on african feminism...akuko nke ano

so, I got tired of seeing the image below of the Ghana Black Stars fan whenever I visited my blog and thought that it is high time I put up another post. since this is the month of love and US black history month - i would like to speak to a topic that has affected american black females for centuries and as i am starting to witness, african females as well.

last night, after simultaneously studying and keeping my eye out for the wisconsin and hawaii primaries (more of the latter than the former), I caught the last half or so of BET's "25 Events that (mis)shaped Black America." Under normal circumstances, I would not be caught dead watching late night BET, but my brother was watching it, the show seemed to have some usefulness, and I am a big Michael Eric Dyson fan.

One of the (mis)shaping events that caught my attention was the the hyper-sexualization of the black female or the misogyny of the black female as portrayed by hip-hop. First, I found it interesting that BET should admit that the negative effects of the portrayal of african american females as b****es and hos since they are one of the major exporters of these images. But I started to think that the hypersexualization of the black female is not limited to hip-hop music as well.

Earlier in the week (or maybe last week), I was put off a bit by cover story on the BBC news website, "Ivory Coast's 'big-bottom' Craze." Initially, my annoyance stemmed from the fact there are other more pressing concerns in Ivory Coast other than bum and breast enhancement creams and some song's tribute to big bottoms. But after this BET special, I began to wonder whether the African continent also exports this idea of a hypersexualized black female thru its music in similar ways to Nelly and Ludacris. Granted the history of the black female in the US, especially in light of forced sexual relations with white slavers and the simultaneous systemic emasculization of American black men during slavery stands in stark contrast to the situation on the continent (or I may be wrong here)...but how different is Meiway's call to shake our lolo's from Baby Huey's insistence that the bum should be popped, locked, then dropped? The videos are strikingly similar. I also wonder, is this an anomaly amongst blacks - I mean, are there other people groups that dissect and exploit intimate parts of the black female physique in order to sell records or initiate dance crazes? Africans have also had their own share of exploiting female sexuality by colonial masters (remember Hottentot Venus).

Of course, before I close, I must admit, that although I hate the images of half-naked black women on BET and Awilo's soft porn music videos, I can't help but play some of these catchy tunes on my iPod during a workout. I'm a huge fan of soukous music - HUGE. Additionally, I never leave the house without making sure that my jeans properly "fit" and accentuate what needs to be accentuated. I have struggled alot with the issues I just raised - especially the added dimension of African music turning towards lurid depictions of black women. A part of me says, its just music - not only that, but it's music with an irresistible beat that I cannot find in other genres. And perhaps, in some cases, there is a genuine appreciation for the black female physique. But then another part of me, the one that started this post, wonders if I am contributing to the degradation of black women by espousing any such music. I am slowly leaning towards the latter....

I would really really really like to get your opinions on this topic (also, let me know if I should clarify a bit). Let me know if you think it is "just music" or whether we have allowed the hypersexualization of black women to go too far or whether I have approached this topic incorrectly in comparing the African American situation with that of the continent.

16 comments:

  1. pamela said...:

    hmmmmm

    hypersexualization: in what context. In the past - weren't many african women naked. Even in some untouched parts of Africa, don't these same women go about with their breasts hanging, didn't most sexual movement in dancing come from Africa.

  1. pamela said...:

    Quick question: Don't we drool when we see men who have beautiful bodies with no shirt on. I know I shout "sexy" in my living room.

    :D lol!!!

  1. tobenna said...:

    Not sure if I agree...
    I just think, African women are the most attractive in the world. Inevitably, this will be flaunted, exploited and used in whatever ways necessary.
    I see asian babes in short tight clothes and I turn away most times. I see black chics in short things and I drool. Oh, mama!

  1. SOLOMONSYDELLE said...:

    This is an issue I have been struggling with especially when it comes to African music. I do not allow my young children to watch BET or MTV because I am afraid that these channels and shows from various other channels will overly influence their understanding of what it means to be a woman or a man in today's society. Thus, when the kids are around and we aren't watching SPROUT, the TV is likely on a news network or the GOLF Channel (or some other sports network).

    That being said, even African music videos give cause for concern. I can immediately think of Awilo's
    href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gF7T2WO2K9E&feature=PlayList&p=99E5188B7B1B800E&index=10">'Cache Cache'
    were half naked women gyrate with bananas on their bodies.

    However, I have to also note that there is a difference between showing appreciation of the human/female body while dancing/in motion and portrayals that are simply vulgar and condescending of women. The issue becomes where do we draw the line.

