sperm donor

Copyright: Creative Commons

A lot has happened since I last blogged. Well, one major thing has happened. Trump. Singular, but the magnitude of it means that a lot has happened.  I’m not writing about Trump though. There are a possibly a million think pieces already and I have plenty of thoughts but not any that I feel would shed any new light on the alternate universe we’ve found ourself in in which someone who only feels they need to be briefed on intelligence once a week because they think they’re ‘smart’, can be a viable candidate to run a superpower. I digress.

On Twitter (which  generates meaningful conversation more often than you’d think), I saw a back and forth about fatherhood. It started off as a series of tweets by a man about masculinity and black men needing to responsibility in order to build stronger families. Another man quickly responded, asking what the definition of family was,  suggesting that it was possible to have a family without a man, and that him not having a father didn’t prevent him from achieving in life and therefore “the broken family narrative is invalid”.

I could have ignored this as a one off – one young man with possibly unresolved emotions from having an absent father or who perhaps had a great family life despite his absence seeking to make sense of his situation by framing his father as an optional extra in his life. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’m hearing this idea that men aren’t ‘nececssary’ for a family.

Now, it’s quite obvious that there are many families that operate and possibly even thrive outside of the traditional Mum, dad. 2.4 kids template. As far back in humanity’s existence as you can imagine, families have been far more complex than the template. Whether it be children growing up with Grandparents, an Aunty,  5 cousins or a family friend-become-guardian. While this has always been the case, what’s new is the push from certain sectors of society for a radical shift in how we think about what contsitutes necessary or perhaps optimal family structure.

I listened to a podcast last year and I was slightly shocked when one of the women angrily stated that “she didn’t need a black man to have a family anyway”. She claimed that she had other options including adoption and sperm donation that meant that having to deal with black men (and I gathered, in her mind – any accompanying misogyny) was uncessary. I emphasise being only slightly shocked because some strands of feminism in particular, seem to be extremely comfortable with promoting this idea. Now granted, men can be stressful, generally ashy and a complete waste of breath. There have been times post-argument or rejection, where the idea of reproducing asexually has sounded infinitely more appealing than wading through the circle of fire that is the male ego. Despite this, in the cold light of day I’m under no illusion that a present and active male figure is anything less than optimal if I want to have a thriving and happy family.

Not only  is the idea that men are optional to a family structure  insulting to men, it’s harmful to women,  indeed, perhaps even to feminism and goes against all the evidence we have so far – both academic and anecdotal.

In a world where we’re increasingly being told by various factions that gender is a wholly social construct with no clear biological markers as well as scientific advances in artifical insemination, it’s unsurprising that people can lead themselves to believe or want to believe that men aren’t necessary for families.

Whiel I agree that we have made some essential progress in not treating women who are single parents like social pariahs or failures, on the other hand, in response to societies negativity towards single mothers particularly black single mothers, we have almost begun to regress into a ridculous narrative where we not only have accepted it as the new normal but seem to be promoting it?

There is a need to continually pushback against the idea that a household in which there is no male figure is a perfectly normal and acepptable state for over 60% of our children to grow up in. This isn’t societal progress, it is (and I mean it as dramatically as it sounds) a state of emergency. Research into outcomes for children from single parent families  is complex and the evidence as to the vastness of the difference in outcomes varies, but one thing is fairly undeniable – your chances of having poor outcomes increases. Very often we argue that boys need men, but just as importantly, girls need men. I needed my Dad, and i still do. My Dad even by sheer virtue of joining his income with my Mum as well as the myriad otehr inputs, enabled me to fulfilll all the feminist ideals of being an interdependent (catch that?), educated woman with a a confidence that lies in my abilities regardless of my gender.

Someone will ask, “would you rather have children grow up in dysfunctional, violent or abusive two parent households?”. Clearly, the answer to this is no. I would much rather a child grow up in a loving single parent household and not be exposed to constant arguing or potential domestic violence. I salute the single mothers that are doing the best they can. I acknowledge that just because parents aren’t together, does not mean that the father isn’t active in the childs life. As I get older I’ve come to terms with the fact that I myself may not necessarily get married but I still definitely would consider adopting a child. However, no matter how active a father or  a mother is individually  a functioning two parent household will always be the ideal. That isn’t what we need to question.

The question we do  need to ask ourselves is what are we NOT teaching our young people about relationships, about masculinity, about femininity that is allowing a situation to occure where so many relationships are unable to last the distance? What ideas about what it means to be a man are we teaching boys that means they can’t have successful relationships with women and vice versa?

