most Influential People of 2014’ Issue,” Complex Music.  http://www.complex.com/music/2014/04/beyonce-time-cover

McCaroll, J.A. “The Language of Dude Feminism,” Sherights Blog. 24 April 2014. http://sherights.com/2014/04/24/the-language-of-dude-feminism/

Ornos, Maychelle. “Beyonce at the Cover of Time Magazine for 100 Most Influential People,” International Business Times, 29 April 2014. http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/549949/20140429/beyonce-time-magazine-influential.htm#.U19aK_mSybo

Advertisements

Girls as people with vision

Maniac Monday is what we call ‘segunda-feira’ in Mozambique and for good reason.  Sunday is ‘domingo’, just as in Spanish, it represents The Lord’s Day.  So as is typical of Northern Mozambique, things move a bit more slowly after everyone has been to church or mosque, and the first day back to work is really the second or ‘segunda’ day because the first was a day of rest (I deign to comment on Southernmost parts of the country as I have read enough to know there are major distinctions.)  No wonder things move so slowly.

Just last week on segunda-feira, I was on a bus heading toward’s the Mayoral side of the village for a special day known as Dia da Mulher Moçambicana, or, Women’s Day.  Of course, the bus was approximately an hour late, but then again an hour is not so bad by African standards.  The ladies were on their way to a day of festivities where we were told very little about, except that we would be playing football (soccer as it is known by Americans) at 12:00.  So why was the bus scheduled at 9:00?

Across several dirt roads and songs echoing throughout a sweaty, slightly uncomfortable vehicle with shouts of chorus presumably about things women did or the men they had to put up with, we travelled throughout the village.  This seems to be a common denominator across cultures.  Curious, isn’t it?

Usually in Mozambique a woman’s work includes carrying firewood, moving water from the source to the home, raising children, waiting for the men to come home from the markets, waiting for the men to come home from being ‘out’, working harder than anyone else, and pulling children back into the home before and just after primary school to help the ladies continue such things.   It brings new meaning to the oft-debated colloquium in American mags about the ‘Women who have it all.’  What about women who do it all? Some such suggestions of these choruses were: “Quando os homens sair ..”  There was laughter which followed each verse shouting,

<<As mulheres!>>

A crowd of villagers looks on, seated comfortably on grounds outside the Mayoral heart of the village in Nacala.
A crowd of villagers looks on, seated comfortably on grounds outside the Mayoral heart of the village in Nacala.

If the reader is wondering what the shouts of WOMEN answered, it was as probably guessed already – when the men go out… Who does the work? Who is there?  Women! Mulheres!  Giggles ensued with each refrain.

So, delightedly screaming and in perfect rhythm, the ladies clapped their way from the outside of Nacala-a-Velha to the center of the village.  Getting out of the dingy, dirt-smeared bus into a bright and gorgeous day, we heard more singing from the middle of an encampment where a canopied roof held dancers who moved in a long line waving their hands like palm trees outstretched in the wind.  Everyone was wearing bright colours and looming through one another’s hips and hands, like a giant weave of fabric creating patterns of gold and red, blue and yellow.  Their design was a brilliancy only reflected in their long, bold skirts sashaying in the breeze.

When the movement stopped, a crowd of mostly children and women sat openly under the sweltering sunlight in loud applause for a day hopefully precipitated by more performances.   Instead of more dancing, however, we were subjected to two political speeches about the economic power and progress Mozambique was using to become a great nation, and the honour of such development and investment (In a not-so-ironic nod to the giant port constructed just a few kilometres away, they hailed foreign companies as brilliance incarnate.) as brought by the premier political governance of Frelimo.  While the speech was meant to be empowering for all, there was a decidedly conspicuous lack of discussion about women.  While my lack of linguistic prowess is decided, the simple word ‘mulher’ was so rarely used, I almost dare to say I heard it once.  Coincidental?

