Recently, my friend interviewed my other friend for an interview with a fashion company I had interned with. In the interview she was mostly asked questions pertaining to her opinions and experiences on existing as a woman in Nigeria (more specifically Lagos). In the course of the interview, she was asked about the most exciting part of being a young woman in Lagos:
“There is a coveted place for the young woman in the Lagos social scene. She is admired, sought after and most especially spoiled. She is the hand piece of every man, young or old, who would like to carve out a respected position for himself on that same social scene. If he goes to a club and he buys bottles worth tens of thousands, what does he need to complete his table? The young woman. If he dates a girl, in order to be respected amongst his friends and the society in general, what is he expected to do? He is expected to take care of the young woman’s needs financially and otherwise…”
The word coveted is such a strong identifier of associations of passionate yearning and desperate competition that too many people share about places for women. Usually, to covet, is to yearn for a thing that is not yours, or that currently belongs to someone else. How is it that when talking about a place that she identifies as our’s (as young women), she uses a word that historically implies our lack of ownership. It makes it sound like it is a place that cannot be shared by so many of us that if we so desire it, the desire must be coated with envious dreams of coveting.
In his movies- especially School Daze and Mo’Better Blues– Spike Lee uses his lens to keep women in frames of seclusion that are either supposed to protect them from the “dangerous” gaze of men like Sal on women like Jane, or, they are spatially secluded from each other to protect the man from being called to face the repercussions of being romantically involved with two women at the same time. For instance, in Mo’Better Blues, there is a great scene where Indigo (played by Joie Lee) and Clarke (played by Cynda Williams) come to the jazz club in the same red dress, to visit their “man,” Bleek (played by Denzel Washington).
At 2:23, Clarke walks in and the camera pans to Lee seeing Clarke walk in. Then, at 2:44, Indigo walks in, and the camera pans to Giant (played by Lee) seeing Indigo walk in. The camera doesn’t cut to Lee, it pans. This is important because whoever was looking at all this looked for Giant’s reaction to both women walking in. It’s like when my mum says something and I look to my dad for his reaction because I know that his next action/words will either help my case or worsen my case. In this case, Giant was his brother’s keeper: Someone looked for him because they knew it was important for him to see what he saw. As soon as he saw, Giant went to the back room to inform Bleek, and specifically, remind him of the time in Paris he particularly asked Bleek not to buy the same dress for both women. Giant’s point is poignant: How is it that Bleek, a wildly imaginative musical genius, never considered that both women would ever occupy the same real physical space?
Also, if he could buy the same dress for both Indigo and Clarke, the next question is, do they have such similar tastes in dresses or does bleek simply not care to separate their individual personalities into different spaces in his head? Honestly, do they occupy different spaces in his head or are they both just woman, occupying the same space in his head? Is that the space women like my friend consider as covetable? So much so that Bleek’s acknowledgement of both women, and his “willingness” to put them in that coveted space is satisfactory enough for any or all women that occupy it. In which case, there is no expectation of Bleek to make the space anything other than what it already is because his existence as a male, makes any space he offers to share- inherently desirable- covetable. And if that’s the case, Bleek will not judged for the worthiness of his character but for the worth of his masculinity which then, makes his gaze, towards the “selected” women ,valuable for nothing more than it is male.
My worry is that this “coveted place for the young woman” has little to do with what young woman are and more to do with the ideas of what a young woman should be. I did not mince my words with the plurality of “what young women are” vs “what a young woman should be.” In one of them, there is no multiplicity, there is no accepted range of existence because it is usually based on an archetype that has been culturally constructed to be the ultimate signifier of male achievement, which is not so distinct from male sexuality. When you add blackness into the mix, it becomes even more complex.
“turn white or disappear”