And the Bible says:
“If a woman wears a short skirt and tight jeans a man shall look upon her lustfully and commit adultery in his heart.” – Jesus H. Christ, 2000+ years ago.
No? That’s not what your Bible says in Matthew 5? Coulda fooled me! The way we police women’s sartorial choices “based on God’s law”, one could easily be forgiven for interpreting scripture this way. But I suppose this is the weakness of men rearing its ugly head again. What Jesus actually said was:
“But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
There was no mention of what she was wearing while man was doing the looking and lusting. No mention of if he’d offered her a drink and she accepted. The responsibility was on the man to either tame his heart, or gouge his own eyes out if he could not contain himself. (That’s actually in the Bible. Matthew 5:29)
I don’t know what it is with men – and today I’m talking about Ghanaian men, though I’m certain that they don’t hold a monopoly in this trait – that makes them so averse to accepting responsibility for their own choices and actions. I believe it goes back to Adam, the prototype for the immature and reckless man at whose feet I lay blame for the caliber of men we have to contend with today. We might actually be regressing as a species. What did he say when God asked him why he ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? “It wasn’t my fault, Yaweh! It was this woman that Thou gavest to me!”
And women have been dealing with men who not only cannot follow instructions, but also bearing the blame for men’s disobedience ever since.
Dovetailed with the burden of carrying the failure of men is the burden of bearing the moniker “hoe”. Calling a woman a hoe has become the quickest (and laziest) way to silence and denigrate women. In 2016, a woman can be denounced a hoe for doing anything from posting yoga poses online to going to church. Safe spaces for women are shrinking exponentially, and as usual, women are being made to bear the blame for existing in a hostile environment neither of their choosing or making.
I have watched a series of exchanges between my friend Lydia Forson (she’s my best buddy now) and a certain columnist take place over the course of the weekend. I hesitate to brand this man a journalist, as that would require putting him in the same league as Komla Dumor, Nana Ama Agyemang Asante or Nana Aba Anamoh. He has yet to produce a piece of objective journalistic work that meets the international standard of the word. He gets paid to express his moral opinion rather than research, analyze and report , which is a pretty good gig. But nonsense like that is only rewarded in failed states like Ghana. I have chosen not to mention this moral crusader – as Lydia calls him – by name because this post isn’t about him, but rather the lethal cancer he represents.
Last week former Miss Malaika winner Hamamat Motia found herself under sharp criticism and condemnation for a dress that she wore to the VGMAs. The picture of the mother and former model showed an off the shoulder strap, plunging neckline, a mullet-cut hemline. It also showed a bit of side boob. For this, Hamamat was branded an ashawo (slut) among other things in a society where privileged men drug and rape women and earn job opportunities in return for violating women’s bodies. Hamamat then did what you would expect of any woman who has had her spine expertly extracted by a violently patriarchal society like Ghana’s: she went on an apology tour for wearing that dress. A dress she bought and paid for, even possibly had designed. A dress that several people in her house saw her slip into and declared that she was radiant. And she was. She looked stunning in that dress. The yellow offset her skin like the sun fading into the night sky. Hamanat wasn’t really apologizing for wearing the dress: she was apologizing for being called a hoe. Which is quite a mind-fuq when you think about out.
The sartorial choices that women make – or have had thrust upon them – have long been used as a determining factor of her worth. And thanks to colonialism, mental bondage and the Ghanaian’s aggressive adherence to Western standards in just about all forms, from beauty to education, the archaic notion that the length of a woman’s dress is a viable factor for assessing her self-worth or propensity for promiscuity is firmly rooted in our collective psyche. How did this happen?
War… Or more specifically, conquest.
During Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign from 1798-1801 he discovered the Sphinx, the tombs of pharaohs and Egyptian cotton. He blasted the Afrocentric features off of the Sphinx and used the bodies of mummies as fuel for locomotives. And then he brought cotton back to France in order to revive the textile industry. All the noble women in Napoleon’s court were required to purchase yards and yards of material in order to meet the standards of fashion acceptable for coming to court. All women were also prohibited from wearing the same dress to court twice. Napoleon also had the fireplaces in the palace stuffed so that women would be compelled to purchase more material for pantaloons and other long underwear in order to keep warm in the vast, drafty halls. In this era, the empire waist dress (named for Emperor Napoleon’s new empire) was designed and became all the rage in Europe. Paris was now the fashion capital of the world. Not to be left behind, the British went over to India, fabricated an offense which led to a war, split the country in two and consequently took control over the country’s cotton production and manufacturing. Floor length gowns were the marker of a “lady” – white gowns even more so. A white gown signified that one was wealthy enough to do no toil because stains would be evidence of work (hence their popularity in the post Bad Boy era) and white parties were/are a mainstay for both the wannabe and fabulously wealthy alike. And the rest, they say, is history.
Except when it isn’t. Whether a woman is dressed “like hoe” or not is really just a matter of dates and global events, not design.
We Africans have yet to overcome the imposed idea that a woman must be completely covered in order to consider herself confident, regal and beautiful. What’s worse is what the Ghanaian male has done to his female counterpart’s body…our bodies collectively. Once upon a time the female form was respected and honored in our society. You see it in our older wood carvings. But then with colonialism came the fetishizing of the African female form, followed quickly by its sexualization. And because of the guilt and shame that came with misinterpreted and misapplied biblical half-truths, our bodies were criminalized by the very same men who once respected us. With criminalization comes policing…and what do victims of oppression do when they crave recognition of their humanity? Frequently, they side with their oppressor. This is why patriarchal princesses industriously join in the fray when it comes time to shame another woman for what she was wearing/drinking/eating/studying and finds herself on the receiving end of a sexual or physical assault. Many (far too many) Ghanaians have captive minds and don’t even know they are prisoners. They don’t even know that the amount of material used for clothing has little to noting to do with morality , and everything to do with commerce.
My husband shared something he read about Saartjie Baartman. It was decided by certain bright minds in Europe that her body – with its large breasts and buttocks and elongated labia – was “sexually primitive”, and therefore appealed to the baser sensibilities of men. Saartjie’s proportions–though extraordinary – are typical of the average African woman’s. In sharp contrast are the proportions of white women, which tend to skew flat. Their bodies were determined to be “sexually civilized”, because they did not incite the base sexual desires of men to the same degree that an African woman’s would. This idea somehow found its way into the Ghanaian psyche and now we women are being punished for our physical appearance. If you have big breasts and a fat butt, you’ve got to be a hoe.
By definition, a whore is someone who trades sexual acts for currency. You can’t “dress like a hoe”. Money actually has to pass hands before the moniker can stick. Let me end with a tale:
A friend shared a story with me. His father had abandoned his family and his mother was left to care for him and his brother. His final exams were looming and he’d been sent home for not paying school fees. His mother – now a shell of herself, but still trying to hold the family together – promised he would get the money and be back in school before the end of the week. That night she left the house and was not seen until early the next morning. She had his school fees in hand…all of it.
Now, he strongly suspects that his mother had to go sleep with a guy in her office to get the money, but he’s never asked her. Likewise, she’s never revealed how she got the money.
If she did, did that make this church-going, God fearing woman a hoe? Absolutely, without a question. His momma was a hoe for a night, and now he works in a nice office, drives a nice car and her covered hair and long skirt couldn’t change that.
And now, I leave you with this gallery of our ancestors dressed like Akan hoes. Get your minds right, especially you fake journalists who see life with the clarity of a cataract.