For women in music and the Irony of Choosing Un-feminism

We should all be feminists.

“If I literally sat down all day and spoke about how hard it is to be a woman, I won’t have time to be at City FM talking to you because I would be somewhere in Alade Market talking about how women need better rights” DJ Cuppy said, during a recent interview at City FM last week.

The DJ’s comments have since gone viral, spurring perhaps the nth round of conversations on feminism and its meaning on social media and beyond. Cuppy’s statement is a one-off expression of a personal sentiment, but her perspective is a reflection of the oft un-feminist views often touted by women in the music industry and the society at large.

There is, for instance, Chidinma, who “does not want to wear the feminist tag”. On her Guardian Life cover, Chidinma says she believes, the push to make feminism universal has negated the meaning of the ideology writ large. However, “if it’s about women going to school, fighting for the girl child and all those stuff, then that’s okay”, Chidinma says.

Clearly, Chidinma understands that feminism’s core ideals fall right into the purview of her personal beliefs, the only caveat is, she has no interest in being part of an association that has lost sight of its politics. Similarly, Yemi Alade was once quoted by Cable News to have said: “No woman is living on an island with only females; if being a feminist means I strongly believe that the girl child can do just as well as the male child, then call me a feminist. But if that’s not it, then I’m not that”. From Mama Africa’s viewpoint like Chidinma’s, it’s clear the issue may not be feminism as a concept but feminism as a cause with equal parts ideological warfare and idealism in itself.

Feminism propagates that to reach equality, society as a whole must first stop suppressing women. Statistically speaking, women have been oppressed for decades and a majority of our problems in society could be solved if we admit that there is a systemic gender problem, then attempt to rectify it.

This is why ending years of a reductionist social status for women as a core goal for feminism is supposed to be considered as ‘unquestioned good’ without counter-arguments. There is an unintentional doublespeak that occurs when people accept promoting women’s rights and respecting their dignity as human beings, but ignore the prevailing social reality. This conflates radicalism as feminism’s only mission. It is especially problematic when such thoughts are made public.

But there is no problem money can’t solve —or so it is popularly believed— which is truest in this part of the world where classism thrives above all else. For women who work in the music industry as DJ Cuppy rightfully put, they have to make unusual compromises to work around intimidation by men at every turn. Thus, survival of the fittest comes to be determined by how best anyone can prioritize self-interest over the common good. This reflects in the privilege that some celebrities have acquired to self-exempt themselves from issues that affect women all over the continent (and in the world).

The end of this delusion comes with the rude-awakening that male domination is beyond a set of issues that can be circumvented with money and fame. The aftermath of Tiwa Savage’s dissenting voice in the demand for gender equality is perhaps the greatest test of our collective memories.

In 2016, Tiwa inked a new deal with Roc-Nation, survived a major media scandal, and was quite rightfully placed in the spotlight. “[The deal with Roc Nation] is an amazing opportunity for any artist, particularly a woman, because traditionally such global parts have largely been enjoyed by the male artists”, she told Elle Magazine South Africa later that year. Adding, “I’m so honoured it has happened to me. And while it may mean, as a woman, I need to work 10 times harder to make things happen, I am fine with that. My approach is: do what it takes”.

Fast forward to October 2017, in Tiwa’s words on Beat FM, “I don’t think men and women are equal. We can be strong as a female in our career and stuff, but when we are home we have to realise that the man is the head of the house”. What Tiwa forgets is that, the same norm that assigns the man head of the home (in the functional social structure of tradition) is the same norm that supports a culture that hinders the progress of female careers in the music industry.

But since these same women reject the feminist tag because of the ‘apparent’ negativity it connotes, they are inadvertently silenced by the same system they engender.

It’s 2018 and Tiwa explicitly said she didn’t understand the motives behind feminism during an interview with Soundcity radio earlier last month. Ironically, Tiwa still demanded that female artists should be equally paid and equally respected with the male counterparts. But can that be possible? When that’s not the way the family, society, the nation and the world works.

On August 24th, ten days after Tiwa’s statements at SoundCity, she pulled her first headline concert at the O2 Indigo. For one of Africa’s biggest pop stars, the support and post-event press for the concert was oddly moderate. Even more bizarre is when one remembers Wizkid already pulled the O2 Arena itself to rave reviews as a testament to the progression of his career. Little wonder that a few days after Tiwa Savage’s concert, she lamented being born woman. “It’s a sin to be a woman in Africa, feel like giving up, tired of fighting, tired of proving myself, tired of smiling” her Instagram Story read.

It is unclear if Tiwa Savage’s post is because of the lukewarm reception at Savage Tour UK. But it is no less proof that even at peak success, there are limitations African women cannot supercede due to the patriarchal structures that dominate the music industry. Tiwa said it herself she has to “work 10 times harder” because she’s a woman.

In a chat, a female rapper who’s asked to be anonymous, shared a personal experience with the NATIVE saying “I actually used to reject the tag “feminist” because I’m against tags and labels in general, but maybe I did it out of fear. Today I’m a proud feminist and I always make my views known”. In reference to female artists trading favours for career advancement to the point of exploitation: “I definitely have compromised myself so I can coexist with male artistes in peace, but my justification is that for a revolution to happen we have to forego instant gratification”, she says.

A lot of female careers in Nigeria are often trailed with accusations of promiscuity and infidelity that reduces their talents and skill to the men on whose backs they supposedly ‘rode to fame’. But since these same women reject the feminist tag because of the ‘apparent’ negativity it connotes, they are inadvertently silenced by the same system they engender. They become women who cannot say what they truly think; as Chimamanda Adichie says, they grow to be women who have turned pretence into an art form.

If wishes were horses, another female pop star would have fought the fight for people like Tiwa Savage. If that were the case, she probably won’t have to make the rant on how hard it is to be a woman, since she’d be rightfully respected without the need to prove herself.

It is true that “the game is the game”, but the fight for gender equality (in any sphere of life) is a fight so the rules, that demands that everybody has to play the game, don’t exist. If we can’t all be DJ Cuppy—aka Miss Otedola with the money—perhaps we should all be feminists.

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Fisayo is a Journalist in Search of words. Find her on Twitter @fisvyo

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