In the last few days, social media has taken up arms (again) about Chimamanda’s statements.
Code word ‘Perform pregnancy.’
In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Adichie confirmed that she’d had a baby—very casual-like—while having a drink.
“This is just very sugary, very sweet. I would probably have a glass of wine, but I’m breastfeeding… This is the first time I’m saying it publicly. I’m happy to announce, I have a lovely little girl, so I feel like I haven’t slept. But it’s also just really lovely and strange.” We think it’s very lovely too. And then she added, “I have some friends who probably don’t know I was pregnant or that I had a baby. I just feel like we live in an age when women are supposed to perform pregnancy. We don’t expect fathers to perform fatherhood.”
Ding! Social media went agog.
Here are the major grouses I’ve picked up.
PRESCRIBING: A lot of people have basically said, to use Naija-speak, ‘is it your perform?’ That’s all good and well. In fact, I agree. No one, feminists included, should tell people how to live their lives, as long as it’s an informed choice. Of course, there might be repercussions, but if you weren’t coerced or under duress of any kind, I daresay you’d be ready to accept them, if and when they come.
Here’s the thing. If Adichie had said, we live in a world where people perform pregnancy… even I would have taken some serious umbrage, like what? Are you saying people cannot perform pregnancy if they want? But she didn’t say that at all. She said “we live in age when women are supposed to perform pregnancy.” You see, that ‘supposed to’ is actually the crux of everything of the matter. I would imagine that by now, we know enough to know that Adichie is one person who is extremely careful with words. If Adichie says something, chances are she meant exactly that. So she knows the difference between saying people perform pregnancy (judgement) and people are “supposed to” perform pregnancy (societal expectations), and the latter is exactly what she’s attacking. Needless to say, Adichie is not a huge fan of doing the expected.
The people who seem angriest about this are… well, everyone—feminist and anti-feminists alike. Feminists because how dare she judge how other women behave. Anti-feminist because every excuse to demonize feminism is a welcome change from the drudgery of daily life. Sigh. I wish people would stop and read carefully, while holding assumptions at bay. But hey, we’ve all been guilty at one time or another, right? To me it couldn’t be clearer though. I assure you, if I walked up to Adichie today and told her gaily, ‘I’ve decided to become a housewife and do absolutely nothing else,’ she’d look at me like ‘abi you’re joking?’ but if I assured her I wasn’t, chances are she’d go, if that’s what you want, why not? So as far as the thinking ‘do what suits you and let others do what suits them’, paraphrased, live and let live, I’d say y’all are on the same page. Now put down the guns.
‘IN OUR PART OF THE WORLD. . . ’: The idea behind this grouse or defense (or attack, depending on which side you’re viewing it from) is that in this part of the world, (I assume Nigeria… or Africa as a whole), women are encouraged to hide their pregnancy as much as possible from the evil eye(s) of the public at large which could spiritually reach in and pluck out your poor helpless fetus. And where it’s no longer possible to hide it, discouraged from revealing their expected date of delivery to everyone—from the wicked mother-in-law who might also moonlight as a witch, to the (probably) jealous friend/frenemy, to the man’s other wife, to the myriad random haters, hell, near-everyone, the only exceptions being your pastor/prophet, and if god help you, you’re a working woman, you’d better tell your boss. I have heard of cases where even the husband wasn’t informed of his wife’s pregnancy just so he wouldn’t tell his mother—the moonlighting witch, remember? In recent years, I’ve watched with great elation the mass departure from this way of thinking. I’ve watched women ‘perform pregnancy’ and it’s very rewarding for me as a humanist to see people move away from such backward superstitiousness. But following quickly on the heels of this emancipation is another thought/phenomenon. When is it ‘too much?’ so much so that it can be termed a ‘performance’—the baby showers, the nude/near-nude photo-shoots etc? They’re great, if it’s your thing. But what if it isn’t, but you are expected to do it anyway, especially as a celebrity. And if you don’t, it becomes as though you’ve broken tradition. It’s all very tedious really.
Take weddings for instance. Time was when people just up and got married. But recently, I got in the middle of an argument where someone was asking someone about their pre-wedding shoots, and the couple-to-be didn’t think it was something they felt like doing and their friends almost had co-ordinated heart-attacks. As if wedding isn’t stressful enough, now we’ve gone and added pre-wedding shoot, and it’s moving from being optional to being mandatory. It’ll soon be if you don’t have those tummy-revealing photos, you were never pregnant, or if you didn’t have pre-wedding photo ops, court, traditional and then white wedding, you’re not really actually, truly very married. I’m breaking a sweat just thinking about this. Looked at in this context, you can see why Adichie would say ‘supposed to perform.’ It’s not an indictment on the people who are doing it, no no no. It’s a hush! to the people who are saying do it whether you want to or not. And so when we say ‘in this part of the world,’ this particular sentiment is erroneous. In this part of the world, at least among the elite and especially among celebrities, it has shifted slowly but surely from women being expected to hide pregnancy to women being expected to perform pregnancy.
