20 Books by Black Women Everyone Should Read

May 28, 2016 § Leave a comment

In history and today, Black women have consistently published evocative, thoughtful works that provoke and inspire. This is my compilation of 20 book selections by Black women that touch on gender, race, class and sexuality. I invite you to leave a comment and share more brilliant literary works by Black women.

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Beyond the Masks: Race, Gender and Subjectivity – Amina Mama

Psychology has had a number of things to say about black and colored people, none of them favorable, and most of which have reinforced stereotyped and derogatory images. Beyond the Masks is a readable account of black psychology, exploring key theoretical issues in race and gender. In it, Amina Mama examines the history of racist psychology, and of the implicit racism throughout the discipline. Beyond the Masks also offers an important theoretical perspective, and will appeal to all those involved with ethnic minorities, gender politics and questions of identity. (Source)

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Angela Davis: An Autobiography – Angela Davis

Angela Y. Davis is a political activist, scholar, author, and speaker. She is an outspoken advocate for the oppressed and exploited, writing on Black liberation, prison abolition, the intersections of race, gender, and class, and international solidarity with Palestine. In this autobiography, the political activist reflects upon the people and incidents that have influenced her life and commitment to global liberation of the oppressed. (Source)

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Are Prisons Obsolete? – Angela Davis

With her characteristic brilliance, grace and radical audacity, Angela Y. Davis has put the case for the latest abolition movement in American life: the abolition of the prison. As she quite correctly notes, American life is replete with abolition movements, and when they were engaged in these struggles, their chances of success seemed almost unthinkable. For generations of Americans, the abolition of slavery was sheerest illusion. Similarly,the entrenched system of racial segregation seemed to last forever, and generations lived in the midst of the practice, with few predicting its passage from custom. The brutal, exploitative (dare one say lucrative?) convict-lease system that succeeded formal slavery reaped millions to southern jurisdictions (and untold miseries for tens of thousands of men, and women). Few predicted its passing from the American penal landscape. Davis expertly argues how social movements transformed these social, political and cultural institutions, and made such practices untenable.
In Are Prisons Obsolete?, Professor Davis seeks to illustrate that the time for the prison is approaching an end. She argues forthrightly for “decarceration”, and argues for the transformation of the society as a whole. (Source)

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Women, Race & Class – Angela Davis

A powerful study of the women’s movement in the U.S. from abolitionist days to the present that demonstrates how it has always been hampered by the racist and classist biases of its leaders. (Source)

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Assata: An Autobiography – Assata Shakur

This intensely personal and political autobiography belies the fearsome image of Assata Shakur long projected by the media and the state. With wit and candor, Assata Shakur recounts the experiences that led her to a life of activism and portrays the strengths, weaknesses, and eventual demise of Black and White revolutionary groups at the hand of government officials. The result is a signal contribution to the literature about growing up Black in America that has already taken its place alongside The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the works of Maya Angelou.

Two years after her conviction, Assata Shakur escaped from prison. She was given political asylum by Cuba, where she now resides. (Source)

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Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde – Audre Lorde

Presenting the essential writings of black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde, SISTER OUTSIDER celebrates an influential voice in twentieth-century literature. In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope. This commemorative edition includes a new foreword by Lorde scholar and poet Cheryl Clarke, who celebrates the ways in which Lorde’s philosophies resonate more than twenty years after they were first published. These landmark writings are, in Lorde’s own words, a call to “never close our eyes to the terror, to the chaos which is Black which is creative which is female which is dark which is rejected which is messy which is..” (Source)

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Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism – bell hooks

A groundbreaking work of feminist history and theory analyzing the complex relations between various forms of oppression. Ain’t I a Woman examines the impact of sexism on black women during slavery, the historic devaluation of black womanhood, black male sexism, racism within the recent women’s movement, and black women’s involvement with feminism. (Source)

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Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lover’s charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war. (Source)
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Wench – Dolen Perkins – Valdez

