Ashawo or nah?: For the women taught to live in shame

“Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter”. 

“Hey, Eys! Baby”
A lot of people had called me baby; my aunties and uncles, and those random men in the market. But this time it seemed weird to hear it from younger voices.

“Hey, eys, baby I’m talking to you” I was too scared to turn back and look them in the eyes as they relentlessly coaxed me on;

“HEY! Baby, stop noooow.” At that point, the words also came with a feeling…from my ass. One of them ran his hand down my 9 year old ass and laughed breathily while his friends laughed heartily.

“HEY! Baby stop now” At that point, the words also came with a feeling…from my ass. One of them ran his hand down my 9 year old ass and laughed breathily while his friends laughed heartily.

Something went down my spine; I learnt later that those were called “chills.” At 9 years old, I was still being defeated by my long division to think about anatomical metaphors but I should have known they were called chills because I did freeze. I was afraid to move so that my ass cheeks would not have to be guilty for tempting these poor boys who “naturally” could not control their urges. So, for my safety (and theirs), I ran- full speed- into the hair salon right in front of me.

“Ahn Ahn, Chiamaka are you okay?” the hairdressers asked as I suddenly ran into their shop. Those who worked in the salon knew me quite well because I was there every sunday to get my thin hair neatly organized into “All back and front”- an acceptable hairstyle for primary school.

Slowly, I caught my breath and smiled “Yes aunty.” They asked why I was running but I was too embarrassed to tell the truth: embarrassed at the work of my butt cheeks, embarrassed that I had allowed myself to be dirtied by their touch. I was probably more afraid that saying anything would put me in more danger. So, I simply said “Oh, I just felt like running”

After about 15-20minutes of sitting around in the salon, I believed the coast was clear. In those minutes, I tried to steal glances of the imprint of his fingers at the back of my knee length green dress. Finally, I was ready to snap out of it and continue my journey to my friends’ house.

There i was, strolling along the sandy road till- all of a sudden- I was surrounded by three boys who looked not more than 14 years old.

Breath…laughter…cries. Breath from him, laughter from the other two, and cries from me.

Breath…laughter…cries. Breath from him, laughter from the other two, and cries from me.

As one of them came closer to my face and I could smell his breath, I cried wept. I begged him to please leave me alone. I don’t know the exact words I spoke, but I remember that they were all desperate pleas for the chance to preserve my cleanliness, I was not ready to be soiled by their dirt hands, or their sexual thoughts. It was too early for me to know what it was like to have my lips touched, or my breasts fondled or more accurately, my legs spread. The fact that they were random strangers scared me but I remember also being scared of suffering the consequences that I thought I could have prevented. It was too early for me to be guilty and I begged that they give me a chance to stay innocent.

Quietly, he softened his breaths, then he tucked in his tongue and slapped my ass as he said: “Go jor! Ashawo!” Quickly, with “thank you” on my lips, tears in my eyes, and his imprint on my ass, I ran.

 

To be clear,  I’m writing this because I fear that too many women are haunted by recurring nightmares of many imprints on the backs and fronts of their dresses.

As my blog community knows, this is the second part of a three part essay in response to my friend’s facebook status

As you may have guessed, I believe that any argument that men and women SHALL never be equal, based on some religious construct is flawed because it rejects evidence. I might not have enough evidence to prove that we are meant to be the same, but I also don’t have enough evidence to prove that we are meant to be different.

I believe my friend’s argument, like many others, was born of a policed mind, drowned in some shades of religious fundamentalism. Personally, I disagree with the premise of intelligent design because it portrays religion and science as mutually exclusive tenets. I actually think science and religion can go together; even Pope Francis agrees that evolution is not inconsistent with the notion of creation. An intelligent professor of religion (whom I cannot remember) once explained that the difference between science and religion is that science readily discards a theory when there is evidence that disproves its former claims whereas, religion (today) discards any evidence that threatens the foundation of any religious theory.

First off, let’s agree that “shall” is a pretty strong word. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary “Shall” is used to explain what is inevitable or seems likely to happen. Like when Beyonce says “(you shall) Bow Down”, I think she actually means “oh ye ratchet plebeian, when you see the blinding flawlessness of my costume and my weave, your jaw would have dropped so low that you will find yourself already bowed down before you even have a chance to think about it.”

JK! No one has to bow down, just keep staring ok?

More seriously (and dangerously), “shall” also relays a command saying that you will or will not allow something to happen. Now, some people believe that it is only through active participation in obvious oppression that a person becomes guilty of oppressing. NOPE!

