ONE-SIZE FITS ALL
MOESHA: In Ghana, our economy is such a way that you need someone to take care of you. You can’t make enough money as a woman here. Because even when you want to get an apartment in Ghana they take two years advance and I just started working where will I get money to pay?
Christina Amanpour: Are you basically telling me that you are having sex with this guy to pay your rent?
The above is an excerpt from a recent interview conducted by CNN’s Christina Amanpour with a Ghanaian socialite by the name Moesha Buodong. What we see here is a reading from a little clip taken from the whole interview that happened to go viral. A lot of Ghanaians were incensed by the interview, not as you would imagine by Christina’s seemingly deliberate obtuseness but rather by the misguided notion that Moesha had painted an incorrect and degrading picture of the women of their society in front of the very important ‘white visitor’ who will then show it to her equally important ‘white brethren’. The backlash against Moesha was such that she had to issue a formal apology, she had to apologize for speaking her truth. She had to apologize for being forced to barter her body in exchange for sustenance in a society that has tied her economic worth almost entirely to her sex. She had to sit down and think out an elaborate apology to strangers on the internet who decided that her truth was too ugly, not picture-worthy and therefore should not have been told at all.
I find this particular interview problematic for a myriad of reasons, but I shall limit my criticism of it within the confines of the concept of trans-national feminism. If you read what Moesha said; you will by instinct assume that I have made some typographical errors in my transcription. I have not, she simply does not have a strong grasp of the English language. This is not peculiar because in Ghana Twi is the predominant language, she is not English, so I do not expect her to speak perfect English. The problem however is that she is trying to relay her experiences in a language that she lacks an adroitness for to a person who equates coherence or comprehension to perfect dictum. The truth of the matter is that Moesha was simply talking about the systematic subjugation of women through the economic hurdles that have been placed to ensure that they require the ratification of men. What Moesha describes is not an existence that is distinct to her society. For eons women have been forced to use their bodies as ways to bargain for economic relevance. From the prostitutes of London in the time of Jack the ripper to the saloon girls that the cowboys sang all those bawdy songs about to the geishas that spent lifetimes devoted to the learning the art of pleasing men. Yet Christina reacted like she had just found out that chocolate milk did not come from brown cows. It was almost laughable, this, her condescending indignation. She reduced everything that Moesha said about the intricate relationship between her sexuality and her ability to provide for herself while navigating through a society that is run by men to “Are you basically telling me that you are having sex to pay your rent?”. Was Cleopatra sleeping with Julius Caesar for a free place to crash while she was in Rome?
There is no way for Christina to have known all this, because that would have required an in-depth look into her perception of Moesha and the brand of marginalized woman that she represents. Moesha was chosen for that interview, she was selected for whatever the reasons maybe but best believe there are reasons. If Christina wanted a woman who would represent the stereotypical liberated woman with her impeccable diction and ivy league degree, all she would have to do was go on Instagram, the same place I’m almost certain she found Moesha. Moesha fits a certain archetype of ‘social media socialite’ with the surgically enhanced figure and provocative pictures and of course the lavish lifestyle whilst a tangible source of income remains inexplicable. I think that was the reason she was chosen, because that was the image that the interview wished to portray. I think that Christina had already prepared her pity in advance and just needed to find a particular brand of misery that would fit into her storyline of “The Third World Woman”. In her essay “Under Western Eyes” Mohanty uses the term ‘Western Feminist’ to describe that particular brand of feminists who envisions herself the epitome of feminism and who if she is to be believed has no use for feminism whatsoever being as liberated as she is. She was of course talking about white women, who under the umbrella of white men fancy the privileges of ‘class’ and ‘race’ to be wholly the machinations of their sex. I believe Mohanty was in fact speaking about women like Christina who churn out these narratives and discourses about hierarchical feminism. There is a tendency to view the struggles of ‘other’ non-western, ‘third-world’ women through the prejudices of race, class, religion etc.
It would be facetious to say that this characteristic is distinct to only ‘white’ feminists. I wish to apply the term ‘western feminist’ more broadly, to include those of us who embody in one way or the other; the notion that there is a ‘universality’ of some sorts to the suffering of women. This idea that there are rules and regulations for following strict guidelines when one undertakes feminism. The idea that it is owing to some inherent or personal fault of those who fail to live up to these standards whenever they inevitably fail to do so. It is why I was as a younger woman surprised that the daughters of my gateman who happened to come from the northern part of Nigeria, did not openly rebel against their father and choose to go school instead, conveniently ignoring the fact that my education was not so much an evidence of my feminist prowess as it was that of the largess of my father. It is looking but refusing to see, because the awareness is present that anything more than superficial appraisal would show that I’m was better or worse than they were, my father being at the time the chief decision maker in my life. I was…am simply fighting a personalized battle in the share arena of patriarchy.