Instead of acquiescing to a tide of broken homes, we can start having these conversations amongst ourselves. In our friendship circles, families, churches and mosques we can do the work. We can do the work of seeing  a counsellor to sift through our individual or relationship issues (I know being able to suggest that comes froma place of relative financial privilege), we can dig into the resources we have of the wisdom of older generations, asking them what worked and what didn’t. We can choose to reject media that constantly portrays and glorifies dysfunctional relationships for cheap entertainment.

What we can’t do, is allow our children to accept this new normal. It’s not normal.

 

 

i-saw-you-on-tinder

Snog, Marry, Avoid was a fairly trashy TV show which involved making over women who were deemed a bit trashy, and making them classy. The title hinted at the fact that dressing and wearing makeup in a certain way might get you a snog, but it wouldn’t get you a ring, and if you wanted him to put a ring on it you needed to shape up because the snap judgements men  made about the way you look could make you miss out.

I think I might have admitted this before, but in a moment of midnight madness and curiosity, I downloaded Tinder. It didn’t last very long, approximately 5 minutes. I don’t say this in a sneering way to belittle those of you who have used the app as an aid in your romantic (sexual?) endeavours. It just took all of 5 minutes for me understand that my particular demographic – black, female, born again Christian,waiting till marriage to have sex and looking for a man with similar values, was possibly NOT Tinder’s target demographic and that I was extremely unlikely to swipe and land on a 28 year old man who was currently deciding whether to read Revelation or Matthew next and investing his pent up sexual energy in 5 mile runs. It was swiftly deleted and I went to sleep.

I was watching a (fairly low brow) documentary this evening called Face Value, which explored how central our faces are to..well..life. Wars have been waged over faces. Millions of pounds have been earned from the simple genetic lot of facial features.Most importantly, in 2016 especially, potential life partners have been selected or discarded on the basis of their face.

I often hear people say that your twenties are the time for having fun when you’re dating. We get told not to get too tied down to one person, not to spend time being patient with someone who isn’t meeting our expectations, to ‘get it out our system’. The assumption is that once this period is over, we will be ready to settle down with a long term life partner. Once we’ve gone through a 10 year period of making snap judgements, impulse decisions and allowing ourselves slightly more superficiality that we would expect from a ‘proper’ adult, we can then go on to blossom into a a more mature connoisseur of  love and relationships.

Essentially, your twenties are your snog, marry, avoid years. Your Twenties are your Tinder years. You have the youth, the good looks amd the free time to swipe as you please. Your fertility can withstand your snap judgements and there is no receding hairline to force you into low expectations and settling. Some people are comfortable with moving from person to person because they have their whole life ahead of them to be boring and committed and tied down.

But what if you never get out of your Tinder habit? What if your brain becomes so accustomed to swiping, avoiding, hooking up, discarding and transactional sexual experiences, that come 35, no woman can hold your attention for long enough?  What if you find out too late that you haven’t learnt the steady, sometimes difficult uphill hike of learning to grapple with someones flaws and reflecting on your own?

Would it be worth it? Maybe we’re delusional in believing that our brains, marvellous in their ability to form habits and build neuronal pathways that reinforce these, can suddenly adjust when we and society decide that it’s time for us to grow up. I read a diary entry I’d written at age 14 – it  listed the things I liked about myself and the things that I didn’t like, things I wanted to change and work on. I’d scrawled in my notebook ‘I’m good at talking to people, I have a quick mind, I can be very loving…I can be selfish sometimes, I have a quick temper, I’m disorganised and messy’. I would like to say that I’ve changed dramatically, but apart from having a much slower temper (thank God) , I’m still a bit selfish and I’m still quite messy and disorganised at times. In fact, it’s frightening how many of both my good and bad qualities were solidified during my teenage years.

The fact that my temper has improved quite significantly gives me some hope – I prayed a lot about that and I’m thankful that I’ve changed. Change is possible. But the other things on my list serve as a warning to me that every day I’m making choices about who I will be in 10 years time. I’m fooling myself if I think that who I am today at 26 and who I am at 36 will be different just because I decide that it’s time for me to grow up. Life doesn’t woirk that way.

