BeingFemaleInNigeria: The viral hashtag, the tweets and my take on it

#BeingFemaleInNigeria is a hashtag that went viral in Nigeria just barely hours after it was first tweeted by members of a small book club. The hashtag started trending in many countries including UK. I would have loved for the hashtag to read ‘BeingaWomanInNigeria’ because the word ‘Female’ has its own social construct problem. However, i am over the moon that this very important conversation, which got the whole nation talking, was started by a very small book club.

The book club members had gathered to read their book of the month, an essay titled ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ by Nigerian award winning author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. According to a member of the book club, Florence Warmate, the discussion got very interesting and members started sharing their personal experiences of sexism in Nigeria. They decided not to leave it there but start a conversation on social media about what it is like being a woman in Nigeria.

Florence Warmate posted her first tweet on the subject using the agreed hashtag #BeingFemaleInNigeria. Hours later, it was trending on twitter. It was interesting that a small group of women could ignite a national discussion via social media in a matter of hours. Clearly, it was a discussion Nigerian women (and some men too), were dying to have.

The hashtag resonated with almost every woman in Nigeria and outside too. It was an opportunity to talk about the things that bug us, tie us down, stands in our way and oppress us every day.

It was a golden opportunity to make our voices heard about the everyday sexism we encounter as Nigerian women in Nigeria.

It presented an excellent forum to share the casual sexism we have learned to accept as normal even though we know there is nothing normal about being treated as breeders, blamed for being raped, thrown out of our marital homes for only giving birth to girls and not boys.

Women are the ones who are asked to grin and bear it when husbands constantly cheat and we are the ones who are told to stay in domestic abusive relationships for the sake of the children.

We are the ones who are called ashewo, prostitute, ashi, runs girl, slut, judged by the way we dress or the type of cars we drive.

We are the ones whose career successes are attributed to sleeping with our male bosses.

We are the ones who are told to stop aiming for PHds because it would be intimidating to potential suitors and the only qualification that matters is how good we are in the kitchen department.

Yes, Nigerian women had a lot to say about being a woman in Nigeria and heck, did we say it!

From my personal experiences, I would say being a woman in Nigeria means-

1- #BeingFemaleInNigeria Having to conspicuously hold my Hilton cardkey every time I stepped out of my hotel room to avoid being called ashawo.

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Yeah, the last time I visited Nigeria and lodged at the five star Hilton Hotel, I had to always display my room card. I could not even go alone to the hotel bar to get a drink for fear of being harassed by security and all these roaming judgemental eyes!  BTW, I made sure to speak to the porters in a fake British accent and left my Heathrow bag tag on my luggage, so they know I be Tokunbo (from abroad). Anything not to be stopped and queried by those securities who assumed every woman around Hilton is a commercial sex worker.

BTW, I am a staunch supporter of sex workers. I have written about stigma and abuses they face and will continue to campaign for Rights for sex workers not Rescue and the need to organise sex workers within mainstream labour movement.  Sex worker, prostitute , Ashewo should not be used as a slur.

2- #BeingFemaleInNigeria- Unaccompanied woman in a hotel = Ashawo, never mind that you are there to present a paper on Global economic crisis!

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As an international trade unionist, I have stayed in hotels all around the world but there is something so uncomfortable about staying in hotels in Nigeria. You are an ashewo or ‘runs girl’ (Lady looking for sugar daddies to fund her lifestyle) until you are proven innocent.

3- #BeingFemaleInNigeria – Taxi man tries to swindle you, you complain, he screams ashawo at you as you alight outside your hotel.

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This happened to me during my last visit, I was so aghast and furious, and the only thing I could think to do was give him the middle finger as he drove off.

4- BeingFemaleInNigeria – Not having the luxury to go clubbing or drinking alone unless you don’t mind being called ashawo by judgmental eyes

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The number of times I had to beg my male colleagues to abandon whatever they were doing and escort me to our drinking joints or clubs! I guess their wives and girlfriends were not too happy with me.

5- BeingFemaleInNigeria- You must be sleeping with your married male boss, cos career success, nice car and promotion means pussypower!

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Even your family assumes this must be the case especially when you announce your new promotion or buy a new car. Your boss is male, rich and popular, it is expected that you sleep with him to get ahead, never mind that you are smart, one of the best in your field and of course who cares that your boss is very much married!