The camera pans to the nail technician who is hard at work hunched over their nails and a similar question is posed to her and she replies basically the same, mirroring Moesha’s narrative. Although she’s your typical picture of modesty, with her threaded hair and ill-fitting uniform. She probably had to work all day hunched over hands and feet attached to bodies whose eyes would take only the vaguest notice of her existence. All of this for a pittance. She was the complete opposite of Moesha it would seem and yet they both sat there two women who STILL had to have their efforts ratified by a man. I am sure that Christina as prolific as she is and as amazing as she is, still has to answer to men that she probably believes and can prove herself to be infinitely better than. This is because that is how corporate America works and that is how Ghana works and that is how the world works. Women giving themselves willingly and unwillingly to the service of men who have historically only sought to subdue and stifle, to exploit and extinguish. However, Christina, albeit unbeknownst to her, mirrors those early feminists whose theories were steeped in imperialism. I think that the imbalance of power that permeates the relations between the west and others is clearly evidenced here. Owing to the fact that the west controls most of the narratives popular in the world today, and that most theories about feminism are made in conformity with the idea that the west is superior, it therefore is not surprising that Christina immediately assumes the role of ‘hero’ in this scenario. She has been conditioned to assume always that she is in the position of greater power in any situation involving a ‘third world woman.’ There is a predilection to attach the status of ‘victim’ to this third world woman, leaving the western feminists to play the role of ‘savior’. This, if you are astute, is reminiscent of when the colonialists came to Africa under the guise of spreading ‘civilization’, a civilization that if certain versions of history are to be believed they received a lot of instruction about from the moors.
My second source of vexation with the interview was the response of the Ghanaian population to the interview. As mentioned earlier Moesha received most of the backlash. While I am disappointed by this, I am in no way surprised. My father always says that the greatest havoc the white man wreaked on Africa was the mental enslavement of its people. As with a good number of African countries, the media is either predominantly western or mirrored to appear so. What this means of course is that good majority of Ghanaians get their notions of a myriad of things from the west, including of course the distinctly western idea of ‘feminism. This brings to mind a quote from Bell Hooks where she says “racist, sexist socialization had conditioned us to devalue our femaleness and to regard race as the only relevant label of identification”, times have changed since she penned these sage words but unfortunately not much has changed. There is still a subjugation of the experiences of the ‘third world woman’ to that of the third world alone. This is why Ghanaians whom I assume like a good majority of the world, understand feminism to be a ‘white’ concept, were incensed that Moesha did not appear to be doing it right. Bell in her rendition of the struggles of black women in the context of feminism speaks about how white feminists seemed to show a propensity for idealizing the black female experience rather than bringing to light the negative effects of those oppressions. Although we are not talking about America or the ‘black women’ that inhabit it, we are dealing with the same state of affairs. When Foucault talks about Power and how it doesn’t have to do necessarily with violence, but rather the power to influence the action of others, it resonates quite strongly with me. I think Christina whether aware or unaware of the power she held automatically as a) a Caucasian b) a member of the western media, influenced to a large extent the attitude of Ghanaians towards the content of the interview. My theory is that following from her cues in the video, that is her mannerisms and reactions, the viewers were able to deduce her displeasure at Moesha’s telling of her condition as a young woman trying to make ends meet. Having done this, owing to the fact that they have been conditioned to think of the ‘white’ man as superior it would not be entirely preposterous to think that they simply assumed that Christina’s reaction was the correct one. Having said that, I believe that this conditioning which has been happening and continues to happen is evidence of just how much power the west exercises over those she deems her subjects.
Since the English language came up with the term ‘feminism’ it would seem to most that the concept it seeks to encapsulate is an inherently white concept. It is not of course, but for you to know that it would involve a processing of information and an unlearning of systemically learned notions that most people frankly find much too tedious. That being said, misguided outrage at Moesha by her own people who should know better than anyone that she speaks the truth, is actually very predictable. What I find particularly disconcerting is how somebody, A WOMAN, as revered as Christina is, could push such a debilitating narrative. I don’t deign to know the aim of her interview but from a feminist context, it did not seem to achieve any aim other than to establish that Christina had prior to coming to Ghana never come across the concept of ‘sleeping with a man for money’ and that women apparently sleep with men for money. There was no in-depth analysis into the ‘sugar-daddy’ culture that has become prevalent even in the west. There was no profound connection between the plight of millions of disenfranchised women who have to sell themselves in one way or the other to men and Moesha whose preferred form of remuneration for her body is money. Moesha was not even given a chance to tell her own story, rather we are forced to construe her words through the perception of Christina and ultimately CNN and Spivak lets us know this reductionist view of ‘third world’ women is neither new nor novel.
I would like to state that in my opinion, Moesha being bold enough to sit in front or strangers and freely accept to engaging in something that is societally shunned, is a brand of feminism on it is own. It is the feminism of women of women like Nana whose many contributions to history were reduced to her birth of Shaka Zulu, it has been said that it was she who trained her son personally in the art of combat for which is renowned. It is the feminism of women like Rihanna, who in living her truth so unapologetically has influenced a generation of women who are beginning to question the status quo at least, even if not attempt to flip it completely onto its side. This one-size fits all concept of feminism is something I think that is incredibly detrimental to the movement, because it is what results in people who exalt the silencing of women in a bid to fight against the silencing of women. It gets us nowhere and as any seasoned shopper such as myself will tell you, one size rarely ever fits all.