Frelimo was certainly a party to the conversation, but what about the female?  Where was she?  See Democratic Republic of Congo’s response to women below.  Inciting!

The stream of Portuguese translation to English from the man beside me was abruptly stopped by my deliberation:  “So, this is all very positive, but what is he saying about women since this is their day?”

He looked at me in gentle surprise: “Well, you see…The woman is responsible for the children and for the way forward.  She is so important.  She brings the children into this world – she teaches them the ways of the world.  She brings them to school.  She is vital for these things, you know.”

In kind, I replied, “Well if this is so, why aren’t they talking about her much throughout these speeches?  While the future of Mozambique is important – I wonder why they do not say these things.  Why do they not talk about the women more?”

He could not truly answer, except to insist the same elements of the great work of the female he had managed to state before.  This was not entirely satisfactory as I had observed time and again how hard the women worked – was this not the time to recognize how much the female contributed year after year to producing such efficiency, progress and success?

It seemed too often a familiar story – a woman is an object of beauty and designed to contribute to family.  While not denying these elements of the female are still part of her makeup as a human being, (In fact, the human race certainly would not have progressed as far as it has today without such attractions) what about her contributions outside of the aesthetic and motherly role?

Captured in a sea of lovely Moçambicanas and a few South Africans.
Captured in a sea of lovely Moçambicanas and a few South Africans.

An advocate for empowerment in realms of art, beauty, literature, and good old-fashioned labour by men and women, I wondered where the discussions of real contribution outside of the tried-and-true familial distinctions we all prize.  Perhaps they are still a long way coming in all academic, career, sport, and labour discussions, but they certainly are obvious in the light of day.   After all – women were supposed to play football!  Excellent.  (Quid pro quo, the rain stopped us from the show. It is probably just as well considering my athletic limitations in slide-tackling during mud.  Although very tempting….)

As far as career and hard work, I had seen much to make me proud of women.  My limited experiences with waking early in the day and driving down any main road shows the female outnumbers the male at least 10 to 1 carrying anything one can think of on their heads from mattresses to timber.  While this might be a subject often discussed on this website, it is one I will not tire of easily until I’m proven wrong and women are recognized for their work.

In the following 60 minutes, there was more dancing and joy, especially by the young children who loved watching their mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins join in to the hip-swaggering beat of the drums and the remaining political speeches: yes, there were three more that I can recall, interspersed with further gender-absent discussion.  Oh joy.  The final motivational speaker almost had me on the floor with renditions of “Viva Moçambique!  Viva Frelimo!  Viva Mulheres Bonitas!”

In summary, it still comes down to one thing – a woman is beautiful.  A woman is to be celebrated.  Surely, this is a reason to sing, dance and scream.  I almost cried with laughter. This is when the entire crowd died down to a bare whisper and noting this as an opportune time to inject some wry humour I shouted alone, surrounded by girls and women alike who knew of my small grasp of Portuguese.  Their eyes were round as saucers as I yelled:

 

<<VIVA MULHERES BONITAS!>>

The crowd erupted in a volcanic burst of laughter. I certainly hope someone got the real joke.  Feliz segunda-feira.  

On girl power and the value of the written word

Mozambique is a place of extremes – extreme heat, extreme poverty, harsh landscape, harsh beauty (Just look at the parched sand as the dusk hits the horizon. It’s hard to deny.)  What about the extreme differences that exist between a man and a woman?  Well.

They too exist.  The battle between the sexes is never far from my mind as anyone can attest who has entered into conversation with me over business, books, competition, or the old favourite, strength & sports.  No I don’t think that women cannot be firefighters or weight lifting champions but are they able to do this as a general rule?

While I could spend time talking about whether an Olympic skier could flash a faster time if s/ he was male or not, or even about whether people like Adi Zarsadias are giving feminists a bad name because she thinks being a traveller makes her self-aware, subsequently emotionally unavailable, thus superior (https://medium.com/better-humans/802c49b9141c … I’d rather discuss the apalling statistics that show how far we still need to go when it comes to the basics.