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is startling and original fiction that raises provocative questions of power and freedom, love and dependence. An enchanting and unforgettable novel based on little-known fact, Wench combines the narrative allure of Cane River by Lalita Tademy and the moral complexities of Edward P. Jones’s The Known World as it tells the story of four black enslaved women in the years preceding the Civil War. A stunning debut novel, Wench marks author Perkins-Valdez as a writer destined for greatness. (Source)

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Tropical Fish – Doreen Baingana

In her fiction debut, Doreen Baingana follows a Ugandan girl as she navigates the uncertain terrain of adolescence. Set mostly in pastoral Entebbe with stops in the cities Kampala and Los Angeles, Tropical Fish depicts the reality of life for Christine Mugisha and her family after Idi Amin’s dictatorship.

As the Mugishas cope with Uganda’s collapsing infrastructure, they also contend with the universal themes of family cohesion, sex and relationships, disease, betrayal, and spirituality. Anyone dipping into Baingana’s incandescent, widely acclaimed novel will enjoy their immersion in the world of this talented newcomer. (Source)

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Cane River – Lalita Tademy

The unique and deeply moving epic of four generations of African-American women based on one family’s ancestral past. (Source)

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read. (Source)

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Who Fears Death? – Nnedi Okorafor

In a far-future, post-apocalyptic Saharan Africa, genocide plagues one region. When the only surviving member of a slain village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand, and instinctively knows her daughter is different. She names her daughter Onyesonwu, which means “Who Fears Death?” in an ancient African tongue.

Reared under the tutelege of a mysterious and traditional shaman, Onyesonwu discovers she possesses a remarkable and unique magic. The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to confront nature, tradition, history, the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and eventually to learn why she was given the unusual name she bears: Who Fears Death? (Source)

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Kindred – Octavia Butler

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin. (Source)

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The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison

Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in.Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing. (Source)

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Sula – Toni Morrison

Two girls who grow up to become women. Two friends who become something worse than enemies. In this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison tells the story of Nel Wright and Sula Peace, who meet as children in the small town of Medallion, Ohio. Their devotion is fierce enough to withstand bullies and the burden of a dreadful secret. It endures even after Nel has grown up to be a pillar of the black community and Sula has become a pariah. But their friendship ends in an unforgivable betrayal—or does it end? Terrifying, comic, ribald and tragic, Sula is a work that overflows with life. (Source)

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Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth – Warsan Shire

What elevates ‘teaching my mother how to give birth’, what gives the poems their disturbing brilliance, is Warsan Shire’s ability to give simple, beautiful eloquence to the veiled world where sensuality lives in the dominant narrative of Islam; reclaiming the more nuanced truths of earlier times – as in Tayeb Salih’s work – and translating to the realm of lyric the work of the likes of Nawal El Saadawi. In ‘teaching my mother how to give birth’, Warsan’s début pamphlet, we witness the unearthing of a poet who finds her way through all preconceptions to strike the heart directly.
Warsan Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet and writer who is based in London. She is an artist and activist who uses her work to document narratives of journey and trauma.

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Nervous Conditions – Tsitsi Dangarembga

This story explores the alienation of two young African girls – Nyasha, brought up in England and now a stranger amongst her own people, and Tamba, who leaves her village for the pricey mission school. (Source)

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Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature. (Source)

I’m Crazy – A Poem

April 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

I’m Crazy

For refusing to bend my back for the white supremacist to ride.

I’m Crazy

For refusing to kiss the ass of the male supremacist.

I’m Crazy

For refusing to lick the boots of the wealthy.

I’m Crazy.

 

See, these things are “normal” here.

And my failure to adhere,

makes me “Crazy”.

 

I’m Crazy…

So be it.

Molested in the Name of “Fighting Terror”

April 22, 2016 § Leave a comment

I have always found security screenings to be invasive, inconvenient and annoying, but I nevertheless submitted to them as I knew I would not be granted entry onto the building premises without them. But ever since the September 21, 2013 attack on Westgate, an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi by Somali militants, there seems to be a radical change in how screenings are conducted.