6- #BeingFemaleinNigeria Your married boss takes it or granted that you are gonna sleep with him

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Yeah, it is actually expected of him to sleep with his female employees, especially if he is rich. Not sharing the goodies would be considered selfish. He could be seen as less of a man and derogatorily called a ‘Born again’ Christian. He also knows if he does not at least make the move to get into your pants, tongues would wag and his virility would come into question. No man wants to be called impotent, not even Sheldon Cooper!

7- #BeingFemaleInNigeria Your female colleagues gather around to chastise you for wearing mini skirt. You wan tempt their office sugardaddies?

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True story, on my first day at work and from fellow female colleagues who identified as feminists too. What a joke!

8- #BeingFemaleInNigeria- “You are a man” becomes a compliment. Did i change sex cos women can’t be spectacular achievers while being women?

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Please understand that calling a woman “a man’ because of her achievements or courage is NOT A COMPLIMENT. Those words are nothing but an insult to the woman, her achievements and gender identity. You do not honour me by calling me “A Woman like a Man“, in fact with such words you deny my gender identity and degrade my biological sex. I am a Woman and Proudly so.I already made a post on this vexing issue, check it out here

9- #BeingFemaleinNigeria You are put in charge of food and drinks while your male colleagues are assigned important contracts for conferences

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Story of my work experience in Nigeria.

10- #BeingFemaleInNigeria- How can you call yourself a successful 30 something year old woman when you never marry?

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I will be 40 this August, an accomplished human being in my professional and personal life. Nevertheless, my personal life success would be questioned because I am an unmarried single mum. Never mind that my son, a lovely 20-year-old undergraduate law student in UK is set to be graduating with a first class in a few months. I am considered a failure for being an unmarried single mum at 40. Being a woman in Nigeria means, I am now officially a bitter old hag who turned into a lesbian because she could not get a man who would accept her big mouth, godless soul, and highly opinionated arse!

11- #BeingFemaleInNigeria What do you mean you never marry, abeg follow me to my pastor, we must rebuke the demons that are disturbing your life

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The fact that I am an atheist only makes them want to pray louder for me!

12- #BeingFemaleInNigeria What do you mean you don’t want children? That is not your portion o, not in this family! Wa bi mo we re! (You will give birth to many children!)

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Consciously deciding not to have children rank as one of the worst things any woman in Nigeria could say in public. Even your family member would scream at you and take your case to their pastor, imam and babalawos to find out if some demons have taken over your mind!

It is not surprising that some reactionary men have decided to make their own hashtag ‘BeingMaleInNigeria’, because ‘What about the Menz’! However, it is interesting to see that some men do get it and are indeed contributing positively to the discussion.

Below are some of the interesting, hilarious and thought provoking tweets. Read, enjoy and remember, we could make a difference by being the change we desire.

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Periods: The Shame and Shaming

I am not a fan of the menstrual cycle but i understand it is a natural part of making new human lives and this is great. If there was any intelligent designer, aka God, women wouldn’t need to bleed every month for new human lives to be possible, and this is one reason i can say God is not a woman.

It is sad that the society portrays menstruation as an obscene, dirty thing women should be ashamed of. As a teenager, I was scared and ashamed to go into chemists’ shops to purchase sanitary pads and it did not help that the people behind the counters were usually men. Most times, I found myself going from one shop to the other, praying and hoping there would be a woman behind the counter. If the shame i felt could kill, i would have died at the spot!

Thanks to feminism and the liberation it brings, I now buy my sanitary pads and tampons with pride. Gone are the days I made extra efforts to keep my sanitary pads hidden under the bulk of my shopping, now i make a point of not hiding it under any grocery/shopping. This ‘little’ act feels like liberation from century old shackles. [Read more…]

Losing weight is not an endorsement or indictment of another woman’s body: Stop the Fatphobia!

I posted some recent pictures of myself on my facebook wall with the following caption:IMG-20150202-WA0002

Dividends of working out at the gym.
I can have a sleepover at my mum’s and not bother to take extra clothing, just so i can walk away with some of her new clothes and of course jewellery. Now, she can’t say, “Yemisi, don’t take it, it is not your size!” lol!
Jacket- My sister’s (Now mine)
Red sweater underneath- My mum’s (Now mine)
Brand new Leggings- My mum’s (Now mine)
Hair – All mine, just nicely retouched for me by my mum.
Winning all round!

Yemmylicious ed

Funny enough, a facebook friend who also identifies as an atheist came on the post thread and left a series of comments. These comments exposed an underlying hatred of plus size women, sexism and showed an endorsement of street harassment , cos well, according to him, women are supposed to provide visual orgasms for strangers on the streets, and you should be ashamed if you are not deemed sexy enough by strangers. BTW, he thinks only outsiders can decide if you are sexy or not.