By accepting to be oppressed, one is either resisting harsher forms of oppression and/ or supporting and reproducing systems of oppression.

Exhibit A: When my mom tells me not to go out in short skirts, she recognizes that I can get raped and she recognizes that it will be easier to protect me from getting raped than to cure me from the emotional and physical damages of rape. But although she recognizes that there is a need for me to cover myself up, she might not identify it as oppression. Why? Mostly because Nigeria is traditionally a shame oriented culture but Christianity also makes it guilt oriented for some of us. For example, a person’s feeling of guilt is relieved by confessing the misdeed and making restitution to the church. Paul Hiebert explains that true guilt cultures rely on the internalized conviction of sin as the enforcer of good behavior.

homer-confession

However, we (Nigerians) are also shame oriented because we rely on external sanctions (e.g when witches have to be burnt).As a member of a shame based culture, it has little to do with what is wrong or right but everything to do with what is expected of me.And so the sin is judged as sin, when the people around us say “you have sinned.” Thus, when you remove the perpetrators of violence from the story,we forget who said the stone should be cast and instead, the focus is left on the victim.  In that case, the analysis will be limited to what the victim did or did not do, to deserve getting “burnt.” So do not forget, Women were not just “burnt”; people burnt women.Which is why it is so important to note just how much we make the actions passive without holding people responsible for executing the action.

The need for girls to preserve their chastity has been sold as a value for cultural preservation rather than a blatant strategy for women to bear the burdens of protecting many men from their lack of sexual control.

 

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So, instead of men having to suffer the guilt of lust, the emphasis is focused on shaming the slut or stripping those trying to tempt these innocent men who are simply victims of supple bottoms and bosoms. I remember watching a video where a young woman was being delivered from evil spirits who made her tempt male politicians. She confessed that she would tempt the men and destroy their successes. Her brother also suddenly realized it was the same spirit that stopped her from cooking for him.

mami_wata_poster
“When you see mami wata, never you run away”

After rolling my eyes, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between what I was watching and the past killing of women in ancient Yoruba history. Historically, women in old Yoruba kingdoms were seen to possess a lot of power which they could use for good or for evil. Unfortunately, some women were killed on accusations that they were witches who used their powers for evil. And, from my research, many accusations were not based on accurate trials but simple accusations. Considering these two events –the confession and the accusation- it seems that women’s roles in religious societies like Nigeria become dangerous when men feel they cannot assert total control due to higher mystical possessions or witchcraft. In fact, as a woman, I’m a threat to the “natural order” when I refuse the necessary male discipline. For a clue about how this manifests in our private lives, check this video; you will find one uncle there that adamantly rejects marrying an older woman because she will not be “directly under” him.

True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”- MLK

One of my political boyfriends (i.e bae), James Scott, elaborates on the tendency for the dominant group to attribute the behavior of the subordinate to the inborn nature of the group rather than the effects of their arbitrary but dominant power. And eventually, the face of the oppressed will fit the mask of submission. It makes sense. I know how it feels to choose which pain is less traumatic: As a regular visitor on the names of noisemakers’ list, I had to choose between saying what I wanted and getting 10 strokes of the cane. Obvs, I chose to SILENTLY express myself on paper instead.With only stories of women who have tried and gotten their bodies burnt, or their spirits killed, I understand and even empathize with the women that choose to defer from falling out of line with pre-existing traditions.

And more often than not, because we cannot distinguish what is mask and what is face, we cannot find a beginning to this submission; we assume it is without a beginning- hence, our natural state.

Quietly, he softened his breaths, then he tucked in his wondering tongue and slapped my ass as he permitted me to leave: “Go jor! Ashawo!”

I was 9 years old when a boy (not older than 14) believed I was an “Ashawo”- a prostitute. To break it down, the boy assumed that by the very natural state of my femaleness, my body was available for the renting or owning. I was 9 but I remember the green dress I was wearing. I also remember the song I was humming before i felt his hand on my butt cheek. I remember how my butt cheeks clenched into a sexualized fist. The memory reminds me of my friend who once explained to me that tension is a way to resist pain. But I live in a society that shames me for his touch; does that mean i must keep enough tension in my butt to resist the physical and psychological pain it might bring? Perhaps, one day, freedom will come in a still voice but till then, I must keep clenching my butt cheeks so he doesn’t have to live with the guilt of his glutinous lost, nor I, disabled by my shame… (continued in part 3)

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