Before the Westgate attack, security screenings primarily involved the inspection of bags, with the hand-held metal detector being quickly passed over your body, although this was rare still. It was only when my phone or keys inside the bag set off the metal detector that the security screener would ask to search my bag.

But after Westgate, I noticed an increase in personal body searches. This new trend involves the screener pressing their palms onto my clothing to detect any objects in the pockets in what is known as a “pat-down.” They do this while passing the hand-held metal detector over me, just a few inches away from my body.

Pat-downs are done ostensibly to prevent non-metallic threats such as hidden weapons and explosives from getting inside the building, thereby detecting what the standard metal-detectors cannot. But some of my experiences with pat-downs have felt more like sexual molestation.

In one instance, I submitted to a search in order to access the premises of a government-owned hotel. The screener patted my waist then slid her palm down over my bottom and cupped it. It was a firm touch. A fondling. It was sexual contact. My body froze and my eyes locked onto hers, searching for confirmation. She tried to avoid eye contact, but I could read a mixture of guilt and denial in her expression.

The experience was invasive, degrading and emotionally distressing. It left me feeling very uncomfortable and violated. More than a pat-down, this was clearly sexual molestation.

I complained to the assistant hotel manager who confirmed that the screeners are required to use metal detectors while searching guests, as opposed to their bare hands. It helped a lot that the assistant manager was female. Having to report my sexual assault to a man would have been much more difficult and embarrassing. The assistant manager raised the issue with the private security company that had hired the screener, and she was never posted to that hotel again. Had she stayed, I would never have visited the hotel again. Its traumatizing enough to have to live with the fact that you were violated and nothing was done about it. But having to continue submitting to your molester thereafter, granting them power over your body – over and over again would have been too much to bear.

In another instance, a screener outside Tusky’s supermarket brushed her arm roughly over my breast while conducting her search. Again my body froze. I have been accidentally touched before in my life, but this felt different. Still, I entered the supermarket confused: had it really been accidental?

The next time as I headed towards the supermarket’s security checkpoint, I decided to pay attention. As I approached the screening area I could see that particular screener and I felt the dread growing in me. My body recoiled even before her hand reached for my waist. It was my anxiety and fear of being man-handled a second time taking hold. I asked her not to touch me but use the metal detector instead and she complied.

But on my third visit to the supermarket, as I approached her, I could read a look of defiance on her face. She had the metal detector in hand, but once again chose to use it only on my left side, while patting me down with her left hand on my right side. I was now convinced that she had inappropriately touched me the first time. It had been intentional. Deliberate. Her defiant look seemed to be her way of saying she had the power to touch me however she wanted.

***

Pat-downs appear to be the new search protocol in fighting the so-called “war on terror” in Africa. Upon disembarking the Nile Ferry at Aswan, Egypt, I was required to undergo the full body scan and a pat-down. The female screener ordered me into a back room and asked to search my body. I consented and she put on a pair of white gloves before beginning the search. She patted me down everywhere with the exception of my private parts.

At the post office in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, a screener patted me down from under the armpits to my ankles and then began coming up with her palms on the insides of my legs. I literally jumped and moved back when she got to my inner thighs and ran her hands up, pressing her flat palm against my groin. She just laughed while saying something I could not understand in Amharic. I later raised the issue with my female companions who confirmed they had undergone the same thing. But I let it go as I seemed to be the only one bothered by the experience.

This post was inspired by a series of photos making rounds on social media showing screeners assaulting women at a stadium in Kampala, Uganda. The photos were taken on March 29, 2016 at the security checkpoint to enter the Nelson Mandela National Stadium on Namboole Hill. It was appalling to read so many comments in response to the photos which sought to “clarify” the fact that the screeners were “female.” For many of the commenters the gender of the molesters took the element of sexual assault out of it.

It is this sort of widespread ignorance and denial surrounding sexual assault of women by women that leaves the victim feeling as if no one will believe her if she reports what happened. While the majority of rapes committed on women are done by men, women are also sexually victimized by women. As with sexual assaults by men, the female perpetrator may be a partner, someone with authority over the victim, an acquaintance or a stranger. Acknowledging woman-to-woman sexual assault is important to ensure that all victims get the assistance and support they deserve and need.