Second, Adichie is Nigerian, but she sure as hell has the ears and eyes of much more than Nigeria on her. If you think only Nigerian media would have been interested in news of her pregnancy, welcome from the rock you’ve been hiding under. But probably more important to her, Adichie has never denied that she was extremely private. So many people didn’t know she was even married until maybe when news of her pregnancy broke. Speaking of her pregnancy, last year when she came for the Farafina workshop, and her pregnancy was first sighted, I remember what followed the reports. While some people were genuinely happy, most of the comments I saw were spiteful, hateful, cringeworthy and some just plain retarded. Comments like ‘ah, so with all her feminism, a man can impregnate her. Why didn’t she impregnate herself? Ah so she’s married. Nigerian women, open your eyes o, all these so-called feminists will be lying to you while answering yes sir in their own homes…’ and so on. You can therefore imagine why she would want to be as private as possible about this. If she’d decided to ‘perform pregnancy’ you can imagine how every single thing would have been deconstructed and examined under a microscope. I am happy! she went into hiding.
Moreover, she herself has said several times that she does not consider marriage, neither does she believe that anyone should be pressured into becoming a mother. In fact, at the Farafina 2016 evening last week, I said to her ‘Congratulations o,’ and she glared at me. ‘Congratulations for what?’ and I said ‘Ah, didn’t you just offload? Big achievement ni’ because I knew it would piss her the hell off. But she looked at me, knew I was taking the piss and started laughing. But it’s not a laughing matter. Girls should be taught they can aspire to much more than being Mrs. Somebody or mummy somebody. And safe in that knowledge, if they choose to be, it’s great, it’s okay, but they must first know they can be so much more. It’s a message that we will never tire of reasserting, and so what I think should have surprised anyone should have been if Adichie had performed pregnancy.
I hope with these many words of mine, I’ve been able to convince you to lay down your arms. She was not trying to offend feminists (and non-) alike. She just spoke her truth.
Now, on a personal note, let me add this. Call me a coward, I’d take it but. . .
What if after ‘performing pregnancy,’ you
- had a stillbirth? (About 1 in 160 pregnancies ends in stillbirth (and that’s in the United States). Most stillbirths happen before labor begins, but a small number occur during labour and delivery.) Yes, I did a bracket within a bracket.
- …Or suffered PPMD? (approximately 10 to 15% of women suffer from postpartum mood disorders (PPMDs), including postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum anxiety/OCD and postpartum psychosis).
You see why I said call me a coward? Because chances are if any of the above happened to me, I’m pretty certain I’d want to grieve in solitude or be depressed, far away from the media. But if I performed pregnancy to the media, uh, shouldn’t I also be expected to perform my grief or depression to same media? I don’t know how this works, but it’s a thought process. Let me give you an example.
Look at all the palaver accompanying Nigerian singer Tiwa Savage’s, and her husband/former manager’s recent marriage crisis. It’s not so much the fact that the marriage hit the rocks (although the manner in which it happened gave room for plenty discussion) but in its wake, social media resurrected all the videos, tweets, basically everything surrounding their wedding the previous year. People were sharing it around like so much candy and even I who didn’t know of their existence, I watched one of the videos and actually cried—I’m a tender-heart like that, right?
But the point is, most of the sharing around of these memories carries an unmistakably gloating undertone. In fact, I came across several comments where people were warning celebrities in general, and Toolz (Demuren) who happened to be getting married around the same time in particular, about the danger/evils of sharing your happiness so freely and wearing your heart on the sleeve for the world to see. Because there’ll be that many more people to hate on you, if and when it doesn’t ‘take.’ People live for this shit.
So yeah, I say it takes a much braver person than me to shout my triumphs on the rooftops so that if I came crashing down, there’ll be less spectators to gloat over my downfall.
About the Author:
Pearl Osibu is a Fashion Designer/Stylist, Nigerian writer and blogger. She writes a blog titled Fifty Shades of Me where she publishes her short stories and keeps up a commentary on topical, social issues.
Her works have been published in Sentinel Nigeria eZine, Jetlife Magazine, Metropole, NigeriansTalk, etc.
She is currently a screenwriter—works with Mnet Tinsel—and a columnist at www.sabinews.com
She lives in Lagos, Nigeria.