In the battle between the sexes, do both sides lose in inequality?
In the battle between the sexes, do both sides lose in inequality?

From my second day of being in Nampula, I was greeted by local girls eager to speak Portuguese to me, despite my lack thereof and the friendliness was far from unwelcome.  When you’re a foreigner, every bit of that smile is like pure happiness.  No matter how many times I move to a new place, I will never get used to that first 30 days.

Adaptable? Yes. Familiar? Yes. Comfortable? No.

The women are kind and they have an enthusiasm about meeting new people which is unmatched.  My meagre “obrigada” And “Tchau! Até mais!” was not snivelled at, rather celebrated.  Women not only are sweet, but they do a lot of the labor. After a few days you will notice that the ones standing in front of a fruit stand or carrying water from a well are the females, and not the other way around.

But for such a hard-working gender, they are unfortunately side-tracked for what the men want in Mozambique.  While many traditions are practiced by both genders, such as, the performance of the Makhuwa dance, many are not. Men build. Men are hired as laborers of industry and construction. Men can be managers. Women farm, clean floors, and wash clothes.  There is a dichotomy that not only creates a gendered division of labor, but an inequity in treatment.  If one’s choices are limited because of the way others see an entire sex, there is little freedom and precious little autonomy.

Note a few of the more intriguing rituals. Some Northern traditions include a widow shacking up with the youngest brother of the deceased to ward off evil spirits.  Despite the temporary nature of the hook-up, it is still quite unusual.  Initiation from girl to woman may include a ceremony of de-flowering not of a female’s choosing when entering a tribe of males who have just been circumcised in their rites departing boyhood.

While the details of such traditions are far from common knowledge, recent digging has led to the unfortunate conclusion that some of the results or implications of these rituals reveals high prevalency of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and low literacy rates, especially for girls.  While patriarchal systems in place are not fully to blame for these consequences, it does seem that the value men place on men does allow women to easily be second or third priority.

Source: uis.unesco.org
UNESCO has more information on their website. Source: uis.unesco.org

As much as I’d like to discuss how females should seek independence and free speech, this division between men and women is more than simply a figurative battle – it affects the women here because of their low level of education, access to career opportunities and most significantly lack of human rights preservation.  So it needs to start with the foundation – learning how to read and write.  The literacy rates of Mozambican youth have actually increased in recent years, which is promising for the next few years as many countries such as Brazil, Portugal, Canada and China have begun major development projects in natural gas and coal.  If the youth increase their knowledge, there is serious hope for Mozambique to use its newfound economic wealth to build this country.

The Sub-Saharan region, in general, has much to gain from increasing their primary and secondary school enrollment rates.  While Mozambique is not at the bottom of the list of these African nations, there are only a few countries, like Guinea, Niger, and Liberia which have lower literacy percentages, especially for females.

Source: uis.unesco.org
Source: uis.unesco.org

The longer I am here, the more compelling it is to understand what the blockades are to the success of the Mozambiquan peoples and how this can be promoted.  While living in this place is a far cry from the ‘white girl smiling with the cute baby on an African safari’ stereotype, presence in Mozambique as a non-indigenous, non-native, non-pan African even…I have much to learn.  There must be ways in which this beautiful country can rise up to sustain itself and progress forward.  Until that day comes, suppose it is only natural to wonder how one might at least be part of the discussion.  I’m impressed with the enthusiasm with the people and continue to be humbled by the ways in which all of them survive.  It would be arrogant to assume I could do much at all, especially since I don’t belong here. I have very little knowledge of their real needs.  I do know this though.

At least for today, the conversation is being directed against the tried and true typical female empowerment conversation but at giving women the chance to even be part of the larger, global battle of the sexes.  Put them in a place where they can read, express themselves, and then they can deal with the ugly bit of politics between men and women. It’s only just that they be part of that disaster as well.

Photography Credit (at top): Chris Tobin, Digital Vision)