***

In her classic treatise Women, Race & Class, black feminist and civil rights activist Angela Davis’ highlights the fact that rape was used as a weapon of domination both during slavery in the United States and the Vietnam War. According to Davis, “it would be a mistake to regard the institutionalized pattern of rape during slavery as an expression of white men’s sexual urges, otherwise stifled by the specter of white womanhood’s chastity. That would be far too simplistic an explanation…

In the same way that rape was an institutionalized ingredient of the aggression carried out against the Vietnamese people, designed to intimidate and terrorize the women, slave owners encouraged the terroristic use of rape in order to put Black women in their place. If Black women had achieved a sense of their own strength and a strong urge to resist, then violent sexual assaults—so the slaveholders might have reasoned—would remind the women of their essential and inalterable femaleness. In the male supremacist vision of the period, this meant passivity, acquiescence and weakness.”

In similar vein, I would argue that sexual assault is being deliberately used in today’s so-called “war on terror” to dominate and repress women, all the while demoralizing our men. Women are being assaulted as a way to extinguish our will to resist repressive governments that clampdown on our civil liberties under the guise of fighting the so-called “war on terror.”

The Westgate attack has become Kenya’s 9/11: an excuse for the government to clampdown on our civil rights and effect all sorts of privacy violations. During the attack on Westgate, Somali militants killed dozens claiming it was in retaliation for the Kenyan military’s occupation of Somalia. Ever since the attacks, the privacy of Kenyans has been violated in multiple ways with the excuse of ensuring public safety. We are constantly watched via CCTV cameras positioned all over Nairobi streets such as Tom Mboya. Commuters on Nairobi’s Lavington route are now subjected to searches with hand-held metal detectors before boarding their matatus. (Garrett Metal Detectors USA and their Kenyan distributor must be laughing all the way to the bank!)

And now buildings have become “no rights” zones at the entrances of which we are subjected to groping in the form of an enhanced, humiliating pat-down. The screeners who molest women in this way rely on the fact that we would be afraid to complain about such intrusive pat-downs for fear of being suspected to be “terrorists” or criminals. After all, only the guilty with something to hide would refuse to be searched, right? And if we do not consent to be patted down they have the power to deny us entry onto or even forcibly remove us from the premises.

We are experiencing an increased control of the public through “security” tactics that erode civil liberties. These tactics are not about security but about submission and obedience. They are about using sexual assault as a means of control. The assaults are designed to make the public afraid and willingly yield to authority without question or hesitation. It’s about making us, the people, afraid of our government – when it should be the other way around.

Thanks to the so-called “war on terror”, screeners are today vested with the power and responsibility to do acts which, if done outside of work hours, in a different setting and by anyone else, would be crimes of sexual assault. Without the uniform and the power of the state or capital behind it, such inappropriate touching would constitute molestation.

It’s up to us, the public, to take a stand and refuse to submit to sexual molestation in the name of “fighting terror.” The Constitution of Kenya protects Kenyans from unreasonable personal searches and therefore such security screenings are an illegal violation of our constitutional rights. Screeners who engage in lewd and lascivious behavior while conducting pat-downs should be reported, arrested and prosecuted, and the building’s management held criminally responsible.

The Almighty Penis – A Poem

February 20, 2016 § Leave a comment

Until I prove that I exist for the service of a man, my home remains unserviceable.
Until a man takes charge over it
my home remains vacant.
Only when I begin to cook, clean, twerk or rear children for a man
will my existence be validated.
Only then will I become visible.
Only then will my home find an occupant.

*

The Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient Penis will only negotiate with other
Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient Penises.
The Almighty Penis has no time to deal with a lowly vagina.

Sex Tourism in Kenya: Don’t Blame the Poor

February 18, 2016 § Leave a comment

In conversations about poor young Africans in Diani engaging in sex tourism with older, rich white men and women, the typical explanation I get from fellow middle-class Kenyan peers places the blame entirely on the poor. I’d like to address some of the stereotypes about the poor that I keep hearing:

“They are just lazy. If they really wanted, they could work.”