So next time you decide to swipe in real life, or on Tinder, ask yourself how swiping is changing the way you look at people. And remember that who you are in 10 years may be so similar to who you are now, it will surprise even you.

dark woman.jpg

An article recently in an online hair magazine asked whether we had allowed bi-racial women to hijack the natiral hair movement. The resurgence of natural hair ‘movement’ in the early 00’s was a space for black women, specifically black women who had been told and taught that their kinky, napppy, coily hair was not enough to collectively celebrate their beauty. as time has gone on, the article notes that natural hair products and gurus are largely bi-racial  or light skinned women with looser curl patterns. The most popular youtube channels are of women who are either bi racial or, regardless of shade, have a curl pattern that suggests some proximity to a non -West African lineage. There are entire product lines that seemingly have as their main selling point the notion that you can buy a certain curl pattern, namely a pattern that suggests that you could plausibly have “Indian in your family”. Thousands of women with the kinkiest of hair textures drown themselves in a variety of curly puddings,  looking for the magical formula that will transform them from Lupita to Alicia Keys.

The article was somewhat controversial, which I find laughable and similarly upsetting. We are still as a community unable to acknowledge our blatant obsession with venerating mixed race people, more specifically mixed race and light skinned women, at every oppotunity, even to the point that we  confine black representation in black owned and controlled spaces to light skinned or mixed race women.

The natural hair movement is just one small part of a larger destructive w(hole). I can’t count how many times recently I’ve rolled my eyes at a thumbnail or trailer (because I refuse to watch most them for a variety of reasons) of yet another film or show where the black female romantic interest is, as per usual, no darker than  a brown paper bag or has wavy hair and features that conform to a European standard of beauty. Inevitably there will be a sidechick dark skinned friend who is always there in every film  as the wing woman and proverbial mammy for the light skinned woman to be comforted by. It’s imperceptible to some but glaringly obvious to me, that in the UK in particular (less so in teh US perhaps) dark skinned black women are pushed out of spaces and black female representation in media is almost exclusively mixed race.

I don’t blame the women themselves for it. On the contrary they are as light skinned black  or mixed race people, both victims and beneficiaries of a vicious system of colourism that we can no longer blame exclusively on white people for creating and promoting when we also uphold and perpetuate it in our own community. As dark skinned women, we have been emotionally and mentally disenfranchised from ownership of beauty – we are told that for us, it is only a commodity that we can purchase instead of owning innately while at the same time seeing others celebrated for features we naturally own. However, we cannot wait and expect others to do the work of acknowledging our worth.Whilst appreciating that society is invested in creating a narrative that we are less desirable, we cannot wait for society to change and beg for inclusion. Mainstream media will do what it wants but in our own spaces we must demand to be at the forefront and refuse to be under and unrepresented.

We are scared of being exclusionary maybe because we know the pain too well of being excluded. We do not want to be seen to be saying to mixed race or lighter black women with loosely curled hair that they do not belong, that they can’t sit with us, that they are not one of us.They too experience racial prejudice and profiling.  Rosa Parks, with her near straight hair and light skin sat on the bus and endured abuse for our sake too.But even her presence in the civil rights movement was one of privilege – lighter skinned black people had access to education and social circles that their darker brothers and sisters were more frequently denied access to. It’s not a wonder that many of the leading civil rights activists in the early and mid 1900’s passed the paper bag test. But it is no longer 1952 and it is backwards to demand justice and equality from those outside of the community while continuting to uplift the race based hierarchy inflicted on us by them within our community. This is not a work of exclusion, but one of inclusion. Dark skinned women, who make up the majority of black women are being disproportionately excluded from black controlled spaces. It’s beyond ridiculous.

The reason why we allow ourselves to be erased from our own spaces is because many of us simply do not yet believe in our own worthiness. We empty our pockets to give our hard earned cash to Miss Jessie’s in the hope that their curly pudding will allow us some proximity to the racial ambiguity that is continually celebrated in and outside the community. Whiteness is still so aspirational for us that in many aspects of our lives, beauty aesthetic being only one of them, we desire to assimilate to it.

Black women are berated for so many things,and I don’t want to add to the list by screaming “you don’t love yourself enough, why don’t you love yourself, your kinky hair, your round nose, your full lips??!!! Why don’t you love yourself??!!” We know that it is hard to love yourself when so many things militate against that love, but is possible. And its difficuly does not negate its absolute imperativeness. We must learn this love, for the sake of ourselves, our children, the men we love, even the black men who don’t as yet love our or their own blackness.

It is possible. I know it is because I’ve done it. I absolutely love my skin colour, I absolutely love my curly, coily hair, that does not look like Tracee Ellis Ross’s (although her hair is beautiful too). I genuinely think I’m beautiful, and it did not happen overnight. It happened with some good contact lenses, youtube tutorials and a relationship with God that gave me a God-fidence that defied anything any magazine, BET show or ignorant man can say to me. It also happened with looking at a few pictures of beautiful women who looked like me on Instagram and Pinterest and rarely, on TV. It happened through my Mum and the fabulous women I saw in my every day journeying who had a sdilent confidence that refused to be diminshed.