Anyway, I decided to share these exchanges because, you never know just how many people especially those who claim to be rational thinkers, share these vile opinions. [Read more…]

Calling Out Misogyny or Bullying is Not An Attack; It is a Social Duty!

There is this unfortunate trend in social media where calling out someone for their sexist, misogynist, and/or inhumane remarks is seen more as an invitation for a fight rather than an opportunity to engage in rational discussion. Many, especially women, are discouraged from calling out sexist, misogynist, or stereotype remarks made by friends on social media like Facebook or Twitter, for fear of being tagged as the “type of feminist that gives feminism a bad name”.

There seems to be a renewed effort to tag outspoken,social justice conscious women as aggressive, judgemental, over-sensitive ‘bitches’ who just want to ruin everyone’s fun. It is particularly sad that this type of silencing technique is becoming even more prevalent in the Humanist/Atheist space.

November 17th-24th is  anti-bullying week and I pledged sometime ago not to be a bystander when I witness bullying. Of course, this has somehow earned me a reputation as the “fun ruiner”, especially amongst some of my fb friends.  Whenever i post or comment on such issues, it is at the risk of being referred to as the “type of feminist” they don’t like. Therefore, such discussions tend to irritate some ‘friends’ and many do get aggressively defensive when called out. However, i am sure that those who resort to aggressive behaviour when called out on how they treat others do not deserve the space they occupy on my virtual/real friendship list, simples.

I was shocked when I came across the status update below from a somehow close FB friend who identify as humanist and feminist: [Read more…]

On the street harassment video: Calling out racism should not drown out the sexism in the video.

When I watched the street harassment video titled 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman, my first thought was, forget 10 hours, that is my experience as a woman 557264_423393704397930_1730387465_nwalking the 10 minutes distance to my gym!

Catcalls and street harassments are daily experiences many women have learned to live with. Many of us have spoken out against this experience many times. However, are we ever taken seriously? No. Instead, trolls invade such posts with excuses like “Not every man”, “I am not your kind of feminist”, “This is why I hate feminists”… blahblahblah

Therefore, I was actually happy just to see a video documenting an actual experience of catcalls and street harassment going viral. In all honesty, I was not looking at the skin colour of the guys in the video, I was more about their words and often I went,  oh, I have heard that or oh that is a popular one. I guess to me, my street harassers have one thing in common, they are men, they say the same shit, they want control, they treat me like objects, and they feel entitled to my body. They are men that feel entitled to my time, who feel they must compliment my body and they get annoyed when I don’t beam at their validation of my beauty. They get angry when I don’t smile when they command me to smile on the street while going about my errands, some even get violent when I don’t reciprocate their unsolicited attention. They do all these regardless of their skin colour. So nope, I was not watching out for skin colour of my everyday street harasser in that video because what binds street harassers together is not their skin colour but their male identity, male privilege or better put, misogyny.

However, I was glad when people started pointing out the racial aspect of the video, especially when the maker of the video was exposed for a similar racist editing he had done in a previous ad video and also a homeless man makeover ad video.  The discussions were good and enlightening.

However, as a woman who is very much affected by this catcalling, street harassment culture, I am worried that in an attempt to call out racism, focus is being taken [Read more…]

Creeps, creeps, creeps everywhere; Atheist movement sure has more than its fair share of creeps!

An enlightening piece titled Will Misogyny Bring Down The Atheist Movement? was recently published on buzzfeed by Mark Oppenheimer. It is a long read that exposes the sexist, misogynistic behaviour of some well-known male Atheists leaders. I guess they are referred to as Atheist leaders because they are well paid to speak at atheists events, coveted by the media and well, some of them have written popular books, but as an atheist and feminist, I wouldn’t think of many of these creeps as ‘leaders’ in any way.

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The article particularly focused on the many allegations of sexual harassment surrounding Michael Shermer. It also exposes the indefensible thought process of those in power who have protected and shielded him from the consequences of his questionable actions towards women at Atheist conventions.
James Randy was quoted in the article as saying- [Read more…]

Everyday Sexism: Catcalls and Street Harassment

Every time I step outside my door to go about my daily business, I brace myself for the inevitable catcalls and various street harassment. I am557264_423393704397930_1730387465_n used to these catcalls. Catcalls are a constant reminder that I am a woman in a patriarchal society. However, I still get angry at the catcalls and the unwanted, unsolicited attention thrown my way on the street. I still get riled up when I am accosted on the street by strangers who have no qualms about asking me to smile for them. Even though these are daily occurrences, I still get angry and sad each time it occurs.  For example:

Just this morning I was rushing to make an appointment, when out of the blues, a guy suddenly stuck his coconut shaped head mere inches from my face and asked “Where is the smile?” I had to take a deep breath to resist the urge to make a snarky comment like “Your coconut head just smashed a month’s worth of smiles from my face”.