Work where? There are no jobs in Diani. Tourism is the backbone of Kenya’s economy and most of the coastal region is almost entirely dependent on tourism, particularly Diani which has no other industries. And now in its 5th year, Kenya’s war in Somalia has led to the devastation of the tourism industry. Retaliatory attacks at the coast by Somali militants has made the tourists afraid to come. Several hotels have closed, many hotel workers have lost their jobs and crime is on the rise.

“If the poor would just take responsibility for themselves, all their problems would go away.”

What about the government’s responsibility? We need to stop scapegoating the poor for the failures of the Kenyan government in providing all Kenyans with the basics we need. Poverty is not caused by a lack of effort or priorities. The major factors that contribute to and keep people in poverty are systemic and actually not in their control.

“Everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.”

On the contrary, I think that the rich and poor end up where they are mainly because of the opportunities they have in life, rather than due to personal successes and failures. The poor are poor because they lack opportunities and good jobs, not because of individual failings or poor work ethic.

“In life you just have to work hard.”

Most rich people I know got to where they are mainly because they had more opportunities, not because they worked harder than others. Yet we congratulate the wealthy for their hard work while blaming the poor for not working hard enough. We ignore statistics that clearly indicate that you are more likely to be rich if you were born rich and insist that the poor could do better for themselves if only they tried.

We forget that poor children have all the odds stacked against them. A child born into poverty has to contend with inadequate food, healthcare, education and crime-ridden neighborhoods. And even if she does try her best, very few opportunities will be open to her. Therefore chances are she will forever remain trapped in a low-wage job that prevents her from improving her life. And this cycle will repeat itself in the next generation.

While I’ve met lots of people who’d love to stop being poor, I have never once met anyone whose childhood dream was to be poor when they grow up. A little more empathy and compassion is therefore in order for those denied what they deserve by a system of inequality. As humans we should want to help the poor, not vilify them. A good place to start doing this is by changing the language we use to describe poverty and inequality.

On Racism, Whitewashing & Cinematic Colonialism in ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’

January 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

Another whitewashed Hollywood film on Ancient Egypt is set to be released this April. The only black person cast in “Gods of Egypt” is a token in the stereotypical “magical negro” role: a black person with supernatural powers who always rushes to the aid of white people. As usual, Ancient Egyptians and their gods are played by an all-white cast.

Be sure to BOYCOTT the film “Gods of Egypt” if it comes to a theater near you!

I have reblogged this article I wrote in 2014 about the similarly whitewashed “Exodus: Gods and Kings” to give you an idea of my thoughts on “Gods of Egypt.”

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Although set during a specific period in ancient Egyptian history, the film Exodus: Gods and Kings features white American, European and Australian actors in the majority of the key roles playing ancient Egyptian characters. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film stars Christian Bale as Moses, Joel Edgerton as Ramses, and Aaron Paul as Joshua. John Turturro and Sigourney Weaver have supporting roles as Seti and Tuya, another king and queen of Egypt. This controversial casting decision sparked outrage online among film fans calling for a boycott of the movie under the hash tag #BoycottExodusMovie.

exodus-gods-and-kings-christian-bale-joel-edgerton The controversial cast of “Exodus: Gods and Kings”

Hollywood – A Legacy of Historical Revisionism

This is not the first time that Hollywood has produced period films based on colonial fantasies of white domination, never mind that European “civilization” was not even in existence yet. Similarly in the classic epic The Ten Commandments, white actors…

View original post 1,509 more words

A Kenyan Feminist’s Objection to Women in the Military Hierarchy

October 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

As a pacifist feminist who has protested Kenya’s war in Somalia, I cannot applaud the recent appointment of Fatumah Ahmed as Kenya’s First Female Brigadier.

Last August, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Fatumah Ahmed as Kenya’s First Female Brigadier of the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF). Fatumah Ahmed was promoted from a colonel to a brigadier as well as appointed the managing director of the Defense Forces Medical Insurance Scheme.