That is why I demand to be seen and I demand to be acknowledged. I demand to write and tell other women, to remind myself, to create a memory, that I am present and I am more than enough.I won’t be silenced by those who claim that speaking about this is redundant or divisive or hateful, becuase I know I am motivated out of a great love for myself and for others. I write this because, in the words of Zora Neale Hurston, “If you are silent about your pain they will kill you and say you enjoyed it”.

I am a dark skinned black women. I refuse to be erased.

burkini

I was up later than I should have been a couple of nights ago and I can no longer blame it on the disrupted sleep pattern my body was forced into by two night shifts a couple weeks back. It’s not the rota coordinator’s problem anymore, it’s all me. I’ve failed to self regulate and I find myself meandering into intemperance and insomnia more nights than is healthy. On this particular night, I had just finished watching a documentary on Donald Trump (will he become President, won’t he? Is this all a dream?)  with my dear old Dad, and casually flicked through the channels with the intention to head to bed. As I flicked, I came across 3 naked women, standing in booths, and another woman scrutinising their bodies as a presenter teased her, asking what she thought, who she liked best. I saw the title of the show, Naked Attraction. Ah, this was the show I had heard others talk about and had determined not to watch. The nudity wasn’t as shocking as the sheer banality of it all. Clearly, TV has run out of ideas. And when you’ve run out of ideas, naked women will generally keep the party going for a bit.

We’ve all seen nudity on screen, be that via an X rated site, a film or even an advert for washing up liquid. This generation of westerners is suffering from nudity fatigue – we’ve seen so much nakedness it no longer excites in the same way.  The existence of Naked Attraction is just one more story to add to the particular secular liberal narrative that wants us to believe that nudity (women’s in particular),  is sexually liberating.

France’s recent ban on the burkini, a modest swimsuit cleverly named to allude to the burqua, was met with astonishment and derision by many liberal media outlets.  It’s a shocking display of disregard for religious liberty. It polices women’s bodies. It makes Muslim women bear the burden for the atrocities committed by a few renegade terrorists who many Muslims would not even consider to share their faith. It’s oppressive. I agree with all these statements, but I wonder how we can separate the ban from the prevailing attitudes towards female bodies and sexual liberation that we have incubated in the West for the past 50 years, as if the two aren’t directly correlated.

The reason why the burkini is so ‘other’ is not merely becuase of the head covering although this is significant part of it. It’s also because of the idea of modesty and covering the female form that is such a stark contrast to our current social norms.

We live in an age where some women can propel themselves into fame and fortune sheerly off the back of sex tapes large bottoms and where women, (black women especially) with considerable musical talent often face overt and subtle pressure to act in an extremely sexual manner in order to achieve success. (I specified race because fuller figured black women who sing better than Adele and like her, aren’t overtly sexual, are not achieving her level of success, and yes, it’s at least partially a race thing).

Despite this being to my mind obviously oppressive, there is a relentless insistence from some sectors of society that these women are sexually liberated and concurrently, the subtle suggestion that modesty and covering are rooted in oppression. Although many liberal pundits in the wake of burkini will loudly proclaim that it’s a woman’s choice whether or not she dresses modestly, we have created a culture where uncovering is by design. Our fashion magazines, our shops, our advertisements and our media all propel us in a direction of nudity under the guise of freedom and despite declaring that we support women in whatever choices they make, we have created a culture that celebrates, orchestrates and rewards nudity. Is it any wonder then, that in our subconscious mind, the burkini is an assault on our ‘value system’? Could it be that despite condemning France for her actions, we have as a collective, played a part in facilitating an environment where to be modest is to be constantly othered?

Arguably, the situation in other countries that are less secular ,where women are forced to cover is far worse than what we currently have in the west. I would be the first to say I would much rather live in a country where I could be naked or burqua’d without retribution (and France is now excluded from this), but oppression is not always as bold as morality police and Taliban soldiers. Both societies have failed to reach a place where women’s bodies are not dissected for mass consumption, where women’s bodies are fully their own without the enduring threat of breaking under standards that are constantly placed on them without regard for their emotional, mental, even spiritual well being.

