Words by Mimi Zabu
For weeks now my tongue unleashed the word “The Body” as a topic of discourse whilst casually having conversations with girlfriends. To my surprise, when they were given the choice to stretch their first chain of thoughts, I was met with awkward silences which made me repeat the words “The Body”. More than I ever realised, even within my circle of girlfriends, this very topic still remains in a patriarchal framework. It made me think whether the women in my life were aware of the fact that by not having the loudest voice when confronted with such a topic, issues about her body would stay in a subordinate position.
At first instance all women’s defence mechanism kicks in as though ready to dismiss the imagery of “The Body”, their body, or perhaps [a fantasy] of a man’s body from the left side of their brain. I wondered if I had just spoken in a foreign language that my dearest of friends really did not understand.
Accompanied with laughter, I kept my astonishment in silence deep within due to the very fact that when presented with the choice to speak voluntarily and (/or) to make reference to the self, I imagined that women and my girlfriends would not remain subdued. To me, I thought and will forever believe that this very topic ought to be an opening to speak about oneself as a woman. Shouldn’t their voice be the loudest when presented with the topic? To be given the body as a starting point of conversation, surely, one will want to define and discuss it?
Many of us women – especially those living in London where freedom of speech thrives, would swear on the bible or on whatever it is that’s important to us, to not being prudish and to be comfortable to talk about whatever subject matter we are confronted with. A far cry from women in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly the city of Kinshasa where I am from where women’s views are more too often marginalised. Yet, I discovered in the past couple of weeks that the body remains a very much convoluted topic.
I thought to myself:
YOU! Young women of African descent who grew up and live in the West, a place where you wear minimal and revealing clothing for the sake of a good night out.
YOU! Who have the finest of limbs, the most voluptuous and curviest shape given to a being, should not need to switch on a light bulb before entertaining a discourse about The Body.
Malaica Scott, a student reading Geography and African Studies at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) could not have said it better when I threw the topic at her. She said “the topic surrounding the body is highly sexualised and too objectified by men and women in society. Everyone is objectified. The female body for one is always in contempt. Society has been inscribed with foreign notions and ideologies that alien to her essence and expression of herself. To a certain extent the female body has become a generic assumption and society’s object.”
Would I be wrong to claim that the heavy tongue of my girlfriends are caused by the very fact that a young woman’s upbringing – from adolescence to the day she is to be married, is due to customs and cultural factors that have helped in shaping this sexualised ideology?
The saying “Mwasi azalaka…!” meaning ” A woman ought to be…!” fits perfectly with the pressure of holding on to the culture of African pride. Almost like a taboo, the topic of “The body” is ushered into and kept in the closet.
More can be said about the woman and her body, but for now I leave you with these inspirational words from my favourite poet Dr Maya Angelou’s poem ‘And I Still Rise’ that automatically rings a bell when faced with a conversation about the body.
‘Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise? That I dance like I’ve got diamonds At the meeting of my thighs.”
Mimi is currently studying Development Studies and African Studies at SOAS, London. She is a freelance production assistant, having recently worked on a documentary to be featured on Channel 4. She has expertise in not-for-profits organisation fundraising and event management. She also freelances as a consultant in these fields.