    All I can do is screen what my children see to the best of my ability and raise them to understand what is right from wrong. Then I have to hope extra hard that it all sinks in and will make a difference for them and humanity as a whole. It is and will be a hard battle. Thanks for this enlightening topic.


    href="http://www.nigeriancuriosity.com">NIGERIAN CURIOSITY


    href="http://www.solomonsydelle.com">IT WAS SO MUCH EASIER WHEN I ONLY HAD ONE....>

  1. nneoma said...:

    @pamela - i think many cultures in the past have started out naked - look at the original woman, Eve. In regards to men, I guess we all have our drooling moments but i am sure that number of videos highlighting bums and breasts far outnumber that of a chiseled chest (I did not mean to rhyme...lol).
    @tobenna - i agree that the african beauty is to be celebrated but it seems like there are more very sexual images of black women blasted out on mainstream media than of other races. It is like how we celebrate the strength of black men, but then the extreme would be to glorify black male violence that is oftentimes featured in gangsta rap.
    @solomonsydelle - i definitely know that in the future, such channels will not be featured in my home with young kids. thanks for hte link, though I didnt open it because I have seen enough of awilo's videos to know they border on porn. though, the beats are off the chain. but my concern is not necessarily that of what children are being exposed to, though it is a very very important issue. Rather, my concern is the effect on black women and how they are portrayed to a greater audience. There is a historical and very racialized precedent of exploiting the sexuality of black females both in the Americas and in the continent that i feel is somehow being perpetuated in our music. just my thoughts on the issue so far - which is still evolving. I wish i had a solid opinion for or against it.

  1. trae_z said...:

    i understand your concern and that of many like you but the fact is that: we're men and thus naturally wired to like the booty/ikebe, our love for which is not going away any time soon. there might be an argument for hypersexualization but it should definitely not be in the class of the anti-theft and anti-drugs course. one with nature is majority, you can't fight your make-up.

  1. that bbc article seems to have struck a chord with folks...[omodudu posted about it too]...i just posted a long comment there...let me think of how to concisely sum up what i think...i'll be back...

  1. nneoma said...:

    @trae_z - i hear your point. i know that the love for a big derrier is not going away anytime soon and like I said before, African beauty should be appreciated. I am all for the recent trend in African models to not go for the stick thin look but rather embrace their curves - whatever little they have. but i think some of the African/American hip-hop videos are bordering on disrespectful towards women. But if that is how African women want to portray themselves and that is how African men want their women to be percieved - who am I

    @guerreiranigeriana - i also posted at Omodudu's blog once i saw your post - though he took it from a different angle. i like the points you brought up in your comments - objectification of women in not just limited to African women, it is pervasive in the West too. Waiting for your other comments!

  1. Jaycee said...:

    I may not be able to write too many words abt this topic because it is really a huge topic with so many concerns, but one thing I do not approve of is the way women are portrayed in a negative way in all these videos, and I'm truly glad BET admitted to this (although the women in the videos wanted to be portrayed that way so it's not really any body's fault at the end of the day). If u put urself up to be in such videos, then u must be comfortable with the idea of being half-naked (or fully naked) while a guy sings abt u being a ___ (insert all insultive/derogatory words).

    Another thing that amuses me is the way women themselves connote themselves in a negative manner (i.e. use derogatory words while referring to themselves or their girlfriends). It beats me, is it just me?

    Nice post!

  1. don't know that this will be concise...i know for sure that most rap-crap music videos in the us i find degrading...a lot of times because of the musical content-lyrics-and then the videos-which emphasize that light and as close to white as you can get is best; half-naked and gyrating as if you are having sex-none of the videos 'move' me in anyway...i don't want to emulate the dances and don't want to hear the songs...even in the club, i have stopped dancing on account of the lyrics...

    ...but, with soukous and other african music, its somewhat different...maybe the language barrier-i don't understand french-but even then...songs which talk about me shaking my bum or hips or something along those lines don't really bother me because at the end of the day, that's how i dance...does shakira' 'hips don't lie' song and video bother you?...when i see the soukous dancer, i don't see them as overly sexual...they are dancing in ways that we in africa dance...its not that different from ekombi/ikombi (sp?) or some other efik cultural dances i have seen performed...just to different beats/words...and yes i do emulate the dances...white people will always think us and our dances overly sexual...what can one expect from people who count when they dance?...j/k, kind of...

    ...the thing with african music, most of the men dance just as 'suggestively' as the women, sometimes more so...the karolina video by awilo, my mouth dropped at one point because of the way one man was wielding his hips around...the girls really weren't dancing that suggestively...it was the outfit that was suggestive...and frankly, i wouldn't wear what she wore, but i have definitely wore my own version of suggestive...