It still beats me why men think every woman who dared to walk the street owe them a smile. I bet this toady, ignoramus man would not dare stick his coconut head on the face of another man he hardly knows on the street and go “Where is the smile?” He would probably get punched in the face and people would say he deserved to be punched. But, if I as a woman had reacted that way or even caused a scene, I would be called an overreacting, sensitive, ungrateful bitch. Yeah, it’s a sexist, chauvinistic world alright, different rules apply.  All I could do was side-stepped his coconut head and walked away from his toady eyes without a comment. I was not about to let one of the many chauvinist ignoramuses walking the street make me miss an important appointment. The sad part is, most times, women do not even have the choice to just walk away as my next sexist encounter shows. [Read more…]

Religion, LGBT rights and military regimes: Interview in Solidarity Newspaper

Kate Harris interviews Yemisi Ilesanmi

Published in Workers Liberty’s Solidarity Newspaper

How did you get to where you are today as an LGBT activist and out bisexual woman?

It has been an interesting, tasking, journey towards self-awareness. It is also a journey that has involved studying society and finding my place in it. It is a continuous journey and one where I have to constantly remind myself that I have a right to be who I am in a world that is desperate to make me into what they would rather I be.

I started being politically and socially aware of my human rights at an early age. I was born in Nigeria in the mid-70s and grew up in a society that was marred with constant military coup d’états. There was no stable democracy. It was confusing because people took to the streets to celebrate successful coup d’états. I wondered why it was a good thing for the military to forcefully overthrow elected officials. But the people’s response was that the elected officials were corrupt. However, after having a taste of what military dictatorship means, people stopped celebrating coups. This started the difficult journey towards demanding and organising for a civilian regime where they would have a say in electing their own political leaders.  [Read more…]

Physically attacked at an atheist event by a fellow ‘feminist’ atheist!

I always thought if I were ever to be attacked by someone I only knew from social media especially Facebook, it would be by a homophobe, biphobe, 385838_210204545725456_192116174200960_481213_799145023_ntransphobe or a religious fanatic who didn’t like my LGBT rights advocacy or anti-religion posts. Never in my dreams would I have thought I would experience a physical attack and verbal abuse at an atheist event from a female Facebook friend who identifies as a feminist and an atheist!

Until now, my casual encounters with people who only knew me from Facebook have been positive. From the ones I ran into in London tubes to the ones who excitedly introduced themselves as my fb friends at social events or gave me heartfelt hugs at London pride, it has been positive experience until now. Get ready to hear the full gist, don’t forget to get your popcorn! [Read more…]

Of Rape graders and Hero worship.

Richard Dawkins ill-informed attempt to grade rape triggered discussions and heated debates on the issue of rape. Sure enough, rape apologists and victim blamers used the opportunity to proudly show off their self-inflicted ignorance and bigotry on the issue of Rape. It was also another avenue for hero worship. I did get some very worrisome responses on my Facebook wall to my blogpost RichardDawkins@Confused.Com: No one said you endorsed rape, what you did was grade rape and that is appalling. It also exposes the fact that many are actually happy to blame victims but won’t admit that they are rape apologists.

I plan on making some of these discussions into a blogpost but first I need to get this very misguided, unconscionable comment made by a proudly ignorant person out of the way.

Trigger alert- Contains Trivialisation of Rape. [Read more…]

Nigerian Trans woman, Ms Sahhara, wins Ms Super Sireyna Worldwide: Eat your heart out Transphobic Nigeria!

I was delighted when the beautiful, multi- talented Ms Sahhara was declared the winner of Super Sireyna Worldwide, 2014 at the grand finale in 10513314_162106167322674_1317010551276969853_nPhilippines. She also won the best Talent award and her national costume was fabulous!

Ms Super Sireyna is the most watched Transgender Beauty Pageant on Philippine Television, Eat Bulaga. The pageant aims to showcase the beauty of Super Sireynas and to foster camaraderie amongst contestants and Sireynas worldwide. It grades contestants on looks, talent and wit.

