I was blissfully unaware of the Emma Watson controversy that dominated the news on Monday. While the actor defended her choice to show part of her breasts in a Vanity Fair cover, saying “I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it”, my partner and I were taking a much needed getaway over the long weekend that marked the 60th anniversary of Ghana’s independence.
On our first morning we lingered under the sheets. I picked up my phone, started browsing through my Instagram, and then felt a stroke of inspiration. “Let’s take a picture,” I said. “You’re going to post it,” he asked? “Yes,” I replied. I lifted my hand above us, he reached over to cover my breast and I clicked three times in quick succession. We looked at the results, and agreed on which image to post.
Now, I’m no Instagram celebrity. My pictures don’t attract thousands of likes, and I have fewer than a thousand followers. But within three seconds I had a direct message from one of my friends: “Hun, is your Instagram page private?” “No,” I replied, and then began a short exchange. He was concerned about this picture coming back to haunt me. Perhaps it would surface one day when I applied for a high-profile job, he said. I brushed off the slight sense of irritation I felt about the implication that I hadn’t thought through the consequences of my action, and reminded him that that ship had sailed a long time ago – with Adventures.
I started Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women in January 2009 with my college bestie, Malaka Gyekye. Our blog can be described as “sex positive” – we presume sexual pleasure, bodily autonomy and multiple orgasms to be the right of every African woman. We share our own deeply personal stories of sex, and encourage our contributors who come from across the African continent and its diaspora to also bare all.
Most contributors choose to write under pseudonyms, and understandably so. Our patriarchal societies still judge women according to Victorian mores and colonial standards of morality. In our increasingly fundamentalist world, religious leaders rage against homosexuality and, in unholy alliances, pressure politicians to pass laws banning same sex marriage. And so our sex-positive conversations are mediated by the realities of our contexts: by the need to keep people safe, and the constant negotiation with respectability politics and power structures.
But African women are increasingly open in talking about sex and sexuality. We recognise that the very act of voicing our sexual desires, fantasies and challenges (speaking up about what society says should be private) is deeply political. If you cannot speak about your own body, then what can you speak about? If governments can pass hateful legislation that limits our access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, and determines who we can love, then our bodies are political and we must assert our right to show them off however we want to.
We have to love our bodies, pleasure our bodies, and protect our bodies from those who seek to make them less than they are – or tell us how we must clothe our bodies, perform our bodies, or inhabit public spaces. We claim all the spaces, online and offline, and dare to show off our diverse beauty, even when it doesn’t conform to societal standards and norms.
Back in the real world after my “baecation”, I recognise Watson’s incredulity that sexuality and feminism apparently can’t coexist, but I do think “tits” have everything to do with feminism. Some types of bodies dominate the pages of glossy magazines and become an impossible standard of beauty against which all other types – queer bodies, fat bodies, differently abled, older or non-binary bodies – are judged. And these other types, bereft of celebrity status, rarely get celebrated.
Sometimes this is why we take and post nude selfies online: we see our beauty, so we capture it, share it, bask in the likes, and take pleasure in the affirming comments received from our communities. Yes, drowning out the caution and disapproval were compliments on Instagram: “You guys are hawwttt!!!” some read. “Ayayayayayay! Love it.”
It’s no accident that most of these comments came from women who for the most part are feminist, and recognise that sometimes a nude selfie is really just one way to stand up to respectability politics.
Join GhanaStar.com to receive daily email alerts of breaking news in Ghana. GhanaStar.com is your source for all Ghana News. Get the latest Ghana news, breaking news, sports, politics, entertainment and more about Ghana, Africa and beyond.