When I cannot walk into a high street shop and with ease find a dress that does not have a random hole cut into it, a thigh high split, or plunging cleavage, in a not-so-subtle way, I am being told how I should be as a woman. There are a thousands of items of clothing, but so few that allow me to not be forced to conform to the narrative that I a freer when I am less covered.

We may rightly condemn France but we are wrong if we do not examine how, maybe almost imperceptibly to some, we have all allowed this to happen.

workoutI sit here and eat chocolate covered cornflakes as a write this. I deserve these. Why? Because I worked out for almost an hour today  (I don’t actually recommend eating them after you workout.Or ever really). This is a special achievement for me because although I really enjoy working out once I get started, the process of me getting from the couch, into workout gear and then actually proceeding to work out, is about as arduous as trying to convince someone that Melania Trump’s speech wasn’t blatant thievery (see how I slipped current affairs into something completely unrelated?). Now I’m very happy for all of you who have no problem motivating yourself to get that rear end in gear, but for the rest of us, here’s a few hints I’ve found helpful:

  1. Cancel your gym membership

You know, every day people lie to God and lie to themselves. I once was one of those people. I bought a 3 year, yes 3 YEAR membership to the sports centre at university and I probably used the gym roughly 3 times. But paid over 300 pound for it. The only place in the sports centre I frequented often was the sports massage therapist’s room. I had no injuries because I did no sports. I just wanted massages.

If you’re lazy, are you really leaving your house every evening to go to the gym? No. You’re not. So stop trying comfort yourself by hanging on to that Pure gym membership. Get practical.

2.  Buy some new workout gear

Now that you’ve cancelled that useless gym membership, you have some extra cash to spend. I always find that if I buy an outfit I like to wear it at least a couple of times. Working out in that raggedy ‘ I love Jamaica’ T-shirt and your pajama shorts is doing nothing for you darling. You look awful. You feel awful. You want to sit on the couch and eat popcorn. Wearing something cute to workout can be a great motivator – you don’t have to be slim to find something figure flattering. It doesn’t have to be expensive either. I just bought a top and leggings that set me back about £15. They’re fashionable and they match my trainers – it allows me to convince myself that in time, I could be a Instagram model. This might not be true, but who cares as long as it’s an extra push to get me to do some cardio?

3. Youtube is your friend.

I have paid for maybe 2 classes in the past 5 years. All my classes are completely free. There’s a friendly lady from Los Angeles who corrects my form and tells me I’m doing great. “Thank you”, I reply, and she smiles back at me through the screen. The great thing about youtube is that you can pick from thousands of different workout styles. I’m easily bored so I tend to choose different things every. So far I’ve done kickboxing, yoga, 5 mile walks, Pilates, and even dancing workouts.  Some of my favourite workout gurus are Kierra La Shae and Cassie Ho. They do short 20 minute or 10 minute videos as well as longer ones. All you need is a yoga mat and your body.

4. Rope your friends in

You don’t have to workout with friends, that’s not always convenient although it can be great fun. What can help, is having someone else who you know is working out at the same time or who can give you some motivation. Text a friend and tell them you’re going to set a goal of 15 minutes every other day for the next week and would they like to join you? Or instead of driving to your friends house, jog there (obviously if you’re not tight like that and can’t use her shower or let her see you all stibky then maybe not)

5. Try and eat clean

Working out is all about feeling healthy and looking good. I won’t say there’s no point working out if you’re eating badly because at least you’re doing something – but I will say that you’ll feel much better if you don’t eat truckloads of chocolate covered cornflakes. I eat a mostly pant based vegetarian diet and I feel my best when I’ve had loads of fruit and veggies, good wholemeal carbs and a good week of working out. My skin glows, I’m more alert and I feel better about myself.

5. Just do something.

Often we’re intimidated by people who claim to do an hour every day, lift weights, have super sculpted abs and can contort their bodies into these amazing yoga positions. Good for them, but they get paid to do that full time. You’re a regular human with a 9 to 5 job, be realistic. Not every day 2 hours. Some days 15 minutes in the morning and plan to do another 15 in the evening but never get round to it. That’s ok. Start small and work your way up. I started off doing 1-20 minutes each day and now I can go for about 45 minutes. Sometimes I miss a day, but I try not to beat myself up, I just start again the next day! All progress is good.

6. Congratulate yourself!

Health is wealth! Well done for reading this blog! Maybe it’s a first step to doing something really good for yourself. Every time you workout, you’re looking after your temple and  you’re learning to love yourself. Every step counts, even the baby steps, so don’t procrastinate, start tomorrow!

What are some of the things you find helpful in motivating you to workout?