Ahmed’s appointment has generally been viewed as a win for feminism by feminists themselves, with the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) hailing it as a “milestone” and praising the President for the appointment. NGEC Chairman Winfred Lichuma deemed the appointment a promotion of gender equality in the management of the affairs of Kenya.

“For the first time, Kenya has a woman brigadier who is all-rounded, competent and qualified to serve in our disciplined forces. This is an empowerment to marginalized groups in the country,” said Lichuma.

Ms Lichuma acknowledged the appointment as a way to integrate women into male-dominated sectors, urging the State to borrow a leaf from Ahmed’s appointment and ensure it brings women on board to serve in key decision-making organs.

I’m a feminist myself who certainly believes that women should enjoy equal access to career advancement and jobs in all spheres. Kenyan women are already part of the military and the appointment of a Kenyan woman to this rank just means that they are able to get as much credit for risking their lives as men do.

Nonetheless, while the appointment is deservedly a feminist victory, it is certainly a mixed one. On one hand, achieving equality for Kenyan women in military leadership illustrates just how successful feminism in Kenya has been in one of its key missions: achieving equality.

Military leadership is, in a sense, a defining male role. And exclusion from the military hierarchy, has, in turn, been a defining feminine trait. A policy that acknowledges the participation of women in, and capacity for military leadership, is, therefore, an important assertion that we are not our gender roles. It demonstrates that women truly can do anything, and must be allowed to do everything that men can do.

But here’s the thing, feminism has never been just about equality. While many feminists advocate the need for women to enjoy equal opportunities as men, many still advocate for the need to criticize male patriarchal ideals and values. And one of the male patriarchal ideals and values that has been consistently questioned and criticized by feminists is war.

Fighting has always been a habit of men, not women, a difference that has been developed over time by practice and law. Throughout history, the majority of human beings and animals have been killed by men – not women.

Yet, as many female soldiers and female politicians have demonstrated, women can be just as attracted to warfare as men. The satisfaction, ,necessity and glory of fighting – which I as a pacifist feminist woman do not understand, feel or enjoy – is clearly not restricted to that one gender.

That said, while the history of war may not be entirely male, it has overwhelmingly been male. And this fact is not a mere anomaly; it is a pattern that deserves our attention. Yes, we can view the exclusion of women from the military hierarchy and say, “This is unfair; women must be allowed to lead wars.” But we can also view that exclusion and say, “If half of humanity has been excluded from warfare, maybe it’s because fighting is an exception rather than the rule, an aberration rather than a necessity.”

The satisfaction, necessity and glory of war are often linked to masculinity, the need to prove one’s moral worth as a man. From one perspective, this too is the reason why it’s important for women to be allowed inside the military hierarchy. Its because war is the standard for moral action, and Kenya’s status as an ethical nation is today linked to its people’s willingness to fight and die in a “righteous” war.

If this is the case, if our morality is tied to battle, then women must lead in warfare if they are to be honored and valued as moral actors. When war is so integral to the moral experience, those who are not warriors cannot be deemed equal. That is why modern-day feminist cultural icons like Onyesonwu are often warriors. And it’s also the reason why equality in the military has been such an important goal for numerous marginalized groups. Women leading wars are a tremendous boost for feminism and gender equality. It will also get increasingly hard to justify discrimination against women now that we are openly leading the fight and dying for our country.

Kenyan feminists can then draw moral force from the Kenyan military. But this moral force comes at a high price. That price is the moral force itself: acquiescing to war as the moral force and the moral standard.

Judged by the experience of women, war has long been found to be wanting. However, Kenyan feminism seems at ease in judging the experiences of women in relation to standards of empowerment that are traditionally male – of which military leadership is a particularly good example. Such judgment leaves no room for feminist criticism of war and militarism.

The tragedy of Fatumah Ahmed’s appointment is that Kenyan feminists have lost one more justification to protest when our daughters and sons are sacrificed on the moral altar of war. Is having a woman rise up in Kenyan military ranks really worth the lives of our sons and daughters lost in war?

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