Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Africa , African Feminism, Feminism, Nigeria

Post-feminism in Africa?

This is my first post for Black Looks! My posts will cover my research interests:  African feminism, how as African women we think of ourselves,  media and popular culture, the dubious concept of post-feminism which I think is, ironically enough, infiltrating popular discourse in Africa.

My PhD research looks at all of these themes. It looks at what seems an emerging trend in Nigeria for young, urban, middle class or ‘elite’ women to present themselves in ‘hyper-feminine’ and ‘hyper-stylised’ ways, like this…

 

These pictures comes from the popular Nigerian lifestyle website BellaNaija. I’ll be looking at this site in my research and also doing interviews to hear from women directly.

It sometimes feels a frivolous research topic, particularly when I read the mostly grim news coming out of Nigeria. When I describe my research to people, some wonder what its ‘benefit’ or ‘impact’ will be. I think they mean for ‘development’ or for the advancement of women’s rights in Africa. One family member (a man) dismissed my topic with the statement “there are superficial people everywhere!”

I definitely have my personal reservations about the styles, about the conspicuous consumption, particularly in the midst of poverty, about the racialised and classed politics of privileged African women wearing ‘real hair’ extensions taken (sometimes forcibly by middlemen) from the heads of poorer women in places like Brazil, India or Peru.  But I think to equate women’s ‘dress-up’ with superficiality is to overlook how practices of femininity are socially and culturally prescribed. And also how under conditions of patriarchy these practices may be sold as expressions of women’s power and ‘fabulousness.’

I was reminded of this some weeks ago at a dinner for a young Nigerian woman. I was one of few women there under 35 not dressed in the styles my research looks at. At some point the conversation turned to gender issues. One professional woman who works with only male colleagues talked about the sexism she experiences at work and how she was treated differently (mostly better) when she began to wear more skirts. In response a young woman of about 18 made an impassioned statement that as women we just have to feel empowered in ourselves, we do not have to look or act like men to be powerful, we can be ‘girly’ and powerful, we do not have to be like feminists who have taken it too far and who hate femininity.

To me these are post-feminist ideas. In response to a problem like sexism that is political and structural, they give apolitical, individual, stylised, even commercialised solutions. No need for party-pooping feminism! If taken to their extreme these kinds of ideas tell individual women to just feel strong and good about ourselves whatever the obstacles. But this leaves the obstacles unquestioned. It becomes our job to get around them and our fault if we fail.

It is precisely such ideas and such senses of self that I want to explore in my research. If young, privileged Nigerian women think of themselves as post-feminist, and if these are the kinds of ideas being disseminated in popular media like BellaNaija or the new women’s magazines that have sprung up in Nigeria like Genevieve and TW (granted alongside other more conservative ideas about ‘women’s place’), what space for African feminism?

 

11 Comments

  1. Your research sounds very exciting and for what its worth I think its highly relevant so I’m looking forward to you sharing more on it as you progress. So many Nigerian women I’ve met do not feel that there is a need to be conscious about their ideas and the ways they present themselves or are portrayed in the media. Another thing I’ve noticed is that there is ONE kind of woman perpetuated by the media -the cosmopolitan, with painted nails, insane amounts of make-up and hair extension. The one similar to those pictured above. There is no room for exceptions or maneuverability and if you dare to look different its because you are “eclectic”, have been influenced by the “liberal West”(the people who think its OK to question status-quo) or you have haven’t found a man. Yet, they fail to see how they latch onto, and to an extent have even surpassed the consumerist attitude that is so prevalent in the so-called liberal West. Like you said, this behavior is embedded in issues of class, patriarchy, capitalism, cultural expectations(how women are expected to feel about themselves), colonialism(maybe), and I think exactly what these women understand feminism to be and why they see it as such. It will be interesting to see how you untangle and make sense of them. Looking forward to your next post:D
    Good luck!

  2. I am really happy to read about your research. Sometimes I feel alone when it comes to the issue of style, conciousness, and other issues that affect women. I am almost certain that a good number of my Twitter followers would describe me as an angry person because I am always going on about these issues. It is really reassuring to know that there are more concerned females, and I hope we can unravel and tackle the issues that affect us all. Best wishes on the research!
    Oh, and I am happy to help, not like you may need it but if you do I am at @LarabaSambe on Twitter! 🙂

  3. Interesting research. Are you planning on examining multi-generational views of femininity? How our mothers raised us to be and think about ourselves has a profound affect on our self-image.

  4. Comment by post author

    Simi Dosekun

    Hi, thanks for your suggestion. At the moment I am not, only planning on interviewing young women.

  5. Comment by post author

    Simi Dosekun

    Hi, thanks for your comment and encouragement!

  6. Comment by post author

    Simi Dosekun

    Hi, thanks for the comment and encouragement. I agree with you that the media representation tends to be limited although in Nigeria there does seem to be some growing interest in natural hair styles.

  7. The term “post feminism” is detrimental to the gender equality movement. The misunderstanding about femininity is that it looks, acts and thinks a certain way that is exclusive to females. It simply, is not.

    I am have always worn lipstick and high heels — and never once has it compromised my feminism. Feminism is ultimately about choice. I chose that style.

    It saddens me to see women who only feel attractive when wearing weaves. The weave industrial complex is causing harm to women in “third world” countries and no one seems to care.

    Feminism has always been an evolving discourse just as any valid study. Again, claiming post feminism is an abuse of the author on history. Feminism is as diverse in its aesthetic as humanitarianism. The propaganda behind feminism, ie: Susan B Coleman’s breast cancer walks, Ms. Magazine and others, still represent a predominantly white, elite demographic. I argue that it is not an accurate representation of modern feminism, one that includes men, transgenders

  8. (con’t) Feminism is not accurately represented by many mainstream feminists and it is due to the growing diversity in the discourse. The same way feminism is not exclusive to “strong” lesbian women, it is not exclusive to women who opt out of high fashion, make up, heels, etc.

  9. Comment by post author

    Simi Dosekun

    Thanks for your comment, it has also inspired my next post on what I mean by post-feminism. To be clear I am critical about it. I think it is a myth and a media and consumerist discourse, and I think it is effectively anti-feminist. I also don’t think feminism is exclusive to any set of women and certainly not in terms of how they look or dress.

  10. Sokari

    @FeministLiving – Thanks for pointing out the limitations and problematic of ‘feminist’ thinking in strictly normative terms and @Simi for clarifying her position. The weave trend is most definitely disturbing and isnt just in the global south – Black women in the US/UK spend enormous sums of money and time on destroying their natural hair and scalp.

  11. Looking forward to your posts Simi! Very beneficial for the understanding of contemporary Nigerian culture.
    The type of Bella Naija-feminism a la Sex and the City so popular in Nigeria can only apply to women with enough purchasing power to buy equality. When we start to look at the many ways women negotiate with patriarchy to acquire financial freedom I reckon a different approach to feminism (than “post”) needs applying.