Ms Sahhara is a Nigerian Trans Woman who resides in UK. She is very visible on social media. She uses her social networks to advocate for LGBT Rights and promote Trans visibility. She entered the pageant as Miss Nigeria.  Her interview section was great! She answered her questions with poise, intelligence and was witty to the core! She also used the platform to highlight the problems LGBT Nigerians face due to criminalisation of their sexual orientation, gender identity and the negative societal attitudes towards LGBTs.

In her entry video for the competition Super Sireyna Worldwide Nigeria 2014, she explained why she was competing. She stated that if given the chance to wear the crown, she will use the opportunity to enlighten people about Trans’ issues. She believes if people don’t understand things, they should ask questions. The video was made as part of her preparation for the competition. She obviously prepared with passion and dedication for the pageant. It wasn’t just about beauty, it was also about talent, creativity and passion. The video is quite informative and worth watching. [Read more…]

RichardDawkins@Confused.Com: No one said you endorsed rape, what you did was grade rape and that is appalling!

Watching the downward spiral of Richard Dawkins from a respected scientist and atheist to a cringeworthy tweeter commentator is indeed Richard-Dawkinssaddening.

The latest embarrassing and thoughtless tweets of the Professor has generated yet another media storm and a lot of criticism and not forgetting the usual dose of worship from the “Richard Dawkins can do no wrong” worshippers. What I find amusing and of course saddening is how he refuses to acknowledge the constructive criticisms levelled at his tweets but chose instead to spew bigotry and disdain from his high pedestal at his critiques. To boot, he tries to make himself out as a victim of witch hunts!

The Professor and his apologists are going to ridiculous length to ‘clarify’ the intentions behind his tweets. Richard Dawkins wanted us to know he was not endorsing rape, but who the heck said he was endorsing rape? It is like the man wants to direct our attention away from the major blunder he committed by using an obvious defence, only that no one attacked him with that tool, so using that particular defence is basically pointless. We are no children that can be tempted away from the main issues just because he flashed a candy at us.

Below are the Richard Dawkins’ tweets in question, one can see how the tweets spiralled out of the control of Richard Dawkins.  RD even went on a tantrum when he couldn’t believe that people were even more stupid than he thought. Sighs. [Read more…]

Beauty in Diversity

You claim I am flawed

You say I do not belong

My colour different

My body too big

I am attracted to same-sex

I love all genders!

Pause, look, think

Is beauty only uniform?

In different packages it comes

In more ways than one I am capable

My beauty is not just in my abilities

My strength is not just in my looks

My body is beauty in another shape

My skin colour a testimony to creativity

The glow of Love is genderless

When we shut the eye of hate

Ignore the voice of ignorance

We will clearly see the

Nooks and crannies of beauty

And forever appreciate

Beauty in all its diversity.

By © Yemisi Ilesanmi 

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Boko Haram, #Bringbackourgirls, conspiracy theories, media and the mess called Nigeria.

I have so far refrained from writing about the Nigerian ‘missing girls’ for some reasons. Firstly, I wouldn’t want to cause any more pain to families of the missing girls, if indeed there are missing girls.

download (3) Secondly, I am not a fan of conspiracy theories.

I got a glimpse of just how much Nigerians love conspiracy theories when Lee Rigby was hatched to death on the street of London by Nigerian/British born Islamist fanatics, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale. Many Nigerians went into conspiracy frenzy on social networks. They claimed it was all a set up and made the murderers out to be victims of a twisted immigration plot! Surprisingly, many of the conspiracy theorists were self-identified skeptics and freethinkers. I got fed up of their conspiracy theories showing on my newsfeeds that I reached for the block button. One thing I emphasized was how much pain their insensitive posts were causing the bereaved family. So, let’s get this out of the way, I loathe conspiracy theories, not just because they are mostly misguided but because they do tend to cause pains to the victims and their families. [Read more…]

Fat shaming is ugly and body shaming of any kind is disgusting.

I was sad when a friend posted the excerpts below as her Facebook status update.

 “So ever since I took the final make-or-break decision in 2013 with my conscience to take responsibility for my physical and mental well-being, I have undertaken to attack fat-boosting realities that engage with me. This includes people who are happy to be fat…as I was years back, when I was fooling around with fads and gadgets, without facing the more imperative thing: My FOOD. Being FAT is synonymous with indolence, depression, poverty, avarice, corruption, lethargy to Good, selfishness…in one word – Corruption.”

This is so wrong and sad on so many levels.

The fact that the writer has decided to take responsibility for her weight issues is good, but that is a personal decision, not a public decree. As she mentioned, it took her many years to get to that stage and only accepted this as her truth in 2013. So why project YOUR truth and body issues on others? [Read more…]