    ...i checked out the video link that ssd posted...the girls' outifits reminded me of what sambistas wear when they perform samba (brasilian dance)...again, they were dancing the way most of us dance to soukous, just in bikinis...which i think is quite different from the music videos in the us...furthermore, even if the men are singing about pop and shake your bum, its still not the same as 'bitch suck my dick and swallow it'...

    ...what did bother me was the statement by the men that african women are defined by the shape of our bums...that is worrisome...please don't define me based on just that, especially as i have no real control over that...and it is just one aspect of my being...you won't hear women saying that african men are defined by the width and length of their penis [although some of us will say that it is the bank account that matters-not me-and that is a whole other beast]...

    ...like i said at omodudu's we will continue to be objectified, whether we like it or not...it is biology/nature...even with animals, the female species often is the more interesting to look at...women are usually more beautiful than men...men are attracted by our attributes for a reason...wider hips and bigger bums mean different things for men and can help them decide to sleep/date/marry you...just like you said, you make the jeans fit right before you leave the house...we women know what the men like and accentuate those features...

    ...frankly, if i am to watch a soukous video, i prefer to see african women dancing in the way that we dance than white blond women 'flapping around' in the name of dancing...they don't even have to be white o...i prefer d'banj's 'tongolo' video to psquared' 'do me' video anyday...simply because d'banj had african women dancing the way i dance vs. psquared's random mix of women mostly doing God only knows what [there were like three girls that actually danced in a way that i dance also...as much as i love belly dancing, what were the bellydancers for?]...when the soukous artist and other african artist start calling the women bitches and ashewo, we will have a problem...

    ...wow...sorry for the length...i really must work on brevity...

  1. nneoma said...:

    @guerreiranigeriana - you point is more than well taken - and dont worry about brevity, I took in all of it. I think you make an important distinction between what we have been seeing in "rap-crap" music and the type of music that we see on the continent. like i said before i am a huge fan of soukous music, but i started to feel somewhat hypocritical when i saw some of the themes i detest on BET creep into some of our music. but you are right, some of our traditional dances are involve heavy use of the ikebe by both men and women. and honestly i find myself preferring those types of dances than the arm flapping, as you said, that I see amongst whites.

    i think with some hip-hop here there is a degradation of women that goes beyond flashing various parts of their body - the glorification of a pimp culture with its requisite harem of hos. I have not yet seen this in African music, yet. And I pray that I never ever will. I have more respect for songs glorifying the 419er than those that call for men to "pimp an ho."

    @all - thank you all for your opinions and thoughts regarding this issue. I really appreciated it. I hope no one saw my post as a condemnation of soukous or any genre of African music, rather, it was more of me thinking out loud (which is ind of like the point of my whole blog - thinking out loud).

  1. pamela said...:

    guerria: Your comment was well said.

  1. pamela said...:

    guerria: Your comment was well said.

  1. Omodudu said...:

    It may be a bit difficult to hide from the fact that a lot of women like and enjoy this attention.
    On my part there is also a bit of apathy. For some reason I do not see Mapouka as outlandish.

  1. Uzezi said...:

    they say sex sells, and its true. its why many of these artistes sell. its what the africans r known for, to be round in the right places.

    see what it did to Kelly Rowland. beyonce is so sexy and so successful that Kelly had to get a breast transplant. dont be surprise when she starts selling

  1. ebele said...:

    Women have the human right to express their sexuality - however, it becomes a problem when:

    - it's dictated to/controlled by a particular group

    - when one specific image is adhered to, rather than showing (and celebrating) the different expressions of female sexuality

    - when the expression of female sexuality comes from a place sorely lacking in self-esteem

    I watched several Naija music videos the other day - very creative - inspiring - full of energy - I'm very proud that they have a creative platform to do what they enjoy doing. However, I also noticed how quite a few of them portrayed women (in a one-dimensional way). It was either that, or a christian music video. Very much the Virgin or Ho' portrayal and not much in-b/w.

    I agree with the point you made about the similarities b/w (some) African music videos and American music videos - but that tends to be with NigerAmericanised videos. Like I said, I love the creativity, the adaptation, the mix of diff influences into one unique piece, but you can take the good from America and leave out the bad.

    I'd like to see more variety out there where women & sexuality are concerned - to redress the imbalance - not just African women but women all over - I know that variety exists - but often we don't see it reflected in the media.

    p.s: it would definitely be a shame if Kelly Rowland sold more records 'cos of her boob job, and not because of her talent. A real shame.